war stories and sick pictures

I had a tube.

I was in the ICU.

I was on dialysis.

My weight was (insert two digit number).

I’ve been in 12 treatment centers.

I’ve been diagnosed as chronic.

My heart can hardly function.

My liver is failing.

I’m dying.

These are all statements I’ve heard from girls gathered in a circle in a corner quietly talking and periodically glancing up to see if the techs/baby sitters are near. No they aren’t stories to share sorrows or to share scary moments of horror. They are war stories. Stories these girls are proud of and they tell proudly each desiring to one-up the other. Each throwing out a lower and lower weight and a more dangerous story filled with medical equipment, EKG’s, ambulance rides, frantic family members and doctors predicting their death. I’ve heard these stories because I’ve been in on the inside of these war stories. I’m ashamed to say it but in fact I’ve tried to win the game.

It’s a sick, sick twisted component of the eating disorder world. Each girl wanting to prove she is/was sicker than the other. After all, we have to prove to ourselves we deserve help. We have to be the most well liked and admired. We have to show our pain somehow and the only way we knew how was to get the sickest we possibly could. And we have to be the best at something and for many that has been their eating disorder never-mind that being the best of all is being dead.

At my first treatment center I quickly learned the art of telling war stories. And that I had one to contribute. But I also learned it marked you. It marked you as non-recovery orientated, an attention seeker and someone who doen’t want to get well. You may have ‘friends’ but these are the girls who will stab you in the back to prove they were sicker. And you waste your time sitting in the corner telling your story. Everyone at that facility is sick. Really it doesn’t matter one bit what your weight was. What matters is that your life was out of control enough to be sitting after a meal waiting for the 45 minutes to be up so you could make your way to bed where you would be checked on every 15 minutes to make sure you weren’t participating in some ‘ilegal behavior’ such as exercise.

My second treatment stay I went in with the promise no war stories. No telling of how sick I had been in the past. No hints as to my lowest weight or my horror of hospital stays. I was going to be silent on all of that. Take me as I am. I was not going to participate in the sick retelling of ‘whose the sickest one here’. And it aided my recovery in ways that I can’t put into words. I made friends because I wasn’t focused on proving my sick status. I left attention seeking behind and was able to learn that being sick isn’t the way to get the attention and help each person is entitled to.

And now that I’m out of treatment? Now that my body is recovered and I look “normal”. Do I feel a need to tell those war stories? Sometimes yes. Sometimes I get an urge to prove I was one of those sickest girls. But do I? No. Where would it get me? I say I was sick. Does it matter how sick? No. All it matters is that I’m on a path to recovery. I have my ‘sick’ pictures. My pictures that show my bones, my pale face and lifeless eyes. They are in a folder on my computer and someday I’ll be brave enough to delate them but I can tell you now that I will never show them to you. Others make the decision to parade their sick pictures around. Some do so out of a genuine desire to remember where they were and to never return. Other girls? Well, I find it hard to believe that they aren’t simply continuing the war stories of treatment.

But I’ve made my decision. I don’t need to share photos to prove to you I was sick. You can take my word for it and really it’s not that important to this blog anyways. What is important is that I’m in recovery.



Filed under body image, eating disorder, eating disorders, Identity, Recovery, survivor, the past

7 responses to “war stories and sick pictures

  1. I’m proud of you and your decision to remove yourself from that game. No one should ever need proof of where you have been, what is more important is where you are now!! Thanks for writing.

