I’m honored to present my interview with Shani Raviv, author of the award-winning book Being Ana: A Memoir of Anorexia Nervosa. Shani began struggling with anorexia at 14 years old when she started dieting. She’d continue to struggle for 10 years.
In her memoir, which is riveting, raw and beautifully written, Shani recounts how anorexia became her identity, and really her whole world. She also reveals her struggles with drugs, alcohol and cutting — along with trying to find self-worth in all the wrong places, with exercise, and with men.
Today, Shani is fully recovered from anorexia and, a year ago, gave birth to her son.
Below, she shares why she wrote Being Ana and how she finally embraced her identity — separate from anorexia.
Tomorrow, in part two, Shani reveals what helped her recover and what recovery means to her.
Q: What inspired you to tell your story and write your book?
A: I have always journaled. Since age 12 when my mom bought me my first little red journal with a lock, I have ‘documented’ my thoughts and feelings. It’s been my way of making sense of things.
This concept is summed up so well in the lyrics of a song by Anna Lanick titled “Breathe: 2am” in which she says, “If I get it all down on paper, it’s no longer inside of me threatening the life it belongs to.” That’s the bottom line.
It’s like a purge––a healthy one. It’s cathartic and always has been. So this is partly what inspired me to write my book. I desperately needed to get all those memories, all those feelings out of me and onto the page and above all to make sense of it all.
Anorexia Nervosa is an extremely complex psychological disorder that manifests on multiple levels––physical, psychological, spiritual––it’s not something one can comprehend easily because the desire to starve seems so absurd and the fact that it’s not actually about weight (which seems paradoxical but isn’t) is very confusing to people.
So, partly I wrote to educate myself about my Anorexia and to educate readers about it too. I wanted to help readers better understand the disorder through my story, for them to ‘live through it through me’, to be vicarious voyeurs.
I also knew that exposing my shame and pain would help free me of it. If it’s no longer a secret, it loses its power. Anorexia is often secretive by nature even though its manifestations in disordered eating and weight loss are blatantly obvious.
Having written my book in numerous drafts over a period of eight years helped me gain insight and a sense of letting go that only the passing of time can allow. I no longer identify at all with Anorexia or with being an anorexic-in-recovery.
It’s in my history. It defined me for so long. It was my life.
But now I can hold my book, my story, in my hands, separate from me and live my healthy life as me. It’s liberating. And of course it’s extremely rewarding to know my book is touching people’s hearts.
Q: In your book you write “I once wrote that if Anorexia could be summed up into one line of text on a blank page, the sentence would read: I don’t want to be me.” What do you mean by this?
A: There is a common public misconception that you become anorexic as though it’s a choice, like changing your religion. People think Anorexia is just vanity and the desire to be thin taken to the absolute extreme.
Having been through it myself and having nearly lost my life to this disorder, I know this isn’t true. I don’t believe that a healthy young woman with a strong sense of self and positive self-esteem would feel the need to change who she is by restricting her diet.
It just doesn’t make any logical sense. I believe people who turn to dieting (which is usually how Anorexia starts) have deep seated pain about who they are, feel inadequate, insecure or otherwise not whole in themselves.
I fully believe that starving oneself comes from a place of desperate pain to feel better about who you are on the inside.
A healthy individual with a strong sense of self will not believe that thinner legs will make her a happier person. It doesn’t mean the anorexic is ‘stupid’ for lack of a better word, it just means the anorexic is probably confused, desperate and searching for an easy way, something over which she can have some control, to make things feel better inside.
Oftentimes this control starts with controlling her food intake which is so primal, and her body, which is so personal.
[MT: Just want to add that eating disorders occur because of a very complex combination of factors, including genetic, biological and environmental.]
Q: What helped you finally embrace your identity?
A: It was a very slow process, an evolution over 10 years of dedicated recovery time after letting go of my anorexic persona, feeling initially (as I show in the book) that I am dying, losing the only identity (Anorexia) that I had known for so long, that had become familiar and ‘comfortable’.
The very first line of my book is, “Nobody warned me that when I gave up Anorexia I would die.” That to me sums up how powerfully invested I was in the disorder. It was my entire identity.
And when I surrendered and gave it up, I lost my idea of who I was. And slowly after years and years of different therapies, including one-on-one therapy with a clinical psychologist specializing in eating disorders, consistently attending a support group for anorexics and bulimics, doing polarity therapy, homeopathy, yoga and going on an intense self-searching spiritual quest I was able, like a sculptor, to chisel through the hard layers and to reach the soft and vulnerable yet strong and genuine sense of myself, who I believe I truly am and always have been inside.
It’s the sense of self that I tried so hard to quell through the Anorexia. It’s also the sense of self that kept me alive. That innate, from birth, sense of who you are–– call it your soul, your being, your person.
My homeopath during my recovery once said, “Recovery is about fattening up your soul, your sense of self.” That’s how I embraced my “new” identity, by feeding my soul.
Stay tuned tomorrow for part two!
More about Shani:
Shani Raviv is a writer, writing teacher and author of the award-winning indie book being Ana: a memoir of anorexia nervosa. Shani worked as a freelance journalist/columnist in South Africa before moving to the U.S. where she now lives with her husband and son in the Bay Area. She is available to do readings/talks for being Ana. Please contact her through her website: www.shaniraviv.com