Eating Disorder Stories
Share Your Personal Experience
Share your story with our online community. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with your poem, story, or other message regarding your personal experience with an eating disorder. Our staff will choose one periodically and post it online for others to read. Please note that not all submissions will be posted to the website and that by submitting you are granting Mirasol, Inc., a non-exclusive license to use the material submitted. Postings may be edited for length and style.
When my journey at Mirasol started I wasn't too excited about being there or getting better. My mind wasn't set on anything but numbers and worry of what people thought of me. The thought of having to share a room with other girls who had the same problem as me made me sick and I defiantly didn't want to admit to how bad my eating disorder was. I was so trapped that I didn't even know it and as my mother said I "was living in a box so small" and it wasn't filled with happiness or love, it was only filled with self-disgust.
After a long plane ride to Arizona I was very tired and didn't feel like meeting a bunch of new people who had my recovery in mind. When I walked into the door I only had to meet one nice person who helped fill out paperwork with me and my dad. To my surprise the inside of the house was absolutely beautiful and nothing like I had seen back home. It wasn't like my past treatments which were hospital like. After my tour of the house I met the other girls who were living there at the time which was scary for me because I had very bad self-esteem. Again, I was very surprised because there were only two girls there at the time which meant I only had two names to memorize. Everyone was very welcoming but not too pushy because I was new. The girls helped me get used to the program and were very kind to me.
When the work started I became homesick and sad but my therapist let me call my home often. I had a lot of family therapy sessions which terrified me at first because I didn't want to tell anyone the truth or the "hard things". Soon I became very willing and wanting to get better but I still wasn't very trusting. As I watched my friends leave and move on to a new life I knew soon it would be my turn, and when my family week came I was very anxious.
However, my family week was one of the most healing things that have ever happened to me and my entire family. We had a wonderful time doing Zuzi dance and the other activities, but the most healing part was psychodrama. My Dad and I had a very hard and distant relationship and at the end of the family program I felt how close we really always were and that communication was key. It's very hard to pinpoint just a few things that I have learned because I have learned so much.
When it finally became my turn to move on I had a hard time thinking of my new universe project. How could I portray my new world in one thing? So I decided to make two things combined: a drawing of my heart and all that is in it and a poem of the words within me.
My eyes can see,
My muscles can move.
I am lucky.
My nails can grow,
My lungs can breathe.
I am lucky.
My hands can write,
My brain can think.
I am lucky.
My smile can bring happiness,
My soul can fly.
I am lucky.
My arms can reach anything,
My heart can sing.
I am alive.
This is how I feel now. Since I have been home I have had to recite this poem many times to myself to remember all that life and my body is. I wake up and look in the mirror and smile because I can see who I truly am now. Even when I am down I can pull myself out and reach to my heart where I know the truth exists because my eating disorder isn't there! After having made this journey I know things about myself that I would have never known or accepted. I can now trust myself to take care of me in even the hard situations. I thank Mirasol, of course, for helping me to get where I am now but I also give myself props for doing the hardest most amazing conversion in my life.
"Taylor, come on out! We want to see what it looks like!" I pulled aside the dressing room's velvet curtain, exposing myself to the full length mirror that stood next to my impatiently waiting mom and Courtney, my sister. I opened my eyes, preparing myself for the disappointment so I could just try on the next dress. But what I saw was not something I was ready to reject. I stared at myself and my body as it was wrapped in the hot pink ball gown that complimented and flattered my every curve and contour. The dress seemed as if it was made for me. Tears crept forward from the backs of my eyes; I had never envisioned something so perfect. I had never envisioned finally being happy with my body.
More than six months earlier I stood leaning over the toilet seat, fingers down my throat and tears streaming down my face. Thoughts of all the foods I had eaten that day raced around in my mind, taunting me before coming back up out of my mouth. I sat back on my heels and took a breath. "Just one more time," I thought.
"That isn't enough. You have eaten so much. You don't want to gain more weight now, do you?" The devil that stood looking over my shoulder yelled at me, making me feel even guiltier than I was already feeling. But it was right. I leaned over again and shoved my hand down into the back of my mouth. Just one more t? Suddenly I heard a car door slam. Was my sister home already?! I rushed over to the sink and rapidly brushed my teeth. Glancing in the mirror, I saw that my eyes were beet red; partly from tears, partly from reflex. I quickly splashed some cold water on my face and stepped into the hallway just in time to see my sister walking up the stairs. I was breathless, my heart racing out of my chest.
