My Journey Back to Health
I want to live free!
I started gymnastics when I was 4 years old and from a very early age I can remember being very body conscious. The older I got the more my idea of “a good body” developed and the more I began to compare myself with fellow gymnasts. I learned what a thigh gap was and why I thought I needed it. I learned the best exercises for a flat stomach and I learned all about calories in vs. calories out. When I started middle school, I dropped gymnastics but began cheerleading. The body comparisons continued but there’s one moment that stands out.
In 7th grade, we had a uniform that showed our stomachs, which naturally made my body conscious self incredibly anxious. One day we were taking team pictures and I remember being so nervous about how my stomach would look in the photos.
Are they going to make us sit? If they do, my rolls will show.
Are they going to edit the photos? I would love that.
Are they going to let us retake if something looks bad? Because then I have time to work on my stomach.
These were all the questions that went through my mind on that picture day. As we took our group photos, I was so happy because we were standing. A huge sigh of relief, but then came time for individual pictures and sure enough we were sitting for them. I remember just powering through because I didn’t know how to convey all these insecurities to anyone. So I sat for the picture and hoped for the best. Well we got the photos back and I was so unhappy with them. You could see a stomach roll over the top of my skirt and I knew there was no way I was going to let anyone see that. My mom tried her best to console me but I had decided the only way to make it better was to retake the photos. So off we went. My mom and I found the perfect location, she took my photo (standing up), and I was so much happier… for a while. I started handing out photos to my friends and they were so complimentary. One fellow teammate and one comment, changed it all though. “Oh she retook those because of her stomach” That was it. An already fragile mind and one comment set into motion what has now been nearly 20 years of this battle. I spent the next couple years in and out of therapy trying to heal from my eating disorder but I just wasn’t ready for help. I remember silencing the voices for a while, a couple years really, but my sophomore year of high school they were back. School had become overwhelming and I figured out that controlling my food and exercise was a way of controlling my world. I dropped below 100 pounds for the first time in years and was running constantly, checking every nutrition label and counting every calorie. After a family intervention, once again I started therapy, still though I wasn’t ready to do the work. I showed up but wasn’t taking away what I should’ve been. Eventually the cycle began again. I silenced the voices for another couple years until the next traumatic event in my life. At 19, I was engaged to my high school sweetheart. We dreamed of getting married but had decided we would wait until I was done with college, so we embarked upon our extended engagement. After a year though, we called off our engagement. The only way I knew of coping with the overwhelming heartbreak and stress was again to control my eating. The same habits were back and stronger than they had ever been. Not long after our breakup I turned 21 and my coping took on a new facet. I began drinking way too much and every weekend became a blur. For the better part of a year, the only things I truly remember were things that happened Monday-Thursday. After a few close calls, I knew something had to change again. I silenced the eating disorder voices for the third time and stopped drinking. Eventually I was able to introduce alcohol back, in a more responsible way and my eating seemed like it was on track.
I had gained back an adequate amount of weight and things were good. Things were really good for about 5 years.
This last year though, nearly broke me. With so many emotions, so many feelings, and so much heartbreak the only place my brain wanted to go was to a place of under-eating and overexercising. For the first time in over a decade, my weight dropped to 90 pounds. I had found a way to eat just enough that all my normal body functions (period, energy, sleep, etc.) would stay stable but I could still maintain control. Much like the times before, it took over quickly and without warning. I soon found myself in the darkest, deepest place I’d ever been and with no idea how to get out. It wasn’t until I walked into therapy one day, and my therapist just looked at me. She asked “How are you?” and I broke down. She could see it before I even had to say anything and we talked about steps for me to begin the work towards health. She checks in with me every time I see her and reminds me “Food is my medicine”. And when I can look at it from that perspective, I can see food as a continuing way to honor my body, mind, and my soul- instead of seeing it as my enemy. This perspective doesn’t come easily, but it’s part of my work towards recovery.
Eating disorders are not a one size fits all. It takes time for everyone to heal and it’s all in a different way. I have so much work to do, but this time I want to do it. This time I’m going to do it.
For the first time in nearly 20 years it feels different. I feel different. I want to take back my power over the voices. I want to lessen their control over my life. I want to live free!