  2. Proud of you. And I’m glad you wrote this because I think it’s a compulsion none of us would like to admit to ourselves. When I get that urge, it seems like the words just come out of me and the whole time I’m thinking “What are you doing?” I heavy-judge myself for wanting attention because I think it’s my duty to suffer in silence, to be steadfast and polite and “together.” But I think there’s a middle ground somewhere. I think the need to feel validated, to feel known, and to have our suffering recognized is a worthwhile one. It’s just that war stories are not an appropriate way to get any of those needs met. It fuels the competitive fire, and it is the underside of the treatment world, the last-ditch attempt to stay connected to our eating disorders that prevents us from ever diving headlong into recovery. Because deep down, we all think we aren’t “sick enough.” I have felt compelled to apologize for my existence, to think that at least if I were punishing myself, then I wasn’t being entitled, burdensome, or what not. In the Catholic church, what we are taught to do with suffering is to “offer it up.” We are supposed to unite our suffering with Christ’s, and when it seems unbearable, we take up our crosses and see the beauty in them and offer our suffering as a tribute for some intention or another. So now, when I feel like I could just hemorrhage self-loathing or self-pity or self-hatred, I take a moment and tell God what I’d like my suffering to be used for. I earmark it for other people who are suffering, that they may find relief, for other women with eating disorders, that they may recover, for friends and family who have passed away, that they may rest in peace. Anyways, I hope that’s not too inappropriately religious and I certainly don’t mean to get preachy so I hope it doesn’t come across that way. What I guess I mean to say is that I have slowly found ways to deal with suffering that don’t involve proving that I am suffering, that don’t involve making myself suffer more just so I feel less guilty about existing. Anyways, I hope you are well and I really liked the honesty and candor you displayed in this post. Sorry for rambling :/

  3. Great post!
    Was just talking about this with a dear friend recently, remembering how some co-patients clung to years worth of old hospital bracelets like souvenirs or badges of honour.. Or snuck disturbing compulsions, measurements and memories into conversation in order to raise eye brows..
    What saddens me is the way every single person who walked into treatment eventually admitted to feeling like you weren’t sick enough to be there, they were the biggest ones in the room, they didn’t need the intensity of treatment, it was something they could definitely overcome alone. But, nowhere does it say that we need to be the sickest to be worthy proper care and help and warmth and love. Maybe we can never be sick enough anyway.
    War stories are one thing. We need to be brave enough to take pride in our accomplishments, and for fighting this bloody battle, and refusing to let it wear us down to the bone. But bragging… Making others feel inadequate and triggered and undeserving… That’s sick. I love your honesty and I commend you for having the clarity to separate yourself from this slippery thought. Eating disorders are slimy, slithery, deceiving, beasts. I’m convinced that those who revel in their misery are just taken by the illness. And, for that, I can only pray for them.

  4. Megan M

    Amen sista! I think now I can look back and when I was a preteen I played that war game, but part of it was also a way to communicate with people around me and a way of saying “Someone help me! Someone please care enough to get me the help I need!”. And I think when i talked about my weight and eating habits to people it was also a more comfortable lingo than to say: “Hey I am in excruciating pain! But I don’t have words for it!” I guess that is a little different from the war game because it was before treatment. But kinda same lines. I think now when I look back, I don’t look at pictures because that glamourizes it and makes me forget the bad parts, but I try to look back once in awhile at my lowest points in a realistic way to remind myself I don’t want to go back but also to think about how far I’ve come.

  5. Pamela Alida

    I am glad you wrote this, love.

  6. jen

    I wrote about this on my blog after the discussion on the alumni board… and it surprised me how much shame I felt putting out there that I wasn’t as sick… as if I somehow didn’t deserve all the help I got, because I wasn’t bad enough. In my own mind, I completely discounted all of the hard work I put in and how much I USED that help to create a life that is so much better.

    Eating disorders are sick. They make me sad.
    Thanks for writing this!

  7. Mindy

    You are absolutely right. Awesome post. what do you do in this situation:
    Coworker: I am such a pig. I am so fat. I used to be able to fit into anything.
    My response: Yeah i am fat too ( I say this to be annoying)
    Coworker: You are not, you look fine!
    What I want to say: SO DO YOU! STOP WITH THE NEGATIVE SELF TALK!!!!!!!!!!

    I hate those conversations. and i constantly have to tune out things like that. Wish I could change the world.

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