"Are you okay?" Courtney asked, "Your eyes are red."
I'm fine." I said, wiping my hands on the back pockets of my jeans.
Days later I was sitting at my usual lunch table alongside my friends, although the food had long been cleared away except a few snacks still lingering around. The topic of the week was homecoming, only a few weeks away. As I was chatting, I reached across the table to grab one of the cookies only about an arm's length from me.
"You sure about that, Tay? With homecoming around the corner?" a friend questioned, unaware of what this seeming innocuous comment would trigger. I slowly brought my arm back to my side, unsure of how to react. My worst fear, someone asking aloud the thoughts that were consuming me 24 hours a day. I was embarrassed. I needed to get out now. Where was the closest bathroom? Which ones were empty? The ones in the science hallway towards the back of the school were a sure bet. But I couldn't hold back that long. My tears were coming faster than my legs could move so I stayed sitting in my seat, head buried in my arms as I tried to conceal my sobs. My friends, I knew, were very confused.
My friend, Jackie, turned to me.
Tay, are you okay? What's wrong?"
I faced her; I knew I needed to tell somebody. I couldn't let this go on anymore. I needed help.
"Can you take me to my counselor?" Jackie nodded.
Moments later, I was sitting on the worn, plaid-covered couch in the school physiatrist's office, tissue clutched in hand. I struggled trying to get the words out of my mouth. I had never before categorized myself as bulimic; never said it out loud. But once I did, my story poured out in sentences I had never pictured myself revealing to anyone but my journal. I felt so exposed, my darkest secret that I had kept to myself for nearly two years was now lying out in front of me and someone I barely knew, but it felt good to let it out.
"I'm going to get help," I thought.
Once the hard part was over, telling my parents and getting them through the initial shock, it was time to look for some professional help. My parents and school counselor were, of course, going to continue to be involved, but I needed someone who specialized in eating disorders. After a couple of tries, I finally found a therapist-nutritionist team who met my needs perfectly.
My therapist, Jen, and my nutritionist, Kathy, would work together to create a food plan and devise a list of strategies to help me work through those tough times. However, I had a lot to do on my end as well. The next few months I would be recording everything I ate, my thoughts after meals, when I had my episodes, and many other things that seemed tedious but would eventually lead me to my recovery.
The months that followed were the hardest I had ever lived through. I had never been so aware of my feelings and insecurities until they were pulled out from the back of my mind and sprawled in front of my face. I needed to learn to face my anxieties instead of ignoring them. I needed to learn how to organize my thoughts and contradict the bad with the good. Most importantly, though, I needed to create balance. As a bulimic, I was always walking on a tightrope and the slightest worry could cause me to slip and lose control. This balance involved juggling my school work, family time, food plan, job, boyfriend, and free time. I eventually would develop strategies and distractions to fill in the gaps; keeping myself busy was key. Slowly I felt safer while walking across this tightrope. My family and a few carefully selected friends were always there to spot me in case I felt like I was going to fall.
Months ago, I might have written this essay with a different outlook. Being a bulimic used to be something that
defined me. It was what I thought about every minute; it controlled thoughts, my moods, my actions, my life. But
now I am just a girl recovering from bulimia. Although my recovery has been far from perfect, it has given me a
greater sense of determination. My "eating disorder behaviors" have not completely disappeared and I am still
learning to control my thoughts, but I have come too far down to road to turn back now.
Being the victim of a tragic death of a brother, rape, abuse, and depression; I needed to find something I could control. This year, I had a heart attack the middle of algebra two class. Reason being? I hadn't had anything except for gum and Jolly Ranchers for 15 days.
I was quickly admitted into Forest View hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan, to seek help on the life threatening problem I was facing. In all honesty, I did not want help, I had control over ONE thing in my life; or so I thought. It's all so clear in my mind, many years ago, when I threw up for the first time. My mother had been caught cheating on my dad again and venom was being thrown in my house. I went into the bathroom and locked the door. Looking in the mirror, I saw no reason to be alive; nothing about the reflection was beautiful. In the corner of the mirror was the reflection of the toilet. I sat on the floor crying for what seemed like hours before I actually did it. 12 years old, and I felt as though I had to be good at something and being attractive was what ED had chosen for me.
