How Marya Hornbacher’s ‘Wasted’ Helped Me Come To Terms With My Eating Disorder

by Lauren Thompson
Taylor Magazine Minimalist guide to life

I completed treatment for my eating disorder in the summer of 2015. I’ve come a long way since then, with life bringing with it a whole host of new challenges and opportunities as life is so wanton to do. Time perpetually trickles through my grasping hands. I’ve been confronted a number of times post-recovery with my old habits, seeing them mirrored back at me through other people. It’s a strange thing to see reflections of what I now know to have been an extremely toxic, muddled time in my life. Whether through old email correspondences, diary entries, or the presence of Marya Hornbacher’s Wasted on my bookshelf. There’s no shortage of reminders. That I could easily dispose of them all makes their existence even more poignant.

The idea of my future simultaneously thrilled and terrified me, like standing at the lip of a very sheer cliff- I could fly, or fall. I didn’t know how to fly, and I didn’t want to fall. So I backed away from the cliff and went in search of something that had a clear, solid trajectory for me to follow, like hopscotch. Like a diet.”

Wasted resonated with me at a time when I needed someone to tell me I was sick. It helped me understand myself in a way no other book has, articulating as it did everything I wanted to say but couldn’t at the time. It was the only raw, and real thing in my life. With everyone either tip-toing around me, or completely unaware, this book was shaking me by the shoulders with the reality of what I was doing. I would experience irrational happiness when going a day with no food made me feel indestructible. When my body reminded me I wasn’t, I simultaneously lived in crippling fear that drove me to leave notes on my bedside table in case I didn’t wake up the next morning. I knew I was playing a dangerous game.

This is the very boring part of eating disorders, the aftermath. When you eat and hate that you eat. And yet of course you must eat. You don’t really entertain the notion of going back. You, with some startling new level of clarity, realize that going back would be far worse than simply being as you are. This is obvious to anyone without an eating disorder. This is not always obvious to you.”

Whether consciously or not a lot of the actions, and decisions I make in my life can in many ways be attributed to a perpetual and stifling sense of guilt that I’ve felt for as long as I can remember. My eating disorder was one of them. I can’t whittle it down to any one simple and elegant reason, because mental illness unfortunately isn’t that simple. I don’t want to revisit that place in my mind, but from old diary entries I’ve read a lot of my feelings came from a place of feeling like I didn’t deserve something as simple as eating, that I deserved to be punished so I could take up less space. Perfect the art of disappearing.

There is never a sudden revelation, a complete and tidy explanation for why it happened, or why it ends, or why or who you are. You want one and I want one, but there isn’t one. It comes in bits and pieces, and you stitch them together wherever they fit, and when you are done you hold yourself up, and still there are holes and you are a rag doll, invented, imperfect. And yet you are all that you have, so you must be enough. There is no other way.”

There are things I have yet to admit to myself and come to terms with. I’ve come to learn that life is a cycle of life-affirming decisions such as the ones I made to get better. I still get whispers from that familiar self-destructive little voice in my head when I’m feeling especially vulnerable. In truth, I can’t erase what I went through. I could throw out my diaries, delete emails and messages, drop this book off at a charity shop. I am making the most of the time I lost. I am ever trying to sever the ties I still have to this grotesque mind parasite that still tries to gnaw away at my thoughts.

Still, I come back to this book to remind myself of where I was. Like my diaries, it’s an anchor to the life I have now. I flick through its pages cautiously. I’m not yet ready to read it all the way through again. It’s still too real, and Hornbacher’s account of her experiences so raw and unflinching. One day I’ll come back to it, and maybe one day I won’t need it anymore at all.

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