This week is National Eating Disorder Awareness week. I feel like every single thing in the world has it’s own awareness day or week or ribbon or something so they all blue together, but when whatever we are becoming “aware of” nearly kills you, making others aware becomes important. Often people think of anorexia as a joke, as a rich white girl thing because being skinny is what the media tells us is important. But it’s not that. It’s a serious disorder that kills people. It is a dark and lonely hell that only survivors can fully understand. It is a response to trauma, it is a response to pain, it is a way to self-harm, it is a way to find a voice, it is a cry for help. So, please read this knowing that I wrote these words to help, because I feel that God puts us on certain paths to help and heal others and for His glory, and my story is no exception.
It started young. I first remember hating my body in kindergarten. It was a constant source of conversation. I was “so big” and “so tall” and “a big girl”. I know people meant it as “Tall”, but I heard it as “monstrous”. I would look at my legs, and know they weren’t as thin as my friends. I was taller than most of my peers, I developed early, and I looked older than I was. My body was, for some reason, open to discussion and comment, and although I smiled and ignored, each word became an arrow ED would throw at me later. I felt huge. (I still feel huge, if I’m honest).
Apart from my body, my environment was chaotic. I began to want to take up less space by being good, being quiet, being invisible. (If I ever decided to take up space, it was in extreme anger, so it was rare) Eventually, the self hatred, the desire to disappear, my want to be invisible, took over. I began to physically disappear. I began to literally take up less space. I didn’t deserve to be heard or seen, and I didn’t know where to put my self-hatred, so I threw it up, I starved myself, I punished myself for merely existing. It’s a dark place.
My mom knew my struggle, but she didn’t know what to do. Everyone knew. It was obvious. I was a walking skeleton. She would ask me if I was anorexic, I told her no. And then one day, in January of my senior year in high school, about six months into ED, I ate a piece of pie and went upstairs to throw it up, and the toilet clogged. I was caught.
I began counseling and seeing a nutritionist soon after. My mom was trying to save my life (eating disorders are the most deadly of all psychiatric disorders). I ate to please her. I recovered to please her. I was still pleasing, still trying to disappear, while so desperately trying to have a voice. For two years this continued. Counseling, eating, “recovering” and trying to get better, but still not knowing where my voice was, because I still did it to please. I relapsed severely in the fall of 2003, and my severe restriction led to a period of intense binging and purging.
In late May 2004, I woke up and the first thing I did was eat and throw up. I was out of control. I came up behind my mom and I told her “I think I need to go somewhere. I need help”. I was no longer in any sort of control of my life, ED had officially nearly ruined me.
I found my voice. And I left for Remuda Ranch on July 5th, 2004. The story of healing there is another post in and of itself, but many miracles happened to me. Many wounds were bound up, many victories were had, and I was beginning to heal. For me this time.
I wish I could say that I came home from treatment and was fixed. It was not true. The average ED recovery takes around 15 years. I am fifteen years in.
My recovery has had many setbacks. When I lived in Honduras, I struggled. When I got a divorce, I relapsed. I began seeing a nutritionist again. I didn’t realize the severity of my relapse until she asked me what I had for lunch and I said “About 10 almonds”. She said something to me that no one had ever said in all of my treatment. She said “I don’t know everything about you. I don’t know the worst thing you’ve ever done, but I know that even the worst person in prison gets to eat everyday. You get to eat. You deserve to eat”. This sentence opened my eyes. It helped me realize that not only was my ED a giant “F” you to my family and my perceived lack of importance, it was a hatred of myself. I hated myself. I hated myself for a failed marriage. I hated myself for being invisible. I hated myself for being me. I hated myself to taking up space.
And, I still struggle with that. I know when I am feeling inadequate or angry because my immediate thought is “I need to lose weight”. If I am honest, it has been a big struggle this year. I moved to a new school and new job and I feel inadequate. I don’t know what I am doing, and my immediate thought is that I need to lose weight.
I don’t know what the answer to anorexia is. I can’t fix it, but I know what can make struggles worse, and I know what can make a person struggling with ED just feel like trash.
Here are my thoughts, not on how to interact with me; I’m far enough along that it’s not a big deal, but more on how I feel we can interact in general to the benefit of others:
- Don’t comment on bodies. Little girls and boys who are tall are tall, not “big”. Others’ bodies are not up for debate or discussion. We are more than what we look like.
- Don’t comment on food others’ choose to eat. Let them eat what they want, who cares? (The worst times for me are when what I am eating is talked about while I am eating it. Or when how I eat or what I eat is mocked. I’m eating. Just be glad I decided to value myself enough in that moment to eat.)
- Remember that food is neither “good” nor “bad”. Food has no morality. Also, what you eat does not define your morals. You are not “bad” because you ate pizza, you are not “being good” because you ate salad at lunch.
Also, please know that if you need to talk to someone, I am available, or if you’re curious about anything, let me know.
I’d like to thank my parents for supporting me in my journey and taking the necessary steps to save my life. I’m grateful to my siblings for being kind, understanding, and supportive even when I was a total you-know-what. Thank you to my counselors here in DFW and at Remuda Ranch. Thank you to my husband for encouraging me to eat foods that balance my body and help me feel good. I eat more “whole food” now than I ever have before, and it’s because of you. Thank you to my son, for giving me a reason to eat, and a reason to model appropriate eating and exercising. Thank you for giving me 37 weeks where I ate well because you needed to eat well, and thank you for your constant sunshine. Every time I look at you, I see recovery and healing running around.
And thank you Jesus. For freedom and hope and redemption and healing of my body. There is freedom from ED. It is available. Please speak up if you need help, you don’t need to go this alone.