June 30, 2017, 8:53 p.m.
Last night, I went to my best friend’s house with another five of my friends. It was one of my first small gatherings in a long time, years really. We snuggled up on the sofa ready to watch a film, with cups of tea and a crate of chocolate to share. Most of us stayed the night. When I returned home the next morning, I realized how different my life was today than it had been years ago and how isolated my eating disorder had kept me.
When Ana first moved into my life five years ago, I dreaded the idea of going to my friends’ homes, or them coming to mine. I felt I had no space for them. It wasn’t that I didn’t have the physical space in my house – I felt I didn’t have the space in my heart. I was brim full of other crap. There was worry, work and Ana – I couldn't fit anything else into my life, even those things that really mattered. I felt overwhelmed with the demands that came with friendship and I was convinced I was better off alone. I knew my friends would have expectations. They would want me to eat with them, have lunches during work breaks and popcorn in the cinema, meals out in the evening, party food at celebrations and alcohol on nights out. These expectations meant that I avoided social events at all costs – I didn’t want to eat, I didn't have the space or time for friends and I couldn’t believe that I had been welcomed and loved like I was. I doubted myself, my friendships, my relationships – this doubt had become a part of me and Ana was there in the foreground, giving it fuel.
It wasn't that I didn't want friends and it wasn't that I didn't want to have fun. In fact, it was the complete opposite! It was just that an unbearable guilt consumed me when I was with them and enjoying myself. I began to see friendship and fun as a luxury and something I could only embrace if given permission by Ana. If I had been "good" and if she was "happy", only then could I play a board game with my family or go to lunch with a friend, and even then, she still made me feel guilty for embracing this emotional indulgence. My friends were amazing, my family were unbeatable. They would tell me they understood when I said I couldn’t spend time with them, and they accepted my excuses and it was because they were so incredibly supportive that I felt even worse for pushing them away.
When I began my recovery journey, I had to learn how to let people back into my life. Each time I was invited out – for a party, a meal or gathering – I said yes. In the beginning, I still felt guilt, but it was okay because I was pushing forward in the right direction. It meant that I was making progress and breaking old habits and rules that I had established for myself. As I embraced this new life, it became easier for me to say yes to freedom and no to Ana. I now look forward to the social moments in my life and am eager to make time for my family and friends. Now, I feel incredibly grateful, and not guilty, for spending time with the wonderful people around me and genuinely enjoying the food I eat when in their company. My current life reflects my growth – I could be busy but I will always make time in my life for the people that matter. The space in my heart, once consumed by my eating disorder and my preoccupations, now holds all of my loved ones.
Margherita Barbieri, dancer, activist and eating disorder warrior, is passionate about combatting idealized norms and promotes self-love and body acceptance. Sharing her recovery journey on Instagram (@alwaysmargi) and her soon-to-be website, www.alwaysmargi.com, Margherita aims to inspire and encourage warriors to "put on their recovery boots, lace them up and keep them on! Because life is so amazing when your body feels rooted in armoured boots."