It's just a number. Numbers can't hurt, right? Except they do. They control my life.
I step onto the scales unsteadily. My mind races with visions of the food I've eaten today. One eye shut, I draw in a deep breath. My heart slamming in my chest my mind with panic, I force myself look at today's number. 48.3. I have lost two hundred grams since yesterday. I am giddy with relief.
Every morning is a repetition of the past. I drag myself out of bed at 5:00am and make myself run. I punish my body in preparation for the day, running the same six kilometre circuit every day. Routine, punishing routine. It takes me past the beach, through the vast green parks and along the main street. There is an ancient little corner store that always sends its delicious smells into the street. I look forward to and dread running past it. I suck in the deep fried fumes and my stomach struggles angrily, inviting and warning me, I smell the fatty smells and my stomach holds me hostage. It drives me to search for the source of the smell and consume it without regret. To dig bony fingers into the greasy delight and lick the salty residue from thankful lips. My body's desire to eat is strong. To eat until my stomach is sore and bloated, bulging and uncomfortable.
Deep fried food isn't allowed. It's evil, avoidable and unnecessary. Feeling full isn't allowed either. Hunger is acceptable, emptiness accepted and enjoyment of food unavoidable. People observe me curiously. They observe and admire. They see strength rather than obsessive.
It feels so good, controlling myself. It's the only thing I've ever been good at. I'm not smart, sporty, funny, nice or pretty. I'm the skinny one. I have will power, I have control, I do not eat. No one else can stop eating. As hard as it is I've found something I am the best at.
I measure out a third of a cup of my All Bran into a small blue china bowl. I've heard that you are more likely to eat less from a dark blue bowl. I moisten the muesli with low fat milk and drain the excess milk into the sink. I get out Mum's cooking teaspoon to eat it with and I take it upstairs to eat in my room. Carefully, I scoop up some muesli, strands of bran balancing precariously on the spoon. I hold the spoon an arms length away and start the journey to my mouth. Eating this way increases the chances of spillage and also burns more calories. My stomach comes alive, roaring and growling for more. I feel faint and hate myself for not being able to control my hunger. I cry as I think about what the food is doing to me. I wonder which bit of me the food will infect. I picture it clinging to my thighs and I feel the familiar panic rising, swallowing me up. I breathe deeply, trying to calm myself but the fear wins. I curl up on the hard wooden floor and hug my legs tightly, waiting for the fear to leave. If only I wasn't so greedy. I'm weak. I let food get the better of me every single time. I wish I could lock myself in my room and never eat again.
School is stressful but insignificant. I join my group of friends and try to catch thread of conversation, but after only minutes of Alicia talking about her latest crush, I realise I can't be bothered with my friends and their love lives. A wave of contempt consumes me. Alicia's arm wobbles when it moves and Cara's school jumper is tight against her stomach. How can they live like that? How am I supposed to respect people who can't exercise simple self control? Rebecca in her oversized dress is munching on a bag of salty cashews. She stuffs one after the other into her mouth a continuous train of calories and fat. I scan the room and in every direction people eating carelessly. Each mouthful is another layer of sickening fat under their skin. Recklessly they consume, no attention to content or amount. All my respect for humans drains away and is replaced with disdain.
I get offered a Tim Tam. I love Tim Tams, chocolaty goodness. The drill sergeant in my head screeches.
You fat lump of lard, don't be so greedy. The voice in my head is harsh. I face the biscuit, coated in the melting soft, luscious chocolate and feel fear. My old friend the Tim Tam has become my greatest fear. I decline the offer and my stomach punishes me. It's like there's an eternal battle between my body and my mind and an internal battle between my crying, famished stomach and the drill sergeant in my head.
The world spins every time I stand and I want to give in.
No. The sergeant tells me sharply and I plod on. The cold seeps into my body, into my bones. No matter how many clothes I layer, it never goes away. My hair is dry and bristly; I no longer recognise it as my own. It'll be worth it though; when I'm skinny. Life will be good, people will admire me when I am thin. They'll envy my body. I'll be invincible: if I can stop eating.
I stand at the mirror in my underwear. For a moment I see my hips jutting, my ribs tight against my skin. Then I see the work I have to do. I pinch the small layer of fat on my stomach, self-hatred building within me. My thighs are fat. My arms wobble. My butt is too big. Even my face is too round, it must be fat. I am a failure. I don't even deserve to be alive. I need to hurt myself. I grab the different parts of my body, pinching the disgusting fat. I pinch harder and harder until my body is covered in big red welts. It's still not enough. I grab the pair of scissors next to my bed and press the blade to the inside of my arm. I close my eyes and let myself feel. The familiar sharp sting gives me an exhilarating rush and I open my eyes to watch my blood fill the wound. The initial rush wears off and I'm disgusted at myself. I cry freely, taking big gasping breaths. I let my emotions run free.
