Busy Fingers

By Paige Wyatt
CW: Eating disorders/body dysmorphia recovery. 

It’s best to keep your hands busy during recovery. Especially the first few months: eating used to be a delicately balanced ritual. Your new pursuit must replace the food-measuring and calorie counting.

The most frustrating thing is finding what to do with your hands. Watching tv is too idle. The mind will wander into the spiral it knows best. Tapping on the phone isn’t much better. Your attention span is shorter, and social media leads to another pattern of shame when you compare your curves to their straight lines. 

Meditation helps. So does breathing. Reading is a great distraction, but even with the focus on mind and body, you will miss the control you had over food. Control was everything, and now your ability to live a healthy life depends on relinquishing that control. The only time you ever felt beautiful was when you were hungry. Now you’re hungry all the time and you feel anything but beautiful. 

It helps to have something low stakes. You decide on painting, but you expect to be good at it right away. You get frustrated that the flower you painted looks too much like the same painting you did in elementary school. You wash out your brushes and try to avoid looking at yourself in the bathroom mirror. 

Someone suggests writing. You always love that. In fact, journaling keeps you calm on your hardest days. But all you want to write are shitty poems about how much you hate yourself and that’s depressing. No epic tales of heroic feats or grand romance stories grace the blank screen. The white space is another reminder of the void you feel inside now that you’re not spending hours looking up macronutrients online. 

The guitar your best friend got you for your birthday collects dust in the corner. It’s been an on-again off-again love affair, you and this guitar. You wanted to learn to play to keep a piece of your grandfather close to your heart, but you gave up at some point. It was too hard to learn barre chords, too impossible to move your fingers like that. 

Busy fingers, busy hands. 

You pick it up. It feels different than it did before you started recovery. The way it sits against your stomach is a comfort now instead of a reminder. A strong, steady presence. You strum experimentally. It’s out of tune, so you cringe, but this is something you know how to do. The tones of each string ring in your mind as you remember what they sound like. It takes longer than it did before, but you’re trying to drag it out. You twist the knob and the strings change their sound. You can control the way this guitar sounds. 

You make the shape of the G chord. Muscle memory takes over and you place your fingers in the right position and press them down onto the strings. Fingers against metal strings against wooden fretboard feel like coming home. Your fingertips haven’t been calloused for a long time. The full force of the pressure hurts. You don’t mind because at least you’re feeling something. 

Your left hand strums down once, slowly as it hits each string. You hang onto every note to check that it’s all in tune. Maybe it’s been too long but you can tell something is off. The B string is flat. With a quick twist of the knob, you fix it. If only it were that easy to fix everything. 

You move from the G chord to the Em chord and back again. This feels right. This feels familiar. You play a few more chords and suddenly you’re playing an entire song. It’s not perfect, nothing is, but you’re doing something. Your hands are busy. 

You go back to it later and try to remember all the songs you used to play. They return quickly enough, and after a week you’re already better. You think about it when you’re not playing. It occupies your mind every time you listen to a song. You think, “I wonder if I can learn to play that.”

Thoughts of your meals are replaced with thoughts of your guitar. Instead of weighing food, you’re tuning strings. Instead of counting calories, you’re counting the rhythm in a six eight time signature. You play guitar as a reward after every meal. It’s the best type of reward. You are creating music instead of destroying yourself. 

With each new note, you free yourself a little bit more.

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