Stories of Recovery
THE VOICES I HEARD
By Melissa F. Brown
I heard them, for years.
All the time. They didn’t stop. When I slept I dreamed of war. The voices were inside me, inside my head, a piece of me, perhaps never to be gone. I was scared because I didn’t know what to do. I heard these voices telling me not to eat, so strong and convincing. I considered the possibilities that it was all lies, but they hoped I’d believe and follow their pathway promising a skinny body and therefore happiness. And I heard this other voice. Was it me?
They continued to fight in my head. I couldn’t remember a time they weren’t there. I was so used to it; the battle in my brain. Sometimes I thought I was crazy. If people only knew how my mind was continuously busy, thinking, rationalizing my thinking and behavior, wondering, doubting, believing, I believed they would question my sanity. The problem was—I was quite sane, quite together, and theatrically normal to keep my secrets hidden.
There was no choice for me. If I wanted the voices to quiet down, even for a moment, then I knew what I must do, where I must go. I couldn’t eat. Maybe some people didn’t need food. Maybe I was one of them. I was special that I could go for long periods of time without taking a bite, a morsel of anything. Sometimes I denied myself water too. It was like a gift that I could do without. I was strong. I had something other people didn’t. I thought it was good because otherwise I’d be nothing. I liked feeling the pains of hunger and finally lack of hunger, a dry mouth from lack of water. I took control of my body and the very necessities it took to survive.
They continued talking. And I was sorry.
Restricting was like a high. I liked being high.
Way up in the sky, high as a kite or a bird………….But I fell, fell from a place I was unsure of. I had no parachute, nothing below to cushion my fall. I was in the air—up in the sky; A high like no other. I somersaulted. I dived. I listened to the voices calling me. Those cunning little voices. They no longer screamed. They needed only to whisper for me to hear, to listen, and to follow.
Perhaps hurting myself was a sin, but it felt so good. I liked doing my body checks-feeling for certain bones, measuring my arms and legs. I was comforted that another day had gone by and I was not fatter. I definitely had fat areas that needed to be worked on, but for the moment I was okay. I was safe—until I was supposed to eat again.
“Do what you have to do and that’s it,” this eating disorder reminded me. So I did. But tomorrow was another day. The pressure was on. How could I listen to it and get away with it? That conniving, sneaky voice I heard. And the voice I heard the most clearly, the safest voice, the voice I listened to and followed was anorexia.
I knew what a normal, healthy person should eat, better than most people. I knew what the charts said. I knew these things. But I also knew every food item in our house, the serving size, fat grams, and calories. The numbers were so important. I wrote them down, kept count. The amount of space food used was utterly crucial.
The voices continued. I couldn’t make them stop. I tried. I prayed for them to just go away. But God didn’t listen to my pleas for mercy. I continued restricting because I had to. There was no other safe way to live. I knew this worked. And I knew what I had to do. I was out of control. Anorexia was strong, and it beat me down to the ground so all I heard was the whisper of the trees, leaves blowing across the yard, and the voice of reason becoming softer, quieter.
Much has happened since the day I wrote this. It is now 2008, and the only voice I hear is my own. The other voice was me all along, the me that wanted life. I laugh, sing, and speak the truth. Sometimes I still cry, not for the lost me, but for the me that I always knew must exist and now does.
Recovery hasn’t been easy. The road unknown is filled with fear, uncertainty, and ambiguity. But it’s possible. It’s real. It’s amazing. And I love the person I am and continue to become.
Many people would read this last statement and think of it as self centered or strange at the very least. But it is a statement that has taken me years to be able to write. Anyone who suffers or suffered will understand its enormity.
I stopped liking myself sometime in late childhood, around the age of 10. The voices began at the age of 12. I remember because I stopped talking, singing, and smiling. It wasn’t just puberty. It was called anorexia. It became my best friend, a constant in a world where my family moved every few years, where my obsessive compulsiveness forced me to check and recheck everything, where religious beliefs scared me into believing the world would suddenly end, and where I felt lonely and different from the other 12 year olds around me. Anorexia simplified my world and made me feel safe.
And so its arms wrapped around me as it took me away into a place where only being thin mattered. I lost my sense of self and hated whatever was left of the old me.
And the years continued. It wasn’t until I was 22 that I sought professional help. And finding an affordable and professional treatment team took time. But what I didn’t have was time. I was dying, not only physically but on the inside that no one could see.
And it was one step at a time that has led me to the peace I now feel. Each person travels his or her own journey through recovery. What helped me may not be what another person needs. But I do feel we all travel similar paths and studies show there are more effective treatments than others.
I entered a women’s residential treatment center in late 1998 after outpatient treatment wasn’t enough to keep me spiraling into the very depths of starvation. My journey didn’t begin here as it had begun years earlier. But admitting I actually needed long term treatment was a huge step for me. After 4 months of intensive treatment I didn’t know whether I could conquer the voices that told me their self destructive ways were better. Over the next 8 years I spent time in one psychiatric hospital after another. I attempted suicide twice. I still listened to the voices that haunted me. I tried a plethora of medications. I even resorted to electroconvulsive shock therapy in the hopes it would keep me alive. With every hospitalization, every provider, every treatment, and every set back I put more tools into my toolbox. And I used them.
Today I sit with my husband, now my best friend, in a small coffee shop in the largely Irish part of Boston called Brighton. The snow coats the sidewalks after yesterday’s storm. Jazz plays on the radio. I feel great! It was just over a year ago I finished the day treatment program at another treatment facility here in Boston. I was beginning to listen to those voices again. It scared my husband and me. And so there I went for 30 days. It was there I decided never to listen to the voices of anorexia again. I decided to choose recovery everyday. I decided I deserved freedom from my prison. I accepted my Higher Power’s love for me. I also accepted my responsibility in my own recovery. At first I was lonely in my recovery. I saw those who were really into the disorder and others who were recovered. I felt I was all alone in my limbo state. The world was no longer in black and white. It was in color. And it was scary. But with a support group, friends, recovered individuals, my husband, God, NEDA’s annual conference in 2007, and my own strengths I made it.
I feel comfortable being inside my body now, the body I am meant to have. And I find joy in even the “simple” things. I jump on my bed because I feel like it. I sing songs because I feel them in my heart and soul. And I giggle like a school girl because life feels so incredible. I am now recovered, but always growing and changing. The voices of anorexia are no longer a part of me, occasionally a comment in the distance. But I no longer let it permeate my being. I shrug my shoulders, smile, and walk on.
Tonight I sit here and relish in the moment. My mind is quiet. And I am free.