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Why I Sometimes Miss My Anorexia Body

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Editor’s note: If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741-741.

Even though my life today is the best it has ever been since my eating disorder started, from time to time I still find myself glorifying my body at its most unwell. I get sucked in and look at old pictures of myself, only to feel worse about the body I have today. I reminisce on all the “good” aspects of that body. And when I am in a vulnerable state, I miss how that body got me noticed, how that body let me control it. How that body was there for me when I felt so painfully alone in this world. But when I catch myself longing for the past, I also make an effort to remember the not so glamorous parts of that body. It was a body I was dying in. It was a body that was so weak, tired and broken I could barely get out of bed. It was a body that isolated me and took me away from the people I love. It was a body that was no longer mine but rather anorexia’s.

So when I think about the body I used to have, it is with a mixture of feelings: happiness that my illness no longer dominates my life, a longing for my anorexic body and gratitude for that body. It sounds a little strange to be grateful for something that consumed my life and controlled my every move, but in my darkest moments, when I was faced with overwhelming thoughts of wanting my life to end, the thing which kept me alive was knowing that the number on the scale was going to drop and I did not want to miss seeing it. So even though that body was slowly leading me to death, it also kept me alive long enough to reach the walls of a treatment facility where I could truly begin saving my life. For that reason, I am so thankful for that body and all the fighting it did to keep me alive even when I was not capable of doing so myself.

However, these days, my goals have changed from merely surviving to embracing life and truly living. So no, I no longer want to barely make it by day by day, thanking my body it kept me alive only to deprive it once again. This realization and change of my thought processes occurred through a lot of treatment, therapy, time, self-awareness and trial and error in recovery.

I have learned the importance and value of a healthy body and what that means to me. That does not, however, mean I don’t miss my eating disorder and the body that came with it. It just means I am better able to deal with those thoughts because of how recovery has impacted my life and all the support I have around me. Today, my life is full of love, connection, laughter and peace because of the healthy body I have worked so hard to obtain. The tears I cried over this new body, the hatred I felt towards myself, and all the times I thought I was never going to be able to recover has all been worth it because I no longer need my body to live for me. Recovery has given me the ability to claim my life back and put my body back in its place, as just a body which allows me to do the things I love.

I hope we can all try to be a little bit nicer to our bodies, whether you are struggling with an eating disorder or not. All bodies truly are remarkable and it is time we start believing that.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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How I'm Learning to Accept Gaining Weight in Eating Disorder Recovery

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Editor’s note: If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741-741.

Staring at myself in the mirror, sitting cross-legged on the floor trying not to be distracted by my body, I am debilitated by loneliness once again. All I want to do is crawl into a ball, cry myself to sleep and disappear for a while. All I want is to escape the voice inside me calling me fat, ugly, disgusting, worthless and fat, fat, fat. I want to be a “normal” person again who isn’t consumed with thoughts about weight, but instead has thoughts about friends, success and dreams for the future. Yet, as I sit in front of the mirror, all I can think is how gruesome my future may be if I don’t lose weight. All I can think is how weight and food will never stop torturing me.

Even in my process of recovery, the voices of Ana (anorexia) and Mia (bulimia) never seem to quiet themselves. I’m terrified of falling back to Ana once again. It’s as if Ana and Mia cannot quite decide which one should claim their territory over my body. It’s as if my mind and body has become a game board where Ana and Mia are the players and they take turns making their moves until one of them will destroy my soul altogether.

Sitting in front of the mirror, I can’t help but feel completely hopeless. How will I ever love myself if I just keep getting bigger? How could I possibly love myself at my current weight? Worst of all, how am I supposed to continue to make it through life, day by day, just trying to survive and ignore the thoughts of food and weight that are always consuming me? What kind of a life is one only dedicated to eating or not eating, losing weight or hating myself for gaining weight?

I’d be lying if I said that, suddenly, as I stare at myself in the mirror, all of the answers to my questions became clear and I suddenly can accept the idea of gaining weight or intuitively eating. I’d be lying if I said I suddenly discovered how to love myself, regardless of my weight. Trying to decide how to eat and when to eat are still constant thoughts that are always at least in the back of my mind.

