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How I'm Learning Who I Am Beyond the Scale

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It was last November when I really started to notice a change within myself. My clothes hung off my body like rags, despite fitting a few months prior. I distanced myself from my friends because I could not be bothered to waste energy on faking a smile or a laugh. All I thought about was what I had eaten, what I could eat, what I “better not eat or I’ll gain weight and become fat.” My life in between meals consisted of learning how to kill time until I could eat again. For someone who barely ate any food, I sure thought about it a lot.

I watched myself slowly wither away, day by day, week by week. I had an overwhelming sense of pride whenever one of my old pieces of clothing became too baggy to wear and constantly admired my emaciated frame in the mirror. I felt that when people saw my thigh gap, my toothpick arms, my rock hard stomach, they would envy me and praise me for my “dedication” and “willpower.” What I never imagined, though, is that people would see my as weak, or sick, or broken. But that’s what I was. My previously strong body and sharp mind had wasted away, and I didn’t even notice my life slipping from my hands.

It took months for anyone to really start noticing. I hid my emaciated frame behind baggy clothes so no one could see how thin I’d become. The irony of it all was that I had wanted to lose weight to become more confident, but when I stood in the mirror, all I saw was the same girl with the same flaws. I had never felt so insecure in my life.

But that’s where the real struggle of having an eating disorder lies. My goal was not to fit into a size 00 pant, or be the skinniest of my friends, or have the most toned abs. To be honest, I couldn’t tell you what my goal was. All I knew is the skinnier I got, the more joy it brought me to see the scale move down. I knew I was in dangerous territory, but like any addiction, I couldn’t get myself to stop.

One of the most “enticing” aspects of living like this was the sense of calm and dissociation I achieved. All of my troubles seemed simply not as important as how many calories I had eaten or how hard I’d exercised. Friends? College? Relationships? Nothing compared to the thrill of logging what I had eaten that day, determining how “good” I was. As my real problems and bad emotions faded away, however, so did my good ones. I was unable of feeling a real connection with people. Everything I said and did felt as though I was playing a part, reading from a script. I still remember the first time I genuinely laughed after I began recovery, and I realized how long it had been since I had felt truly happy.

Choosing to recover was one of the hardest decisions of my life. I knew if I kept living according to what my eating disorder told me, I would end up either in a hospital or in a grave. But reaching out for help was something my pride never allowed me to do. Even in my darkest of days, I knew I had to get out of this mess by myself. It took weeks of convincing myself and trying and failing and eating more and then eating less, ending up right back where I started. But one day, something clicked inside of my brain, telling me I was strong enough and I could really recover from this.

Just the idea of recovery was so unexplainably daunting to me. Losing everything I had “worked” for, everything I had lived for, for the past eight months was the scariest thing I could imagine. Who would I be if I wasn’t the skinniest girl in the room? Would I have any value as a person whatsoever if I couldn’t turn heads just with the sight of my skeletal frame? I thought by deciding to lose my eating disorder, I would lose every sense of self I had. I didn’t know who I was anymore without being “the girl with the eating disorder.”

After beginning to recover, however, I realized my eating disorder was not giving me my identity but rather taking it away. During those eight months, I lost everything I was passionate about, everything I stood for and believed in. As the days ticked by in recovery, I began to get glimpses of those things back. It was a slow process, but I began to finally feel again. The first time I had cried in recovery, I was shocked to feel something so raw and painful again, after being numb for so long. But with the negative emotions that returned, there were the positive ones, the ones that made recovery so, so worth it. Finally, I could laugh out of true happiness rather than obligation, I could sing to my favorite songs again, I could connect with other people. Although my greatest fear about gaining weight was losing confidence, I had never felt more alive or empowered than when I decided to save my own life.

The happy moments in recovery, however, were just as equally balanced with the stressful, doubt-filled, daunting ones. The hard work of recovery began during the dark times that made me want to reset and relapse. Realizing food is not a coping mechanism was exhausting, as I learned to deal with the issues life threw at me in ways other than restricting how much I ate. On some days, my body image and shame kept me from leaving the house, and every disordered voice in my mind told me I was doing it wrong. But as my mind and my body got stronger, the quieter the voices became.

Having been in recovery for over a year now, I’ve learned having an eating disorder is something that doesn’t just go away. The urge to relapse or skip a meal may always be in my head, the voices may never cease. But if recovery has taught me anything, it’s that those voices can’t overcome me anymore, and I will always emerge stronger.

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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Thinkstock photo by Rostislav_Sedlacek

Originally published: April 21, 2017
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