There are many posts I would have loved to write before this one. I’d rather throw this one into a gaping cavern, never to be seen again. I’d let it erode into gravel until there were only scattered sediments left that dissolve into the earth. I’d rather forget. But, then I ask myself, who does that serve?
This has been a challenging post to write. I’ve daydreamed for years that one day – one day far from now – I’d be brave enough to proclaim that I wrestled this demon. It always seemed far off, which made it more palatable. Inspiring, even. Well, it seems today is the day. Part of me doesn’t believe I can do it justice. I’ve come to terms with the fact that this post is not all encompassing. It’s a step.
There are many people suffering in secret. I want them to know they are not alone. You are not alone. I want everyone else to understand that external appearance does not define health.
I battled an eating disorder for years. Binging and purging to be specific. The details aren’t pretty, but they are real. It began at the culmination of a three-year relationship. We were both very unconscious and inflicted a good deal of trauma on one another. One of the major stories I walked away with was that I was unlovable if I gained weight. I was susceptible to believing this story after 18 years of internalizing various versions of it. I listened to women I loved describe their bodies as gross. I watched men I trusted objectify women. A lifetime of programming lead me to this belief: You are only lovable if you are physically fit and attractive. The opinions of others define your worth.
When the relationship ended, I knew that I needed to “get in shape” if I ever wanted to experience love again. I started exercising multiple times a day, did the My Fit Foods 21-day challenge, and lost about 10-15lbs. To the onlooker, it appeared I was diving into a healthy lifestyle. I received compliments from peers, and the oh-so-coveted attention of boys. I earnestly believed that I was happy. I didn’t know that healthy actions do not equate to a healthy life when you have distorted intentions. It could not last.
One night, after going out on 6th street – one of my many means of escapism – I went to Roppolo’s with friends and gorged on pizza. Upon arrival at home I felt sick and vomited. Something sinister clicked. I realized that throwing up was an option. When I veered off the path of so-called health and experienced instant regret, there was a way to take it back. This launched a gruesome cycle: Excess followed by regret. Scrambling to repent followed by unrelenting shame. Excess is the binge, repenting is the purge. The shame of purging lead to escapism which lead to another binge and overkill at the gym. I knew it was twisted, but I couldn’t break free.
The cycle began around May of 2013. It continued in total secrecy through study abroad, late nights out, studying for exams, football games, holidays, and countless other college life distractions. I appeared engaged with life but felt alone on an island. It wasn’t until a year later, in May of 2014, that I could no longer bear the burden. I hadn’t had a period in six months. I was torturing my body. My spirit was weakening. Life was losing its luster. I lost hope that I could solve the problem on my own. Out of sheer desperation I confided in my brother. He asked permission to tell my dad – something shame wouldn’t allow me to do. I was moving to Dallas for an internship that summer. My dad took decisive action. He researched therapists in my area, sent me links, urged me to reach out, and offered to pay. I will always feel enormous gratitude for this gift. I had to lift myself out of the cave, but he handed me a rope.
You may think it’s all sunshine and rainbows from here. The thing about gaining awareness of a problem is that you’re forced to either feel the pain or continue to escape with heightened sensitivity. I was damn good at avoiding pain, so for me this meant deeper shame around my escapism patterns. I was working on myself, but I couldn’t stop the cycle. The most potent lesson from therapy that summer was that I did not know how to feel emotions I perceived as negative. Anger and sadness were a waste of time. Why would I need to feel those? I spent life running from feelings I was uncomfortable with. I escaped through social activities, alcohol, and television, but the best numbing mechanism of all was food. I could sit in front of a TV screen with an unreasonable amount of the most satiating foods (“bad foods”) and the world around me ceased to exist. Phone calls went unanswered. Feelings remained unfelt.
Binge eating persisted, but my internal awareness had expanded. I drew a hard line with purging to force myself to accept reality. I gave in at times, but it was a drastic improvement. My therapist also encouraged me to purchase a journal and start writing. I’m going to give you a glimpse inside by sharing a few excerpts.
July 30, 2014
After the binge is over, I’m a walking paradox. Physically full but spiritually and mentally empty.
August 24, 2014
The person I will be in the future, I am currently becoming. I have to remember that.
November 11, 2014
One day will be the day that I move on from this eating disorder, and I refuse to lose hope. I think today is that day.
November 18, 2014
This is getting dangerous. I’m pushing myself to the edge. I have to turn things around. Now. I’m so angry at myself…
…I am begging you. Begging. Begging you to stop. Please don’t binge again. Trust what you know in your heart.
My last semester of college was an enigma. I had a blast, developed deeper friendships, did well in school, and had a great job lined up, but I continued to suffer. In private. I didn’t have a therapist in Austin, and I began to feel a familiar desperation.
Life went on. I wasn’t fully present for my college graduation – a fact that still makes me a little sad. I went on a wonderful post-grad trip with close high school friends and was excited to begin my career. An element of work life that I hadn’t considered began to take a toll on my psyche. No matter how boring, or how little I had to do, I had to be at work from 8am-5pm. I was a new college grad and needed to prove my work ethic. I’ve never been good at being in one location for an extended period. My senior year of high school I had straight A’s but seven No Credits for missing class. In college, I compensated for missing non-attendance-based courses with intense bouts of studying. There was no option to skip work and get it done at home. I was in training, and therefore needed to be in attendance for my bosses to witness that I was working. This reality set off another intense cycle of escapism through food. I counted the minutes at the end of each day until I could finally escape the mind-numbing boredom. Most days I knew I’d rush home to binge. To feel free. Then I’d find myself trapped in a new cage – a psychological prison of shame and regret.