Perhaps experiencing weight gain is not a loss, but instead another challenge to stretch our comfort zones and demonstrate the endless amount of strength we have inside of us. Struggling for self-acceptance only grows our ability to reach true recovery. After all, many of us carry the weight of depression and self-hatred every day. Surely, we can destroy the self-hatred and depression. Any amount of weight is healthier than the hatred I subjected my mind to every day. As incredibly hard as it is to accept, I am not my weight — as much as Ana and Mia would like me to believe I am. I have so much more to gain from recovery, even if a few extra pounds has to come with it.

As I write this, I still struggle with the weight that has collected on my body. Yet, I also can’t help but notice the tiny spark of light that exists within my eyes, as if a small part of me is begging for recovery and self-love. No matter how hard, this is the part of myself I need to nourish. Despite what Ana and Mia would like me to believe, I deserve more than they have to offer me. I have to keep fighting in spite of them, even if that means accepting a few extra pounds, because I am more than my weight. The burden of self-hatred and depression are so much heavier than any amount of weight I could possibly gain in recovery.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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Anorexia: The Voice of the Monster in My Head

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Editor’s note: If you struggle with self-harm or an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click hereFor eating disorders, you can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741-741.

One month in the dark.

I sat in the parking garage outside of the treatment center and cried for an hour when I ate my first meal in a month.

“I don’t think I can do this.”

I hugged my knees to my chest, took a few deep breaths and wiped away a layer of tears with my sleeve.

It had taken everything inside of me just to drive there that morning and this felt like more than I could handle. I still wasn’t even sure I wanted recovery in the first place — what was I doing at a treatment center again? Why had I reached out for help?

Recovery had come to symbolize everything I was most afraid of: it meant becoming solid, giving up being a ghost-girl. I wasn’t sure if I was ready to trade haunting lightness for presence and weight and substance.

I stared at the building in front of me through tear-blurred vision and wondered what part of me thought that going back to treatment was a good idea.

* * *

Relapse is not what I had in mind when I left my last treatment center. I signed recovery contracts, set up aftercare appointments, taped motivational quotes around my apartment and prepared menus each week according to my dietitian-approved meal plan.

But it was always lingering there — the desire to be sick.

It didn’t take long. It was surprisingly simple actually, deciding to dance with the devil again. I let myself be pulled back to the Land of Shadows, to the familiar, terrifying terrain of self-denial and frail non-existence.

When my body survived off of caffeine and adrenaline, I felt invincible. “Look at how powerful I am,” I would say, stepping on the scale to find that the number has gone down again. “I am so powerful I can make myself disappear.”

I would suppress my hunger and reward myself at the end of each day with a small, obsessively-measured allotment of calories.

My body was in agony, but as I entered a foggy haze of starvation again, the Real Pain, the one that never let up, began to thin out. It seemed to shrink in proportion to my shrinking body.

“This is what you wanted,” I would remind myself when my stomach growled too loudly and the jar of peanut butter in the cabinet was the only thing I could focus on. “You want to be numb to the pain.”

And I was right. It was what I had wanted.

But there was always a pause after those words.

A moment.

A breath.

A hesitation.

* * *

One week in the light.

I had survived another day of treatment, showing up even when I didn’t feel like it. I did not want to eat. At every meal, I was faced with a plate full of food and a mind that was resisting.

Emptiness had been a welcome relief. Starvation had felt preferable to the pain of being.

While I might have gone back to treatment, I still didn’t know how to stop wanting The Monster.

* * *

Today, in the shadows.

I cannot tell you for certain if the real Me, with a capital M, still exists somewhere in this ghost-shell of a body.

Most days I cannot hear anything in my head except The Monster.

“Are you even in there?” I whisper to her in the darkness, huddled under layers of blankets in my bed. “Have you managed to survive the war?”

And from some deep, buried corner of my soul, I think I feel her stirring.

Me with a Capital M doesn’t respond. If she were to speak, I don’t know I would even be able to distinguish her voice from The Monster. But it is something, knowing she is still in there after all of this time.

* * *

When I eat, The Monster begins to roar in my head, telling me there is a deep dirtiness swimming in my veins. It rages and screams that the only way I can atone for the “crime” of existing is to starve, purge or bleed these tainted parts out of me.

But I am beginning to feel her in bits in pieces now, “capital M” Me, and she is pushing for something else.

And I begin to wonder: what would happen if the gods did not get their sacrifice this time? What if I were to stop punishing myself endlessly to satiate their bloodthirsty appetites? What if She were allowed to stand and speak more often instead of The Monster?

Would the foundations of the earth shatter? Would the planets collide?

