The Body Tourist is a memoir set in the six years following my so-called recovery from anorexia. It is candid, sometimes comedic, and ultimately optimistic window into the mindset and the machinations of a mental illness whose tentacles reached deep into my life long after I was considered “cured.”
In 1981, I graduated from college with a BA in psychology. It had been a difficult venture that included an expulsion, a four-month institutionalization, and a multitude of transfers. By the time it was over, I was convinced I was cured, and that it was time to start curing others. I’m ready, I told my parents, my therapist, my friends—all of whom shook their heads in horror at my at my 95-pound, 5’9” frame. But I was undaunted. And I had landed a job as a counselor in a halfway house for drug and alcohol addicts. If anyone knew what it took to become a happy, functioning adult, it was me.
Or so I thought. As you might suspect, the burden of self-contempt, faulty logic, and interpersonal turmoil that are the character traits of depressive disorders and addictions do not miraculously disappear once medication and therapy have taken effect. Where, then, do these dangerous obsessions, such as the wish for obliteration (which often co-exists with the wish for immortality), go once a person sets foot on the road to recovery?
For me, they lived on beneath the radar of my supposed newfound health, disguising themselves in the falling-down houses I happily moved into and dangerous neighborhoods I somehow didn’t fear. They announced themselves in the deeply flawed men I professed to adore, the food rituals I thought were normal, and most profoundly, my inability to acknowledge my father’s illness and encroaching death.
While many writers have written candidly and eloquently about their struggles with depression, addictions, and eating disorders, those stories usually conclude once there is progress toward recovery. Beyond recovery—whether from addictions, illness, or even the death of a loved one or divorce—there is another story, one that is about how we re-join the world, and, in the living years that follow the darkness, pursue a life that is creative, engaged, and deeply felt in our bones. This is the territory of The Body Tourist.