The Mighty Logo

How My Painful Memories Keep Me Strong in Eating Disorder Recovery

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

IMG_0069 (2)

Around this day 14 years ago, I was getting ready for my first semi-formal dance. I didn’t have a date, but was going with a group of girlfriends. I had dated on and off my freshman year of high school, and now that I was a sophomore, I didn’t have or even necessarily want a boyfriend. I had a great group of friends and was happy to be able to go with them.

We got ready together, doing each other’s hair and makeup. We took pictures together and went out to dinner before the dance. I don’t remember much about the dance. I actually don’t remember being there at all. My memories from that day were the moments that were uncomfortable because that’s all I ever felt during that time.

I remember being cold.

I was always cold. Not just chilled, but the type of cold that buries into your bones and makes you feel like there’s ice in your blood. That night in particular was miserable because I was wearing a thin, sleeveless dress in the middle of November. I remember shivering at the restaurant, pressing my palms between my thighs to get just the smallest amount of blood flow to my fingers, which were starting to turn blue at the tips. I remember how long it took for my body to recover from that night. Once I was home, I had to put on four layers of clothing and then went to bed with three thick blankets to get my body back up to a comfortable temperature.

I remember the food.

The snacks my friends were eating while we were doing our hair and makeup were “off limits.” Even though I hadn’t eaten all day to prepare for a fun afternoon of consuming junk food in my best friend’s bedroom, I never allowed myself the luxury of giving up any sort of control around food once the moment arrived. It was all a game.

“If I don’t eat now, then I can eat more later,” I told myself once I passed up the snacks. “I will just eat a good, fattening meal at the restaurant.”

Except I didn’t. I never did. It was a never ending game of how long I could hold off and how little I could consume once I finally did eat. Instead, I sucked down diet Coke and pretended to ignore the greasy potato chips and bowl of chocolate candy that was staring me down, taunting me to let go and have just one, but I couldn’t. It was too hard to face the guilt afterwards.

I remember the emptiness.

An eating disorder rips away everything. I felt as if I had been gutted and left with a body that was meaningless and emotionless. I didn’t know who I was anymore. Any joy I expressed that day was an act, one that came from a sense of denial and one I controlled well.

I remember laughing with my friends, but wasn’t sure what we were laughing about. I remember looking in the mirror to find satisfaction with what I was doing and to validate that it was all worth it. What I saw in the mirror wasn’t someone who was sick. I saw someone I still wanted to change, someone who I would never be happy with. The emptiness was still there because no matter how many times I reached my goal weight, no matter how many times I passed up dessert or how many times I exercised, I never felt satisfied. An eating disorder never makes you feel satisfied. It just keeps taking away.

Two nights ago, I attended another dance. It wasn’t formal. I didn’t wear a pretty dress, my nails weren’t done and I didn’t have any makeup on. It was impromptu, the way my dances tend to be these days.

It wasn’t in a high school gym or with hundreds of people, but it was in my kitchen with my husband and 2-year-old daughter. The memories I make at these dance parties, which we tend to have on a regular basis, will stick with me forever, much like the uncomfortable memories I have from my first formal dance. These memories are much different though.

I’ll remember being warm.

Now, my healthy body can insulate itself and tolerate temperatures under 90 degrees.

I’ll remember the smells of food.

Chili in the crockpot, taco meat on the stove and chicken parmesan in the oven. All the comforting aromas of some of the meals that have been in preparation while we’re twirling our toddler around in the kitchen.

I’ll remember how it feels to be surrounded by truth.

The truth that I am loved, that I am promised never ending hope and that I am cherished by a God who will never abandon me.

I’ll remember feeling full.

So, so full. Full of purpose, self-satisfaction and life. Living is so much different now, eating disorder free. I’m no longer controlled by that image in the mirror or value myself based on how much I had to eat. I’m more free to love, to experience true joy and to walk through life with a purpose other than meeting my goal on the scale.

I’ll continue to feel this way because I chose recovery. I didn’t choose to have an eating disorder, but I chose to fight my way out. All the memories, both good and bad, have shaped me into the person I am today. I’m strong, and the battle has become easier if not nonexistent. I have the painful memories to thank for that.

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.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Image via Thinkstock.

Originally published: January 13, 2017
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home