Mum had dutifully kissed my forehead and said goodnight. Absent-mindedly watching T.V., I glanced at the time. It was precariously close to 9:00pm, at which point I would conquer a great personal fear.
The mint slice.
Yes, that humble biscuit, that banal staple of childhood lunchboxes and morning teas, held as much frightful power over me as a gun to my head.
After prolonged resistance and denial, I had finally accepted that being in control of what I ate was dangerous. It began when I was 12. I still struggle to identify one key moment that acted as the trigger, but once the idea that thin was better (and prettier, sexier, smarter, funnier) was nestled in my brain, it became near impossible to dislodge. I still feel it there, like a fading scar on my scalp. The subconscious mindset I adopted was that less was always better, even if it came at the price of alarmingly low blood pressure, weekly blood tests, the loss of my period and anaemia. To all those around me, these were clear (and worrying) indications of my illness. But, to me, they were mere by-products of the sense of power and superiority my eating disorder (ED) provided.
When my housemates could no longer watch my descent, I moved home, a child again at 21. In many ways, I’d never developed past the point of being a child, with my flat chest, absent bum and hips that barely measured the width of my angled shoulders. I’d struggled to learn to take care of myself. Despite successfully making friends, doing my washing and even achieving the occasional HD at university, I was constantly afraid I was doing everything wrong. The only thing I knew for sure that I was good at was starving myself.
I didn’t have to eat the mint slice. I could crumble it up and flush it down the toilet. Destroying evidence was a tactic I had relied on since primary school, when I would violently scrunch my cheese and vegemite sandwich and toss it into the playground rubbish bin. In order to avoid suspicion, I later developed a new pattern; I would ‘accidently’ drop my food, rendering it inedible, and then make a show of lamenting my clumsiness while my lunch ended up, once again, in the bin.
I walked into the kitchen and stared down the mint slice, taunting me form its perch on a saucer, the scene emulating that of two cowboys in an old Western film preparing for a shootout. I could almost hear the theme from ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’ playing in the background.
It was a seemingly simple choice; eat or destroy. Either way, I would be betraying someone. Eating it would mean betraying my ED. Not eating it would mean betraying everyone else. To an objective bystander, the choice seems easy; betray the ED, right? Surely that’s better than to betray everyone else?
But my ED had been with me for so long, it was no longer just a voice in my head. It was a whole separate being – my best friend, advocate and confidant. It was privy to my biggest fears and failures. It knew me better than anyone and, as a result, wielded an incredible power over me, at times rendering me a slave to its insufferable demands. When I obeyed, it would praise me, stroke my hair and whisper, ‘Good girl. Keep doing this, and then you will be good. Then you will be worthy. Then you will be loved.’ When I disobeyed, it would take my confessions and fears and use them to torment me, baring its ugly teeth and whispering menacingly, ‘You disgust me. No wonder no one can stand you. You deserve to feel like this.’
For this reason, it was easier to disappoint other people. Those who loved me would be upset, maybe even angry, but that initial response would dissipate once I broke down in tears and assured them I was trying my best. My ED had never, and would never, be so forgiving.
I picked up the biscuit. My ED began to panic. I could see it’s face reddening; it’s mouth opening and closing in horror.
Staring at that menacing little chocolate disk in my hand, I realised the one person I hadn’t considered in all this.
At the end of the day, what did I want? Did I want to listen to my ED? Or did I want to listen to that little voice inside that said, ‘Sarah, enough. It’s time to get better now.’ I realized in that moment the thing that I had for so long ignored (or perhaps denied, because confronting such truths can be frightening as hell); the person who was responsible for my recovery was me. I was the one who would have to deal with the consequences. I knew that flushing the biscuit down the toilet would make my mum upset; but more than that, it would mean I hadn’t done the very thing I needed to do to push myself forward. I knew that eating the biscuit would mean my ED would scream and throw a tantrum, but that would give me a chance to tell it to shut the hell up. It had been my partner, but I was beginning to realise that it was also, and more often, my abuser. I needed to take it down and reclaim my own voice, which had gotten so lost in all the internal mayhem.
I shoved the biscuit down in two bites, before I could change my mind. I didn’t enjoy it. I didn’t savour the taste. It would take a while for eating to become a pleasurable thing. But I had just taken a big step forward. I had drawn my gun from the holster and fired two shots right into my ED.
Sarah is a sociology student living and studying Melbourne. She is fascinated by issues of gender, sexuality and psychology. Her current aspirations include graduating sometime in the near future and owning a cat.
Love this insightful, light-hearted, look at what really can be a very complex and profound issue for many.