The first time I starved myself was shortly after my dad died. I was swimming in our family pool with my 3 year old son and as I was getting out of the pool, someone had made a comment to me about my cellulite. That was all it took. That was the trigger.
Anorexia is hereditary and some of my family members have struggled with it. I believe it is something that has always been in my mind. When I was a teenager and I would get bullied, I remember wanting to disappear so badly or hurt myself so that people would feel sorry for me. I thought that causing myself pain would somehow, oddly, make me feel better. I would obsess over starving myself, but I never actually did it until that one comment was made while I was trying to enjoy a swim with my toddler.
I stopped eating that day. I started to work out twice a day. I became obsessed with seeing my bones. My friends would comment about how thin I was becoming and I loved it. You really have to be careful about what you say to an anorexic, because what you think is advice, usually adds more motivation to keep going. After several months, I had the body of a skinny 12 year old. I looked more like a boy. I had no fat, just ripped muscles and bones.
Whenever I would start to feel sick because I was so hungry, I would eat a few pieces of lettuce or a few bites of apple sauce, just to curb the pain. I would come up with excuses not to eat with my family. Once in a while I would sit down to eat and shuffle my food around and eat a few bites, then follow that up with eating ex-lax. I would do this often enough to make people believe I was eating.
Over the next few years, I would suffer in cycles. I would give myself a break for a few months only to feel disgusted with myself and start again. When life was good, I would eat. When things went wrong, I would starve.
I was shopping in the juniors department one day. I tried on a size 00 in jeans and they were baggy. I was so proud. I came out of the dressing room and bragged about it. Every picture that was taken of me had to show my bony elbows or my ribs or I hated it. This is what made me different from everyone else. I could wither away to nothing. I had control. It was like I felt as if I had some type of power, because I was strong enough to not eat.
I had two friends who broke down in tears after seeing me. They begged me to get help. I would promise them that I would eat. Sometimes I would eat in front of them, but not often. That’s another thing I have always struggled with; eating in front of people. I strongly believe this is another symptom of the disorder.
When I was 34, my mom came to town to visit me. She walked in our front door, took one look at me and burst into tears. As she was crying, she blurted out “you’re dying. You’re dying right in front of me.” It broke my heart to see the pain that I was causing my family and friends. But it was the only thing I had control over. So many things seemed wrong in my life. This was the one thing I had power over. I had control over what went into my stomach and how long it stayed there. I had control over how little I could become. I was punishing myself for just being alive.
I ended up in the hospital one day. I don’t remember the details. I just remember waking up in my living room with my ex-husband cradling me. My son had called him because I had passed out. At the hospital, I weighed 98 pounds. The doctor told me that my organs were shutting down and that if I didn’t get help, I would be dead within a year. My children would be mother-less.
I went to my therapist, who took one look at me and called Dr. Chapman, the eating disorder specialist that she worked with occasionally. Dr. Chapman is well known. She has studied and written books on eating disorders and sexual trauma and how they are linked. It was a perfect fit. I later learned that eating disorders are linked to OCD, which is linked to sexual trauma. It’s all connected.
I was driving two hours, twice a week to see her. She signed me up for all kinds of courses on healthy living and meditation. She signed me up for yoga, wellness classes and even a weekend retreat in the north woods, dedicated to living in the moment. She also found a medication for me that would reduce my obsessive thoughts about food.
Over time, I learned to love myself enough to nourish myself. I started to really care about nutrition and my health. I was seeing things differently. I didn’t have to suffer to feel a sense of control. I reminded myself every day that I have people in my life who need me around. It was one thing to hurt myself, but I couldn’t bear the thought of hurting my loved ones anymore.
One day at a time, I became healthier. Every day I loved myself just a little bit more. It might have been baby steps, but it was steps. It might have started with one meal a day, but it was a meal.
To say “I am over anorexia” would be a lie. I don’t think you ever really get over it. It’s still very much there. It’s a thought that lingers daily. It’s wanting to starve myself the minute something goes wrong. It’s going to bed at night and picturing all the food just sitting in my stomach. It’s seeing someone completely different in the mirror, than what other people see when they look at me. It just lingers.
But now, thanks to my wonderful doctors and my family and friends, and thanks to my will to survive, I am OK. And I will be OK. Because I came too close to not being OK and I will never put anyone through that again. I might not have control over everything in my life, but I have my life. And I am more blessed now than I ever imagined.