All control had been lost when I was 7 years old, my brother died and that same week, my cousin began his hobby of raping me. This went on until I was 12, when i started my period. Everything around me was collapsing, all I had was ED; he was my only friend. Sitting in class, focusing was just not an option ED was willing to let me have, all day he would spit at my self esteem. "No one loves you K," "See those girls whispering? They're talking about how fat you are," "I am the only thing you have," "All the guys voted you the ugliest in the school," "You are going nowhere in life." On and on, I heard those words 24/7, for 7 years.
In those years, I stopped once, for 6 months. Why? I fell in love. At age 15 I began dating my high school sweetheart. The first year of our relationship was just like a fairy tale. For the first time in my entire life, I felt truly beautiful. However, all good things come to an end. After a year, he broke up with me. We ened up back together but at that point I had already broken my sobriety and was again addicted to ED. We were together another two years after that and he never knew. He suspected on many occasions, but never figured it out. Once, he walked in on my throwing up and I panicked and told him I was pregnant. He believed me for months, planning, saving money, picking up shifts. He was perfect. How could I let myself do that? Needless to say when he found out he was just shattered. We broke up, and I still wasn't done hurting him. ED kept yelling at me, convincing me it was his fault. So what did I do? Harassed him to the point of blocking my number and facebook.
After that, I broke down completely. Starving myself as punishment is what it really was I believe. After my heart attack, while in the hospital, I met a girl. She was in there because of attempted suicide. We always say, "we found love in a hopeless place," because we became best friends in the 4 weeks we were both in there. Between her and my support group, they honestly saved my life.
After I was discharged, I felt like a million bucks. Came back to school expecting to receive hugs from all of my friends;
no. When I got back to school, my ex had completely destroyed my reputation. None of my friends would talk to me, people
would snicker when I walked by, and I felt honestly alone, again. To this day, I have no idea how i managed to stay
strong until graduation, but I did it. After that, however, while going open house hopping, I found out my ex had a
new girlfriend. Relapse happened faster than I could think. I never went back to the hospital, though I probably should
have, but I was seeing a therapist every day and was so high on anti depressants I couldn't even talk straight
half of the time. To this day, I struggle with depression very intensely. And to be honest, I still hear
ED almost every day, but I stay strong. I have post-it notes all over my mirror with recovery quotes on them,
reminding me that I am beautiful. I have no idea what is to come in the future but as for now I am
still trucking along and doing alright in my recovery.
I'm weary of filling the void in my life, anxiety is devouring my soul
I numb myself from hand to mouth the hunger is taking its toll
But if I stop to see who calls will fear have locked the door?
Where is the key to that part of me that knows life is so much more?
It's buried deep as deep can be beneath the layers of pain
My inner light is barely bright for my heart is drenched with rain
We all have our methods of coping we all have our weapons of choice
If we cast them aside and get off the ride can we free our inner voice?
We have much for which to be grateful, yet at times it seems we don't care
Our inner berating and self-medicating consumes us with despair
We cannot fight this battle alone or we're sure to lose the war
If we retreat we're admitting defeat without knowing what it was all for
If we close our eyes and open our minds we'll open ourselves to joy
And bit by bit without knowing it, ego we'll start to destroy
And as its hold on us loosens, so do the knots it has tied
And so we'll find as our truths unwind we no longer need to hide
We'll be free to shine for the world to see, free to live our dreams
Forever we'll know that wherever we go, it's never as dark as it seems
If we reach out a hand will help us, if we speak our call will be heard
Amazing grace puts us back in the race we have only to say the word
We all have a flame within us, though at times we don't always see
That spark of life between joy and strife is what's joining you and me
"Anorexix Nervosa #1"
Becoming an anorexic is like being caught in the darkness after each light has been sequentially extinguished. The power outage did not occur all at once; rather, the lights inside myself were extinguished one by one. Anorexia nervosa was an evolving entity, gradually becoming a more powerful, controlling, and encompassing presence in my life. I did not even really notice it all that much as signs of it appeared that summer before my sophomore year of college in 1996. It was like standing in the middle of a busy intersection at rush hour, just waiting for one or more of the speeding cars coming through to hit me.
Metaphorically, those cars were family, boyfriend, anger, sadness, guilt, indecision, self-hatred, and obsession with the body. The cars were not going to stop. They had gathered too much speed. It was too late to get out of the way. The compilation of their power and momentum was too much for me to resist or ignore anymore. So I got hit and the injuries developed into a wound that I attempted to cover up with a band-aid called anorexia nervosa.
