The Sentence That Started My Journey to Eating Disorder Recovery
During my first year at a university, I was preparing for an audition to get into a competitive music school. I dropped a few classes to put all my energy into it, and my music teacher was sure I’d get in. But sometimes things don’t work out as planned, and I didn’t get accepted. For some people this would’ve been OK. For me, the situation brought up a stack of thoughts I’d previously kept hidden.
Suddenly, a voice I’ve always had grew a bit meaner. It said, “You’re a failure. You’re disgusting.” As a result, I began to base my self-worth entirely around weight.
Here I am: 17, a perfectionist and getting more obsessed with eating as little as possible while exercising as much as I could. I convinced myself if I gained any weight, no one would love me. I stopped seeing my friends, stopped eating at restaurants, became angry at my family and lost interest in things that used to give me joy. Underlying my obsession was a deep sense of self-hatred and gut-wrenching loneliness. I wanted so badly to feel loved and accepted, but I felt I needed to isolate myself so people couldn’t interfere with my obsessions. I told myself, “I don’t deserve to eat,” and “I’m disgusting.” Repeat these things enough and you stat to believe them. Keep on doing it and you get terribly depressed. At my worst, I was hearing voices that told me how repulsive I was and wanted to end my life.
Anorexia not only affected my thoughts but had severe consequences for my physical health. I was so malnourished my heart-rate dropped to 30 beats per minute and nurses feared I might have a heart attack. My hair began to fall out. I bruised easily and my skin was blue. Unable to stand for long periods of time, I had to quit my job in retail.
I knew something was wrong with me but I couldn’t stop. My illness was rapidly taking over and I couldn’t get out of the hole I had sunk into. Fortunately, I had a doctor who helped me understand I was sick and needed help. With the support of my family and friends, and on my psychiatrists recommendations, I eventually agreed to hospitalization. I participated in therapy and began to regain weight.
Recovery was a very scary prospect. It would mean leaving all my rituals and obsessions that kept me “safe” and venturing out into the unknown where I could be judged and rejected.
But the trigger point for my recovery came from a guest who visited one of our therapy sessions in the hospital. A few years ago she was hospitalized with anorexia, she told us, and had to use a feeding tube because she refused to eat. She wanted nothing more than to die.
“But now I’m recovered,” she said. We were gobsmacked and asked her how she did it.
“I just started living my life, hanging out with friends and getting coffee,” she replied, shrugging her shoulders. “I was so busy enjoying myself, I forgot about food.”
I think the other patients were skeptical, but I held on to what she said. It became the most valuable thing I’ve ever heard about recovery. She started living life and the eating disorder became powerless. That’s exactly what I wanted. Deep down, I felt a strong conviction I still had something to contribute. I couldn’t end my life now and let anorexia win. I had to get a move on, start living and I had to do it right now.
Life after the hospital was better, but still not smooth sailing – living always involves ups and downs. I developed bulimia a few months later, spending hours each day exercising between binge-eating. I abused laxatives, purposely gave myself food poisoning and engaged in a number of other disordered behaviors.
Although I was working hard on my self-esteem, I still believed I was unlovable. Every aspect of eating was governed by rules, and I had to make a commitment to challenge these rules every day. As the obsessions began to lift, very slowly, I began to enjoy life. Anytime I got invited out I would say, “Yes,” no matter what it was. I began to listen to music again, enjoy art, read books and became a little more lively. I started feeling emotions and could laugh again. After a long stretch of not being able to cry, I finally felt genuinely saddened over things.
As I challenged myself, I no longer needed anorexia to live the life I wanted to. I let anorexia go.
I’m not going to sugarcoat this part, though. It did take years until I finally felt OK with myself. I did have to work every day to put my vision of an eating disorder-free life into place. I got angry at myself when progress was slow – sometimes I would make the same mistake over and over again until something clicked and I could move on. It took years to remove rituals involving food, the diet mentality, self-criticism and to shift my core belief that I was unlovable.
Now, I can truly say I like myself. Most of the time I give little thought to my body, and I love that. The voice that would tell me I was worthless and unlovable has become dull, white noise. I have no room for thoughts that tell me I’m nothing.
I think my greatest pride in being recovered is being truly, authentically me. Since recovering from anorexia, it’s like I finally fit into my shoes. I am me, I’m OK with that and there is nothing I would change.
This post originally appeared on Bronwyn’s website.
If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.