**Written on March 18th, 2018**
Music is a powerful tool.
When I was in the deepest, darkest corners of my eating disorder, music was my lifeline. I remember being fourteen, skin and bones buried under four layers of blankets in the middle of July, hiding in my room to avoid meals. Headphones in. Removed from the world.
I was drawn toward music I could identify with. Music that could fill me up, my empty stomach, my empty soul. For me, Eminem did the trick. The lyrics. The pain. I felt it all. His old albums detailing his addictive ambitions, harmful habits, and repetitive relapses felt all too familiar. Everything he said, I knew. I had felt. I had seen.
I still listen to his older music now. I’m always flooded with memories of sitting alone, always hungry, always tired, always afraid, always listening to him. It’s been a couple of years. They don’t hurt as much, the memories.
But there’s one track I can never bring myself to sit through. Any vintage Shady fans reading? Deja Vu. I can’t do it. Basically, the song begins with EMTs finding him in his bathroom after overdosing on drugs. The song goes on to describe how this is just another relapse, it’s deja vu, he’s done this before.
Here’s the chorus:
Sometimes I feel so alone, I just don’t know
Feels like I been down this road before
So lonely and cold, it’s like something takes over me
As soon as I go home and close the door
Kinda feels like déjà vu
I wanna get away from this place, I do
But I can’t and I won’t, say I try, but I know that’s a lie
‘Cause I don’t and why, I just don’t know
I remember listening to this song in the backseat of my mom’s car, driving to our weekly family dinner on Saturday night. I used to fast all day until we ate dinner. Why? Who cares. Nothing rational. I’d lean my head against the window and blare this track over and over again through my headphones. I’d look out onto the highway and watch the same road signs zoom by with each passing week. Today, I can’t drive down that highway without a pain in my stomach, a sadness. Part of life I guess.
I remember listening to this song on the bus as a sophomore in high school, balled up in a two-seater alone. Wearing two sweatshirts and a North Face in the middle of spring. In my backpack was a brown bag lunch my mom packed. Plans to throw it out before homeroom. The daily routine. Pale as a ghost. Hungry as ever. Foggy brain. Empty eyes. Ears full of Eminem.
Every line in this chorus captures what it felt like to live with an eating disorder. Every eating disorder journey is different. Mine? I relapsed countless times. More than I care to disclose. Recovery was hard. It was scary. Relapsing was so easy. I fell right into it, time and again. I’d do well for a week, a month. I’d eat full meals and not sneak workouts in the middle of the night. And then it would all feel like too much. Watching my body change was too much. Losing “control” was too much. Relapse was a quick fix. It was so easy. I’d just stop doing what was making me uncomfortable (read: stop recovering).
I used to pity myself, and this song both ignitied and shut down this tendency. Let me explain.
Every time I’d feel like reverting, like relapsing, this song made me feel okay about doing so. It was comforting to hear someone else express that, although he didn’t want to relapse, he did it anyway, because it was familiar. If you’re reading this, I sure as hell hope you don’t know what it feels like to relapse. But that’s wishful thinking. A few of you will understand the ambiguity of a relapse. You know it’s irrational, that it will work against you, that it’s the wrong answer. Yet you do it anyway. You’re never one hundred percent sure why. You always say you won’t do it, and as the words leave your mouth, you’re comforted by the realization that you’re lying.
This song, while validating my countless relapses, also instigated pity parties. I remember crying uncontrollably every single day for years on end. I’d shake and scream into my pillow, wishing the pain would stop, that the voice would leave, that I could open my eyes and walk out into the world and see it without the heavy, dark curtain that was always cast over it. I’d listen, and I’d feel Eminem’s pain. I’d feel bad for his struggles, for his sense of confusion and frustration. I’d pity him. And then, I’d realize, I was him. These were my experiences. The very pain he was projecting out into the world was mine. He told my story when I couldn’t. And so, the pity I had for him became pity I had for myself.