I needed to return to therapy but felt my old therapist could no longer serve me. It seems that my decision to recover allowed the universe to align for a miracle. I found a new therapist in Dallas, Lorri. During my first session with her she questioned my beliefs and wrote them on a white board. She continued asking: What does that mean? Where does that come from? Until I reached a final answer. I didn’t love myself.
At once, I knew what Regina George felt when she was hit by that bus. I thought I loved myself. My friends and I spoke about self-love and how we were each uniquely beautiful and worthy of love. I knew this truth logically, but, in that moment, I understood that I did not believe it. I believed all the lies. I believed that my worth fluctuated with my weight. I believed I was worthy if I had a good degree, friends, and a successful looking life. I did not believe I was lovable at my core. My self-worth was dependent on the approval of others. Thus, began the process of rewiring my beliefs.
April 14, 2015
Things that I know:
Everybody – every single person – is intrinsically beautiful and equally valuable. Every person is an awesomely unique creature and the parameters we use to define ourselves are only there to feed our egos. They can never feed our souls.
Joy, love, and peace emanate from your soul when you are truly present. Every other emotion is a creation of your mind because you are either living in the past or future. Those created emotions aren’t real.
Things that I believe:
My value is based on my exterior appearance, my accomplishments, and how I compare to the people around me.
Things outside of me can bring me happiness and therefore pain as well.
I can’t be happy unless I look a certain way.
I will work to abolish these false beliefs and create a new belief system based on the things I know to be true.
The process of rewiring is a long and arduous one. I experienced ecstatic hope and devastating setbacks. Reading, spirituality, and nutritional counseling gave me a new framework for life. Over time it gave me new reasons WHY. I stopped working out for a year. I allowed myself to eat forbidden foods when I craved them. The only motivator I had before was the potential of altering my body so that I could finally “love” myself. I discovered that self-care was valuable to me for other reasons. I wanted to feel energized and grateful for life. I wanted to treat myself with respect. I began to learn what love meant.
Throughout 2016, I still struggled with binge eating. I began to keep a food log which my nutritional counselor and I reviewed weekly. There was no guilt in the review, only acceptance of what was. I practiced sitting with my pain. I experienced countless breakthroughs and setbacks. By the end of 2016, I felt lighter. I had built a community in Dallas who I cared for deeply. The expansion I was experiencing inspired me. I felt grounded.
So, as it does, the Universe decided it was time for a new challenge. I dated throughout the years, but never felt ready for something real. Winston and I had our first date in December 2016. Our relationship has uncovered another set of false beliefs that I’m working to rewire.
This is to say – the journey of awakening is forever ongoing. The challenges presented by the Universe are an invitation to growth. When we’re ready, we will step toward the invitation. My eating disorder awoke me to a new world. A world of depth and meaning. It stopped me from living a life on the surface, convincing myself I was satisfied. It woke me up.
I didn’t know what the light would look like. It was impossible to imagine. I am grateful to my past-self for enduring such pain without a clear map. I’m honored by her bravery.
It’s now 2019, and I am not perfect. I have lingering symptoms of past beliefs. I struggle with anxiety induced by food-centric situations. I’m learning to eat mindfully. I can see the light now, though. I can feel it. I am in recovery from a disordered relationship with food. I now enjoy a healthy relationship with my body. I’m exactly where I need to be. I am grateful.
If you are struggling, please know that you are not alone. Please feel welcome to reach out.
You are divine, and you are worthy.
*It would be foolish to publish this without expressing gratitude to the ones who helped guide me to the light.
Dad, I don’t know how far I would have fallen if not for your actions and encouragement. Thank you for handing me the rope.
Miguel, you were a listening ear when I needed it most. You saw me as I was, and you understood. I felt seen and accepted by you in the darkest moments.
Mom, your love and encouragement mean the world. You made sure I always felt loved.
Winston, thank you for showing me what it means to feel safe in a man’s arms and for holding space for all of me.
To each friend I’ve been able to confide in until now – you are amazing. Thank you for providing a safe space. You made a difference. Samantha, thank you for being the first friend I felt safe to share with. Stephanie, thank you for your loving acceptance and asking me when I planned to write this post.
Lorri, you amazing therapist flower human. I was blessed to find a therapist I resonated with on so many levels. Thank you for teaching me how to love myself again, and for helping me untangle society’s lies and stories from my truth. You can find Lorri’s website here: https://recoverjoy.com/.
Casey, the most amazing nutritional counselor. Thank you for teaching me that there are no bad foods, even though I scoffed the first time I heard it. You can find Casey’s website here: https://www.dallasnutritionalcounseling.com/.
Mariah, thank you for your strength and vulnerability. We didn’t know each other well in school, but your blog told me that I wasn’t alone. It inspired me. If anyone is looking for a beautifully written take on life and eating disorders, visit her blog here: https://mariahchantal.wordpress.com/.
September 22, 2016
I belong to life.
To the freedom derived from true and unrelenting self-love.
To dancing in a field of energy without a hint of embarrassment.
To the expression of love for another.
To the release of appearance.
I belong to Mother Earth.
To the immense beauty and understanding with which she nurtures my soul.
To the feeling of cool air running across my face and blowing back my hair on a bike ride.
To true understanding.
I was made to wildly dance to beautiful music.
I was made to BE, not to exist.
I was made to run freely through the forest.
To lay in the grass staring up at the trees against the blue sky.
In awe of the beauty in this world.
I was made to love.