Fruity, Exotic Splendor
(Clinton, New Jersey, United States)
I have always hated cleaning. Always. But when I’m actively procrastinating (nearly all the time) or avoiding something (again, nearly all the time), I clean like a maniac. I mean, I get obsessive with it. I clean and organize and tidy up every room of the house. I vacuum, I scrub, I sweep. I fold and wash and fold again. It has been known to go on for hours. Usually when I clean, it is in a mindless, methodical manner. I don’t think or feel while I’m doing it; I just pass the time by going through the motions. The one exception being the other day when I was cleaning the bathroom. I came across an old body wash of mine, one I had not used in months. A flood of pent-up and seemingly forgotten memories hit me like a ton of bricks the moment I smelt the sweet scent of an almost-forgotten wash.
Pomegranate-passion fruit. It sounds innocent. Beneath the exotic fruity scent, however, are layers upon layers of painful memories that I would rather just put on the shelf and forget about. Whenever I smell the body wash now, its scent takes me back to every morning of fall 2010 I spent in the shower, miserably and despondently scrubbing away the dirt from the body I regrettably called my own. Over a year later and the smell of that Dove body wash still gets me. I can even recall the smell on demand – it is forever engrained in my brain, always reminding me of the darkest time of my life.
I spent nearly a year starting in August 2010 severely restricting my caloric intake, exercising compulsively and abusing laxatives. By December, I was diagnosed with an eating disorder: anorexia nervosa. That disease that afflicts “perfect” people. People who are actually thin. I never, in that year, considered myself “perfect,” or even thin, although I was significantly underweight.
Each morning of those bleak months I used the same Dove body wash. It reminded me of summer: exotic and enticing, sweet and savory. I spent the rest of those days hating and punishing myself, refusing to take care of the body I loathed. I was eventually hospitalized for my eating disorder and did not use that body wash for months. When I finally did use it again, a flood of memories hit me like a hurricane. I was immediately taken back to all those months of self-loathing and sickness. It is triggering as all hell.
“Triggering.” Not many people can wrap their heads around the concept unless they have some experience with eating disorders or addiction. To trigger means to awaken a desire to go back to an eating disorder or addiction. When I get triggered, I feel an overwhelming urge to stop eating and return to the thin, but ultimately miserable and sullen, girl I once was. Certain things – pictures, songs, seasons, smells – remind me of being ill. Things that appeal to my senses. Things that I once loved, like pictures from a party I enjoyed, songs I played over and over again, autumn and the smell of my favorite body wash or coffee. Things that I'll never be able to experience in the same way ever again, for they will always remind me of being ill.
The body wash, then, is no exception. To this day it brings back a rush of painful, triggering memories. I am happy to say, however, that I am in a much better place in my recovery these days. I am not so easily triggered. I am not so easily seduced back into a life of restriction and self-deprivation, that is. I certainly do get triggered at times, but I am able to stand my ground and continue on in recovery – to continue on in the search for a fulfilling and meaningful life.
So, the next time I go through the stash of old shampoos and face cleansers and body washes I keep in the bathroom (I hate to throw these things away), I will keep in mind what exactly that pomegranate-passion fruit body wash represents: not only the multitude of unpleasant memories from a dark time in my life, as is apparent on the surface, but also, on a deeper level, the fact that I am a survivor. I have gone through the depths of hell that is anorexia and have come back again in one piece.
Who would have thought that that stupid, mundane body wash could remind me of all those things, all at once? After all, it’s just a thing I keep in a graveyard of old beauty products.
But it’s more.
It’s my story – in one whiff of fruity, exotic splendor.