I Went to Iceland and My Eating Disorder Stayed Home

DSC_0138.jpg

By: Anonymous Last fall, I traveled to Iceland with my husband, a long-awaited trip to celebrate our five-year anniversary. It was my first time in Europe, and the first trip in memory that my eating disorder did not come along. To put the magnitude of this in context, I’d like to briefly go back in time… When my sisters and I graduated from high school, my Nana took each of us on a special trip. My older sister went to Greece and Italy. My younger sister would go Kenya. And I, now almost a decade ago… New York. I was still fresh out of the hospital, after almost losing my life to anorexia nervosa, and my parents decided that leaving the country and trying to follow my strict meal plan was out of the question. I was devastated. Although there’s a certain, lovely energy to the city that never sleeps, this alternate trip, and the one I truly wanted but never took, has sat in the back of my mind for years now, taunting me. Three years after that, the summer before my senior year of college I went on a service trip to Guatemala with a program through my university, but my going was continent on my parents’ communication with university administrators to ensure that I would be able to – you guessed it – follow my meal plan. Although I had an amazing time, intruding into my memories of teaching children in rural villages how to brush their teeth and assisting in the delivery of medical services are ones of daily food logs sent to my doctors and weekly weigh-ins at the Guatemalan clinic. Although I have now been in recovery for many years, I feel I hardly need to clarify that an eating disorder does not simply go away. Yes, it can fade, become less pervasive, less abusive, less demanding, but the process of rebuilding a life free from it’s clutches takes years, even decades. And so when I boarded the plane for a weeklong adventure to the land of fire and ice, and my eating disorder did not jump on board with me, this was a BIG DEAL. For years, I trudged along in recovery, thinking, “Well, this is it. This is as good as it gets.” I almost accepted the idea that ice cream would always induce panic, exercise would always be about burning calories, and buying clothes would never be fun. I almost believed doctors who warned me that I would likely be sick forever, that my anorexia could be managed, “like diabetes,” but a full recovery was unlikely. I’d like to take a victorious moment to say how wrong that thinking is. I stayed in the recovery-version of purgatory, that no-man’s land between dying and really living, for years, but slowly, almost imperceptibly, life came back into color, regained its vibrance piece by piece. Our trip to Iceland was filled with spontaneous hikes to majestic waterfalls, late nights in our tiny campervan cooking backpacking food over a finicky stove as the wind whistled across the tree-less ground. There was overpriced soup, and the donning of the traditional lopapeysa, watching seals lounge on icebergs in the Jokulsarlon Lagoon. Songs sung in the singing caves of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, moon-lit soaks in geothermal springs, and land so wild you feel like you’ve left planet earth. This was the first major trip in memory that wasn’t also marked by constant body scrutiny, food anxiety, and attempts to squeeze in extra physical activity. And let me tell you a little secret, it was SO MUCH BETTER this way. So hang tough, and keep trudging through purgatory, because there is a beautiful world that awaits you just on the other side.