Written by Cassie Wilson
The third week I ached to be out of my body. I ached to be thin. I ached to run to the bathroom and purge the hundred some calories I ingested previously during lunch. This was the first time I was allowed to know my weight in 3 whole weeks. I cried the rest of the day I spent there. I cried on my way home. I cried as I walked up the stairs to my redwood colored front door. I cried the whole god damn night. I did not purge. I did not restrict. I did not binge. I just cried.
Week four I made friends and not the shallow “we need to hangout” but never do type of friends. The real, life-long, share your most personal demons with friends. We are still that close to this day. In process group they cried, I cried. They laughed, I laughed. It was the first time in that giant red brick building that I felt safe. I didn’t want to leave. In Bengali tradition family is a sacred aspect of their culture. When I think about my Bella Vita family, they are one of the most sacred aspects of my life. They knew me better than anybody. As I read the poem, Eight of Us Sleeping in One Room, by Ahmed, they are the first ones who come mind. He describes,
We breathe each other’s breaths.
Outside, the sound of a motorcycle
Refusing to start.
An old man and a child sit in the stairwell
And smoke a cigarette.
These walls are more than walls.
Even in sleep, we stay only here.
Ahmed’s home is his safe haven. He feels safe and secure there. He shares it with his family and they all are connected. The walls they share are “more than walls”, they are the fabric of their culture, lives, and tradition. My friends at the Bella Vita shared the same struggles, demons, and hardships as I did. Sitting in the walls of the giant red brick building became safe for me. The people I connected with were more than just casual friends. They understood me on a different level. We were one family, fighting against a disorder that defined us all for so long. The walls of the Bella Vita were not just walls to us. They were our home and our safe place.
The fifth week my dietician changed my life. It was a pivotal moment for my time spent at the Bella Vita. It was the week I began to try and more importantly to listen. My dietician was a badass, red haired, 10 year recovering anorexic. Her life mission was to was to change the stereotype placed upon individuals by mainstream media. The stereotype that in order to be beautiful, you have to be thin. She coached me on the influences placed in media around the world that manipulated people into wanting to loose weight. How in almost every tv show, movie, or commercial the actors/actresses were thin and drop-dead gorgeous. That reality was hardly ever shown in the media. That THEY were the ones influencing people to join fad diets that have absolutely no nutritional value in them. She told me that every individual is different. Every BODY is different. That difference does not equal inferiority. Fat did not equal less than. Beautiful did not equate to being thin. My obsession about losing weight was not really about losing weight.
My obsession about losing weight was not really about losing weight.
This took me a while to actually understand, but the more time I spent actually trying, listening, and engaging in the groups the more I understood. I was obsessed with numbers not because they meant I would be thinner, but because it meant I could control something in my life that was tangible. My emotions were overwhelming. I could not control them, so I began to control something I was able to: gaining or losing weight. Counting calories, purging, binging, or restricting. All behavior I was in control of. After this realization, things began to click into place. I spent 12 years of my life engaging in my eating disorder. Unaware, depressed, self-destructive, and completely numb to everything around me. I acted out of impulse. I created an addiction to my self-destructive behavior. It felt good to lose weight, not because I was getting thinner, but because I was finally in control of something in my life.
The rest of my time spent at the Bella Vita was the most real self-work I had ever done. I begun the journey of healing. Learning who I really was, what I valued and believed in, and how to deal with my emotions. My entire perception of life itself was completely transformed. I learned to radically accept my body, no matter the size of my waist. To value everything it did for me. I began to live for kindness, gratitude, love, and mostly importantly for myself. My relationship with my friends and family changed. They were positive, warm, and inviting. My life began to blossom like a wildflower. I began to write poetry again. I began to paint and sing and engage in positive activities that I enjoyed. I still cried, I still got angry, and even sometimes impulsive. The difference was, I able to handle it, able to process it. I was able to cope.
As I parted ways with the giant red brick building, my life truly began to bloom. I think now about my parting with the Bella Vita and think of Ahmed’s poem, Second Home. It reads:
It snowed four days ago
I don’t feel as cold
As I am supposed to.
I almost believe I am as strong as I need to be.
I come across a field
Wide enough to hold all
The letters I’ve written,
Even the ones I burned/
Ahmed is coming to terms with his identity, his home, his up-bring, and all the parts of himself that make him who is he. He explains it “snowed” but that he does not feel as “cold” as he is “supposed to”. In his earlier poem, 4 A.M., he was waiting for the snow to fall and openly walking out in the darkness. There has been a huge transition inside of him. He is able to confront the coldness of his life. He is strong enough to not feel the bitter sting of his winter's frost. He is proud of his Bengali ancestry, of his home, his family, and his life. Ahmed and I share this same victory.
The first day of my time in the Bella Vita I was not able to handle my darkness and the frost that accompanied it. I was not strong enough. I did not have the proper clothing to endure the winter of my life. Two years later, as I sit in this green and grey Starbucks Coffee shop, I have knitted the biggest, warmest coat. I have found the strength within myself to endure the darkness that used to be my life. I am a recovering binger/purger and I am proud to share my story. My identity is not defined by my eating disorder. I am made up of my accomplishments, strengths, dreams, hopes, values, and aspirations.
I am strong.
I am resilient.
I am a survivor.
The giant red brick building is apart of my story, but it is not who I am.
Note from author:
If you are struggling with an eating disorder please remember:
You are capable.
You have value.
You are deserving of love, kindness, and help.
You can get better.
Please visit the link below for support.
Cassie Wilson is a student, writer, and poet attending Pasadena City College. She says: "I enjoy drinking TAZO giant peach tea and listening to instrumental pop music while I create. I do not write to preach, I write to express."