Recovery is Lifelong

tw: talk about eating disorders. 

One thing I haven’t spent a lot of time exploring in this space of mine is the fact that during my 10th-, 11th-, and 12th-grade years of high school, I suffered quietly with an eating disorder. I don’t know exactly how it’d be diagnosed today, but I think the closest label to what I was dealing with would be bulimia, or perhaps eating disorder not otherwise specified (NOS). At the height of it, I was restricting calories and purging after meals 1-2 times a day. I did this for 3 years.

My mother suspected that something was wrong, judging by how quickly I lost weight in 10th grade and how different my bathroom habits seemed to be after-the-fact. She started noticing me sneaking off after meals, and after asking me if everything was OK (in retrospect, I think she was almost pleading with me to tell her what was going on), she eventually left it alone.

I don’t think many of my friends knew, except perhaps for one, my best friend at the time. She and I were dealing with very similar monsters and would both use the space between classes or free time after school to secretly purge ourselves of whatever we thought was going to destroy all the work we’d done.

We wanted so badly to be thin, beautiful, perfectly proportioned. We wanted to badly to slim our stomachs until they caved in. We wanted to feel worthy of something, and in high school, to be skinny was to be worthy–at least, that is what we believed. 

My relationship with food has always been my most contentious. When I was 7, my family moved from Colorado to Minnesota, away from all the friends and family I had ever known and loved in my young life. Making friends here was hard. The first winter, I was amazed by how the snow fell in early November and stayed on the ground until April. I was amazed, yes–and I also quickly became withdrawn and depressed.

My battle with emotional eating began when I was 7 years old. At 8 years old, I would stand in front of the mirror before showering and poke angrily at the fat belly that appeared on my body, seemingly out of nowhere. By the time I went into 4th grade, I was undeniably one of the fat kids. If you look at the progression of my school photos, you’d find a startling transition from a skinny, toothy child one year, to a slightly less-smiley, chubby child the next.

Shy, socially awkward, and fat: that’s how I’ve always described my younger self. I spent a lot of time daydreaming and drawing in my own room, especially during the summers. I hated most sports, except volleyball. As I got older, eating an entire medium Dominoes pizza by myself while hanging out at home became a source of comfort for me. I would microwave 2-3 flour tortillas topped with butter and sugar as a pre-dinner snack. Ice cream was commonplace and necessary most nights. By late middle school, I could easily stuff an entire Chipotle burrito down my throat, no problem. I might’ve even eyed a second helping, if only I could.

My mom tried to help. She had me drinking diet soda by 5th grade. She brought me to weight watchers around the same time, and bought all of the awful low-calories meals and shakes and desserts she could think of. She was trying to lose weight too, you see. I ate it all.

I found weight loss pills in her sock drawer and tried to sneak them every couple of days or so. I tried buying my own from the drug store. I’d decide to go on a diet one week, and fail the very next. I was teased by the neighborhood boys for my weight. I felt gross and uncomfortable showing any skin other than my face, hands and feet, even in the summer.

By high school, I was miserable in my own skin. I felt unattractive, invisible, and like a joke to most of my peers. I had a small group of close friends, mostly the “weirdos” and outcasts, and I felt like I finally fit in with them. But that didn’t help my image and certainly didn’t make it seem possible to ever fit in.

One day in 10th grade, I made a snap decision to join the cross country team. I showed up to the first few practices and tried as hard as I could to huff and puff my way around the track for the warm-up mile. It may just be my memory messing with me, but it’s hard not to believe that my track mates were quietly giggling at me.

After a week or so, I injured my foot. The coach told me to work out on the elliptical while the rest of the team practiced outside. I dropped out soon after. But, I kept running.

I ran, and ran, and ran. I ran in the dark, ran in the rain, ran in the snow. I started counting my calories–actually counting them and being conscientious of what I was putting in my body. I started biking more. By the time the summer before 11th grade rolled around, I’d lost nearly 40 pounds. I felt so comfortable in my skin, it was almost unbelievable. I was getting attention from boys who had always looked the other way. I was wearing clothes I never imagined I’d be able to. I was on my way to freedom.

And then one day, I overate, more than I anticipated or planned for. It was my brother’s birthday, and I ate an extra cornbread muffin at Famous Dave’s. After we got home, I felt this awful sensation of failure bubbling up inside me. So, for the first time ever, I decided to sneak to my mom’s room while everyone was socializing outside, and I made myself throw up.

It felt like I’d discovered the secret key to sustaining my new figure while enjoying the things I’d been missing for so long. It was scary and intoxicating. I felt dirty but light. I knew I had to keep doing this. I knew I couldn’t let my progress slip away.

Needless to say, it got pretty bad. I never talked to anyone about it–at least, nobody who had the authority or power to bring me to help. I kept it as secret as I could. At one point, I made myself purge so hard that my nose began to bleed. My throat was always raw. There was a pain point in the back of my throat where my fingers/toothbrush would always hit. I was often cold, and tired. I stopped running after a while.

This went on until shortly after I graduated high school, from ages 15 until 18.

I don’t know how I finally stopped, or what I did, but I did. Just as suddenly and intensely as I had begun, I stopped. I refused to keep hurting myself in that way. I have not intentionally purged in over 10 years.