Anorexia was a disease that was years in the making. However, I mark one night during the summer of 1996 when it was unleashed. I was on a trip through an organization I belonged to and I distinctly remember sitting in my hotel room ruminating about my fat legs. That night I permitted myself to eat only lettuce from the salad bar, but no more. I didn't want or need any more food. No more. No more!!! I had allowed myself to get fat, fat, fat, and that was equal in my mind to being out of control and slovenly and greedy. I was a horrible, selfish person because of how much I weighed. Even though I was a little below ideal body weight for my height, all I saw was chunky legs, a chubby face, and a protruding abdomen. I needed to try to avoid eating as much as possible.
Slowly but surely, the activities of each day gradually became a little more compulsive and a little more obsessive. Soon guilt began piling up no matter what I did. The amount of exercise in the morning was not enough. The amount of food I was eating was always too much. I could get by without all those extra calories, sugar, and fat that you found in juice, soda, spreads, snacks, and sweets. I became a master at cutting calories and avoiding food. Everything became low-fat. Then it became no fat. Then the protein disappeared. Gradually the list of acceptable foods shrank until I had developed a small arsenal of "safe" foods that I was allowed to partake of.
One can only fool the body for so long and mine was beginning to tell me that it didn't like how I was depriving it more and more each day. I didn't have the energy to complete my workouts and my running times continually got worse. Eventually it became tiring even to walk across a store parking lot. I was depressed even more than usual. I was angry and irritable and moody. I began to hate my activities and avoided parties, going out to dinner, and any social situations involving food. Food was the devil and I used several excuses to avoid eating it. The rules, rigidity, and rituals surrounding food became more complex and more engrossing and entrenching. I began to isolate myself and threw myself totally into school and work and of course my eating disorder. The lights went out one by one.
As anorexia made my body smaller, the size of my world and what I was allowed to have also decreased. Anorexia became a lifestyle. I was anorexic with my time, friends, relationships, possessions, recreation, fun, and laughter. I gave little to myself and thus I was resentful when I was expected to give to others. I stopped calling friends and they stopped calling me. Relationships disappeared one by one as my anorexia blossomed. Anorexia became my primary relationship and my only relationship. As diversions and friends departed from my life, I became more and more empty. My anorexia filled me up, but it ended up being uncontrollable and harmful in ways that I never could have predicted.
I started at the bottom of the anorexia totem pole and worked my way up to anorexic "success", losing 50 pounds from an already small body. All that aside, anorexia was a "fit" for me. It fit with my drive for perfection, my compulsiveness, my obsessiveness, my desire for organization, my racing brain, my perseveration, and my sense that I had to work twice as hard as anyone else to measure up. It filled me up. It gave me a high. Not eating gave me a high. Losing weight gave me a high. Exercising excessively gave me a high. Plotting, planning, organizing, and devising gave me a high.
Anorexia nervosa is supposedly about wanting to look like a model. I don't recall ever consciously wanting to be on a runway or in a magazine. I don't remember waking up every morning, telling myself that I needed to starve my body in order to look like a model or actress. I think I was past the I-just-want-to-be-thin stage. In fact, I don't think any magazine or clothing company would hire me with the way that I looked. My "figure" was like that of a little boy, nothing but straight lines. My hair was thin and my skin was dry, discolored, and easily bruised. My eyes had circles around them due to lack of sleep and peace of mind. A yellowish tinge sometimes highlighted my face. My eyes were full of some kind of nameless and groundless fear and anxiety. I shivered in the springtime in the desert. I was miserably cold in the winter. Something was not right about all this, but I still received compliments from complete strangers about how good I looked. One can never be too thin you know. At least that was the sentiment that American society seemed to portray.
I felt old and grouchy. I felt like I had skipped directly from childhood into old age. I was tired. I didn't seem to enjoy anything anymore. I didn't know what I liked, what I didn't like, or what I wanted to do. My brain hurt and my body hurt, but I didn't seem to feel much otherwise. I didn't believe my life could improve or that this eating disorder would ever make its exit from my life. I was sure of that. God was nowhere and I didn't really care. It was dark and I didn't know where to even face to begin to see the light again. I was bitter and angry and would do anything to get out of my skin and out of my body. Anorexia allowed me to escape my body, but I still had to look at it and feel it. I still had to silence my body's ever-increasing demands. Sometimes it was like a screaming child who couldn't take no for an answer. A little child doesn't understand rules and regulations and numbers and games.
