Somewhere along the way I lost myself. Through glasses tainted with the judgements of those around me, I viewed life as I thought I should rather than how it came naturally to me. I lived my life in shackles, completely unaware that I was the one who held the key.
It is nearly impossible to explain what living with an eating disorder feels like to someone who hasn’t lived it themselves, but I will do my best to try.
I have lived a large portion of my life underwater. It is the easiest way for me to describe existing as a highly sensitive person with an eating disorder and anxiety. I became so consumed with the banter inside my head that those internal conversations caused me to miss the real life that was happening right in front of me. Underwater, you can hear the voices, but what they are saying remains unclear.
The words were tangled up inside of me. There was a blur that made it impossible to recognize where one thought ended and the other began; this kind of confusion is headache inducing. The lump in my throat seemed to be connected to my clarity…as long as the tears didn’t release, neither did the fears. Underwater, the anger builds, the resentment multiplies and the tricks the mind plays on itself become increasingly more clever. I was drowning in a stream of consciousness.
Underwater, thoughts become hazy as your focus becomes sharp upon the fact that you cannot breathe. All you can think of is an escape. You would do almost anything to avoid this panic. Everything spins out of control.
Panic only exacerbates the situation…stirring up silt and making it even harder to tell up from down. The best course of action is to let go and allow the sea to take over…floating you to the surface. But in the midst of such panic, fear grips you. You are so scared that you will never find air, that you push yourself deeper. You selfishly believe that you are the one controlling the outcome.
July 26, 2012
I am sitting in an old wing chair in a warm room, curtains drawn for privacy and to keep the heat at bay. My heart is beating so nervously that I am certain the pulsing of my temples must be visible. Am I getting enough oxygen? Am I breathing? The edges of my vision start to blur. I think I’m going to faint. How long have I been in here? Surely it’s been an hour by now. Just a little while longer and this will all be over…
The woman sitting across from me is a matter-of-fact, no-nonsense therapist that I found online. Did I hear her correctly? Did she just say I have an eating disorder? Binge Eating Disorder? Generalized Anxiety Disorder? These are medical terms…actual diagnoses for someone who is really sick. She must not know what she is talking about. I just need someone to tell me what to do…teach me how to control myself. If she would just give me a plan to follow, I can knock this off my list of things to do and move on.
She seems nice though…and genuinely concerned for my wellbeing. She isn’t judging me and this is the first person I have been completely honest with about my eating habits and thoughts about my body. She acted like she wasn’t surprised when I told her everything. Am I not the only person who acts like this? Is she just being nice or does she really understand me?
She wants me to come back every week. Take it step by step. I wonder when I will be done. I need an end date - a graduation from all of this. It doesn’t sound pretty. She said something about blind weigh-ins and getting rid of my scale at home and journaling. Whatever.
She wants me to track my food, so I will be the perfect patient and eat exactly what I know I “should” eat for the next week. I promised to be 100% honest with her so no drive-thrus anytime soon. I need to nail this.
Recovery begins with the first gasp of fresh air. When you decide you are worth saving. When you stop trying to control and start trusting. As you catch your breath, your vision clears and you begin to see your true self. The you that may have remained hidden for all of your life, the you that you were meant to be and perhaps have never met before.
An eating disorder does so many things to a soul, but the greatest harm it causes is its ability to make you doubt yourself at every turn. The cruelest joke of all is that the eating disorder makes you doubt your recovery. Even as you bravely tread water, that sneaky ED slithers in and plants seeds of doubt that cause you to question your own ability to swim.
It was not until recently that I began to see clearly without my protective goggles on. Recovery does not mean smooth sailing and sunny skies every day. Recovery means floating along on a calm day and being able to traverse the stormy seas just as easily.
The greatest lesson I have learned is that I have nothing to prove. I have spent my whole life trying to prove I am enough. I was the perfect child, the perfect student, the perfect friend and wife and mom. I worked for companies I didn't believe in and followed diets I knew wouldn’t work. I wanted to be smart enough, rich enough, skinny enough. But what I now know that I really wanted was to be loved. Not to be doted upon or put on a pedestal, but to be loved…flaws and all. To be loved for just being me.
July 26, 2017
I am sitting at my computer breathing deeply and noticing all the beauty around me. My dog is asleep at my feet, my son practicing his trumpet in the next room. The sun is shining on my dining room floor at the perfect angle to highlight the gorgeous color of the wood.
I am at ease. I am in a place in space and time that I never truly believed in five years ago. After living the majority of my life in fear (of food, of exercise, of what people thought of me, of life), I had come to believe that this was just the way it would be for me. I did not believe that peace existed and freedom from food and body image issues was an attainable goal.
5 years ago today, I sat slumped in a chair in my therapist's office trying not to take up space, panicked by the reality of my eating disorder and certain I would fail at recovery. It has been a difficult road with many twists and turns along the way, but every moment has led me to now. And I’ll tell you a secret…”now” is where peace lives.
Today I am recovered and living my life to its fullest. So if today is your Day 1 and you don't think you can beat this, listen to me when I tell you...the voice saying "you can't" isn't actually your voice at all...that's ED. And he's a liar!
The work you think you need to do to “fix” the problem of your eating disorder will not be anything like you think it will be. There is no problem to be fixed. There is only the real you to be discovered. And I promise you…she is extraordinary.
Today, when I look in the mirror, I see the girl within. I see the real me. I don’t see gray hairs or laugh lines or cheeks fuller than they used to be. To me, this is an accomplishment worth its weight in gold. I spent so many years studying the flaws in my reflection…picking myself apart…bullying the one person who deserved my love more than anyone.
It turns out that the matter-of-fact, no-nonsense therapist that I found online really does know what she is talking about. In fact, she is one of the kindest, gentlest souls I have ever known. We have been through so much together these five years. She knows me inside and out. It wasn’t long ago that I sat in her office and made the realization that everyone that I truly care about does love me for who I am and she asked a simple question…”when are you going to join them at the table?”
So here I sit, at this small but cozy table so full of love and belonging. This is what recovery looks like…to me. But what is most important is what recovery feels like…it feels like coming home to a place you have never known but have always been homesick for…it feels like finally becoming me.