Journey to Freedom, Part I: Eating Disorder

Taking a deep breath in.

Okay let’s do this.

I’ve shared this story a few times before (true life, I had a blog while in college but never shared it with anyone so I felt comfortable sharing “my story”! It was actually called Balance and Bananas…can you tell I like bananas?), but this is the first time I feel confident speaking about what I’ve went through. I’m not afraid to stir up any old emotions, and I’m not fearful that Ana or Ed (Ana code for anorexia, Ed code for Eating Disorder) will come back. This is my life, not theirs.

One thing I do want to make clear about any experience that I share on here is that I refuse to trigger someone. I would hope that you wouldn’t compare your experience to mine in a way that implies one was better, tougher, “more deserving” of a diagnosis, or more severe than the other. Anyone who experiences an eating disorder or disordered eating has been through trauma. It’s not about more or less, so I want that to be out in the open. I’ve spent way too many years thinking that way, and I’ve seen others do the same. This community is about love, and so anything I share is out of love to help someone in some way.

With that being said, I will never share any photos from my past on here. That is the biggest way we compare, and so if you’re on here to scope out what I looked like when life was being sucked out of me, think again. Don’t mean to be harsh, but while I’m all about love, I’m also all about realness and calling bullshit. Guess that comes with the territory!

I will also never share numbers regarding weight. Yes, I reached a weight that was deadly, and no, you don’t need to know that number. Why? Because at the end of the day, it was never really about the numbers. It was a façade. There are plenty of people who have struggled with eating disorders and disordered eating who look like what the world considers to be healthy and radiant, yet they were screaming for mercy on the inside. While I had a condition that manifested itself in the physical, it was a means to show me what was really happening on the inside. And to be honest, our bodies are just pure physical manifestations to begin with- you are not your body, you are a soul living in a body.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s begin. Oh, and another note, because I know this is a sensitive subject to many of you who are reading and if you know that reading other people’s experiences with an eating disorder is triggering, please skip the part between the ***, denoted at the beginning and the ending of the story.

***

So to be honest, I never really remember a time when I was happy with how I looked, even as a kid. I guess you could say I wasn’t fully aware of my body until around 5 or 6, and when I became aware, I wasn’t happy with it.

I can even recall one of the first times I was made to feel that I was less of a person for not being skinny. It was 2nd grade, and I was standing in line with my best friend to go to art class. The lights were off, as we were getting ready to leave the classroom, but everyone was still talking. I forget exactly what led us to this conversation, but for some reason, my friend and I decided it was a good idea to stand side by side. I think I was telling her I was the same size as she was, and she disagreed so she took her hands, placed them on her stomach, slid them across her flat tummy, straight into mine.

Now, I was a pudgy child, but this was the first time I recall being made to feel less because of that pudginess. Her fingertips didn’t even come close to crossing over my stomach, just poked my hips, to which she replied, “See, I’m skinnier.”

I can’t say this was the start of my eating disorder, but I will say my childhood was plagued with the feeling that I needed to be less; in weight, in size, and of a burden. I don’t know why, but I always had this feeling that I was a burden to people. I never asked for help (God forbid anyone gave me any critiques or suggestions on how to do better- I could do it on my own, thank you very much, and get an A for that matter), and I rarely got into trouble (I didn’t want to cause anyone stress…yet somehow I always felt like I was in trouble).

The catalyst for my eating disorder was in 8th grade, when I snapped my arm in half doing a back handspring. Literally, my arm was clean in half, both the radius and ulna completely cleared. I had to get surgery to put plates in, and I was told I couldn’t do gymnastics for a year. I think that sparked something. I remember feeling extreme anxiety about not working out. I could still do my lower body though, right? What about my abs? Isn’t there some way my arms didn’t have to be involved so I could still do tricks?

Then the classic restricting came in. I tried to go back to gymnastics after my arm was completely healed, but at that point, I had been out for too long and I had hit a growth spurt, so it was pretty useless. That’s when I became obsessed with working out and running. Coupled with the restriction, my family almost moving to Boston (Day 3, we decided to turn around! How’s that for a fun fact?), and starting high school, I was a mess.

I didn’t get to do many after school activities because most afternoons were spent in a therapist’s, dietitian’s, or doctor’s office. My bones became brittle fast, I was losing hair in clumps, and I lost my period (got it at age 12, right after my accident, didn’t get it again till age 20). You would have never expected me to be combative, but I swear, anorexia brings out an alter-ego in most. I would get into yelling matches with doctors and dietitians, trying to break free of any attempt at control over me. They said some not-so-pretty things to me, and I said some not-so-pretty things to them (one called me a f***ing bitch, to which I responded, “you’re the f***ing bitch”). Of course, I was all too happy to acquiesce to Anorexia’s requests because she promised me happiness. But you know, she never did bring that happiness and wholeness.

