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The Secret Life of a Binge Eater

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You know me. You’ve laughed at my jokes, you’ve cried with me, we’ve shared everything from weddings to heartbreak, triumph, tragedy and the mundane moments that make a real life.

But the truth is that you don’t actually know me. Don’t worry – it’s not your fault. No one really does. Not my best friends, not my ex-loves. Not even my parents. I learned how to hide the real me a long time ago because it was the only way to cope.

woman smiling with a football

Now you’re sad and probably a little scared. That’s OK. So am I. The part of myself that never sees the surface is a constant blur of terror, frustration, shame and sadness. And I’ve wanted to tell you… so many times. It will be right there – at the front of my mind, on the tip of my tongue. Those moments when I felt like you needed to know, like you deserved to know, like you would understand.

And then, the crash back to reality. I don’t know how to “fix” myself so I can’t bear to share my problems. Things are bad, but without you they would be worse.

Still… here we are. Three months, three years, a lifetime. No matter how long we’ve been together, there’s so much I have to tell you.

I wake up every day with a hope I can overcome. Overcome my addiction to food – the tool I use to cope with my disappointment in myself, to shelter myself from getting hurt by others. Overcome the disappointment of a life pulled off track by self-hatred and doubt.

I go to sleep every day feeling like a failure. I still feel fat, I still feel alone. I still haven’t found success. I can’t stop eating. I’m never full. I feel weak. I feel small. I live in fear that my family sees me as the failure I’m convinced I am.

I wish I was invisible. My inability to control my compulsive binge eating pushed me out of the limelight when I realized a career in broadcasting would be impossible without some control over the self-hatred that pushed me to eat. I may never get married because the thought of people looking at me makes me feel sick. I fight tears in a crowd because I don’t want them to see me, to be inconvenienced by my body and the space I take up.

I’m not fine. You say that to help, I know. But if you understood the full depth of my illness – the compulsion to fill the gaps in my life with food and the anxiety that makes those gaps seem utterly impassable – you would know I am far from fine. That’s the word you use to normalize my feelings, but it fills me with so much shame I worry I’ll have no room for anxiety.

I’m tired. I have been fighting my body and my mind for as long as I can remember. The fight has gotten harder as the last vestiges of the girl I once admire disappear. No longer brave, smart, funny or strong, I push forward with the scraps of my armour and a waning belief that I can get better.

I’m lonely. I know my withdrawal hurts you – you’ve told me as much. And I wish you could understand it hurts me too, but it’s the only thing that keeps me together. When we are together, my self-hatred intensifies, and the voices in my head that tell me to eat, to accept my fate as a disgusting slob, to resign myself to my shortcomings – personal and professional – drowns out all noise. I can’t be in your pictures, not because I don’t love you but because I cannot find a way to love myself. I need to step outside because I’m afraid to breathe, afraid to cry, afraid of shattering into a million small pieces that you and I will never be able to put back together.

But the single biggest thing you need to know to understand me is that I have never, ever felt good enough. No matter the yardstick – my body, my mind, my accomplishments, my life – I have spent every moment I can remember wishing I could be better. Smarter, so people wouldn’t mind my fat body. Skinner, because in my head, I’m still 300 pounds, and I need to work harder. More successful, so I can have the life people expected for me my whole life. A better writer, a better runner, a better daughter, a better friend – there’s no shortage of things I wish I could be at any given moment, every day.

I don’t want you to meet this me. I don’t want to know her either, but for now, I think this is the only way to protect us both from the ugly truth. I still need you next to me because one day I hope to be strong enough to say this to you – and I hope you’ll understand.

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.

Originally published: January 23, 2017
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