by Kerrie Baldwin
Back in 2012, I had been managing my eating disorder for a full decade. Restriction had enslaved me for ten very long years, and I could no longer deny that my body and mind were crumbling, that this mode was not sustainable. As I desperately searched the Internet for an escape hatch, I discovered Gwyneth’s first website. (continue reading below)
I devoured the information there and, with the encouragement offered by this community, I soon dove into the thrilling promise of re-feeding and repairing my body. I expected that my boundless eating and faithful adherence to the now-termed Homeodynamic Recovery Method would ferry me right back to my old body, and my old self, in a matter of months. However, I had to not only accept but embrace a long and jostling journey.
During the perilous two and a half years that comprised my path to remission, I wrote it all down—my ambivalence about my expanding body, my realizations about weight and health, my frustration with the exhaustion and relentless aches in my limbs—as a record for myself and my family and, with much encouragement from those on these forums, as a kind of roadmap for you.
But like my recovery process, I, Dragonfly: A Memoir of Recovery and Flight ended up being much more than I ever imagined, and it required much more time and cultivation than I had planned.
I had originally conceived my story to conclude with my husband and I toasting a decade of marriage under our belts and the end of my era of anorexia. Instead, as I excavated and nurtured the self I left behind at age twenty-three, I discovered that the dynamic between him and me no longer seemed to fit with who I was becoming; it was like a dissonant chord in a symphony of self-actualization. The resulting unraveling of my marriage was devastating and the worst casualty of my recovery process—and thus something I had to write about.
As I’ve read on these forums and heard from others in recovery, many of us find our reclaimed selves now disconnected from aspects of our lives that had once felt vital and permanent. Sometimes this recognition results in a welcomed shift, such as the healing or strengthening of relationships with family or friends; sometimes this can demolish your life as you knew it, as you perhaps you force yourself out of a physically demanding career or, as in my case, choose to divorce your partner in life and parenting. I had to take the time to integrate these really difficult things. I had to learn how to write about the messy things that intimately involve others, in order for my book to offer a fully fleshed view of what recovery can entail.
In the following excerpt from I, Dragonfly, I share the immediate aftermath of my husband and I deciding to separate in the midst of the strains of recovery:
I moved through that day slowly, meandering through wreckage. At least it’s over. After dinner I went up to our bedroom, noting that soon it would be simply my bedroom. I pulled out the same bleach-spattered sweatpants that I’d been wearing as pajamas since October because I couldn’t bear to enter a dressing room and watch my body not fit in a size I could swallow. A little fist knocked low on the door. “Mommy, can I come in?” sang Eliza’s distinctly melodious voice.
“Sweetie, I’m getting dressed. I’ll come right out as soon as I’m finished.”
“But Mommy, I want to see you! Let me in!” I could hear her tiny three-year-old body slump to the floor, the sobs. This time I couldn’t tell her to go downstairs and see Daddy instead. They had to know how much they were loved, before their world would be thrown into confusion.
Eliza climbed onto the bed and watched. As I stripped off my leggings and a shirt losing its hem, I answered once again that the thing around my chest was a bra. I braced myself for one of those maddeningly sincere toddler comments like, “Mommy, your butt is big!” which I’d already heard at least once in the past month. Please don’t say anything. I can’t take it today. I turned away from her as I dressed, and not until I had the shirt completely over the belly I loathed—the extra fat that my body was still hoarding around my vital organs in case of another bout of starvation; the extra me that lipped over the C-section scar—did I spin to face her, expecting her to be focused on pulling at a loose thread in the duvet, she had been so quiet.
Her eyes, her cheeks, her wide smile framed by the rounded lips she inherited from me—all of her—were beaming at me as she remained seated at attention, hands in her lap. “Mommy, you look beautiful.” And she smiled some more. I grasped her soft upper arms, and tears rolled down my face. She kept smiling.
At first I cried because someone could think I was pretty even in that swollen body topped by a sleepless face. Then I cried for my daughter’s innate capacity to recognize beauty purely—not as a certain combination of straight and curved planes on a body, but as any shape illuminated from within, lighted by the soul fire that I had been stoking through my recovery. Cradling her head and smoothing her fine hair I wished for her a lifelong path toward such higher meaning, never to be shot down by the societal pressure to be anything that isn’t authentically Eliza, and absolutely never to be shackled by an eating disorder. And the only way for her and her siblings to fly like that was for me to continue my own course, to accept destiny, to go wherever recovery was taking me, even if that entailed the end of my marriage, their family as they knew it. I had to lead, and to be the example.
Those four words from a three-year-old—Mommy, you look beautiful—reconciled the terrible doubt that I was choosing myself over them. I was, in fact, choosing all of us.
In my story, the choice to honor physical hunger was merely the first step. For me, recovery unveiled all the further choices that had to be made, and it demonstrated that the process required healing and inhabiting every corner of myself. It taught me to be open to my own transformations; it challenged me to listen to the universe as I continued to evolve. And that is why I chose I, Dragonfly: A Memoir of Recovery and Flight as the final title for my book—because although the story is anchored in the swamp of the recovery process, it is a tale of becoming, and of flying forth.
I feel both proud and humbled to have sustained a state of remission for longer than three years and to share with you this memoir of my process, to give back to the community to whom I owe my life. While every recovery journey is different, I hope that you find camaraderie, encouragement, and solace in this chronicle of my own path. And ultimately, I hope that you, too, discover the profound and enduring contentment of honoring the needs of your body and soul every day.
I, Dragonfly: A Memoir of Recovery and Flight, which includes a foreword by Gwyneth Olwyn, will release in e-book and paperback editions through international online retailers Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Kobo, and others on March 13, 2018.
All proceeds from preorders placed from February 26 through March 4—in conjunction with the US and UK National Eating Disorders Awareness Weeks—will be donated to F.E.A.S.T. (Families Empowered and Supporting Treatment of Eating Disorders), an international organization promoting awareness, support, evidence-based treatment, and research and education advocacy around eating disorders.
Kerrie Baldwin is an editor and writer with twenty years’ experience in children’s and adult trade book publishing. Her interest in the science behind eating disorders is fueled by her additional work as a medical editor in the pharmaceutical industry. She lives with her family in the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York, and she can be followed on Twitter at @kerrie_baldwin.