Each week at weigh in, I’d see the number get lower, and I’d get a jolt of delight, almost like a hit, and then there was a sinking pit in my stomach that it wasn’t enough. Even though I told myself, at X weight, I’ll be happy, I never was. The number got lower, along with my happiness and my relationships.

That’s the other thing most don’t talk about. My relationships with friends and family (the most important) plummeted. I hurt them by hurting myself, but I didn’t do it intentionally. If I could go back, shake the old Britt and tell her snap out of it, I would. I didn’t choose this disease, and yet I had to suffer all of the consequences.

At the same time, I was in so much internal pain that I couldn’t see all the damage that was occurring around me. I would cry at every family meal (don’t even get me started on holidays), I created weird food habits (which I will not share because I don’t want to give anyone any ideas) to break my dietitian’s rules, and I had this constant pang of anxiety jolting through my body that never stopped. It’s actually a miracle I was able to get straight A’s in high school because most of my time was spent worrying about my body, how the food was being processed in it, and if I could escape my next meal.

The worst part was not feeling understood by anybody. No one without an eating disorder could relate, and the ones that could were still in it so that was no use. I absolutely hated group therapy because of that. Every other girl was in there with an eating disorder and I could see how they sized me up. And I knew they were doing it just as much as I was doing it to them. It wasn’t healthy for me, sometimes you get a great group and it works, but eating disorders, that’s tricky business. It was even worse when I was sent to Renfrew (lasted one night, then I was pulled out).

When I went to college, things took a real turn for the worse. I was on my own, forced to make new friends again, and at a school I didn’t even want to go to. I felt trapped. I missed my friends back home desperately and didn’t want to have to start over. My eating habits got worse, I was lazy about going to see the school nurse every week for weigh-ins, and I struggled to fit in. There were a lot of issues at that school in general: a lot of eating disorders, sexual assault/rape, and just straight up negligence by the administration.

When I was sexually assaulted at the end of my first semester, I felt like I had not fallen but was catapulted to rock bottom. Once you hit rock bottom though, you only have two choices: stay and die or climb your way up. He doesn’t deserve a voice in this story, so I’m not giving it to him, but it did affect my experience so I will state it as a point in a timeline. I decided very quickly that I wanted to transfer, but I still struggled. My doctors and my family told me that if I didn’t get better, I would have to leave school and I couldn’t transfer.

I remember that night so vividly. I was balling my eyes out (naturally) on my dorm room floor after just hanging up with my mom. Then one of my few friends that I had knocked on my door. She heard me and wanted to check up. I told her everything, start to finish. I couldn’t keep this weight on my chest anymore. At the end of it all, she said, “I think you know what you have to do and I think you do want to get better.” I stopped crying and felt confused because no part of what I had told her suggested I had any intention of getting better, but I think she could tell deep down my soul was crying for freedom from this all.

She told me, “Just try gaining weight like you’re trying on a pair of jeans. If you don’t like the fit, you can take them off. You’ve already proved you can take it off before, but why don’t you prove you can try it on?” In that moment it clicked. I can’t explain in words what exactly just changed, but it’s like I found the off switch for a moment, the off switch that I had been searching for 7 years!

I won’t say that the months to come were easy. There was still a lot of calorie counting at first and crying at meals. But I leaned on two of my friends, one of which is still my best friend today. One night when I was anxious about having to eat dessert, she grabbed a fork and sat down on my dorm room floor to eat cheesecake with me. One of the happiest memories of my life. Despite all the pain that school put me through, I walked away with the greatest gift of a friend, and for that I’m so grateful.

***

I ended up transferring and while there were still a lot of struggles, I would say the next two years were good. Recovery isn’t a straight road. I had a lot of ups and downs, both with my weight and with my ability to eat intuitively. I think it took me a solid 4 or 5 years until I really felt good, the reason for it being so long was because of something I’ll discuss in an upcoming post on March 27th.

Like I said, it’s not a straight path, recovery. And there are different degrees of it as well. Recovery is winding, zig ziagged, bendy, and filled with grooves. There were days that I stepped backwards, but then I sprang forwards. There were days I side stepped, wanted to throw in the towel, and thought I would never be free. You will be. Recovery looks different for everyone, so take what I’m saying and apply what makes sense to your own life. If none of it does, that’s okay. If some of it does, great!

I would say I still have moments in my mind where I struggle. An old voice I thought I shut out long ago came back, but I now know what it’s like to feel alive again, so I shut it out again. I can say confidently that I do have food freedom, and I’ll go into a little bit about how I reached that.

