The Way Back

by Ashley Cox


I never thought it would be me, you know? Anorexia and cutting and depression: other people had those. Not me. And then I understood. There wasn’t a sudden switch that turned self-hatred on. And I don’t even remember a specific day when I suddenly decided I hated myself.

It was just there. It happened the way night comes after a cloudy day. The way you lie when you’re afraid of the consequences. The way you eat less and less until slowly you eat nothing at all.

I never hit a rock bottom. There wasn’t a bottom to smash into. There was just endless falling. Just a paralyzing fear of the unknown. Yet somewhere in between all of that, I managed to stop falling. And I didn’t float. I didn’t find stable ground. I just stopped falling.

And that’s when I felt fire. I didn’t notice it at first. It held my face and stroked the scars without me really being aware. The fire comforted me even though it made me cry. I think in the end, life holds onto use more dearly than we hold onto it.

At some moment during that encounter, I realized the sun would rise again. That scared me. It scared me out of my mind. How could I return to the daylight where I had been before? I remember how badly I shook when I thought about returning. I didn’t even know the way back. And after everything, how could I trust my own hands which had shed my own blood? How could I respect the body that brought so much anguish to my mind? And how could I trust a mind that created darkness at noon day?

But that wasn’t the choice. There was never a moment when I could either trust or not trust. It was never do or die. There was not switch to turn off self-hatred. Instead it was twilight. The harsh black and whites melted into squishy greys and soggy browns. And I walked among them for a long time. Sometimes I was able to trust myself. Sometimes I could not.

The sunrise took a long time; so long, in fact, that I missed it completely. I suddenly realized that things had changed. I had changed and I couldn’t really say how or when or why. But I could breathe easier against the weight of life. I suppose being in the sunlight brought the fire back to me more often.

And it wasn’t like night never came again. But gradually, night always seemed to become day no matter how dark the night ever got. But that’s the thing about night and day. They touch and bleed into each other unbroken.  It’s not so much a battle as it is a circuit. And perhaps that’s not such a bad thing. I think maybe you need both.