Looking back, it’s all so wild to think about. I’d wallow in my sorrow for myself. I refused to fight for my freedom, yet here I was crying in its absence, longing for it to fall into my lap. In the heat of the moment, pity parties are hard to avoid. I was in so much pain, so far into my depression, my anxiety, my eating disorder. The world was dark. Hope? Never heard of it. Every morning I’d wake up and count down the minutes until I could crawl back into my bed and not be seen. I harnessed a deep hatred for what I had become. And yet, I felt bad for myself. I’d cry because I felt helpless, and wanted everyone around me to feel the same way. I wanted others to look to me and feel bad for me. Where’s the logic in that? Ha, cute. Logic and eating disorders simply don’t go together. If I had to guess, I’d assume that feeling this way made my eating disorder feel validated. Each relapse was a pity party. I’d feel bad for myself, and then engage in relapse to alleviate the pain, thinking I was helping myself feel better.
Eventually I had reached the point of ultimate frustration. Relapse after relapse. I was caught in an endless cycle of plateauing, never making progress, never getting better. The lifestyle I was leading wasn’t maintainable. I’d either die, or I’d get better. I wish I could say this shift in mindset was as fast as it sounds here. It wasn’t. It was a gradual progression. Story for another time.
Regardless, there came a point where I began to realize that if I wanted this pain to go away, I had to accept it, acknowledge it, and then ass-kick the shit out of it. My kind of AAA.
At this point, Deja Vu had a different effect on me. What you get out of music is reflective of what you go in looking for. Instead of seeking comfort and validation, I now approached the song in search of a push, a reason. I actually remember hearing the chorus and thinking, “Wait. If he’s here, able to tell his story, he’s better. He’s past it. He made it, and so can I”. Same song, same guy, same pain, same situation. Different approach. Worked wonders.
I stopped throwing pity parties. No ti
me for that shit. Once I stopped feeling bad for myself, I was able to step back and see that I had agency, the same agency that allowed Eminem to get well enough to even write a song about his past. I wasn’t a victim of a situation out of my control. Yes, my eating disorder was powerful. Strong doesn’t even begin to cut it. But instead of seeing myself as a victim to it, I saw myself as its opponent. With the ability to put up a fight. And so I did.
When you stop feeling bad for yourself and start rooting for yourself instead, you exercise the agency you never knew you had. Pity parties prevent growth. Are they easy? Extremely. But what else is easy? Relapse. Regression. Comfort zones. The hard shit is facing the feelings that lead to these, and then realizing that you have to ability to do something about them.
I’m not sitting here encouraging you to dismiss your pain. That’s not what this is about. Instead of seeing yourself as helpless, begin to realize that your role in your own life is pretty damn significant. Pitying yourself implies that you’re unable to alter the course of your pain. We all know that’s not true. Recognizing and acknowledging feelings is something I’ve learned to be life-changing. If you’re struggling, if you’re in pain, take a step back. Why am I hurting? This question works wonders. Taking it on and beginning to answer it forces you to put your situation into perspective. You begin to see the causes for your pain and that these causes have solutions, ways of mitigating them. They weren’t just dropped into your life and chained to your ankles and are now stuck here forever. They can be navigated, worked through, and overcome.
Pity is petty. It’s the easy way out. Pitying yourself rids you of the responsibility of fixing your problems. Don’t feel sorry for yourself. What is that accomplishing? Life isn’t going to hear your cries and throw a solution into your lap. You have agency. Use it.
I wrote this entire post with Deja Vu on a loop playing in the background. Did I cry? Duh. This shit’s heavy. But while I’m sad thinking about my past, I don’t pity my old self. Even now, this pity won’t get me anywhere. That’s why I’m so passionate about sharing my story, because instead of using it as an excuse to pity myself and have others do the same, I use it to try and hopefully help even a handful of people who can relate on any level.
Remember that while deja vu is comforting, it also gets old and boring. Choose to grow and to get better with every passing day. When you’re in pain, facing discomfort, or simply lost, don’t forget that there’s a way to alter the course. Self-pity keeps you stagnant; parting with pity sets you free.