I certainly didn't consider anorexia nervosa to be a real illness or disease. It was just all about food, right? The impression that I got from my family and friends was that anorexia was synonymous with failure and neglecting to live up to my full potential. Why couldn't I just get over it tomorrow? Why didn't I just eat? Why wasn't I like I used to be? Did I choose to embrace anorexia? If I had really chosen this malevolent dictator to become my best friend, then certainly I could rob it of its power. It was easy, right? I could stop being this way if I just got myself together and acted like I used to.
I spent a few years going to eating disorder support groups and individual counseling sessions, but I never was ready to commit to any kind of recovery plan. I was not prepared to give up anorexia, and the thought of having a healthy body and living without my eating disorder was horrifying to me. Through the help of several special people and friends, I came to realize that I was not really living anyway and could even lose what life I had. It took a few attempts at treatment for me to finally put my trust in God and people who truly could help me help myself. It was a leap of faith and I had no idea where I would land, whom I would be, and what I would look like. My identity had been completely defined by anorexia for years, so I had to first learn how to be a feeling human being again. Who would I be if I were not an anorexic? This was perhaps the one terrifying question that haunted me throughout my times at treatment. What was I going to do? What would I like to do? What didn't I like? How would I spend my time? How would I fill the huge gap the anorexia occupied? What would I be like if I wasn't numb? Who would love me? Perhaps most importantly, could I ever love myself?
As the weeks in treatment went by and the months that followed after my discharge revealed themselves, the mysteries of self began to unravel. No, answers and reasons did not just fall out of the sky. Yet to my surprise, I found that the more I let things just be, the less anxious I felt. The more I gave over my control and put my troubles and worries and questions at God's feet, the more I felt at peace. I found out that there was not just one answer to the question of who I would be if I did not have my eating disorder. I discovered that I am a human, a woman, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a friend, a lover, a student, a teacher, and a child of God. I am sensitive, intelligent, resourceful, capable, competent, passionate, determined, and creative. I am loved. I am full of unknown and undiscovered gifts, talents, and identities. There is no one else in the world who looks like me, thinks like me, does what I do, or feels what I feel.
I don't wake up anymore and wish the day were already over. I don't wake up anymore feeling like an empty shell that could fracture and collapse at any moment or any given word. I don't wake up anymore with the sinking feeling that the day ahead is going to be just like all the others. I don't wake up anymore feeling drained of energy and resilience. I don't wake up anymore with a hunger in my stomach and my body that I know I will not allow myself to satiate. I don't wake up anymore with loneliness and an emptiness I know I will never permit myself to fill. Sometimes now, I don't wake up until I want to or until I feel rested.
I don't just walk out the door in the morning not taking care of myself before I leave. I don't go through the day anymore knowing that I have to absolutely adhere to my plans and schedule. I don't punish myself for not getting everything crossed off on my list today. I don't turn away when I see someone I know. I don't let the answering machine pick up my phone calls. I don't feel that just simply talking to people is a waste of my time. I don't plan my days and my life around what I will eat or not eat. I don't feel like a frightened little girl. I don't feel weak. I don't feel exhausted mentally and physically. I don't apologize for myself a hundred times a day. I don't numb myself from feeling. I don't feel like I am waging a war inside my head all the time. I don't feel like I want to give up. I don't feel lifeless.
I have a God. I have a voice. I have a body. I have likes and dislikes. I have independence. I have choices and decisions to make. I have places to go and things to do. I have friends to love and new people to meet. I have relationships to be discovered and made. I have work to be done. I have people to help. I have people to help me. I have sights to be seen and memories to be made. I have joy, anger, sadness, hurt, frustration, jealousy, disgust, happiness, serenity, confusion, clarity, excitement, anticipation, disappointment, triumph, failure, fear, courage, and gratitude to feel. I have my power. I have my light. I have my darkness.
I don't have a lot of money. I don't have someone to come home to and love. I don't have a child. I don't have a house. I don't have a pet. I don't have a new car. I don't have a secure job. I don't have the most fashionable clothes. I don't have a lot of toys. I don't have the perfect body. I don't have a perfect family. I don't always like what I see in the mirror. I don't have a long list of great accomplishments. I don't know what I will be doing a year from now. I don't always know the answer. I don't always know what to say or do. I don't always do the right or the most loving thing.
I have a life. I have friends and loved ones. I have the ability to make what I need with God's help. I have dreams and goals. I have priceless experiences and memories. I have my calmness and my composure when things become difficult or awkward. I have the permission to cry or get angry later if I need to. I have options. I have opportunities. I have hope. I have talents and gifts to be discovered and molded. I have my body. I have my mind. I have my soul. I have my spirit.
