Addie | My Last Imaginary Friend

The Descent

I was the child who would swim until my hands were raisins, completely blocking out moms screams to put on sunscreen. I didn’t need sunscreen, I was a mermaid! But then I was also a licensed driver—able to travel the world of my patio on a plasma toy car. Some days I was a witch, a good one, that turned backyard pebbles into princes. My imagination granted me the power to never be lonely. I always had a new friend to make and a new life to live. 

Like most imaginary friends, mine started to die off as I grew up. Slowly but surely reality hit—I’d never be Alex Russo from Wizards of Waverly place. Trading spells for spiraling, I descended into my adolescence; dealing with all the grimy issues most people do. Immature boys, ill fitting bras, and endless hobby rotation! 

But there was still this looming presence around me—I felt it at my first pool party, freshman year lunch, the doctor’s yearly check up. It was fleeting but loud; a voice and a face that so distinctly matched mine. 

By the time junior year of high school rolled around, this “presence” was done looming. She was in the flesh, introducing herself under the pretense of love. And I was so desperate for any type of love, it made us electric together. Just like when I was little, this friend took away the loneliness. She gave me a new world to exist in—one with lots of rules. 

But rules were something I could learn to follow, and the sense of validation that came as I learned was addicting. As we grew closer, everything else seemed to run from me. Their distance only proved her more right: that no one else could exist with us. 

I was so consumed in our world, that I didn’t register anything had changed until one day at work. The cookie store no longer felt like home scrubbing leftover dough off my hands, as if calories could seep into skin.

Descending into anorexia was like the buildup to a roller coaster. It seemed exciting and fun and my adrenaline was rushing as if heaven was near. But then I had that pivotal moment at the top—where you realize it’s way too late to get off. 

I was sent upside down, spiraling and screaming, all the way to high school graduation. It was so fast there was nothing to do but hold on, and holding on so tight, I missed more than I can imagine. No birthday parties, no Sunday mornings, no weekend trips. My bestest friends, my real friends, who loved me from pre-puberty to C cup, back down to A, slipped through my fingers. The sport that fostered me from age four to varsity was just numbers. School wasn’t even something that held my attention. Because eating disorders are selfish. There was no time for anything but her. 

From the outside, I seemed to be excelling. So it is no one’s fault that they complimented me. Unfortunately those compliments came like forest rain, watering her to grow, and me to wither.

Being forced off

The first time I ever defied my friend was an accident. I had been scouring the web for a dietitian who could fix my messed up digestion. Which led me to this white box office with a spotty clean couch, and I was completely unworried—expecting some supplement or to be restricted further. But her questions were harsh and mean. The dietitian tore at the molecules of my skin. Soon, I was shaking in the white box office, sitting on a tear stained couch. “You are sick. Hospitalization, outpatient, therapist, doctor.” 

There were too many people to count, too many real people. 

Life was desolate for a while. 

My dear friend wouldn’t let go. She told me everyone was crazy; my parents, they were trying to poison me, the doctors, they wanted me to be a TV special. She made me sneak and snake around orders. And for a while I obeyed—living comfortably in the state of quasi-recovery. Still undernourished and preoccupied, but “going in the right direction.” I spent most of senior year like this, her as a frenemy more than a friend. Us as two people playing tug or war more than a team. Making up and breaking up, I bounced around the scale of disordered behavior like a trampoline, without ever telling anyone. She still had so much all this power of being the closest person to me. 

Choosing to get off

Towards graduation I could feel my body accepting her more than it did me. And even though I had barley anything left to give, what I did have wanted her gone. So I joined an intensive coaching program. The advertised 8 weeks seemed like way too quick to fix someone that has been broken for years, but the content dissected me. Every thought and action that my friend had said made me different was not only normal, but science. I found solace in others who were in the same place. Others across the country who had the same voice in their heads. Learning my so-called best friend was not only mine finally gave me the fire to stand up to her. 

I went out to eat, I laid in bed all day, I stopped lying and cheating my way through recovery. And it was so damn hard. She stuck to me in a way that made every moment a pinch—her nails clung to my hair as I tried to breathe. Writing, singing, talking, trying, I rustled out the emotion that had been stuck in my body into the world. That started to make me feel lighter, which was weird because that was her job. But really, at my smallest, I carried the most. And as I gained weight back, I started to stand up taller. To be proud of the curves and lumps that were mine. 

Recovery is weird. It is a weird battle between sanity, environment, parents, doctors, bodies, health. There is no guide, and that facet of independence is terrifying. As cliche as it sounds, recovery is not linear. Mine still isn’t. I can hear her voice sometimes, when I’m drifting off to sleep, or eating food at 1am. It’s hard to know if there will ever be a time completely free of her grasp. We have a in-sickness and in-health type of bond. 

My eating disorder was not the need to be skinny, it was the need to escape.

I always liked roller coasters

Once I was more stable physically, I still felt emotionally broken. Because how could I have done that to myself? I was supposed to be heading into college, into my adult life, but didn’t even trust the very legs that carried me. I was supposed to decide a career and place to live, but couldn’t decide on breakfast. It was a pathetic way to feel and no one seemed to understand I was aware of that. No one ever would, expect her, or me, or it. Whatever my eating disorder was. 

I called her in for a chat—a civilized settlement of assets you could say. At first all I wanted to do was beat her to a pulp, but when I really looked, she didn’t seem so scary anymore. She looked scared. She was made of me after getting rejected by my 7th grade crush, me when I wasn’t tall enough for volleyball, me when I said no. 

My eating disorder was not the need to be skinny, it was the need to escape. And while I ran and dieted and researched, my brutal friend, she was the one who felt all the pain I was running from. She was only trying to protect the little girl inside me who felt so alone and afraid. The little girl who watched Barbie and desperately wanted to fit in Brandy Melville. And how could I be mad at that? 

Deciding not to hate this part of me, but to show her love instead, brought some peace. Instead of trying to kill off her demands of perfection and control, I gave her what she wanted from the start, which was a safe place to live. My therapist calls it a container—she seems to like it there. This part of me just wanted to be acknowledged. Because when things are ignored they only get loud to be heard.

I was raised to be a strong woman and that internalized that as needing to be independent—to deal with problems and emotions alone. I had strength confused with this false pride. 

The truth is that I need people. I need my best friend’s maniacal laugh and my mom’s cooking. I need my therapist to roll her eyes when I say nothing is wrong. I need people and love and time and mistakes. 

My eating disorder has gone from a presence to my best friend to a ghost. She is something that flies above me sometimes, watching the twists and turns of my life. But I am ok with that, because now she is just along for the ride. 

My last imaginary friend.