And I am so afraid —

Not of planets colliding or earth-shattering disruptions,

I am afraid of life and happiness and freedom.

I am afraid of change.

I am afraid of losing the ghost-girl I hide beneath and beginning to fill in with Me.

I am afraid of losing my power,

And of gaining it.

I am afraid of the anger of the gods when I stop offering up my body as a sacrifice.

I am afraid of healing when it feels so very much like the last thing I deserve.

I am caught now between wanting to listen to Me, with a capital M, whose words feel more authentic and true and resonate in my bones, and giving in to The Monster, whose abusive voice is set on replay. This is the unholy tension in which I live, and for which I do not yet have an answer.

But there is a weak sliver of light shining in, barely enough to see in front of me, that is keeping the shadows from swallowing me whole. In the light there is a glimmer of “maybe” and “what if” that will keep me getting up in the morning, showing up to treatment, facing that plate of food again and again and listening for when “capital M” Me begins to speak at last.

The truth is, I don’t know how I’m going to get through each meal every day. It gets overwhelming if I think about it for too long. But for whatever reason, that Space In Between, that sacred hesitation after “I want to be numb,” is holding me back from falling headlong into the darkness.

Follow this journey on Recovering Lindsay.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

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What You Can't See About the Smiling Girl in the Picture

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Look at that girl in the picture. contributor photo  She is participating in a Fourth of July talent show at summer camp with her bunkmates. Her slinky textured hair is combed back into a tight bun on the top of her head, hidden by a multicolored hat.

Oh, and her bunk will win. And she will jump up and down feigning excitement because really she doesn’t care about stupid drama competitions and would rather be kicking around a soccer ball. She’s kind of a secret rebel like that. She is young and seems happy based on that wide smile cementing the lower half of her face. But her teeth are a giveaway, impressionable like braces, like her soul. She is molding into the person she thinks she should be — but who exactly is that? No one would know she is hurting, but she is. This young third grader is struggling with anorexia. This young girl is the surprising embodiment of mental illness.

This girl was a younger version of me.

It began on the first day of sleepaway camp. I was beyond consoling and wanted only to be back home. I missed my parents and wasn’t sure who I was at camp without them. But I didn’t know how to tell anyone, to express my emotions. How would I find comfort without my mommy and daddy? At dinner, I scanned the food stations and opted for something small. It just all turned me off, which was odd, because I had never felt that way about food before. After the first day, I panicked in the face of all of the food choices and became known as a “picky eater.” So every day in the summer I consumed less than I usually did. It would impact me by the end of the summer.

One day, I woke up to a crowd of kids and counselors surrounding me, my eyes blinking a few times before coming to. I wasn’t in the comfort of my bed at home. No. I was flat on my back on the hard floor of the camp basketball court, staring into a blinding sun in a big blue sky. Oh shit! After a short trip to the infirmary, it was decided I needed to go to the hospital to get an IV. I was mortified my parents would have to take a three hour car ride to make sure I was OK. I wanted to tell them they didn’t have to — that I was fine — but I had no say in the matter. What if they figured out what caused me to end up in this state?

With only three days left of my first summer away at camp, I had fainted. That little girl in the picture wasn’t just “very active” like the doctor’s said. She was starving. Truth was, she was always hungry, but needed her patterns and rituals much more than she believed she needed food and her body couldn’t keep up. That girl in the picture didn’t have curves or really think she was fat—yet. She just couldn’t eat, because that’s how she dealt with her anxiety. But no one could see her pain.

They could only see the smiling girl in the picture and that was enough to mask her eating disorder for many years.

So warning, the next time you look at a picture of someone on social media, know it is just a snapshot of a moment in time. Maybe they look happy in that instant, but there could be more going on. There is always more than a picture can capture. Don’t be unaware of the glossy game of make-believe that is social media. Peel away the glitz, before you look in from the outside thinking that perfect exists on the screen you are browsing. A picture is just that — a picture. Mental illness is easily masked with a smile like the smiling girl in the picture. So no, I don’t believe the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words.” It’s harder to fake words. Our generation needs to dig deeper. So let’s start digging and using more words.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Lead photo via diego_cervo.

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Why Living With My Eating Disorder Is Like Having a Garden That Must Be Tended

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It’s been an up and down journey wrapped in cotton candy and cottage pie, friends and foe, long letters to what’s been lost, gifts, hospital beds and a gasping body that took her life back from death’s bed. I’ve taken many breaths since that day they came to tell me my heart could in fact, just stop at any second.

