My Story: Learning to Accept Beautiful Me
The earliest memory I have of being associated with an eating disorder is of first or second grade. I don't think I ever really took my body into account, but it was when the other kids in my classes started to tell me that I was "anorexic", and "ugly" that I started to look at myself and my body more consciously. I'm not sure if the way kids treated me was really bullying, but back then, it was really just considered kids being kids. I had this drive to succeed, wanting to be good at something as I evidently lacked in terms of my appearance. I was a young, overachieving, hyper-vigilant adolescent. I want to say that it was in middle school that I first really remember using food to deal with how I was feeling mentally, emotionally, and physically. Worried? Skip lunch. Stressed? No food for me. Just not feeling worthy? Food isn't a priority today. It was this concept that spiraled out of control when I encountered a trauma my freshman year of high school, and began self-harming for the first time. Sophomore year, I can distinctly remember being surrounded by girls at the lunch table who only talked calories, using my fitness pal to track what they ate, in order to drop a few pounds for cheerleading, or for a summer body. It was during the spring of that year that I began taking trips to the bathroom after lunch, trying to empty myself of what nutrients I had just consumed, thinking that this is how I would get the look the other girls craved. After these couple months, I had a good summer, but hit a wall. I couldn't understand how in just a short amount of time, my body had changed so much, gaining a significant amount of weight. It was this moment that started the cycle of my friends constantly encouraging me to eat more, taking a lunch to school and throwing the apples away after a couple days when they were getting gross in my backpack, and getting dizzy to the point that people started to question if I was okay. My answers always included that I wasn't hungry, or just lost my balance. When my junior year started, I was taking extremely advanced classes and taking on more responsibility, leaving no time to take care of myself. Within a couple months, I experienced the downward spiral that landed me in front of my AP Biology teacher pleading for help, because I just couldn't realize what happened, and how it happened so fast. He understood, and agreed to help me. Yet, within a couple weeks, he knew that what I needed was outside of the realm of with which he could help. He told my parents about my anorexia, which as I can recall, was one of the scariest days I had encountered in a long time. This started a domino effect of backlash from them, because they couldn't understand why I didn't want to eat, why I saw myself a certain way, and what changed in what seemed a matter of months. The days I spent intensely intertwined with my anorexia, for what would come to be around a year and a half, were some of the loneliest. Every day, I was struggling between starving, purging, and self-harm, asking myself just when this vicious cycle would end. My relationship with my eating disorder was toxic, and no matter what I said, or what I tried to do, I found myself victim to the awful voices in my head.
It was around the time that I can recall being in the deepest part of my disorder, that I was denied for outpatient treatment. Each and every rejection that I got, for whatever reason it was, it only fueled my obsessive thoughts. By the end of my fifth denial, I had given up hope that I had any chance at getting better, and began to have anxiety attacks that would span over the course of days. It was here that I really thought it was time to give in.
I think one of the moments that really changed my perspective on my disorder was when I purged just minutes before the start of my senior year orientation - I knew that I couldn't spend another year of my life continuing to, figuratively and literally, dig my own grave. I realized as the early months of my senior year went on, how sick I was, how much time I had lost, how much I had given up just to hold onto my disorder. I think that one of the most common misconceptions about eating disorders is that it's "all about the weight", but it's not. I can only speak from personal experience in saying that I lost more than weight, I lost myself.
On December 15, 2015, I was admitted to the inpatient unit at the Sheppard Pratt Center for Eating Disorders. This is not only something I cried for hours about the night before, but something that I had been waiting for for over a year. I realized that this was my true chance at getting my life back, at achieving recovery, at becoming someone who isn't tied down by their eating disorder. After losing hope so many times, the possibility of finally getting better was on my radar again. I actually believed that recovery was possible, and I vowed to myself to be the living testament of just that.
The last year of my life has been absolutely breathtaking. I've attended 4 treatment programs, and have become someone that I didn't know I had the capacity to be. In such a short time, I'm finding that I've learned so much about myself, and about who I have the potential to be. I only discharged from treatment about 5 months ago, but the comparison of how I feel now, to how I felt before I was admitted, is incredible. When I was inpatient, one of my teachers came to visit me, and he looked at me and said, "You look more alive". I don't think I could hear something that was more relevant to how I was beginning to feel on the inside. I was not only looking more alive, I truly was beginning to feel more alive.
I am learning that recovery is a giant wave, and healing, truly comes in waves. Some days, the wave hits the rock, and other days, the tide comes in too far. But, that's okay, because I'm still healing. I'm creating who I am - I'm what I would consider to be a sunflower at heart, a warrior by blood, and an artist by night. I am breathing through the process, and truly taking it one step at a time. I am accepting that I am beautiful; I am BEAUTIFUL, and I wouldn't want to be anyone other than ME.