You have to fully break the relationship with the ED and accept that there is an issue deeper than food. While I’m not a certified professional (yet), from my experiences I’ve come to realize that no eating disorder stems from food. Food is the manifested physical component of what is really going on inside. For me, that was the feeling of being a burden. I felt like I was a weight on this world and that my presence was a nuisance, so I quite literally tried to make myself lighter. It sounds stupidly obvious, but this is what happened.

No matter what anyone tells you, that once you reach a certain weight, you’ll be healed, that once you hit a certain amount of years, it’ll break, let me tell you this: You. Will. Not. Get. Better. Until. YOU. Want. To. Get. Better. I can’t tell you how many doctors told me X number is the weight that my mind will switch. HA! If it were that easy, then classic eating disorder treatment facilities would actually be helping people. Once you realize that YOU want freedom from this insanity (and trust me, you truly do inside, this entire time, you’ve wanted freedom), only then can the true recovery come.

I want to make this clear though, anorexia is not glamorous, it’s not fun, and it’s not something to brag about. It costs money, it costs time, it costs your health, it costs relationships, and it costs your life. I’ve met women well into their 50’s that are still plagued with this. Some of them are just living in treatment facilities, some leaning on their families if they still have them because everyone else has deserted them and they can’t hold a job. It’s not fun, despite what Netflix portrayed it as recently. I wish I knew I would be dealing with depression, hypothyroidism, messed up menstruation, weak bones, and the heavy lifting of repairing relationships as the wreckage from Ana and Ed. It’s not worth it, guys. Please know that you are worth so much more than this pain.

Next, find a team that you can trust. The only member of my team that has been with me the entire time is my therapist. She’s now known me for 12 years, and has been a rock through this entire process. I went through so many nutritionists and dietitians because at the end of the day, I couldn’t trust them. There were only two, one that I still see, that I could trust because they were always honest and never tried to deceive me. The dietitian I currently see is the one who actually inspired me to follow suit. She understands me because she’s been in my shoes and she’s seen the other side, the side where you’re healthy and happy, and it made me want to that for myself too.

Eat real foods. Ditch the diet crap, anything labeled “diet” (that means no diet soda!), low carb, anything preaching sugar-free, laden with chemicals (I had a major addiction to Splenda). Of course, work with your dietitian on this, but I only found true food freedom when I was actually eating real foods: beautiful and nourishing plants, good quality and organic/grass-fed meats, and rich sources of carbs and fats. That being said, be wary of falling into the trap of orthorexia or extreme clean eating. Just because you’re eating a bunch of whole and nutritious foods doesn’t mean you need to make rules around what you can and can’t eat. Eat to nourish your body and have fun exploring what makes it thrive. One thing is for sure, it’s not written in a rule book.

It took a while for me to reach this point. For a few years after I decided enough was enough, I still hung onto foods and habits that only served to make me sicker. Another thing that I want to talk about with refeeding is that at some point, you will probably feel out of control. You’ll want to keep eating because your mind has literally been in starvation mode for years and for once it’s getting fuel. Know that this happens to almost everyone that has recovered. In those moments, your mind is hungry, despite what your body may be telling you. You have to trust this process that the mind will finally recalibrate to knowing when it’s satiated, along with the body, and they will be in tandem. Once I hit this point, I started to see food as nourishment and beauty rather than a frenemy or straight up villain.

Getting to the point of intuitively eating is long, and you won’t be able to just snap into it. I had to do a lot of re-feeding AND relearning what it means to feel hunger. I would say that for almost a decade, I never felt hungry, or I was so used to feeling hungry, I didn’t notice it because I starving my body. It will take a while to get back to what your body knows to be it’s normal, which I have to tell you, might look differently than what you want. You might have to be eating a lot more than you could ever imagine, especially in this moment, but once you find a team that you can trust, then give them the reigns. Know that you can speak up when something doesn’t feel right, but this is new territory, so much of this will probably not feel right. Learn to trust the process, and release control. You’ll be better for it.

Remember that things that were broken during your experience with ED and through recovery can be fixed. It will take time, some of those relationships I never gained back, but a lot of them did and they were stronger for it. I’m still in the process of repairing my body. Obviously, it’s rebelling against me right now (ironic because for so long, I told myself that my mind was in control of my body, and it has quite literally flipped flopped in recent months), but I trust that I can fix it. If you have to stop working out or running while in recovery because of your relationship with it, that is okay. Get to treat exercise not as a way to lose weight but as a way to honor your body for all of the amazing ways it can move and be strong because YOU are strong! Again, I am not a health professional, so trust your team that you have!

I’m a firm believer that nothing is permanent, only change, so accept this and move with the waves. You will look back on this and see yourself as this badass warrior who put her/his ED to shame. You can do this. We’re all rooting you on. You are loved, and you are worth it.

 

 

3 thoughts on “Journey to Freedom, Part I: Eating Disorder

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