It was 2003, and I was 15 years old when I was first admitted to a psychiatric hospital here in Cape Town, to be re-fed. Tears squished through the corners of my anxious eyes with the mushy mess of food pounding against my screaming eating disorder. Sounds all too familiar and too tiring to be fended from my fainting heart.

Anorexia nervosa.

I don’t think anyone has ever been able to fully explain what it is like to live with this “friend.” She’s as cunning as she is convincing. Her nails sharp and painted with the most beautiful of colors. Colors to attract and to allure, to entertain and with which she’ll leave you every night to dream and obsess over. Her promises are impossible and hold no legitimacy and her propagating images can only find breath through insanity. No, if you don’t have her, you won’t truly know what it is to have this anorexia sucking from your bosom.

But today I can share with you knowing what it is to be alive.

It’s been almost 14 years now since that day and I’ve eaten. And that, is miracle enough! This morning, the sweetness from our earth’s beautiful fruit could pass my lips as nuts and in between each crunch their release of ancient oils and much wholesome goodness. This, all to be soothed and comforted with my daily cup of green, a ritual I need to both mentally and spiritually prepare this soul before stepping it back out into this world. No, not all days are easy. My anorexia is but a set of symptoms, the effect of cumulative events combined with my psychological and physiological make up that manifests itself in the shape of an eating disorder.

What is it that got me this far? Love, hope and a little warrior inside refusing to give up and too curious to ever lie down. Together we make or order lunch and gingerly inspect the fresh colors inviting our bite. Yes, anxiety is always present, keeping a close eye on its target and always reminding me of the post-meal option I need to avoid called “Purge.”

It’s been years of hard work and practice, along with loads and loads (gazillions) of hours in therapy, even still. But for me, there is no other way. Even the slightest space I allow it, my demon takes its inevitable and winged flight. But, because of the risks I take in therapy, life and with feeding, I now have relationships. I have a mother within, I am healthy enough to tend to my daily adult responsibilities and I can feel the love once completely desolate and starved.

I would not be alive or able or to put these words to paper in this gift of a moment, if it weren’t for all the hearts found over these years. It was not I who came with the desire to eat again. I was too sick to know I could allow food into this very scared body. Nor was it my insight or wisdom that led me to the “where and how to again start” feeding myself. These hearts found. Women’s hearts, lifted me into the kitchen with warm and soft hands to hold my back, fingertips brushing the sheets from my broken eyes and arms greater than the vastest of oceans to hold my shaking frame as many and many fearful tears needed to fall. I call these women my Angel Mothers.

They will always be a part of me for I have planted bits of them under my feet to everyday feel their extraordinary and omnipotent love. They keep warm my desire to live with their endless dancing within, reminding me one day I too want to be as great a mother as they are still, for me, today.

When I have a daughter one day, which I will, I pray she may never feel or have to survive all I have lived with. For I might not always and every day be able to wholehearted love myself, but I do know my heart extends greatly beyond this body. And I can see the love I give to truly touch and carry a mighty ability to hold others. I will hold my daughter, dearly and always listening. I will never leave her, her heart will be my greatest treasure. Immense hope lies in my ability to love, in my compassion and understanding. Gifts I would not have found did I not choose to journey in trust with professionals who know and who’ll never shame me for having this disorder.

The very painful truth is I will never be free from my eating disorder and with that, the struggle and an extremely tiring battle with food, body and weight. Sadness and fear still bring many tears, but those same tears remind me of the love and life I have been gifted. I am free to play on The Mountain and these arms and legs are able to carry body, mind, and soul to any ocean when everything else around me simply feels too overwhelming.

Anorexia nervosa is a very real and life-threatening disease. It holds the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses. But I am determined to survive. Into and with this world I will breathe. Not one soul out there walks completely free from burden. To be human is to have a poisoned and very vulnerable tree in some corner of our lives. And we, as gardeners, can but only tend to and trim the branches according to what resources and universal truths we are able to ask for, accept and own. Then, it is but a decision that remains. To allow and appreciate our tree’s wondrous and fruitful life offerings, scary and unpredictable as they may be or, to continue down a path of ignorance as we run further and further from our very scared hearts and their haunting demons.

I choose my tree, be it a Cherry Blossom, an ageless Oak or Pear. I choose life, regardless of the painful poison I am fed from my eating disorder.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via Oksana Gribakina.

