Ten years. Ten years is a long time for anything but I can still remember it like it was yesterday. I remember laying on that couch and crying for a full day. I remember writing letters to friends who would never truly understand where I was, no matter how descriptive I could be. I remember being monitored every minute of the day for 60 days in the middle of the Arizona desert. But, above anything else, I remember the day I decided to recover because I refused to live like a prisoner to myself any longer.
I have an eating disorder. Much like recovering alcoholics, it never really leaves you; you’re constantly in a state of recovery. Thankfully for me, I was put into treatment early enough to catch it, which is something many do not have the benefit of. I don’t want to talk about how I got to that point or why. What I want to talk about is how I learned to love myself…or at least try to. I don’t claim to be all knowing in this matter…people are complicated and it takes much more than an article on the internet to teach anyone anything. Just please humor me while I tell you why you are worth it and how I know.
I don’t know you as a person; to be honest I don’t even know how you found this page (it is pretty cool though, right?). But, something I do know, is you are worth every single breath you take. I remember not feeling that way about myself, or really anything around me. Self hatred is such an insidious thing and it creeps up on us so slowly until it’s too late and it has already consumed us entirely. I guess it wouldn’t be completely fair to say all of this so assuredly without giving any type of background. So here goes.
Like many women, my eating disorder started at a young age. Puberty hit and just so happened to coincide with what would already have been a chaotic point in my life. My family had moved from my childhood home in Alabama to a suburb of St. Louis; I was 11 and I was thrust into a public school where I knew no one. Thankfully, I made some friends and adjusted fairly quickly, but I never really was comfortable in the sea of my 600-odd classmates having come from a small private school of 60 per class. During this time, due to puberty, stress, and the daily emotion turmoil of being an 11-year-old girl, I gained a lot of weight.
The next year I transferred to a small Catholic private school which felt a little more familiar but, being the only Methodist, I still felt a little ostracized in the beginning. Again, eventually I made some friends (some I still hold very dear to this day!) and things began to normalize. Then, seemingly from nowhere, my Dad got a job offer in Virginia; We were going to move again. I will never ever be able to express how thankful I am that my mother fought for my sister and I on this. She somehow knew (aka she’s a mom so she knows everything) we were both having a hard time, she knew another move this soon after the last would be a trauma to us both that would probably cause major damage. In response, my father left for the job under the assumption we just needed some more time and would follow shortly. Nope.
It just so happened that at the same time my dad was leaving, my “boyfriend” (as much as a 13-year-old can have a boyfriend) broke up with me. The human mind is a weird thing and in this time of chaos, I had found solace and comfort in a stable relationship with a guy my own age. To be fair, I think my emotional needs at this time were much too much for any 13-year-old boy to have to take care of and so I don’t think he could handle it. The two losses so close together was too much for me and I cracked.
I had already done some minor restricting to lose the weight I put on after the move, but it wasn’t anything crazy; I was just watching portions and skipping a meal every once in awhile. Completely normal behavior for someone in the right mindset. Unfortunately, this is how the eating disorder got its foot in the door. I began restricting again. Eventually I added in the binging and purging (I know, not pretty) because I really didn’t feel deserving of being “full”. It got to the point where eating anything, no matter how small, made me feel a guilt that was only satiated once my head was over that toilet bowl.
Summer came. Ed subsided. I began my first year of high school and the cycle began once again: new school, new friends, new everything. To be completely fair, I don’t remember what re-triggered me. I know I was in therapy throughout freshman year. I know, mostly from diaries I kept, I was miserable and wasn’t really hanging out with positive people. I was hurting myself. I wasn’t a good friend. My eating disorder had a hold on me that was stronger than ever and I was powerless to stop it on my own but I wouldn’t let myself truly reach out.
What I do remember vividly is a friend confiding to a teacher about my behavior and that teacher going to the counselor who, in turn, went to my mom. My mom had known about everything already and was doing absolutely everything she could to help me. But, having a school official come to her was I think kind of the last straw. I remember the next part of that year as basically being on lockdown. I didn’t do much to help my case, any chance I had I would try to break the chains that were really there for my own safety. She would drop me off at youth group and I would have someone pick me up for an hour. She would let me stay the night somewhere and I would sneak out. I was lying. I was hurting people intentionally just so I could get my fix.
This went on and on until, one day before finals week, everything changed. I came home from school and the house was unnervingly quiet; I immediately knew something was wrong. I asked my mother about it and she told me the next morning I was going to be getting on a plane with her to Arizona. I was going to rehab.
To this day, I don’t know how my mother did everything she did. My father was with her on everything one hundred percent of the way but, for most of it, he wasn’t physically there. She was basically acting on everything on her own and she made the right move in every sense of the phrase. I cried, I protested. But, eventually, I asked if I could have my two best friends over for a goodbye.
The next 36 hours was the most emotional time of my life and 10 years later, I am crying as I type this. My friends came over and I gave them a “PSA” of what I would want them to tell people. We made food. We took pictures. I cried like a baby. In the morning, my mother and I (in complete silence, mind you) got on a plane to Arizona. Once we arrived, a woman from the facility picked us up and took us to the campus. I still have not said a single word to my mother; I have sat stone faced and silent for almost 6 hours just punishing her for this betrayal. We get to the house I was to live in for the next 60 days and the woman goes over basic rules. It’s time to say goodbye. I stand up with my mother and she puts her arms around me with such a love I don’t think I have ever felt. I stand there. I do not hug her back.
The nurse takes me downstairs to the common area where they have a little doctor’s office. They take my vitals. They drive me to lunch (you aren’t allowed to exert yourself at all until they know you’re stable) where I eat my first meal: grilled cheese and tomato soup. Only then do I break. I cry. I cry into my soup. I cry onto the table. When we are back at the house, I curl up and cry on one of the couches until I can barely stand when they call me up to go through my bags. They search my bags. They take away anything that can be used for self-harm. They search the hems of my clothes for illicit materials. They take away my teddy bear. I am utterly alone. That is, until prayer before meal. One of the girls (14 per house), out of the blue simply says, “You are beautiful.” And part of me wanted to believe her.
The rest of my time there wasn’t easy. Especially those first couple weeks. Lots of therapy (equine, group, art, family, individual), silly rules (no tapping your feet, hands on the table at meal, no tank tops, 15 minute phone time), and tears. But, after all that, I came away with a lesson more valuable than anything I will ever own: I am worth it. My Mom and Dad went through all of that heart ache, grief, and money because I am worth it. My friends stuck by my side and were there to welcome me home because I am worth it. I can eat a meal and feel full and not hate myself because I am worth it. I am worth a full life not ruled by addiction, lies, and deceit. And so are you.
According to the National Eating Disorder Association, “In the United States, 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some time in their life.” I was one of them. No matter who you are or what you wrestle with every single day there are people who love you and will fight for you (even if it’s against yourself). It may not be an eating disorder. It may not even be an addiction, but please, if you get anything out of this rambling reflection, know that you are beautiful in so many wonderful ways and you are not alone in whatever it is. Had I not let myself realize that, I wouldn’t be typing this 10 years later and I am so thankful I am.