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Breaking Free of the Rules of an Eating Disorder

The hardest part of having an eating disorder, or one of the many challenges, is the punishment. While the media focus on weight, looking for the latest shock photo, friends and family grow distant while you become increasingly isolated, and a thoughtless public believe you are vain, few can appreciate the cruelty involved in an eating disorder: the cruelty towards yourself.

For ten years, actually more, I was involved in the battle of oneself, essentially a daily fight where I was the victim but also the punisher. Bulimia would have me eating horrendous amounts I could not control and then purging, before starving myself as the punishment. Hours at the gym, strict food plans, detoxes, because for every time I would binge, the regime became more strict. However, despite how strict the rules became, I would always break them. It became a constant battle of whether I would break the rules or keep them. Gradually, the rules extended in all directions. I would not allow myself a haircut or to buy new clothes. I brought countless notebooks where I marked a timetable of exercises I must complete each day. I vowed to disappear from everyone to ensure I would not break the rules. I would not allow myself pleasures unless I reached my goal.

For more than ten years I lived like that, my own enemy. I was being cruel to myself daily, continuously punishing myself for what I could not achieve and hating myself for it. Food was just the tool, the weapon to hurt myself with, because the real battle was with myself.

Six years now I am fully recovered. Not once did I believe I would be free of the rules of self-cruelty. Even if I managed to release my obsession to lose weight, I believed my mind would always control me in ways where I was helpless. However, here I am, free, free of my compulsion to lose weight, free of bulimia and most importantly, with a free mind. How did I do it? I am unsure, but I know I had to make peace with myself and no one can do that for you. The most difficult part of my recovery was forgiving myself, allowing myself to cry, and becoming a friend with myself again, rather than someone who only took away everything I enjoyed.

If anyone said to me I would eat normally again, I would never had believed them. To be able to eat and stop when I am full, not care about the scales or the gym, not fret for hours about what I had eaten, not have to be sick after every meal, seemed impossible, beyond impossible. I would never be free from bulimia because we must eat to live, I said to myself. This meant I could never avoid the one thing that caused me so much pain. But recovery does happen, and it can last.

If I can do it, if I have done it, me, being a person who had severe bulimia and could not eat one mouthful without the urgent need to rid myself of it, then it is possible. Since my recovery, I have discovered life again. I went back to education, I travelled and visited more than 65 countries, I have written a book, I am on my second, I got married. So many things I wanted to do have now been made possible.

In my darkest days, I remember sitting on a London tube, alone in the carriage and feeling so desperate. Tired of life, my life, tired of the constant battle; I remember speaking to no one, or perhaps the universe, asking when would this end. I spotted a matchbox on the floor with words scribbled on it. Picking it up, I read the words and even though I did not believe the message, I placed the matchbox in my pocket. That was over ten years ago, and today, I still have the matchbox, and it reminds me of that time when I never thought recovery was possible and I never believed things would change. The writing in the matchbox read: ‘tough times don’t last but tough people do’.

If I had to say anything to people struggling with an eating disorder it would be that recovery is possible. You have to persevere, know that one day it can be different, because recovery is possible, and I am proof of this. 

Contributed by Shanel