With swollen, bloodshot eyes and tear-stained hollow, withered cheeks, she made her way to the porcelain sink. Her cracked lips burned as the dry air brushed them, and her thinning strands of hair stuck to her face as if they were adhesive.
“You are worthless. You are a piece of trash. So pathetic.” The voice in her head tore her down and the girl looking back through the reflective glass was empty. Hollow. Broken.
With trembling hands, she splashed cold water across her pale face, wiped the flaking mascara from under her eyes, and pulled her brittle black hair back. No one would ever know, and that is how it was going to stay.
This scene played out on a daily basis for me. I had gotten so used to the routine of bingeing and purging that it had become a part of me that no one could have known.
That’s the thing with eating disorders. Sure, there are some obvious signs, but people who have disordered eating behaviors get really good at putting up a façade. I became ashamed of the way I unapologetically lied to my loved ones about why I wasn’t eating this time or how I the weight kept “falling off”. I grew exhausted and overwhelmed with the double-life I lived, but I couldn’t change it. It had become me.
For me, I never saw it coming. It’s one of those things you hear about, but until it affects you on a personal level, you really can’t begin to describe what it is like. I had been struggling for years with my addictions to substances, but when this eating disorder hit me, I had been propelled into a new world, a new concept completely foreign and completely possessive of the life I once controlled.
It started small. Skip a meal here; purge a meal there. When other people started noticing the changes in my image, and I started getting a little more confidence, I couldn’t let this thing go despite the fact that I knew it could be dangerous. I’d tell myself time and time again that this time was the last time, but then my “eating disorder voice” would intrude and tell me to hang on just a little longer; lose “just five more pounds.”
My goal weight kept getting smaller, but the reflection I saw staring back was growing larger. That confidence this disorder initially gave me was gone almost as fast as it appeared. It controlled my every move, and it consumed every fiber of my being. I couldn’t have a meal in front of people because they might notice that my eating behaviors weren’t normal. I couldn’t eat after certain hours because it would be harder to purge. I had check points on my body that I’d measure to make sure they didn’t get past a certain size. My knuckles were bruised from constant self-inflicted purging, but I didn’t care anymore. I started isolating from all those around me, merely doing whatever it took to just “get by”. Eating and restricting; bingeing and purging. Supplementing food with wine and feeling so broken. I was so, so broken.
I knew I was becoming a shell of myself, and for a moment I even considered entering into treatment. My drinking went hand in hand with my disorder, but I couldn’t bring myself to admit I needed that kind of help. Sure, I’d been through treatment before for my drinking; I didn’t need treatment for my eating disorder. I just needed a counselor; I just needed to talk about my issues that caused me not to eat. People were beginning to notice something was wrong, but I would never admit it.
After heavy interventions from loved ones, I begrudgingly agreed that I needed a life-change if I still wanted a life. I wasn’t living; I was simply just existing. In treatment, I came to realize how deep-rooted my eating disorder actually was. It wasn’t just my way of controlling my weight; that was merely a manifestation of the underlying issues that caused it. I had lived this life for 21 years, hating the person I been for most of them. I needed control, I needed not to feel, I needed to not be me. I relied on my eating disorder to take me away from the person I was, to allow me to control an aspect of my life when everything around me seemed to be falling apart. I allowed my eating disorder to define me – shape me; losing myself along the way.
Thirty days in residential treatment and thirty days of intensive outpatient came and went. I had been given a great set of tools through treatment, but integrating back into the “real world” was hard, and fear encompassed me like a thick fog.
You see, my eating disorder didn’t just affect me once and then I was cured. There isn’t a magic pill I can take and then my “issue” goes away. No, I will live with the effects of my eating disorder for the rest of my life. I have good days and bad days. I’m not sure if I could confidently say I’m fully recovered at this point, six years later. I still have moments where I want to restrict, times when I eat my feelings despite my hunger cues and days where I feel like purging. I have times where I simply can’t see myself as anything but the way my eating disorder wants me to see.
And then I have days, the days of hope, the days the grow more as I travel along the path of recovery, where I listen to my body’s cues and eat when I’m hungry and stop when I’m full. I have times where I recognize my beauty and remember that beauty isn’t defined by one standard. I have moments where my self-love and self-appreciation could fill a room. I have moments when I remember: I’m so very enough, just as I am. And when the negative, disordered thoughts start creeping in, I have tools that allow me to separate those thoughts, those desires, from the reality that I’m enough, in every sense of the word.
I’m a work in progress and I always will be. I’ve been on a mission for six years to break from the brokenness I once felt. I can say that I wouldn’t have traded my experience with my eating disorder for anything. If I wouldn’t have had it, I wouldn’t have been able to experience self-discovery, self-growth or self-love. So for that, I’m forever grateful to my eating disorder. All it took from me, I took right back from it.
Author: Erin O’Connell
Author Bio: Erin is an obsessive coffee drinker with a head full of dreams. She’s a Texas girl and spends her time eating cookies, hanging out with her family and planning her next move.
Link to social media or website: http://www.blissfullyerin.com