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Surviving the Grocery Store While Recovering From Anorexia

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Lip quivering, tears slowly running down my cheek, hands shaking —  yep, a panic attack. 

Most people can go to the grocery store, list in hand, and effortlessly shop. But recovering from an eating disorder (ED)… specifically, recovering from anorexia? The grocery store is a minefield. And trust me, I knew this going in. That’s why I was putting it off for hours. But finally, I mustered up the courage to walk to Harris Teeter and buy myself some dinner. Eating alone is still something I’m working on — probably my most challenging goal right now. Accountability is an important part of my recovery, and it has been helping me stay on track. But when I’m by myself and can lie to my friends about what I’ve eaten… that’s a slippery slope.

So, I do the “right” thing — I pretend I’m brave, and I walk to Harris Teeter.

I walk through the doors, and suddenly it’s 100 degrees — my cheeks are hot and flushed and I can feel the anxiety building. I’ve got a short list (apples, bananas, bread, and sushi). Shouldn’t be too hard, right? People do this all the time without even thinking twice. But recovering from anorexia… this is hard. Maybe the hardest thing I’ve done all day — maybe even harder than sitting down for breakfast, lunch, and soon dinner.

The tears are coming faster now… The slow gentle tears are now a full-blown sob. The nice man at Harris Teeter asks if I’m OK. Struggling, I say, “Yeah, I’m fine.” (For those of you who have friends struggling from an ED, that is clue number one that she/he’s not fine.) I do a couple of deep breaths (they really work, trust me on this one) and manage to calm myself down. But wait, I haven’t even accomplished anything yet. 

Now I’ve got to gather all the items on my list. I start in the fruit aisle. The tears are slowly coming again. Feeling overwhelmed. Too many options, too many choices. How can anyone go to the grocery store without a meltdown? The idea seems foreign to me now. I used to be able to shop (with my boyfriend) with some anxiety, but since my latest relapse, it seems absolutely impossible. And being alone… that makes it so much more challenging.

I grab a few apples and walk over to the bananas. So much to think about. Too much to think about.

Let me tell you, the struggle is real. The idea of having to do this every week is terrifying. So, I start crying even more. People must think I’m ridiculous. Now I’m shopping for bread while simultaneously sobbing. People stare awkwardly, but I can’t really blame them. I mean, I am crying in the middle of the grocery store…

Last on my list: sushi. This is tonight’s dinner. There are only a handful of meals I’ve mastered in my recovery from my latest relapse, and sushi is one of them. So, sushi it is. I scan all the options and don’t see anything I like. Oh, great, another panic attack. For those of us in recovery, I know you know how hard it is to be flexible. This is something I work on every day. And this is the 468th time today I need to practice flexibility. I ask the man at the counter if they had any sushi behind the counter… maybe an eel and cucumber roll? He looks around and finds an eel and avocado roll. Not perfect, but better than my other options. #flexibilityforthewin

I smile (I’m sure with mascara-streaked makeup running down my face) and thank him; he’s helped me more than he knows. Off to check out. 

Hard part number one is over! Now I just have to pretend to be brave again and actually eat it…

This is the third time I’ve gone to the grocery store by myself, and each time, it gets a little easier (read — a little). It’s a slow process.

I know I have so much more to conquer. Like trying new foods, trying new places and, of course, learning how not to cry in the grocery store. But if you don’t know me, I’m a crier. If you do know me, I’m sorry because inevitably you’ve seen me cry… a lot. But I’m embracing this part of my recovery because I know it’s part of how I cope. It’s better than restricting and self-harming, right?

So, the next time you walk into the grocery store and have a panic attack, know I understand, and I empathize. Recovering from anorexia is no small feat. We have to learn to be around food, think about food, purchase food, and more importantly, eat food, even though it’s usually what causes us the most anxiety. 

We have to learn how to eat all over again as if we are kids. And it’s hard. Harder than you might think. But guess, what? That’s right… I’m doing it. 

And you can too. I promise you, it’s hard now, but the more we make the hard decisions, the easier it can get. 

So, go to the grocery store, cry if you have to, but know one day, it can be OK. One day we may go to the grocery store and effortlessly shop like millions of other people who don’t have eating disorders. It’s possible. Never give up, and always keep fighting, even on days when you have a breakdown in the grocery store.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo by xcarrot_007

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