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The Unexpected Thing That Drowned Out My Eating Disorder Voice

It’s taking me a long time to fully face and understand my anorexia to the point where I can put it in words. So, here I go.

I’m going to start by stating a simple fact: As a recovering anorexic, I’m not really exaggerating when I say food scares me.

Actually, it doesn’t just scare me; it terrifies me.

At times, it even disgusts me.

Up until recently, every bite of food I would consume was another bite of failure that was also consuming me. My anorexia didn’t develop because I wanted to look like the Kardashians or because I spent too much time staring at the shiny pages of Vogue, but rather, because it was the first thing in my life that ever gave me control. You see, I was born with a rare debilitating disease called multiple hereditary exostoses (MHE). MHE is characterized by chronic pain, growth deformities and benign bone tumors that have a higher chance of becoming malignant at some point in my lifetime.

Needless to say, from the day I was born my body dictated my every move. Growing up disabled was anything but fun. Most of the people I talk to who grew up “normal” always tell tales of a rambunctious childhood filled with running, falling and playing without a second thought with all of their friends.

My childhood was a little different.

I wasn’t allowed to play around and “rough house” like all the other kids — heck, I wasn’t even allowed to participate in PE class because I was so fragile and at very high risk of getting hurt. I was different, which meant it was harder for my peers to see me as one of them. I mean it’s hard enough for adults to grasp my disabilities, there’s no way any child in the early 2000s could even begin to understand. I was incredibly lonely and, let’s not forget, also trapped in a defective body I loathed.

Once I started to develop anorexia in high school, I realized I could use it against my body as a power play. Every time I felt like my body denied me, I denied it the only thing I could, which was food. Eventually it became my go-to coping mechanism for my depression, anxiety and PTSD. It was hard to focus on (and at times even remember) the turmoil in my life when my mind was caught up counting calories and obsessing over how “overweight” and “chubby” I looked, and how much more weight I still needed to lose. I got a sick satisfaction that made me proud every time I skipped a meal. If I felt the aching hunger gnawing at my stomach, then I at least felt in control of something. Not realizing how truly sick I was, I used to wear my “no food streak” as a badge of honor until recovery became the ultimate goal.

I don’t think there is a single soul alive that struggles with anorexia because they love their body, or because they think so highly of themselves that they think having an eating disorder is glamorous and makes them special and better than everyone else. No. I promise you, if you know someone struggling with anorexia, or any eating disorder for that matter, they probably have a hard time loving themselves. In fact, there’s probably no insult you can throw at them that they haven’t already hurled at themselves in the mirror. We are often our own worst enemies to the very core — because most people don’t realize anorexia is the deadliest form of mental illness.

I started working toward recovery in 2015, almost a year after my doctor threatened to send me to inpatient treatment. Even then, my work toward recovery was half-assed. I can admit it. I still got that sick pleasure every time my stomach growled, I still felt that sick pride after skipping meals. If I’m being honest, there was this familiarity and comfort that I don’t know if I was ready to give up, or if I ever would truly be ready to give it up.

And then I met you.

When I first met you, I had no intention of ever falling for you. Fresh out of a mental breakdown and years of emotionally abusive relationships — I was done with dating. Since I had no intention of trying with you, I didn’t have to put on any fronts — I was just myself. Disabled, mentally ill Marie, who overworks and cracks a joke during any serious moment with absolutely zero shame.

Over time, by some miracle you were able to change the way I see myself.

Maybe it’s the way you never judged me; maybe it’s the way you see past all my diagnoses; maybe it’s the way you just make me feel “normal.” Whatever it was, my walls came crumbling down like never before. I don’t know how you did it, but within a few months getting dinner with you and eating junk food with you became one of the highlights of my day.

My mind used to be full of negative thoughts associated with eating and the constant “calorie counter” keeping score in the back of my mind. Believe me when I say: Mentally keeping track of calories is an exhausting feat. Thankfully now, eating is barely ever on my mind. When it is, I’m thinking of where we should go for dinner — stick with a classic or try something new?

It’s still honestly a little weird for me to be excited to eat. There is still a small part of me that scolds myself when I am. But now there’s a louder voice that drowns out the eating disorder —yours. Calming every anxiety, talking back to the negative thought that used to dictate my mind. Now that I can drown out the eating disorder, I can fully see myself. I can fully see how sick I was. My mind was truly blown the moment I looked at an old picture of me during the height of my anorexia.

I used to stare at this picture and beat myself up. It was a sick form of torture I would put myself through multiple times daily, berating myself for not having such pronounced cheek bones. In this moment, instead of seeing my motivation to skip more meals and lose more weight, I saw a sick, broken, lost, lonely girl I didn’t recognize. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I don’t know what pained me more, the fact that I let it get that bad or that that used my “goal weight” years after that picture was even taken. That same day, I looked at a picture of myself I had just taken and saw a healthier, happier version of myself that I never thought I’d see. I’m finally starting to see myself the way you see me — and I couldn’t be happier.

The process of learning how to let go of my eating disorder has also taught me how to let go of all the pain and hurt I held close to my heart for years and years. I learned how to forgive myself. How to forgive everything. How to get rid of the power simple words had over my life. I learned holding the pain close to my heart only brought it with me. I finally feel free from the PTSD and thoughts that haunted me. The weight that weighed so heavily on my chest has vanished.

Recovery is a new and scary thing — there are ups and downs, relapses mixed with shame and darkness at every turn. But thanks to you, I found the peace I was looking for at the end of that dark and lonely tunnel. For the first time I can say I am comfortable in my skin and in the body I once was held captive in for 23 years. You have shown me that sharing your vulnerabilities with the right person makes you stronger than the voice that tells you you aren’t good enough. You have shown me how powerful and strong I really am — you have shown me absolutely nothing is impossible if you want it enough. Most importantly, you have shown me that it truly does get better, and for that, I can’t thank you enough.

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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