Throughout the years that I have suffered from an eating disorder, all the attempts that I have made at recovery, I would read other people’s stories and think, “what’s the point? It will never happen for me.” I thought that I wanted recovery, that I was ready to fight anorexia, but in reality I was lying to myself; ED’s grip on me was so strong that I could not make the choices needed to succeed. As a result, I led everyone to believe I was trying, I was working to recovery, but I was merely existing in the torture of “managing” and atypical anorexia.
At times I also thought I had worked hard, faced what I needed to and this was going to be, “as good as it gets!” The problem was that inevitably, given triggers in life, I would relapse. And after each it fall felt harder to drag myself out of the abyss. Nothing in my life was more important than what ED wanted – not my education, my career and later my daughter, my husband, my family.
Something changed this time. Not immediately – I don’t even know when. Somewhere in the middle of going through the motions of “recovery” I finally realised that I DID want to recover. Not manage, not exist, but actually recover. No matter how hard, or how much that voice berated me, I wanted to overcome this illness that I had lived with for over half my life.
It was not a straight or easy path; I fell many times. People would think I was “fine” because I once again looked “fine”, but I was more fragile than ever. This tortured me until I realised: unless I was honest about how I was feeling, how could anyone know otherwise? It was terrifying to put myself out there, so vulnerable to judgement, but how would anyone know how I truly felt if I was not open? Doing just that removed anorexia’s safety blanket. If I was open about how I felt and struggled, I, or rather ED, had nowhere to hide. Healing could begin.
Although terrifying, laying myself open was the most significant change that I made. Eating disorders thrive on secrecy. The stigma that exists around them also exists within us. ED tells us those lies constantly: “You don’t deserve help, you are not ill enough, your weight is not low enough…” I could go on and on. We surrender to the lies and secrecy, giving ED more power. Once I was ready to give up the silence and the deceit that I believed, I began to understand how very much ED’s voice controlled every aspect of my daily life. By becoming 100% open and honest, I gave myself the strongest support network and safety net, one that I never thought would exist.
All the time I was ill, I felt a failure. This would intensify if I attempted recovery. People around me were relieved because I was healthier. I felt ever more tortured because I had not succeeded in reaching anorexia’s goals. Every time I had improved blood results, gained weight or got my period the shame would intensify. I spent years in this mindset, completely overwhelmed by its voice. I look back and think: why would making positive steps towards recovery against anorexia be something to be ashamed of, to berate yourself for? Life in recovery is not like this. Even on the harder days, when I have to be aware of ED’s voice, I am still so very proud of where I am and the hard work I do to keep myself well. I am no longer ashamed of choosing life and my health. It is not selfish; it is living and loving life and that is allowed. It takes so much strength and courage to make that choice to stay well every day. The knowledge that you can do that is so much more rewarding than anything an eating disorder ever tells you.
From all of this, what I want to say to anyone out there is hang in there, take every day as it comes, and never think this fight is pointless. I am no different to anyone else. Day by day, no matter how long it takes, recovery will come. Life in recovery is so very much more than life under the control of an eating disorder.
You have to learn how to live again and, like with any lessons, you often have to fail to learn the best way or the right way...
In the past I’ve wanted to hide the eating disorders that are part of my history, but I want to shout from the rooftops: I'm proud of how far I had come!
What a year 2020 has been in general for everyone – it was a year no one ever could have imagined, from panic buying, toilet roll shortages, lockdowns and restrictions. Yet for so many, including me, the battle against an eating disorder continued.