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No, My Eating Disorder Did Not ‘Ruin’ My Life

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At the six month mark of my worst eating disorder (ED) day, I have done a lot of thinking about my progress and the life I’ve lived thus far because of my ED. There’s no doubt that it’s taken so much from me, and yet I had never considered the question of “did my ED ruin my life” until I was faced with it today.

This question has an answer that’s always evolving depending on my recovery mindset. For instance, for most of the time the past six or seven years of my life, I would have said that my ED was the best thing to happen to me because of delusions that my ED made me believe, so I would have said “no.” However, when I found out I couldn’t go back to F&M for the spring, I would have said “yes,” that it did ruin my life. That it destroyed everything I worked for in high school as my dream was to get into the best college I could.

However, after giving this question some more thought, I realized that the answer is not so black-and-white, as the word “ruined” implies that my life has been damaged beyond repair and there’s no coming back from it. After working extremely hard for four months in recovery, I realized that this is not true. A more correct reframe would be that my ED did not “ruin” my life, but instead was an opportunity-thief and derailed my life. At the same time, it did not ruin my life because it acted as a life-rail for me, and it was the only way I knew how to cope at that time in my life. Moreover, it is possible to use this experience and create a new life for myself.

There is no question that my ED derailed my life. My ED has taken so much of what I was given away. There is no question that I could have had a better GPA, or more of a high school experience without my ED. There is no question that I spent the majority of my teen years obsessing over calories and my body instead of going out with friends or paying attention in exams. However, there were some good things that came out of this experience despite all that took from me. I formed extremely close relationships with my teachers in high school. I am still in touch with all the teachers that took me in and let me eat lunch with them as part of my treatment. Due to this and my different experiences, I learned more from my different high school and college experience from life than I would have learned without it. My ED caused me to make a lot of mistakes in high school, and it definitely was not kind to my transcript or my standardized test scores, but I have learned that there is so much more to life than that.

If the definition of my life “ruined” was damaging my employment status or having to leave college, then yes, I could say my ED ruined my life. Having to leave college abruptly was definitely not a part of the four-year plan I created for myself. However, that is not the definition of “ruined” I go by, as college and job opportunities will still be there when I am in recovery. There is no conclusion that my “perfect” plan would have made me happy. Maybe F&M was not the school for me. There is no way to really know that. Leaving college was definitely not what I ever imagined, but I have to keep reminding myself that it was not my choice to leave–I couldn’t have stayed based on where I was at in my journey.

Furthermore, implying that ED ruined my life also implies that eating disorders themselves are a choice, and simplifies the complexity of this terrible illness. First off, ED’s are not choices. They are complex neurobiological illnesses that have been shown to have genetic and environmental components. When I started trying to lose weight when I was very young, I never anticipated that I would develop a full-blown ED. No one with an ED predicts that. There was something about my genetics that caused me to be more susceptible to developing an ED when the right environmental triggers were pulled, and that’s what happened.

Additionally, as I have learned from my years of treatment, ED’s are developed as a way to cope with life as ED behaviors are ultimately just coping mechanisms for the deeper issues going on whether that is trauma, anxiety disorders, social problems or dealing with our society that pushes thinness and “health” onto us. My ED was never about the food, and I realized this when I was introduced to the log metaphor at Veritas in Richmond. The log metaphor was created by Anita Johnston as part of her book, “Eating in the Light of the Moon.” It basically says that I was walking through a riverbank called life and I was swept by these rapids, which is a series of events that were the triggers. During this time, a log (my ED) came by for me to grab onto and it took me to a safer part of the river. However, I get to a part where I could easily swim to shore, but the problem is I am now attached to this log.

The irony of the log metaphor is the one thing that “saved my life” is now preventing me from getting on with it. The solution, according to Johnston, is to learn to separate from the log and practice swimming away from it slowly, and then grab onto the log when I need it. Eventually, I will be able to swim to shore and will not need the log anymore. I have found the log metaphor to resonate with my experience as I felt like my eating disorder was there for me when I needed someone most, but now it keeps me from living my life. I have noticed though the more I practice swimming away from it, the less and less I rely on it. I used to struggle to eat anything if I was angry, frustrated or sad, and now I find I can cope with my emotions and still nourish myself. It takes time, but the log metaphor has proven to be true.

As I am relying on my eating disorder, less I have found that I am able to move on and start to create a new life for myself. Yes, this is not the life I pictured for myself, but that does not mean that there is fundamentally anything wrong with it. I am building and moving on from all that has caused me to struggle, which proves that I am not irreparably damaged. As Meredith Grey once said, “what’s broken can be mended.” I rise from whatever challenge is brought upon me because I was taught how to through the recovery of my eating disorder.

I know now more than I ever knew before I started this recovery process, and as odd as it sounds, I would not trade the experience of recovering for a simpler life that looks like others’ lives. My experience is unique to me, and through recovery I have learned to embrace this experience that has taught me more than I would have learned otherwise. It has given me a direction and has caused me to become passionate about writing, healthcare and mental health advocacy ,which I would not be as much without such a personal experience. As much as I have been to Hell and back, I have gained so much from picking up the pieces that I conclude I would not have done life any other way.

Citations: Johnston, Anita A. “Eating in the Light of the Moon: How Women Can Transform Their Relationships with Food through Myths, Metaphors & Storytelling.” Gürze Books, 2000.

Follow this journey on the author’s blog.

This story originally appeared on Lucie’s Recovery. 

Photo by Matthew Hamilton via Unsplash.
Originally published: February 21, 2020
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