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How Recovery Means Recognizing the ‘Purpose’ Anorexia Played in My Life

So, it’s been 11 years since I ate a piece of chocolate without a care in the world. Eleven years since I spread a bit of butter on my toast. Eleven years since I had no idea how many calories were in a pack of Walkers Cheese and Onion chips. And now, here I am, 11 years later, wondering what life might have been like without my eating disorder.

Anorexia. A word that most people shy away from, or just a throwaway comment here and there. But for me, anorexia nervosa has been my “friend,” someone who has always been there for me. Someone I can turn to when the world feels like a continuous black hole. We are often too quick to judge all the bad things that eating disorders bring us; The constant feeling of being absolutely freezing — I’m wrapped in a heated blanket as I write this — or the severe lack of energy, the pure starvation as we try to get through each day … the list goes on. But what people don’t always recognize is the “purpose” it plays in our lives. There is a reason we put our bodies through hell and back, and it’s not just because we want to be “skinny” or look like the next top model. This has taken me 11 years to realize. I never really understood my intense fear of food and weight gain, but now I have really started to pick away at my past and work out why on earth I needed this so-called “friend” in the first place, I am hoping I will slowly be able to start my full recovery journey.

For so long now, I have denied myself any “nice” food. I would sit and watch all my friends eat around me, longing to have a bite of that chocolate cake, or a slice of pizza. Meanwhile, my head is filling up with thoughts of how many grams of fat and how many calories are in each bite. How much exercise am I going to have to do to get rid of this food my body is so quickly going to absorb? By the time I’ve worked out how I’m going to cope with this one bite of food, I’m exhausted. “It’s just not worth it.” I’m starving, and I know I am, but anorexia is telling me I just don’t deserve to eat. The hospital specialists are telling me my organs are going to shut down, but still, anorexia is telling me I don’t deserve to eat. I am not worthy of this food, I am not good enough for it. Every calorie I eat, I have to earn. Anorexia is trying to punish me more than I can bear, but this is what I need, and once I’ve been punished for long enough, anorexia will leave.

Well, here I am, 11 years later, and anorexia is still a very close “friend.” Yes, I’m in a better place physically, but mentally the thoughts stay with me every day. Anorexia never leaves. Every day becomes an exhausting battle. But I’ve come to realize the only way through this awful illness is to challenge it. You have to choose recovery every day.

I know you’re sat there reading this thinking, “what an absolutely, horrendous friend.” Let me explain.

My childhood was wonderful, I was lucky enough to have the most loving family and beautiful friends, whom I am forever grateful for. Childhood for me equals happiness. (Life is very black and white with an eating disorder.) However, during my teenage years, life was turned upside down after a series of traumatic events. I no longer felt safe, my body was out of my own control and I felt it was all my fault. These thoughts have stuck with me to this day, and when I say stuck, I mean with super glue. Anorexia has kept my body looking like a child, where I feel safe, where I know that no one will hurt me, whilst also starving myself of every vital nutrient and punishing myself in every aspect of life. But I feel safe.

Countless hospital trips, endless appointments and admissions, and I still struggle every day. But I’m not going to give up. I have a long way to go in my recovery process and it’s not going to be easy. I’ve cried more times than I can count. But, now that I really understand why anorexia became such an important part of my life, I am determined to make it a little less significant.

So, I guess the point I’m trying to make is: there is always a reason behind having a “friend” like anorexia. But it doesn’t mean you have to stay friends forever.

Photo by Fanny Gustafsson on Unsplash