Am I always perfect about remembering my commitment to recovery? Am I cured of all eating disordered thoughts and behaviors? Certainly not. Undoubtedly I am tempted again and again by the desire for a tiny body and that old sense of "safety". The difference between my mind now and my mind hypnotized by anorexia is that it has calmed down. Problems and emotions are no longer so overpowering that I feel debilitated by them. I know that I can figure out what I need to do with the help of God and others and my own experiences and competency. Obsessions and compulsions can still be rather powerful, but at least I can consciously remind myself later that fulfilling them does not dictate my worthiness or goodness. Peace of mind returns eventually. I am in charge of my life. God is in charge of my life. Anorexia is not in charge of my life.
I could not have come to these realizations or made this progress on my own. I used to think reaching out for help was a sign of weakness, but I soon realized that the opposite was the case. I received support, encouragement, understanding, challenges, and love along the way from counselors and fellow eating disordered women at a wonderful place called Mirasol. They never gave up on me and that helped me to never give up on myself and my recovery. Mirasol encouraged me to take a leap of faith into the unknown and gave me many glimpses into a life not dictated by an eating disorder. I was allowed to make choices within a safe, quiet, and nurturing environment. Mirasol gave me the tools to take back my life. They taught me how to deal with life, friends, and family without constantly turning to my eating disorder. I learned independence instead of codependence and light instead of darkness. I learned how multifaceted my identity and my gifts can be.
Do I like myself better now or as an anorexic? This is a difficult question sometimes for me. After trying to put the distortions in the mirror in perspective and countering the lies that anorexia tells me, I know that I would never want to be an anorexic again. Why? I cannot see all that I am if I am anorexic. I cannot see my identities as a woman, sister, daughter, friend, or lover. I cannot accept my gifts and talents because they are too threatening to the continued existence of anorexia nervosa. I cannot use my voice or my power as long as anorexia is dictating my life and my actions. I can either be anorexic or be all the things that I listed that I am. The choice may seem obvious, but it was not for me. I had to trust that as I left my small world, I would find something greater. I found that people are the ultimate healers. I am filling myself up in other ways, and this is constantly in flux. I am finding out who I am again without an eating disorder. I am not a number. I am not an object. I am not anorexia. I could not say any of these statements and believe them without the help I received at Mirasol.
"Anorexix Nervosa #2"
I have relied greatly on two features of my character over the years and spent the better part of my life convinced that, in the absence of anyone to trust, I could trust my brain to send the right messages and my firm character to carry those messages out into concrete action in a prompt and thorough manner. I have never been admired for my ability to carry a tune, run a fast mile, or solve quadratic equations. I have, however, heard others claim that they wished they could think as clearly as I do and control themselves with the kind of vigilance that I exhibit. Imagine my shock and horror, then, when I was faced with the reality that my reasoning and self-discipline were working together to help me slowly kill myself.
I entered Mirasol in May of 2002 at the age of 28 with a diagnosis of anorexia nervosa. I had been anorexic since I was 12. Clearly, one does not survive for 16 years in a bottomless freefall of starvation. I had my ups and downs, but I would always, without fail, return to my downs.
Recently married, I arrived at Mirasol telling everyone who would listen that I was only there because my husband seemed to think I had a problem and I did not want to cause him further pain and frustration. The child of two divorces, I can see a marital problem when it comes barreling towards me and I could tell there was a marital problem. Still I insisted that I was not truly anorexic.
In general, I am an extraordinarily unemotional person. I keep very tight control of my feelings and cry very little. My emotions are like the distant family members most of us see every few years at weddings and funerals. So, I had to wonder what the problem was when I cried every day for four days at the lunch table.
I would put my plate of food in front of myself and panic. I felt like I was going to die. I was sure that eating that lunch was the worst possible thing for me. As one of my fellow Mirasol clients pointed out, people who possess a normal relationship with food do not tend to cry at the lunch table every day for four days. This was my first indication that maybe my brain was not sending me the correct messages.
