"How did I end up here?" That's a question I asked myself constantly. Sitting in the florescent flickering lights of that place. The place I came three times a week. The place I dreaded and hated. The place that felt like a prison sentence, but still, I dragged my sorry ass body to that place every week. "How did I end up here?"
I'll tell you how I ended up there...
I think I came out of the womb with an unhealthy relationship with food. In fact, my parents used to love telling me the stories of how as an infant, I hated eating. My mom would sing songs to me as loudly as possible, so loud in fact, that I would open my little mouth in awe, and my dad would shove the food in my mouth before I noticed. Seems harmless, like an adorable little moment with a baby and her young parents.
A few years later, when I was about 5 years old, I refused to eat outside, ever. This caused problems at school, on field trips, at summer camp, when I was terrified of eating outdoors. Why was I afraid to eat outside? Because I could swallow a fly. And you know what happened to the old lady who swallowed a fly...well she died. Remember that innocent song? We sang it in Girl Scout meetings. An innocent little silly song, what could be the harm?
Dancing was my life as a little girl. I loved all forms of dance, and although I was never an extremely talented ballerina, it's where I met my dearest girlfriends and found a place I belonged. I grew up with an athletic mom and brother. I, however, failed miserably at anything involving throwing, catching, kicking, or hitting. I was petite, to say the least, and looked the part of a ballerina, all long stringy legs and arms, knobby-kneed, and straight as a board. I remember comparing our stomachs, just little girls in 5th grade or so, lying on our backs seeing who could be more concave than the others. I was always one of the "skinny" ones. "It must be nice to be so teeny," some of my curvier girlfriends would say. Wearing pink tights and black leotards highlighted all of our flaws, some girls had lumps and breast buds, while I could count my rib bones and watch each of my bones and muscles as they moved up and down my knees and feet.
Summer camp was another winner of memories. Summer camp in Texas meant extreme heat, greasy-meaty food, and competitive sports. Not only did I fail miserably at the competitive sports, but I absolutely hated the food. I was used to my mom's cooking, and being the picky eater I was, or always was told I was, I subsided on bread and peanut butter for weeks in the summer. I clearly remember when I was about 11 or 12 years old, I would measure the food I ate each day at camp. Calorie counting at 11 or 12? Nope! I had no idea what calories or fat were, but I would physically measure how far out my stomach would be by the end of the day if I kept eating the foods I ate. How did that happen? I was a young girl, and definitely thin, why did I keep track of every morsel I put into my mouth?
The eating behaviors only became stranger as I got older. At some point in my early teens, I declared myself a vegetarian. Where did that one come from? Well, of that, I'm not quite sure; however, it's something I stick by almost 20 years later. Vegetarianism isn't necessarily something to be alarmed of; I mean it's a healthy lifestyle choice. But my entire family was meat eaters; I mean I grew up in Texas! Why did I decide to put restrictions on myself?
As the years went on, restrictions became my best friend. I began to love rules. I followed every rule given, and I guess you could call me a perfectionist. That became my “thing.” My family knew I was the perfect one, nice, kind, never causing a ripple in the surface. The best rules were written right on the nutritional panel of a box of food. Serving size, calories, and fat. Oh fat! Well in the 90's Fat Free was everything in the world. That was the era of spray butter, Olean potato chips, and Snack wells. Remember that stuff? No fat=skinny forever! I could never break the rules if I never ate fat!
How did my eating disorder become a full blown problem? Slowly and without any warning. My weight plummeted senior year of high school. I could go days without food and I was "oh so good" at hiding this fact. I avoided meal times; secretly throwing out the morning smoothies my dad made me each day. I became bony and frail. I was always a thin girl and a picky eater, so this ED kind of snuck into my life. The adults turned a blind eye, knowing that this was just who I was. I was a good girl, why ruffle any feathers? Besides, I made straight A's, was a stellar student, a cheerleader, a runner, and a dancer. I had a boyfriend, went to parties on the weekends, I loved high school. But secretly I had this dark passenger (sorry Dexter) that traveled along with me.
If I had to personify my eating disorder, I couldn't really do it. At times it became so real and such a part of me that it could take over my brain. At other times, it was a misty figure in the background. My ED may not have had much of a physical presence, but its voice was loud and clear. It constantly told me what I could and couldn't do. I knew it had taken over by college. I graduated from a large university with a GPA of 4.0. Yep, it's possible. I joined a sorority, had friends, spent a year abroad, oh, and I still had that boyfriend who loved me. But I hated my life. It wasn't really a life because my eating disorder had taken over my brain at this point. I don't even think I knew who I was, who I wanted to be, and I definitely didn't like who I was becoming. I was living a half life. That's it, I had a half life. I said, "No" to things, held back from doing things. That's an eating disorder? It is when the thoughts of food rule your brain. All I could think about was food: what would I eat? When would I eat it? How could I exercise just enough to get rid of the food I did eat? In fact, between obsessing over food and making straight A's, how could I have lived a full life?
But this whole time, no one really, completely noticed. I mean they knew something was off, but they couldn't really pinpoint it. After college, I moved away, to a new state, where no one would be watching me or peering over my shoulder. Maybe my eating disorder would even stay behind in Texas. Slowly as I got to know new friends in Los Angeles, they started to notice. I wasn't normal; I mean on the outside I seemed normal, but slowly as you got to know me, I was kind of weird. That was it! And I was especially weird about food, but because my eating disorder couldn't be defined, I just kept living this half life. I wasn't binging and purging, I'd never made myself throw up or take pills. I was never painfully thin, and my doctor's reports and blood results always came back flawless. (Yet another test I could always ace!) But things were bad. I was missing out on so many of life’s greatest moments, and I finally knew it.
Slowly I think I began to cry out for help. But because I never wanted to seem weak, I just went back to restricting. I restricted everything and worked out like a fiend. It started to show, and I couldn't hide the secret anymore. I had an eating disorder, it could be defined. I had an unhealthy relationship with food, and it kept me from living.
Rock bottom was when my friends in LA began contacting my parents in Texas. I was a woman, in my late twenties, and my parents had to come out to save me. It was embarrassing, but comforting at the same time. I finally, sought help, albeit dragging my heals in the sand and screaming (inside) the entire time.
And that's how I end up at the beginning of my story. That's how I ended up in that awful building, 3 days a week. Those rooms, with their itchy chairs, wrapped up in blankets because I was always cold, and staring off into the distance, because I couldn't really focus. I started an outpatient program 3 days a week. I kept working, full time, and kept up the appearance of being "normal." Yet I went there, and had to admit that I was sick. It was one of the darkest moments I can recall. And it saved my life.
It took about 12 months, well 12 months and 28 years. My eating disorder crept up on me slowly, and let me tell you something...it's leaving my life just as slowly. In fact, part of me wonders if it will ever go away. The doctors say it's possible, that one day I may wake up and not worry about food or the size of my body. That maybe I'll be "normal." I'm not so sure. But I'll tell you what is possible, recovery. Constant recovery. Daily recovery. I remind myself, especially at those moments when my eating disorder creeps back into my brain, that I am worthy. That I deserve to live a full life. I grew up loved, I did not come from a broken home, and I never suffered from abuse, or began a simple diet that took on a life of its own. My life seemed perfect, but it wasn't. No body's life is perfect. I credit my recovery, slow and steady, to the amazing doctors, therapists, and loved ones in my life. But I was lucky, not everyone is so lucky. People are out there with these disorders. They look normal, but they're struggling inside. But, help is out there. I deserve to have a full life; we all deserve a full life.
Start living, now.