I think of anorexia as a bit like ivy. In the same way that ivy works itself so well into a wall, that you don’t realise what a good job it’s done until you try to remove it, anorexia creeps into everything. It takes up all your space.
Anorexia edges into the existing vulnerabilities that make us human, and does all it can to magnify them. It obscures and clouds the good stuff underneath. It hooks into the cracks, so that even the bits that weren’t originally ‘about’ it, become about it. It offers itself as a solution, a way to cover them up. It masks what’s underneath, whilst becoming so entangled that it feels as though it is ‘you’. It whispers that you definitely, definitely need it to stay upright.
And actually, sometimes it does help things to stay steady, for a time. Usually, ivy does hold up the wall. But that tentative stability comes at a growing cost. It separates what’s underneath so that it can’t be seen. It becomes a barrier so that more satisfying, kinder sources of support feel unreachable. Like ivy, anorexia saps strength. It weakens and erodes confidence. It takes energy that could be used for other things and uses it to grow itself. And the longer it’s there, the more it works it’s way in, and the more ‘you’ become obscured by it. The process of reclaiming space from something pervasive can be a tricky one.
And it would be nice if we could just rip the ivy away and the wall would be there, unmarked, ‘fine’, but it doesn’t really work like that. You think you’ve pulled it away and another bit grows back. There might be bits of the wall that it actually did hold together, and they might crumble. It might be messy for a while.
And the crumbled bits, you have the task of rebuilding, carefully looking at your resources and deciding which are best to rebuild with, which stones you can keep, where you need something new. You decide the shape of the wall, discover how it fits best with its surroundings. You do it gradually. You might find things that have been so hidden they are visible only when the ivy is removed. And sometimes those things might feel horrifying and you want the ivy back because it feels safer and less exposing. Or you might find new things underneath, beautiful seeds of things that with the right care and attention can grow.
And you definitely need help to pull the ivy away, to untangle from it. It’s not a one person job. It’s effortful, because ivy clings on. It confuses things. It makes you doubt yourself. When you are pulling away the ivy of anorexia, you need people who are kind, who are able to see the effort it takes. Who are on your side and truly have your back. Who are interested in not just getting rid of the ivy but in finding out who is underneath. But no human exists well in complete isolation – maybe we all need this in different ways. And you have to become that person for yourself, too.
I think we all have our own patterns that can obscure things given the right set of circumstances. We all have our ‘ivy’, whether that’s being consumed with work, or a relationship, or exercise, or needing to be right or trying to fix the world so we don’t have to get in touch with our own vulnerabilities. So when I talk about wanting to untangle myself in order to use that new sense of space develop at work, or write, or create a family, or walk up a hill, I’d like to think that those hopes are all valid. We don’t know the resources and the vulnerabilities any of us have.
Sometimes, you need a helping hand to find our what makes up the wall without the ivy. To figure out what has been obscured by the ivy that can flourish independently now that it has room to grow, which bits need attention and care, and which bits have crumbled and need to be rebuilt completely. The restrengthening, rebuilding process is sometimes slow and halting, sometimes rapid, and perhaps that depends on the resources you have to hand, and the things discovered underneath when the ivy has been stripped away. Maybe there isn’t a right way, but figuring out your right way is part of the process. I am trying to find mine.