Sketching wasn’t just a way to cope while I was doing inpatient treatment — it helped me see the beauty I’d forgotten in the world.
For the first (and thankfully only) Christmas I spent in residential treatment for my eating disorder, I got a sketchbook. The hospital was decorated — we had a common room covered in snowflakes and construction paper woodland creatures — but everything seemed far from festive. Since it was only my first week in treatment, I wasn’t allowed to leave the center, but my mom worked around that. She made up a lie about being uber-religious, and I guess they had a soft spot when it came to going to church on a holiday. We scrambled to church, left after the sermon, and then spent the rest of my allotted time opening presents in my mom’s townhome.
There, my dad gave me a sketchbook, some watercolors, and Danny Gregory’s illustrated memoir Everyday Matters. In his book, Danny Gregory explores his grief following a major train accident that left his wife paralyzed. Replete with anger and confusion, Gregory picked up a pen and began to draw in his journal. Drawing daily allowed him to see the beauty and detail in life; he claimed he was able to “penetrate beyond the categorical imperative[s] that made [him] feel so afraid.” Gregory was able to see that his wife’s disability was not concretely a bad thing — her disability allowed them to live slowly, and in that way, it was a gift.
I was able, through drawing, to better see the beauty and intricacies of people, animals, shadows, emotions, furniture, planets — everything I drew.
As cheesy as it sounds, I wanted to find my own good in the experience I was having with my eating disorder. I started drawing my feelings, and almost everything I saw in front of me. Keeping a journal was an outlet for me and helped me make sense of what was going through my head. Like Gregory, I was able, through drawing, to better see the beauty and intricacies of people, animals, shadows, emotions, furniture, planets — everything I drew. I began to realize how beautiful the world is, and how much I still wanted to experience and see.
This realization is directly related to the one that helped me the most in recovery — the understanding that I couldn’t live my life the way I wanted to with an eating disorder. With an eating disorder, I wouldn’t be able to experience the beauty I saw in the world so vividly; I couldn’t be the best friend I could be, or the best daughter, or the best student, or the best girlfriend. I wouldn’t be able to give back to the world and help others if I couldn’t help myself. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but one day I just said enough was enough.
I can’t say drawing completely cured me, but it certainly helped. I stayed in residential treatment for about four months, moved down to an intensive outpatient program, and then did outpatient for about a year and a half. I had several relapses, and I went through a lot of questioning whether I was good enough to recover. Now, more than two years later, I can say that I am finally happy and at peace with myself and my body. I no longer have any symptoms, and rarely have eating disorder thoughts. I am the happiest I have been in my life, and am so proud of the effort I put in to get to this point. There is beauty in the world — we have to realize first that it is there, and then that we deserve to experience it.