I’m turning 25 next Monday (the 28th). I’ve always loved my birthday. I love gifts. I love ripping open presents and finding out what’s inside. I don’t really care if it’s something from the dollar bin at target or something expensive from my Amazon wishlist I just love the feeling of tearing back the paper and seeing something I know I’ll cherish. I’m a stuff girl. I like my things and you can say that my apartment (soon to be house!) is more than a little cluttered. I keep what people give me.
Having said that – this birthday is not one I’m particularly looking forward to. Twenty-five sounds old to me. A quarter of a decade. An age where it is assumed most people are through college, moving through graduate school, married, looking towards children, working on a career or doing a dozen other “adult’ like things. And me? I’m just not there yet.
Perhaps more unsettling is that I just can’t seem to add up the number of birthdays to 25. There was 16 spent on the field at Thursday band practice where the entire band sang to me, there was 17 at the Neeowallh marching band competition where my cousin tried hard to make it special but let’s be honest that whole school year just totally sucked, 18 was pretty lame also lost among band things but I did buy a lottery ticket, 19 was spent at college with the JACKASS, 20 was spent at college as well on a pretty sad day (but I wore a nice outfit I remember) and oh yeah 21 and 22. Those were the treatment birthdays.
Those are the two years I get hung up on. Where I loose the two years. Honestly, it seems to me like I should be turning 23 instead of 25. It’s not that those two birthday’s weren’t special. They were oh so special. My friends and family ensure that they were. My 21st birthday at Laureate was so unlike any other 21st birthday but was what I needed then. I spent it in a safe environment making flubber with other treatment friends, visiting with family who made a special trip to see me and even included a beautiful “cake” (see picture below – the nurse about had a heart-attack). I was very ill but I was happy. Happier than I had been for the past several birthdays. I had nutrition in my body, I felt safe and I had a future to look forward to. But the fact of the matter was – I was locked away from the world. Literally.
And then 22. That was at The Center for Change. Again, this birthday was special and unique. A memory I’ll probably cherish forever. I started the day on caution (basically isolation) but the girls made signs and hung them everywhere, sang “My Favorite Things” to me and passed me secret message throughout the day. My family left phone messages and I got off isolation late in the day and opened tons of well thought out perfect presents.
So the birthdays? They were great but nothing can erase the fact of the matter that I wasn’t living. I was existing and somedays fighting with the very people who were trying to keep me alive. And more days than not of those two years I either wanted to be dead or were making choices that were getting me one step closer to death. So you see I feel like I lost two years. I had two great birthdays but I really didn’t get to live into 21 and 22. And so when people ask me my age I often forget and do have to pause and think “oh yeah…I’m 24 almost 25”.
I could say that I’ll pretend that this is my 23rd birthday and forget that I’m turning 25 but I don’t think I’ll do that. I think it dishonors my past but more importantly I think it forces me to minimize the deadly consequences of my eating disorder. I’ve been too close to stepping back over that ledge into anorexia lately and I need to remember that the reality is that an eating disorder takes away life. Years of life because it wasn’t only those two years I lost. I really lost all the way from 16 on up. I just was coexisting with an eating disorder and the world instead of being hospitalized.
So I’ll blow out my candles and remember that I’m 25. I’m 25 not 23 because I lost some years to an eating disorder. But I’m also 25 because I survived. Because I found my way OUT of an eating disorder. Otherwise I wouldn’t be celebrating this birthday at all. I wouldn’t be celebrating any birthday. So there is a two edged sword to this birthday – both a celebration of life and a stark reminder of time lost. And I need both.