It’s the age-old stigma. Societal pressure, magazine standards and cruel peers in the cyber-bullying age push a young girl to the limit. Must be skinny like them, she thinks to herself as she skips lunch, sticks her fingers down her throat or swallows the diet pills or laxatives. In some cases that might be true, but for me it wasn’t, and recovery most certainly is not the clear-cut expectation where there’s a light-bulb moment and everything is all better. It started with the idea that I’d drop a couple of kilos, but certainly didn’t end that way.
When I was in primary school, I was a bit of a chubby kid, mainly puppy fat that I most likely would have grown out of. I started to obsess over the bits of fat that I could grab, and so I started skipping lunch. I’d have one piece of dry toast for breakfast and then nothing until dinner time, where I’d push my food around my plate to make it look eaten and have a couple of mouthfuls before declaring I was full. As time progressed though, it was no longer that I was chubby. I never saw myself as thin, but I certainly wasn’t doing this to lose weight anymore.
The obsession over my fat turned into obsession over numbers, the scales, my clothing size, calorie intake, workout times and records. Anything that could have a number attributed to it I would obsess over. I was addicted to the control, the feeling of hunger in my stomach after my day at school. What I didn’t realise though was that I’d completely lost control. Was it when I started hiding my dinner bit by bit under the table until I could sneak it into a bin in my room? Or was it when I completely stopped eating my single piece of dry toast for breakfast? Maybe it was the nights I ate dinner and didn’t feel like the laxatives hadn’t worked or I didn’t get to a bathroom to throw up in time and started counting calories to work out how many sit ups, squats and push ups I’d need to do? I guess the exact point in time that I lost control doesn’t really matter, it’s the fact that I lost control, or even the fact that this whole thing ever started.
From ages 12-18 I was in a state of constant guilt and shame. I felt guilt and shame for eating. I felt guilt and shame for not eating. It was never enough and eventually the hunger stopped; I couldn’t get that feeling back. To this day I don’t get hungry, I eat because I know I have to and because it’s expected of me socially. During the worst years of my eating disorder my family tried many tactics: subtle hinting, anger, punishment, therapy. They made my favourite meals every single day, but I couldn’t enjoy them anymore. The truth is that nothing would work, not even therapy, until I was ready to get well again.
The truth is that nothing would work, not even therapy, until I was ready to get well again.
Was I ever truly ready? No, I don’t think I’m even ready to be well now. There were a lot of circumstances that lead to me getting well. Supportive friends, people who understood that half a sandwich was a big step for me. Friends who held my hair back when my body rejected that half a sandwich and then held me close while I cried from guilt and shame. The long-term effects of the damage I did to my body have only recently dawned on me, I’m now almost 23. My body doesn’t digest food properly, I’ve lost some control of my bowel from years of laxative abuse, I’m never hungry, sometimes my body still rejects food and I throw it up without any intention of doing so. My body stores more fat than the average body because it’s never confident that I won’t starve it of the nutrients I need again. I’m not confident that I won’t starve it again.
Whilst I got well, saw a therapist and made a conscious effort to put three ‘meals’ into my body a day (even if it was a shake or smoothie) I struggle internally every day. When things in my life get tough, or I lose control of my anxiety or depression, it’s a constant battle in my mind to stay on top of it. I’ve relapsed plenty of times and in some ways it’s easier to do these days. Now that I’m an adult my friends and I live individual lives and I can go days, weeks, without having to eat with anyone. It’s up to me to stay well and up to me alone.
The truth is that recovery is a lifetime commitment. It’s not easy, there’s no magic wand that makes everything better. Every single day I have the internal struggle with myself about eating. Some days are better than other, but the thoughts are always there. I fight the urges because I know I am more than my eating disorder, much like I am more than my depression or anxiety. I deserve more from life. I deserve to feel confident, one day, that I am enough and always have been. I deserve to feel in control because I am eating, not because I’m starving. I deserve to work out without obsessing over numbers. I deserve to live.