I can remember a time when the eating disordered voice was recognizable as an entity separate from my own voice. In the very early days of my disease, I was aware that new messages were creeping in and conflicting with the healthy messages I had hitherto heard in my mind. The eating disordered voice is seductive and often times starts with a benevolent goal in mind. I was twelve, unhappy, abused in a variety of ways, perfectionist, ignored, and ashamed of myself. There was no literal escape from my situation or myself so, like a painkiller, the eating disorder made all of it disappear. I felt nothing. Any time I did feel something, my brain would send me the message that I would feel better if I just restricted my food or engaged in any number of the myriad exercise regimes I had designed for myself. Just as we often internalize our parents' voices and start to sound like them as we age, I internalized the eating disorder voice to the point where it was indistinguishable from myself. I can remember a time when the eating disorder was distinct from my thoughts, but when I arrived at Mirasol I was many years past that point and no longer existed as a separate entity.
Perhaps the single most important moment for me at Mirasol was when my therapist finally convinced me that the eating disorder voice is not the same as my voice. This took an incredible amount of skill and patience on her part. I was resistant to any indication that I could not always trust my brain. I felt about my brain the way most people feel about their best friends. It was as if my best friend had tried to kill me. I felt confused and betrayed.
Once I came to see the eating disorder not as the wisdom from within but as a sort of opportunistic and lethal virus, I could start sorting out what to do about it. It is a cliché that addicts cannot help themselves until they want to get well. This was not true in my case. When I started eating again, I did not want to get well. I simply made a series of decisions. I decided that the message my brain sends me claiming that I do not have a problem with food was false. I decided that the message my brain sends me that the only way for me to feel better is to get rid of my body and that I will not die from trying to get rid of my body is false. I decided that, as much as I hated having a body, I did not want to die. I decided that, whenever my brain sent me those messages, I would ignore them. I knew this would be hard. I had never succeeded at ignoring those messages in the past. But, there I was, in the most safe, loving, supportive environment a person can hope for. I was lucky enough to have the resources and the time to be at an inpatient treatment facility like Mirasol and if I was ever in a position to make those decisions and stick with them, it was right then at that moment in time. So I did.
I stopped crying at lunch. I felt terrible eating. Every fiber in my being told me that the most terrible thing imaginable would happen to me if I ate. I was overcome by shame. I wanted to pull the flesh from my bones. But, I ate. I talked about my feelings, I drew strength from the other courageous women around me, and I told myself that the eating disorder had left the building. And so I began the road that I am on today that will continue for years to come. I have been following those decisions I made at Mirasol for 18 months now, the longest I have gone without engaging in my symptoms since I became anorexic at 12 years old.
I will not lie to you. I have a long way to go. I look forward to the day when I do not find the sight of my own body repulsive. I look forward to a time when I can eat without feeling ashamed. I hope for a time when I can truly say that I love myself exactly as I am. There is work to be done, to be sure. Still, I am controlling my behaviors for the first time in my life, I have rediscovered the part of my brain that I can trust and I use it to answer the eating disorder, I have gained a sort of freedom that I never thought I could have. I could have cured cancer in the time I spent thinking about what I would and would not eat and when I would or would not eat it. I have hours back in my day. I use these hours to do the work I love, sing stupid songs to my husband about our cat's paws, and nourish myself.
I owe this change in my life to my own hard work and determination, of course, but I used my hard work and determination to destroy myself in the past. The people at Mirasol are who get the credit for showing me that my hard work and determination were better spent on other endeavors. They gave me the tools I needed to make that possible and, above all, a safe place in which to begin that shift.
Where once my reasoning told me to use my self-discipline to get rid of myself, it now tells my self-discipline to work hard at keeping me well. I am slowly learning to trust myself again now that I am back in myself.
I want to say this to whoever may read this story: recovery is not easy. It was the hardest thing I ever had to do in a life of hard things. Women with eating disorders, however, are strong women. We are fiercely courageous. We need only turn that courage towards healing ourselves and we can make it through anything. I often imagine myself with a spine made of steel. In the moments when I start to lose my recovery nerve, I go inside and find that steely core and I draw the strength I need to stay on track. I found that core at Mirasol. I found the strength to fight my way back from this disease at Mirasol. I found the love, support, and understanding I needed to take these pivotal steps at Mirasol. I firmly believe that I would not have been able to do so without the Mirasol experience in my life.
When I think about what it has been like to have an eating disorder, the first word that comes to mind is shame. I became bulimic early in college. I knew I had an eating disorder, and I knew I couldn't tell anyone. What would people think of me if they knew that I binged and purged for no apparent reason and was helpless to stop. At first, the binging and purging behaviors were infrequent, but as I progressed through college and beyond, the eating disorder behaviors increased in intensity and frequency. At times, I would try to change the behavior on my own but was powerless to do so; I felt I lacked the willpower to stop the binging and purging and to be normal. After two years of this, I finally told my parents, asking for help. I made no progress with the therapist I saw for the summer and returned to school. The relationship between my parents and me was awkward - they didn't talk about the eating disorder and neither did I. Consequently, I soon assured them that I was fine, and kept the eating disorder secret for the next eight years.
