Beyond the M25

I am going to Vienna for two days on Friday.

The excitement is bristled through with anxiety, or maybe it’s the other way around.

I am still getting used to the fact that I can leave the 30 mile radius that my eating disorder deemed comfortable, let alone the country. There were too many variables in travelling to make it feasible. The anxiety of the unknown and the uncontrollable, compacted by the need to be within arms-length of my doctor / dentist / therapist, meant that I spent ten years or so within the confines of the M25* – and I’m still getting used to being free.

There is a whole wide world out there to explore.

Last year, I did two days in Spain. There were oranges hanging on the trees, and the buzz of heat and insects ringing through the silence of the valley. I had forgotten the excitement of stepping off a plane into a new land; and long since stopped missing how soft sunkissed air and the warm breeze that rarely visits England feels.

We spent the evenings sitting out on the terrace in t-shirts, listening to the darkness fall; and the days reading beside the pool, jumping in every now and then to cool down. My back burnt to a blister and I spent the following week in agony, reeking of aloe vera. It didn’t matter in the least.

It had been years since the fear of food had subsided enough to focus on what was going on around me.

The previous year broke the barrier, and marked the watershed between my bulimic existence – and my new life. Four days and three nights in France, approached with pure terror, shot through with relief. When I went away, the bingeing and purging that had punctuated every waking day would no longer be able to continue: when I came back, things had to be different.

It was easier, somehow, to make this transformation in a foreign land.

My brother and his girlfriend were there, and we walked down to the harbour in the setting sun, past the quaint cottages with hanging baskets overflowing with flowers. There was a bar, on the beach, with some dodgem cars and wasp candles. The sea – and the sand – and the general sense of airiness made it easier not to focus on the wrench.

We walked round the edge of a castle on the second day and my Dad took a photo of us sitting on a cannon, as we had when we were children. He and I walked down the beach and hunted for shells with the sea licking our ankles. It felt, although we were in a foreign country, and despite everything that had gone between, like coming home.

In the afternoon, the sun was too bright to look at; and, the choice between an eating disorder – and life – was piercing.

So France – and then Spain – and now Vienna, with a few explorations of England in between; and I am learning that it is okay to leave the safety of my home for a short period of time.

I am finding, despite my concerns, that I can manage the uncertainty; and that, now I’m not so fixated on working out the French calorie system – or planning where to purge – or anticipating the next binge, there are some really wonderful things out there to explore –

Like the scent of the sea and the salty taste that lingers in my hair; or the crumbling cottages hidden amongst the endless vineyards. Driving on the wrong side of the road and the movie star excitement of stepping down from a plane. The sun turning orange as it sinks into the horizon –

And the joy and fascination that comes with exploring a new world.

* For non-UK readers, the M25 is a motorway that circles London and is always traffic jammed or being dug up.

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