Saturday, June 16, 2012

ED Talks #1: I Belong To Me--by Monica L.

Maybe it’s just me, but when I first started becoming self-conscious
about my weight, it wasn’t really about my weight at all. In reality,
I wasn’t becoming self-conscious about my weight so much as I was
becoming self-conscious about myself. Feelings of inadequacy as a
daughter, a sister, a friend, and a person had set in pretty heavily
by the time I was 16. The constant feeling of not being enough for the
people around me quickly turned into feelings of not being enough for
even myself. I remember driving home from Ballet one day dreading the
fact that I had to go home and face the problems there. I stopped to
grab some food on the way and when I got home I locked myself up in my
room. I remember after seeing my mom when I got home, I felt too
emotionally drained to even eat, but I wanted to taste something. I
remember thinking, “You don’t have to eat you know. Just chew the food
and spit it back out.” So I chewed my food and spit it back out into
the bag. That was the beginning. I remember feeling a little bit of
relief, knowing that I was perhaps avoiding another comment or two
from my mother about how she was never as thick as I me when she was
my age (Mom at age 16 = 80 lbs., Me at 16 = 95lbs). This
chew-it-and-spit-it-out thing didn’t last very long, because of course
I got hungry. That’s when I decided that if I “messed up” and ate,
then I’d just have to “get rid of it” – which meant, either throwing
up, or starving myself for a few days while exercising like crazy to
make it up. I didn’t really admit to myself that I had a problem until
about a year later, because it was my source of comfort and my getaway
from the fighting and other problems at home, from feeling so alone in
life without a “family”, and from feeling like I was never going to be
enough.

The first time I tried to stop was when I was about 17. Even though I
felt a physical sustaining rush every time I threw up, and though the
physical emptiness I felt when I would starve myself somehow felt
satisfying, those feelings only lasted about an hour or so only to be
replaced by a feeling of emotional emptiness that consumed me. I was
tired of masking the issues around me. I was tired of having my
“secret”. I wanted someone to know and to care, so that maybe I
wouldn’t feel so empty and alone anymore. Even though I knew that
eating disorders were dangerous, I didn’t see my own struggle as being
dangerous at the time– I convinced myself, “I am even inadequate at
being sick – it’s not half as bad as other people’s”. So, I kept
going.

When I look back on what it was that I was afraid to let go of, all I
can remember was my daily routine. Wake up, weigh in, skip meals as
long as I could, and get rid of whatever I wasn’t “strong” enough to
resist eating. I enjoyed having something else to focus on other than
how detrimental my family situation was. In my mind at the time, if I
had let go of the eating disorder, I would have had nothing left. It
wasn’t until I saw a movie in which a girl with bulimia had a heart
attack while throwing up and died from it because she was too
malnourished that I stopped throwing up, but I was still starving
myself.  To be honest, I wanted freedom from the disorder, but even
more so I wanted freedom from what I was suffering through at home.
How could I get one without the other? In my mind those two struggles
needed each other in order for me to survive. In reality, when I
started towards recovery, I never really believed that I would be free
of the things that pained me; eating or otherwise. It actually wasn’t
until my mother kicked me out of the house when I was 17 that things
actually started to change. In the moment that she stripped every
material thing I had away from me – my room, my bed, my car, my cell
phone, my clothes, and my cat – I was forced to question, if all I
really had was myself, why was I trying to destroy myself? Why was I
punishing myself for what others said and did? Without all of these
“things” (including the eating disorder), who was I? It was a loving
friend and her mother who let me stay in their home that finally
pushed me to tell my mother about the eating disorder (which made
things worse). A year or so later, after my mother refused to support
me in getting therapy for it, a loving ecclesiastical leader who I was
very close to finally reached in and saved me from the flood I was
drowning in, and paid out of his own pocket for me to get therapy.

Stopping was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. There were
two parts to stopping; the physical aspects, and the mental aspects. I
couldn’t just start eating again and keep my food down for me to be
happy and healthy. To be free, I needed to stop in my head too – no
more obsessing over food and weight, or keeping an incredibly
meticulous food/weight journal, or skimming through pictures that
depicted what I needed to be to satisfy everyone. I was able to
physically recover within about 6 months (19yrs old) or so, but
mentally I continued to mull over the impact of the food I was eating
for about a year. In those times, I remember thinking, “will there
ever be a time when I don’t think about it!? Will there ever be a time
where I don’t worry about the aftermath of every piece of food I eat?
Will I ever feel like I am more than my body?” You see, it hurt too
much to acknowledge myself as a full being – with emotions, feelings,
thoughts, and desires. So I became nothing but a body for almost 4
years to get away from the pain of those other aspects. I wanted to
become a shell with nothing inside, because that hurt less.

I had to start filling myself with new memories; new experiences to
help me become who I wanted to be. I held onto a phrase my therapist
said often, “Food=Fuel=Good” I had to change my relationship with
food. When Food equaled anything other than food, i.e. Food=emotional
outlet, it wouldn’t equal good. I was able to start building myself
into a full human being and accessed my emotions and thoughts through
writing, art, and making music; by sharing and becoming my own story,
instead of just a bad memory with lots of baggage. That is really when
I started to recover and heal inside.

I’ve looked back many times since and imagined my now 25yr old
confident, self-assured, passionate, and strong-self taking care of
the little confused and pained 16yr old me. What would I say to her? I
would hug her tight and tell her that she’s enough – if for no one
else, she’s enough for me. I would tell her I love her and believe in
her. I would try to instill in her that she wasn’t invisible and that
she did matter. That is one thing that some people don’t understand –
eating disorders aren’t always about food, and weight.  A lot of
times, it’s about a void elsewhere in someone’s life. The eating
disorder often serves as an outlet for other issues (though I know
it’s different for everyone). But even though food and weight
dissatisfaction aren’t always the source of an eating disorder, food
and weight quickly become the focus of the eating disorder. That’s
what can be problematic with recovery attempts. Most often the focus
goes to solving the food and weight problem, while the source of the
disorder may not be food and weight.

But here I am. Despite the giant beast the disorder was to slay (and a
rather relentless beast, I might add), I did it. It’s been a little
over 5 years now and I know who I am, and I know my worth. I belong to
me; not to the world, not to my past, not to those who were too blind
to see my worth – I belong to me.

1 comment:

  1. Very powerful, thank you so much for sharing!

    ReplyDelete