‘I am fully aware of the healing powers of your lips upon my skin and the synchronicity in our breath…’
I’ve always stood by the fact that there was no sudden moment of recovery. No magic cure or epiphany. It was gradual, moments of happiness, a fog slowly clearing and something which I rarely discuss, a return to my body in all ways, including it’s sensual energy. It’s odd really, as a ‘forward thinking’ society full of ‘liberated women’ that sex and mental health is not more widely discussed, however with our decline in physical connection being on down and us millennials apparently spending more time on our phones than physically connecting, I’ve decided to write about it. (Cue accusations of gauche, ‘slutty’ behaviour). Don’t worry, I’m not about to share any of the gory details of my sex life, tbh it wouldn’t be that interesting, simply some observations I’ve made about mental health and sensuality. And I mean sensuality as oppose to the actual act of sex.
Although I could not measure my recovery or my decline, with loss of weight came a huge loss of libido. By sleeping with someone, we are connecting, it’s an act which leaves you completely vulnerable, in the right circumstances this is amazing, to someone with anorexia it’s pretty much impossible. I was left unable to connect to anything other than my desire to disappear and the idea of pleasure in any form seemed abhorrent. I was pointy and ached constantly, there was nothing sexy about my diminishing frame and I knew this. Whatever anyone tells you, anorexia is not an illness of vanity. Yes, external pressures led me to pick starvation as my poison over drugs, alcohol or another vice, but nothing about me thought my wizened face to be beautiful, or my skeletal body attractive. It was an act of self harm and for that I deserved no reward. I’ve seen many depictions of women with eating disorders ‘going off the rails’ and marrying starvation with random pick ups and self destructive shags. This is not true for anyone with anorexia I’ve ever known…and my band of recovered and recovering women discuss this stuff, believe me. We starved ourselves into the bodies of not fully formed children, stunting our hormonal patterns and development, of course we had no sensual desires.
Although I cannot pin point my recovery, I can remember the moments a kind man who enjoyed good food came into my life. My desire to be ‘normal’ at every event we attended led me to indulge in dinners paired with wines, always including decedent puddings. A challenge, but one which I was ready to meet. They say food is the music of love, perhaps by love they mean sensual energy. He helped me see my body as something other than an empty vessel to abuse. I had already done much of the work, he helped push me over the edge into a far better place. Kisses riddled with good wine. I believe I was ready to regard my body in a different, new way. This does not mean he was ‘the one’, but when my girlfriends and I discuss our ‘have beens’, we regard this romance with one I can now call a friend as a vital one.
As a woman, language is geared to suggest that sex is something done to us and our appetites must not be vast. I spend a lot of time around men, this is not to say that ‘I’m one of those girls who just get on better with guys’, quite the contrary, but I do have a very loyal and loving group of male friends around me who have taught me to be suspicious of pretty much all potential suitors. More and more recently I’ve been yelling at them for constantly using verbs that suggest the woman is passive in the equation ‘he fucked her’, ‘he shagged her’, ‘he was (insert verb of choice here) her’. I don’t think any of us could get why I was so het up about it, but I do think this act of connection and (hopefully) mutual pleasure should be seen as a two way thing, something both parties indulge in. It’s important. Perhaps just as women are meant not to enjoy cake and diminish our culinary appetites, we are meant to be passive in this way as well? It’s something I’ve struggled with hugely since recovery, feeling confident in expressing my needs in an ever changing society that’s constantly giving such mixed messages.
Last year I dated a man for a while who ticked every box on paper, however this level of perfection hid a lack of sexuality I couldn’t overcome. There was a lack of fire in general, and however many people around me commented on how perfect he was, I can see now I was bored. He often commented on my physical appearance, but more as one would comment on a pretty painting than anything else. There was no lust or need. In my day to day life and my work, my body is now displayed regularly (another topic), his friends would make semi lude jokes about his luck regarding this which in hindsight seems absurd to me given our huge lack of physical connection. I was led to wonder whether he was covering up some greater issues by using this? It’s something I’ll never know, but I do know the whole thing left me feeling worse about myself than I had in years. It was something I’d never experience and I was furious with him and at a loss as to why, until my friend pointed out the connection between my sexuality and recovery for me. I’m not saying that in order to be recovered I must be in an intimate relationship, or that intimacy had anything to do with be becoming unwell in the first place, to the contrary (over share) I’m reasonably selective in my partners (friends say picky and I’m okay with that), probably due to the fact that I am growing more and more aware of sexual energies and the power this has on all of us. Perhaps this was why I was angry? He had made my desire feel like an ‘unfeminine’ abhorrence and this image was something I had gone along with. It seemed to be the equivalent of the women I know who order a salad on a first date when they really wanted the huge bowl of pasta. ‘I must appear small and without hunger’. It’s a trope I try to avoid, enjoying the indulgence of sitting with the best company and good food (and wine…or margaritas) more than many other things. Both feel to me to be intimate acts, neither of which should be restrained. Both also take connection to yourself first.
So why am I rambling on about this? Am I telling all those suffering that recovery lies in bed with another? No. But what I can say is that part of your recovery will lie in connections, connections that cannot be built when you are hidden behind a cage of bones. Romantic, sexual, platonic, none will be possible whilst you’re hungry. Our bodies are pretty damn smart, a single kiss with someone we care about will flood our brain with oxytocin and dopamine (our happy chemicals), libidos will be at an all time low when we are starved. Feed your body with good food and good people. Notice how a lack of food effects these relationships. Cultivate your connections. Listen to your body. It’s appetites, sexual, loving, and of course for food. Do not ignore your desire. Connect to it. Learn to embrace your sensuality. I’m not sure of the exact connection, but I know for me that happiness did not lie in hunger of any kind. Whatever anyone tells you, starvation isn’t sexy.