*TW: Eating Disorder*
It has been a week, let me just start by saying that. ED awareness week has made me feel empowered and strong in so many ways, but weak and inadequate at the same time. Ever since coming forward with my story, I’ve vowed to be as open and honest as possible while still putting myself and my needs first, knowing that’s the only way I’ll ever recover. This week I’ve seen and read so many brave stories of courageous people who have also decided to share their journeys with others. But the light of recovery is not the only side to the horrors of an eating disorder. And to be completely honest, recovery is a f*****g nightmare, mentally harder and more exhausting than restricting or purging will ever be. Today I wanted to open up about how incredibly intense recovery is. I’ll say this until I’m blue in the face, I’m not sharing this to look for pity, I’m sharing this because I want to be as real as possible, and to show others struggling that they are not alone.
184 days ago, I decided to finally seek treatment for bulimia nervosa. I really didn’t think I had a problem, or at least a big problem. I had landed back in LA for my sophomore year of college and was consumed by the number of comments my friends and peers had made about my body and weight. Everyone was telling me how great I looked, everyone was saying how skinny I was, and I loved every word. Tuesday was our first unofficial pre-season practice, I was so excited, but nervous knowing that I had spent almost four months that summer doing no physical activity. I dove into the water next to my teammates and immediately felt intensely exhausted, like I couldn’t move my body through the water any longer. I wasn’t just out of shape, I knew out of shape and that wasn’t it. Something was wrong, something was off, I knew it was getting dangerous. That was the first time I saw how much damage I had done to my body. Maybe purging my body of any bit of food that went into it wasn’t so great after all. Maybe the compliments and comments weren’t worth it. At that moment I chose recovery.
I first spoke with a trainer, someone I knew fairly well and trusted. I was then referred to a therapist, someone who was trained to deal with eating disorders. Next I was instructed to meet with a physician once a week, which ended up leading to excessive weekly blood tests. And finally, the last piece of my formal recovery structure was a weekly meeting with a dietician, again who specialized in eating disorders. All this was daunting, terrifying, exhausting. I had convinced myself that my eating disorder wasn’t bad, that it wasn’t real. I thought it was simply something I had made up in my head. I soon realized that this was the voice of the eating disorder.
The days I went to therapy or met with the dietician or doctors were nearly debilitating. There was nothing more draining than having to face the monster of my eating disorder head on. I would leave therapy feeling like a zombie and wanting to do nothing more than lie in bed for the rest of the day. Yet another urge I had to fight. Days, weeks and months blurred together, I began to question whether recovery was worth it. Everyone had told me to remember that recovery isn’t a straight line, but there will be ups and downs. I knew this and I tried to remind myself of this often, but it’s hard. It’s hard to step back and see how much progress you’ve made when all you can think about is your purge the night before. It’s hard to remember that one purge a day is incredibly amazing compared to the time when two slices of an apple was enough to make myself sick. Learning to acknowledge the small accomplishments has been one of the hardest parts of recovery.
To be completely honest, I feel like I blacked during the first couple months of recovery, it’s hard to remember the days. All I know is that I wanted to quit recovery everyday. Suppressing one urge would only make the next one stronger. Going a day without purging would make me feel like it’s okay to purge the next day. And I’ll say this again, it was exhausting – physically, mentally and emotionally. While I would love to say it gets easier, I don’t think that’s true. But as time goes on, you learn to find new ways to cope. You find the ways to help you feel happy and normal, you find the people who will support you unconditionally, and you’ll learn to be proud of the small accomplishments you make along the way.
I’m not recovered yet, and I don’t think I’m even close. I have slips and relapses all the time, it’s part of the process. It would be amazing if I could snap my fingers and stop all behaviors and abusive thoughts forever, but unfortunately I’m not living in a fairy tale. Learning to embrace the slips and see them as learning opportunities is part of recovery. There are still days and nights where I find myself bent over the toilet again, purging my body of food. And as weird as it sounds, I’m okay with that. Like I said before, recovery isn’t a straight line, but as long as the trend is looking up I know everything will be okay. I know that’s something I can be proud of.
I have an indent on my forearm from leaning on the toilet bowl. Cuts line my knuckles from where my teeth have dug into my skin. The back of my throat is covered in scars from scratches from my nails. What was once a full, thick bunch of hair on my head has thinned out and become brittle. My cheeks get swollen during bouts of purging as my salivary glands get irritated. Some of these things will go away, and some will stick with me forever. Because no matter how long I go without purging, my eating disorder will always be a part of my life. Recovery is learning to silence the abuse and embrace the power.
I don’t want this to discourage you from seeking treatment or beginning recovery, I want this to inspire you. It’s hard as hell, and it won’t be easy. But living in agony and pain isn’t easy either. Living a life full of secrets and lies isn’t easy. Living a life hating yourself and your body isn’t easy. Making that decision, 184 days ago, to seek treatment was the hardest decision of my life, but also the best. It’s wreaked beautiful havoc in my life, and while I still find myself wanting to quit so often, I know that what will come out of this will be so beautiful. Will I ever fully recover, I don’t know. Will I ever be completely happy with myself, I don’t know. But will choosing to prioritize recovery every single day, no matter how exhausting and hard, help me become happy and healthy, yes.
Make that decision today. Choose you, choose strength, choose recovery.