Around that time, in December of 2004, I got my first tattoo, of a blue heron. There are many herons on the lakes of Minnesota, where I grew up, and I at once associated the bird with my faraway home and with the changes that I had recently undergone. In some cultures, the heron, like the phoenix, is a symbol of resurrection and transformation. In Egypt, for example, the heron-like Bennu bird called the world into creation at the beginning of time. For these reasons, the heron seemed like an appropriate animal to carry with me always, to mark on my body as a reminder of what I had gone through, and of the new life that I was embarking on after my eating disorder.
Sometimes, I look back on those early days of recovery with a feeling of nostalgia. Sure, I was still binging, still exercising off the calories in ridiculously long runs -- but change was brewing. I could feel it. Later, even my body changed, losing the ability to digest the foods that I had once craved and consumed in abundance. There were clear markers to let me know that things were different, and I felt, in many ways, reborn.
The struggle of recovery now, four years down the line, is that it doesn't always feel so extraordinary. In fact, I rarely have the blissful, life-rocking moments of insight that seemed so frequent as I learned new ways to pattern my relationships and new ways of being with my body. Now, those skills are a part of me, no longer new and shiny and revelatory. Life doesn't seem nearly as overwhelming and tragic as it did during my eating disorder, but nor does it often reach the heights of emotion that I felt during my recovery. I know that I haven't stopped growing, haven't stopped learning from my day-to-day life, but the changes are more subtle, less frequently noticed by others or myself.
This is what life after an eating disorder and after recovery from an eating disorder feels like to me: pretty ordinary. While I still have problems (who doesn't?), more and more they resemble the normal concerns that everyone has, like how to get along with others and find my own path in life. My sorrows don't feel like tragedies anymore, my joys are deeper, and the emotional fireworks are fewer. These days, it is just me and my ordinary mind.