Before my eating disorder, I had what would be largely considered a “normal” life. My parents were together. I made good grades. I had friends. I was a successful cross country and track runner. I loved horses and watermelon and dogs and lemonade and the color pink. I hated canned peas with a fiery passion. I was afraid of the dark and strangers and spiders and port-a-potties and thunder and under my bed. But I wasn’t afraid of how much I weighed or what I ate or how my body looked. The world had not yet marred me in that sense.
However, my life wasn’t perfect. There were cracks, signs that maybe I’d have issues later. I strived for perfection. I could not make any mistakes or the whole world would see. The older I got, the more insecure I became. Normal for most people I think. But I let these consume my thoughts. I wasn’t in the “popular group,” I worried that boys didn’t like me, I constantly compared myself to other girls, I began to take notice of my body and strive for ideals that I, and society, saw as desirable, and watch what and how much I ate. This started around sixth or seventh grade. Again, I figured this was normal, what everybody experienced. And maybe it is. But I don’t really like the word “normal,” it’s misleading. There’s no such thing as normalcy. Striving to be “normal” can break a person. You abandon your own special beauty for whatever twisted ideal society proclaims desirable. And this is how eating disorders work. They contort your brain until all it knows how to do is tell you to eat less, exercise more, binge and purge, and repeat. They strip you of yourself until you’re a hollow shell, literally and figuratively. And they each start out differently.
For me, it began in the spring of 2014. We all know how new year’s resolutions work, and that year mine was to “eat healthier,” pretty basic, rather generic, more or less “normal.” At first it was okay, nothing out of control. I kept a closer watch on my food intake. Nothing I considered major. But as my track season went on, my performances were not nearly up to par with what I wanted. A girl I trained with had recently improved quite a bit and could beat me easily now. I don’t know what it was in my mind that started associating certain physical traits of hers with “faster” but I decided I too must gain them to unlock the secret to racing success. I watched my food intake even more, because obviously if you run fast it means you eat less right? No. My performances continued being less-than-spectacular. So the only conclusion was to further force my body to change. After all, I had heard numerous people tell her she was too thin. This was my problem! I was just too heavy! No. Body checks became a daily ritual. And I hated myself a little bit more after every one.
As summer approached, track concluded and school ended. I was home alone. I could monitor my food intake as closely as I wanted, control my behaviors, perform body checks whenever I wanted to, and keep an absurdly close watch on calories.
Because how else am I supposed to be skinny and fast and beautiful and fit? All I ever thought about was food, weight, calories. I went on vacation with my best friend and the first thing I did when I got back home was weigh myself. I enjoyed feeling hungry. I dreaded dinner time. All I knew was how to not eat and how to exercise excessively. I told myself this was the healthiest I’d ever been. And yet, nobody had even mentioned the change in my appearance. Perhaps I hadn’t even changed! All that hard work for nothing! So obviously I needed to lose more. First it was weight X but then that wasn’t good enough and it became weight Y, and so on. I may have never stopped.
However, my eating disorder train was soon stopped in its tracks. Walking into Walmart, sun shining, birds probably chirping, my mom asked me how much I weighed now. Proudly, I replied with my new weight, saying it in the same manner someone would wear an Olympic medal. But instead of saying wow way to go, she merely replied by asking if that was healthy. Well duh. Yes. She’s just upset I’m more fit than her. I’m perfectly healthy. I actually need to lose a little bit more. She wasn’t convinced. At my sports physical the following week, I was diagnosed as being dangerously underweight. I of course vehemently denied this and the allegations of cutting back my food. I stuck to my claim of being “healthy.” Then came the disordered eating diagnosis, which I also strongly protested. They were wrong. I was a perfect human specimen. I had more self control than anyone I knew. Thus began my treatment.
Initially, the doctor appointments were forced. I only went because my parents made me. I would sit in silence and contempt as adults talked around me, talked about me, and tried to talk to me. I could put on a face, but everything they said I ignored. I was right. They were wrong. Only the threat of losing running was enough to motivate me into doing the bare minimum. Recovery was hard. I broke down once buying groceries, had a panic attack ordering food at a restaurant, imagined myself swelling uncontrollably to the size of the girl who turns into a blueberry in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. I did not always follow the orders I was given. I went behind their backs constantly . I had dozens of tricks. I did anything I could to sneak around them and continue my obsession. Still watched my intake. Still hated myself after body checks. In the midst of all this, my cross country season was a dream come true. I ran better than I ever had. Against the wishes of my parents and doctors, I told myself this was because I had lost the weight and restricted my eating. In reality, this was just another lie my ED told me. Yet as my season progressed and I gradually caved in to the meal plan given to me, my performances remained strong. I set a 26-second PR and broke 18 minutes in my final race of the season. This is what finally convinced me. It wasn’t instantaneous. I didn’t magically recover after a realization one beautiful sunny rainbow day. I still don’t know that I consider myself 100% fully recovered. It’s a delicate process and it occurs differently for everybody. It doesn’t matter how you recover, as long as you trust in your own strength and ability, and do recover.
Recovery is hard, however. And I will never say otherwise. But the happiness and freedom it brings are incredibly rewarding. Recovery is possible for everybody. We all have the potential and the strength. It’s a matter of finding a system that works for you and having people you can trust to support you. Luckily for me, I found both relatively quickly which I think is a large part of the reason I’m here today. Between my therapist, nutritionist, parents, friends, and group meetings, my recovery was made easier.
Recovery is so beautiful. I would not choose to erase the ED portion of my life because of the gifts I’ve received through recovery. Freedom. Happiness. Radiance. Contentment. Empowerment. Strength. Wisdom. Hope. Love. These are just some of the words I can use to describe recovery’s gifts. I do not know enough words, or perhaps there are not ample words, to truly convey recovery. With time came changes, and those changes became a new mindset, a new lifestyle. I live every day with the goal of making it better for those around me. I cringe to think about the sort of thoughts we may have. That we aren’t good enough, and never will be. Or that we are unloveable and needy. Because all of these are false and will tear apart anyone who believes them. We are all entitled to and deserving of happiness. Everyone should feel beautiful and confident as they are. We should be comfortable with the body we have. Pardon my French, but screw what society says. Dress for you. Eat for you. Do everything for you. Because at the end of the day you are the only person you cannot escape. As long as you are good enough for yourself nothing else matters. And if you struggle to believe that and need outside reassurance or approval, know that I will always love you and be proud of you regardless. And help is out there.
I fully believe in the ability of anyone currently struggling to one day recover. We may have eating disorders. That’s a part of who we are. But we are not our eating disorder. We are beautiful and strong warriors. We can change lives because of our insight and personal experience. You may not be able to change the entire world, but you can change the world of an individual. And that individual can be you.
I love you!