My weight has fluctuated up and down since then–at 5’6”, I have been as fit as 145 pounds and as a heavy as 205. Right now, I have been maintaining at a healthy, muscular 160 for over a year. I run and bike and do yoga. On most days, I have a yogurt and 2 hardboiled eggs for breakfast, then a sausage with veggies & hummus, avocado, and a few pieces of dark chocolate for lunch. I give myself a bit more leeway with dinners, but it’s often some combination of sauteed veggies with another sausage & some cheese. Dessert is an apple with sunflower butter.

I do as well as I can by myself. I try not to pinch and poke and prod. I have come to terms with the fact that I may never reach that size 2 dress. I tell myself I’d rather be fuller-figured and healthy, than ever go back to where I was before. I still don’t have the confidence to wear a bikini in the summer, but I’ve started venturing into form-fitting clothes in the colder months, and shorts in the summer. I do okay, most of the time.

Talking about my shadow eating disorder often feels more shameful to me than talking about my struggle with alcohol–and I have to admit, I’m still kind of ashamed of the alcohol thing. I’m ashamed partially because it’s yet another struggle that would break down the illusion of me being level-headed and stable, and partially because it’s just…gross.

I know deep down that my eating disorder was the result of years of intense, non-stop messaging about how my body should look from family, the media, and my peers. I know my mother’s attempts at helping me were well-intentioned, but ultimately damaging. I know the emotional eating and the purging were efforts at exerting some control and softening the shriek of my internal pain. I know I was just a young girl full of hurt and confusion, topped with anger toward my body and a woefully low amount of insight into what needed to change.

Much like my problems with alcohol didn’t happen because I had one too many drinks by accident and just kept going with it, my issues with food didn’t just sprout up after eating one too many cornbread muffins at my brother’s birthday party. These problems are deeply ingrained in the fabric of my life story. There is suffering within, and there is a story of victory against the harshest effects of those sufferings: namely, I have found a victory in not purging for over a decade, and I have found a victory in remaining sober for over 2 years.

I still struggle with my body, though. As much as I am grateful for how far it’s taken me in this life, there are still things about it that I am frustrated with. I try not to poke and prod my belly, but sometimes I still do. I try not to focus on the fact that my legs are still kinda chubby despite their musculature, and I try not to worry too much about flab on my arms or whether my face looks fuller than usual–but still, I do.

Recently, I’ve caught myself slowly drifting back into a dieter’s mindset. If I’m being honest, I don’t think I’m ever 100% rid of a dieter’s mindset. It is often quiet, operating in the background, keeping some of my food choices in check. Sometimes, though, it pushes its way through the front doors of my mind and demands a seat at the table. Not that it wants any food, mind you; it just wants to start making demands. Usually, this happens when I’m stressed or otherwise emotional. I start eating emotionally, and the dieter jumps into action. There’s a push and pull between my comfort-food-craving mind and my dieting mind. It’s never fun.

So, yes, recently this voice has been louder and louder. It wants me to start cutting my calories down to 1700 a day or less, even with exercise. It wants me to eliminate all sugar and all carbs. It wants me to cut out the avocado from my lunch, and probably the dark chocolate too. It wants to run a 5k at least every other day, plus yoga and weight and maybe even some aerial if I find the money for it. It wants to buy a bathroom scale. It wants to be down to 150 pounds or less before I turn 30.

This is a good reminder for myself that recovery–whether it’s from a physical ailment, an eating disorder, or an alcohol addiction–can be a recurring process, sometimes lifelong. The voice may not ever go away completely. It’s up to me to be vigilant against complacency. 

So I’ve made some compromises. No, I won’t go down to 1700 calories. I don’t think counting calories is a good idea. I will cut back on how much sugar I’m eating, and I’ll reduce the number of processed carbohydrates and grains I’m eating as well. We’ll fill the space with more veggies. No, I won’t cut out the avocado. I’ll consider cutting the chocolate (it’s staying). No bathroom scale–that’s a recipe for obsession. How about we just keep running, biking, doing yoga and lifting weights as we’re able, and we’ll try to be as healthy as we can for the big 3-0, no matter what the scale says?

I am honestly tired of this. I don’t want to battle the inner dieter for the rest of my life. I want to feel comfortable in my own skin. I want to celebrate my body and my health. I want to be able to look at myself in a mirror, naked, and not wince or frown or prod.

With sobriety, I am better at “tuning in” to myself and my body’s needs. I am aware of when something isn’t quite right. I am conscientious of my limits and I know when I can bend them a little. I feel aligned with who and what I am. This sometimes gives the dieter more room to wiggle in and protest a bit…I don’t want to go down that path ever again. I want to feel content with me, just as I am.

It’s a work in progress. Some days are better than others. Today I choose to be thankful for this body and the chance I’ve been given with it–I hope tomorrow I can say the same.

❤ Em

2 thoughts on “Recovery is Lifelong

  1. Lily 🌷 says:

    Very honest, and I so relate to the constant dieters mindset… you are doing so well, I’m 53 and only very recently learned to love myself enough to STOP binging, purging, severely restricting calories and generally obsessing about food. In many ways it’s are harder addiction than alcohol ( and I’ve been sober for 918 days) because we HAVE to eat. Well done for your positive mindset and I’m sure you are beautiful and attractive just exactly as you are. 🌷 xxx


  2. MeditationAndNoBooze says:

    Very nicely said
    Powerful story
    Thanks for sharing
    As my wife (who suffered from a eating disorder) always says: the problem with eating disorder is that you need food everyday, so it will always be around you
    You story is full of courage and you are doing great!

    Liked by 1 person

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