You could see it in her eyes. The lifeless, pale, and gaunt face. Her downward smile, her hunched over appearance. The way she looked at herself in the mirror. How she tried to fit in, but on the inside how broken and bruised she felt. Her world was dark, hopeless, and suffocating. She hid under the sheets, hoping she would just disappear. Or maybe be forgotten. “I don’t want anyone to save me” “Just let me go” “there’s nothing good about me”. she would often say.
For the past 20 years, every day seemed to present a new battle. A battle of the mind, the body, the soul, and the spirit. Nothing seemed at peace anymore.
In a world tangled in trouble and a body failing to function, the only quiet she could find was when she found the escape with her obsessive thoughts. She squeezed her head tightly in her hands, desperate for the thoughts to go away, but at the same time, she found comfort in them. She knew their story, she knew their next move, she knew how she would react in light of the swirling world around her.
As she laid down, she felt her stomach, why are you so fat? She asked. There’s pudge in the middle, I can’t feel my hip bones enough, my thighs spread out like warm cheesecake in August, and her wrists were far to large. Tomorrow I’ll do better, I promise. She said to herself.
As she lay awake, replaying the nightmare of her childhood, she couldn’t get the images out of her mind. They plagued her like a swirling tornado ready to touchdown and destroy everything in its path.
Everyday she told herself she was meant to suffer and that the only reason she was born was to endure pain. This nightmare became her existence. She hurt herself because that’s what she knew, she starved herself to numb the pain, she threw up anything she ate to show herself rejection, she binged and purged till her lips turned blue and she couldn’t feel her body. She desperately wanted to die.
One night as she sat in front of the toilet she cried so hard, she shook in fear. She even scared herself. The intensity of the pain that night was so brutal. She told herself how disgusting she was, how pathetic, what a waste she was in this world. Any success she ever had was a moot point. It didn’t matter, because look at her life, at what she had become. Spending her days manipulating her body, running from emotions, and scared.
When the light of day returned and she looked out the hospital window, it was as though the sun shone in a whole new way. She looked down at the street below and asked herself a powerful question. What if my life was like other normal people, without the obsessions, without the self-destruction, with a purpose and a drive to do good in this world? The questions hit her hard, she had never thought of herself in that way. Hopeful? Was it even possible? Was she capable of change?
It was then she made a decision. A decision that would change the course of her life. That gave her new meaning and direction. “If I’ve been so successful at destroying myself, at mastering this eating disorder and self-hatred, what if I become so successful at loving myself and creating a life of hope, of joy, of renewal?”
That moment was the beginning of a year of deep transformation, determination, and conscious change. After years of being in and out of treatment facilities, she decided to abandon the traditional status quo, and forge her own way: through a dark past and towards a brighter future.
She learned to stop numbing her emotions, instead she learned to sit with uncomfortable feelings and express the hurt, frustration, anger, and anxiety.
She learned to stop hating herself, instead she learned to love herself for who she was, for the story she lived through, and for the new woman that would emerge.
She stopped controlling her body size, the food she ingested, and associating good and bad with the meals she ate.
She accepted her body for the strength it provided and learned to nourish herself fully.
She made peace with the hurt she experienced as a child and learned that nobody is perfect, that everyone has their own past and demons, and we all try to do our best.
It has been almost 6 years since she looked out that window, it was as if she opened the window to her true soul and potential that day and let her spirit flourish. She has become a light in the world for others, she has taught others to find their own recovery, and she has built a life she is proud to call her own.
This woman is me. And I am so grateful to be standing here today, healthy, happy, free, and discovering a potential I never knew.
When you embark on a journey, you may have an idea of what you want to do or the path you want to take, however, it's not quite that straightforward when you actually take your first step on your way. Even with the best of intentions, the road ahead of you has bumps and hidden trails, curves and hills; and your mind is another factor that can greatly affect how your journey unfolds.
The year before I decided I wanted to recover, I kept hearing from people "you are such a wonderful person, you have so much potential, there's so much more to you than the eating disorder." At the time, those words went in one ear and out the other. Sometimes I'd get frustrated for hearing them over and over; and other times it would make me shrink further down and curl inside myself. It was as though those words were so overwhelming that I felt paralyzed and trapped, and guilty that I couldn't see that about me, or that I couldn't do anything to will the eating disorder away. (Now I know recovery is not about willing anything away, it requires a lot of hard work, determination, and fight.) It almost made me feel worse at times, because I suppose it meant that I wasn't living to my full potential. Of course I wasn't. I knew that and everyone else knew that; but still I felt like I couldn't do anything about it.
That last year was not only exhausting, it was debilitating and so bleak it is almost hard to recall what each day was like. Thinking about that now, I wonder if it was so traumatizing that I blocked out some of those memories.
In the past year, while establishing Living Proof MN and starting my mentoring, some of those memories started flooding back into my mind, my memory seemed to open up a bit and there's times now that I can so vividly see a certain point in time, feel the hurt inside of me, feel the sensations building in my throat, and even smell or taste certain foods.
Yes I have lived through those horrendous years and they are behind me, but they also help me when working and mentoring other people struggling with eating disorders. They give me the ability to speak to the ache people feel.
The other day, I spoke with a young woman about her family life. Her mother controlling, her dad quiet, siblings of various ages, and the weight of the world on her shoulders. As she talked about her struggle with anorexia, I saw myself in her. There were so many similarities. It made me think about the majority of people struggling with eating disorders, are we more similar than different. What would it be like to discover those certain triggers and affect them so the eating disorder doesn't get triggered in the first place? It's an interesting concept. That would require people to be raised differently, treated differently, spoken to differently, cared for differently, and for the society to make some drastic changes. I don't know if the world could even handle doing this, or if it's capable of those changes.
When I talk with someone struggling, I am most impressed by the courage and the fight they have and their strength. They are remarkable individuals. I have learned more from them than I have from any book or movie, specialist or research paper.
And it makes me so grateful to be a part of their healing journey, to see that first spark of light, and the glimmer in their eyes. I have seen their hearts ignited and their desires to live refueled. To watch someone return from the darkness is an amazing experience, I wish this for everyone. I know everyone is capable of it. I never thought I'd be proof that it could happen, but now that I am living a life in recovery, I am without a doubt convinced that recovery is even more possible. Not just for some, but for everyone. And having the right people in your life, helping you to see the light, is most important.
The Beyond Rules Recovery blog is written by people who are passionate about mental health and wants to spread the message of hope, resiliency, and recovery.