Throughout those years, it seemed I was able to keep the eating disorder behavior separate from the rest of my life. There were many parts of life that were genuinely good; however, I was also in my own private hell. I did well in college, went to graduate school, got married, and engaged in life. Yet there was this terrible part of myself that I agonized over in private. I knew it had to stop, but I felt helpless. As the feelings of helpless and hopelessness intensified, I wished more and more that I would cease to exist, that something would happen to me, and that it would all be over. I couldn't see any other way out. I couldn't ask for help. I couldn't kill myself. The eating disorder hadn't killed me. I absolutely hated myself.
At some point, I found that I could not deal with this any more. I couldn't live with the constant anxiety and depression. I either had to tell someone and ask for help or kill myself. Either way, I just couldn't continue as I had been. I decided to tell my husband, to whom I had been married for five years. It was one of the hardest things I have had to do because of the fear of how he would react and what he would think of me. I knew how much I hated myself and how disgusted I was with myself; how could he feel any differently. Telling him was the first step in my recovery. He was compassionate and supportive. When I was ready to see a therapist, he made the calls that I was unable to make. I knew I needed to talk to someone, yet shame prevented me from being able to take that step on my own. (I later discovered that others too would be understanding and sympathetic given that chance. When I told a few people what was happening, they could empathize because they knew others who had gone through their own battles with eating disorders and/or they had faced struggles in their own lives. I was surprised at how understanding and supportive people were. This released some of the shame.)
Working with the therapist, I began to understand how the eating disorder helped me cope with anything and everything for all of those years. I learned that it wasn't about food and could not be solved through will power. The eating disorder behaviors, anxiety, and depression continued; however, being able to talk to someone who was understanding and accepting helped me to begin to have some hope, sometimes. When I felt completely hopeless, was certain that I would never get through this, and felt like giving up, my therapist helped me to continue because she did not give up on me. I couldn't trust myself, but I could put my trust in someone else.
It became clear that outpatient treatment was not enough, and I entered Mirasol's inpatient program. Focusing on recovery twenty-four hours a day was difficult. The eating disorder had been my means of avoiding feeling anything, and by going inpatient, I gave up that coping mechanism. As hard as it was to be there at times, it was also a relief. I could let go of the control of food and trust the nutritionist. I was with other women with similar experiences. I found that I could endure sometimes intense feelings and emotions. Prior to going to Mirasol, much of what I discussed with my therapist I understood or believed from a rational point of view, and these things began to feel true while at Mirasol - that the eating disorder was a coping mechanism and did serve a purpose despite its consequences, that I was okay as I was, that I could forgive myself . . . Once I understood and accepted the role that the eating disorder had played in my life, I could begin to forgive myself and stop beating myself up because of it. I could let go of the shame.
It has been about a year since I left inpatient treatment, and there have been many highs and lows in recovery. Fortunately, I've received continued support from my husband, my therapist, friends from Mirasol, and others. One challenge has been accepting that recovery is not perfect, at least mine isn't. When I experienced a relapse, I fell back into the intense feelings of shame and self-hatred. I got out of it only when I was able to forgive myself and let it go. It also was important for me to try to be present and focus on now, rather that beat myself up over the past or live in fear of when I might relapse again. It's difficult at times because certain reactions, even though they are harmful, are automatic and seemingly more comfortable. Sometimes when I've felt particularly anxious or vulnerable, I react by feeling there's something wrong with me and ultimately hating myself, and sometimes thoughts of food arise. I guess the illusion is that these things are more comfortable or easier to handle than strong feelings of anxiety or vulnerability. Fortunately, I've experienced more and more that when I let myself be vulnerable and present, and when I can let things go, I'm okay. The freedom of living without an eating disorder feels really good.
It sounds odd, but throughout recovery, I've learned how to live. I learned to have patience, understanding, acceptance and forgiveness for myself, that it's okay to let things go, that it's okay not to be perfect, that there's nothing wrong with me . . . that I can open myself up and be vulnerable. If I just give myself a break, do the best I can, let things go, and treat myself with compassion, I'll be okay.