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I developed an eating disorder out of desperation. I saw the difficulties of my life swirl around me, but each time that I grasped for a solution the problems seemed to grow larger. I felt smaller, powerless. A thick fog of doubt and depression seeped into my mind, and I became unable to distinguish myself from all that overwhelmed me. I began to feel not only that I was not enough, but that I was nothing. From this fog I conjured a way to transform the complications, the pain, and the chaos into a much more contained kind of disorder – the kind that only cares about being thin. Suddenly, I controlled everything. In this very small world I created, there was nothing I couldn’t handle. The illusion of safety that anorexia provided was both alluring and deadly.
Choosing to live has been one of the most challenging things I have ever done. Learning how to live has proven even more difficult. There is no road map. That does not mean that it is an impossible or undesirable task. Eventually, through great effort and great loss, I realized that I had not trapped all of my problems, but that they had trapped me. Anorexia could only perpetuate my pain and fears by holding me in a place of powerlessness and isolation. Recovery came in fits and starts. I finally chose to let other people onto my recovery path. I found a treatment facility that I connected to and that I felt safe in. I also had to remove some people from my recovery process – people that only reinforced the shame and blame that I already felt. I began to unpack my anger about sexism and the objectification of feminized people. I strengthened my identity as a feminist, and sought out empowering literature. All in all, I began to open my eyes to the possibility that I was powerful, lovable, and whole despite my struggles and imperfections. I clung to the possibility of hope. I had been afraid of it for a very long time, and I didn’t stop being afraid then. I just started embracing the fear as an alternative to the all-consuming hell that was my eating disorder. I looked into myself, the person I had so long ago lost to that fog. I did not always like what I saw. What I learned was to love what I saw – by accepting it. All of the beauty and pain within me and outside of me became real as I brought the walls of anorexia down, and I learned to love what was real. Every feeling – painful or pleasant – meant that I was alive, which was immeasurably better than being numb. It still is.
I have spent the past 5 or so years in recovery, which is to say that I’ve truly been recovering my lost self. Unfortunately, I lost a lot of time to my eating disorder that can never be recovered. I accept my regrets about the time lost. I also know that time keeps marching on, and that from now on I’d like to join in. I have had to gather myself along the way, all the while moving forward. I have found pieces of myself in the people who love me. I have found pieces of myself while hiking, with all of my senses open to the world around me, rather than focused on the imaginary world of anorexia. I have found pieces of myself in times of vulnerability and fear. I have found pieces of myself in sharing my story. I hold the pieces together with the new trust I have in myself – the trust that I can choose to love and take care of myself rather than to punish and diminish myself. I know there is no turning back on life now, because I am so busy collecting these pieces and rearranging my masterpiece. It looks a bit rough around the edges, but I am proud of it. I am not ashamed that I struggle. Everyone struggles. I am glad that my experience can shine light on a disorder that is often misunderstood. Most of all, I hope for my experience to be a beacon for others on a journey back to life. I guarantee that there is hope, and that when you find the strength to go looking for life, it will be looking back at you. It has been waiting for you the whole time.