I need new jeans so I invite Alicia to go shopping. I walk through the buzzing mall trying to be invisible. People take second glances at me, thinking the word everyone is too scared to say: anorexic. I pray that my jumper will swallow me up. We enter a shop and Alicia instantly turns into my personal shop assistant. Within a couple of minutes she is thrusting an armful of jeans into my arms and pushing me into a tiny dressing room. I pull the first pair on. I'm happily surprised to find that they're too big. I decide that that particular brand has big sizes so I pull on the next pair. Again, they're too big. And not just a bit loose either, they are much too big. I ask Alicia if she'll get me a pair of size eight jeans. She returns shortly and hands over a pair of light blue jeans. I slip them on easily and feel a good inch of space between my hip and the jeans. I beam with joy, I have never been so proud of myself. I still have a lot of work to do the voice reminds me. I ask a hovering shop assistant if she'll grab a pair of sixes for me to try and I nearly burst with pride when she looks at me with disbelief. I tug the faded blue jeans over my knees and I notice how my thigh wobbles slightly as my legs move. My pride disappears instantly. The fly puts up a fight but I get them done up. I beam around at Alicia and my smile meets a scowl. Shaking her head she turns and walks away, leaving me in the shop. Alicia has made it clear what she thinks about my diet. She's jealous. There's no such thing as too skinny. I want to be skeletal. Emaciated even. I want people to envy me. I want to show everyone exactly how good my self control is.
I lay in bed praying for sleep. My knees are hard and knobbly and they keep knocking together. I don't know where to put my arms. I rest my hand on my hip bone and admire just how much of it I can hold. My stomach growls and almost unconsciously I get out of bed and blindly make my way to the kitchen. The biscuit jar lid hangs open and beckons me, drawing my hand inside. It reaches for a newly opened packet of shortbread. I watch myself eat biscuit after biscuit until the box is empty. My stomach is full and round. I am disgusted with myself. I feel scared, angry, frustrated and guilty. I curl up on my bed and cry. I can't sleep for hours, so scared of what the biscuits will do to me. I should purge. I think to myself over and over again. I don't though. I can't. I've tried many times; kneeling in front of the toilet, my fingers rubbing the back of my tongue. I'd make myself gag for hours, the only thing coming up was saliva. Lots of it. I give up and feel even worse afterwards. I don't think there's anything you can do for that kind of self hatred.
I wake up the following morning and automatically reach down and feel my collarbone, ribs, and hips. I check the space between my thighs. I take a deep breath, I'm still skinny. I can't believe I allowed myself to eat so recklessly. Guilt takes over my mind. I have never felt so ashamed. I am a failure. I shouldn't even be alive. I am weak. Nothing will ever be good again. What if I lose it again? What if next time I can't stop? I can't risk it. I can't ever eat again. I can't be trusted. My mind races with dark thoughts and I don't know what to do. Nothing will help. Nothing. I get up and start doing star jumps frantically. I jump until I'm sweaty and hurting and then I go for a run. I run harder than I ever have before. I get a stitch and it makes me so angry that I can't control it. I run harder, smiling slightly when my stitch complains, pushing me to go harder still.
I wake up in the hospital, my parents sitting on either side of my bed, looking old and worried. A doctor walks in and tells me I passed out on the side of a road. He tells me all my vitamin levels are dangerously low and that if I don't start eating I'll die. I nod in agreement, although I am terrified inside. Already I am plotting ways to get out of eating. Mum tells me she's signed me up to stay in a special clinic for girls with eating disorders. I'll refuse to participate. I'm not going. Nothing they say or do will make me eat.
I go to the clinic. I have my own small room with ghastly pink walls and a generic flower picture on the wall. I get told what to do and when to do it. My parents have to come in once a week for a family counselling session as part of my treatment. No decision is left up to me. All that lovely control I had is gone. My life has become a blur of psychologists, group sessions and lame activities with the other patients. I sit down for tea and my stomach growls, ravenous. I shrink back into myself, trying to shut it up. I nibble at a sandwich. It's good. I take another bite, bigger this time. It slips easily down my throat and I stuff the rest into my mouth. Enough. The voice commands. Go to hell, I counter.