I debated whether I wanted to write this post. Usually I stray away from publishing intimate details of my personal life on the internet, but in the hope that my experiences can help others going through similar circumstances, I’m coming clean.
This week is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, and yes, I am one of the “recovered.” I put recovered in quotes, because even though I’m now at a healthy weight and don’t routinely starve myself like I used to, there are days (sometimes weeks) when I relapse. I fall back down the vortex of anorexia.
Truth be told, there are days I don’t feel “recovered” at all. I feel just like that 16-year-old girl standing on the freezing cold doctor’s office scale with nothing on but a paper dressing down. But in the process of recovery, I learned very early on not to rely solely on my feelings. Despite my feelings of being trapped in the eating disorder cycle, I realize that I’ve been living a fairly normal life (though who’s to say what normal looks like?).
Though I’d like to think my story is unique or “worst case scenario,” I know it’s not. There are millions of women (and men) out there right now suffering through the same thoughts, behaviors, and patterns that I went through—am still going through. But I offer my story as both a cautionary tale to some and a “light at the end of the tunnel” story for others (and a bit of therapy/catharsis for me).
The descent into full-blown anorexia was fairly textbook: I became a vegetarian, lost weight, liked it, wanted to lose more weight, lost more weight, and ultimately lost sight of how fast I was spiraling out of control (ironic for someone attempting to control every calorie consumed and expended). I only spent a few, very concentrated months in this destructive cycle before my parents noticed. And though I hated them for it and fought them every step of the way, I now know they saved my life. I was skeletal, sickly, and starving… for more than just food.
The months that followed were booked nearly solid with doctor’s appointments, visits with my therapist (in which I lied what was left my bony behind off), and consultations with a nutritionist (like I was going to tell her the truth either). I teetered dangerously close to being sent to rehab by my parents. But slowly I began to emerge from the house of mirrors I’d built myself. It wasn’t easy. And if you’ve been in the grips of an eating disorder or addiction, you know what an arduous journey back it can be. The path is never smooth and rarely straight.
In the years since, I’ve gained and lost weight (though without as much fanfare or binge-starve cycles as before) and learned several of important lessons. Mainly, I’ve learned (and relearned and relearned) that no one—including and especially me—is perfect, and I can’t expect myself to be. No one has life figured out (will someone please tell me what “normal” looks like?!), but we can get there together.
Last summer, I worked as a camp counselor for high school girls and was able to share my story with a few of them going through similar issues. I wasn’t equipped with a psychology degree or experience as a therapist, but what I do have is this: I lived through it. I survived. And though the scars are still there to remind me of the darkest period of my life, they’re also there as proof that others—that you—can make it through, too.
If you or someone you love is struggling with an eating disorder, please check out NEDAwareness Week’s website for resources. Additionally, I’ll be posting some of my thoughts and advice the rest of this week. Like I said, I’m no credentialed expert, but I’m passionate about bringing this issue out in the open and dealing with it head on. Because frankly, an eating disorders is living hell. And no one should have to brave it alone.
Read my open letter to those struggling with an eating disorder.