Three Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I Was Anorexic
And no, “Just eat a sandwich” is not on my list, ThankYouVeryMuch.
Anorexia is wildly misunderstood. Wildly.
Seen from the outside as a “diet gone wrong” or vanity taken to the extreme, people assume that the sufferer is choosing to be sickly thin. That they could just “snap out of it” at any time they desire.
And while this is incredibly harmful and false thinking, the fact is, with anorexia, you’re wearing your disease on your body. Your gaunt and skeletal frame is a walking billboard that something is terribly amiss.
And as a result, people walk on eggshells to ensure they’re not going to say “the wrong thing” or say something that will trigger an outburst, or send her into a tailspin.
But having been there, and looking back, I definitely have a few things that I wish I could go back and tell my younger self, who was hanging onto life by a thread at 78 pounds, and desperately clinging to the control I thought my eating disorder was providing me.
1.) You don’t have to have your future figured out right now, but you can’t stay where you are on this destructive path.
This may be surprising as the first one off the bat, but like I mentioned before, eating disorders are all about control. And it’s no coincidence that for most women and girls, it develops right on the cusp of college – in high school – when you’re faced with life-path-defining decisions: where to go to college, what to major in, should you stay with your high school boyfriend, dealing with body changes that signify a transition into womanhood. And for perfectionists like me (and all anorexia sufferers (they go hand in hand)), not having your future planned out to a “T,” with the guarantee of success, it can flare up this desperation to control something in your life, when everything else is uncertain: enter anorexia.
And for me, as a child actor who won an Emmy Award at the tender age of eight, having been in professional shows, a movie and TV series, life had been barreling forward at neck-breaking speed. I kept setting the bar for myself higher and higher, and realizing that my personal standard of perfection and success was now unattainably high, I decided that it was better to quit by default than fail.
I remember vividly, the summer before my anorexia took hold, reading “The Purpose Driven Life” and doing the companion journal. I was evaluating my strengths, and desperate to find where I was meant to be: which top tier acting programs to apply to, whether to major in straight theater or musical theater. I just had this obsession with making sure I chose the right path. And that pressure certainly contributed to the development of my anorexia.
And next thing you knew, I was spiraling out of control, and had thrown all those prospects away because I was fighting to merely stay alive.
I needed to be shaken by the shoulders and told that I don’t have to have everything all figured out, but that I couldn’t stay where I was at, destroying my life through this eating disorder. Just get off the pathway to certain death, and then take baby steps to see what God has in store for my life.
2.) You can’t get this time back, and you’re going to deeply regret it.
I’ve really had to do a lot of internal work to move past the whole regret of it all, but the truth of the matter is, I had to mourn the years I lost to my anorexia. And I mean, mourn. Three years of life, thrown away. Time and memories I cannot get back: high school dances, shows, being captain of my soccer team, college excitement, graduation, graduation parties, my brother’s wedding — things that I missed out on because I was too enslaved to my eating disorder. Defining moments in a young woman’s life, that should have been high points — pinnacles of adolescence — completely snuffed out by my own destructive choices.
But not just time: relationships. And this may have been the hardest thing to “get over.” Having isolated myself, never returning a phone call or answering a text for three years, my friends who were concerned and loved me, eventually got tired of the constant rejection. And the vast majority of those relationships never recovered. My wonderful high school boyfriend of three years – after supporting me through it all, even he lost hope that I would “beat this thing,” and ended things.
I carried so much anger and resentment towards myself for throwing that – what-should-have-been – beautiful season of my life away. And it took some deep grieving — we’re talking episodes of ugly sobbing for hours — until I finally let that regret go. But that was an arduous process. One I wouldn’t wish on anyone.
But what finally gave me peace is coming to the understanding that God allowed me to go through that season, because it would ultimately shape me into the woman I am today. A woman who deeply cherishes the relationships in her life, who takes not a second of life for granted, and who realizes that I can do nothing without God.
Which leads me to…
3) It gets better.
It’s hard to describe the vortex that is the mind of an anorexia sufferer. It is a vacuum, where all you can see is what is immediately in front of you: your next meal, your next opportunity to exercise or burn calories, avoiding people and situations where you have to eat — you can’t see anything else, nothing else matters, people don’t matter, your former passions or hobbies don’t matter, your future doesn’t matter. It is the right here, right now: any way to plunge further into the darkness.
So even the idea of a life outside of the hell I had created for myself seemed, not only impossible, but it didn’t even cross my radar. I couldn’t conceptualize it, because not only did I not want it, but it was an unfathomable notion, because I was being held so deep underwater, I couldn’t even see the light at the surface to know which way was up.
And the girl I used to be? The spunky, fun-loving, full-of-adventure girl with passions and dreams – I was certain she was gone forever.
Well, I can stand here today, and say, I am her again.
I needed to hear that it gets better. I needed to hear that this eating disorder isn’t “it” for me. That it is possible to move forward after this massive life derailment.
I needed to hear that from someone who had been there. Who had gone through it and came out the other side.
It gets better.
But it would take considerable work: to the tune of completely turning my life around. Halting the barreling freight train that was my anorexia, getting off, and humbly putting one foot in front of the other on the dirt path heading the opposite direction.
And all those things — that complete life overhaul – would only be possible by surrendering totally and completely to God.
Only by handing Him the crumbling wreckage of what was left of my life, would it be possible to heal, reclaim my life and begin again: new, whole and different.
It gets better because He makes you new.
So there you go. This turned out way longer than I expected, and I only cried twice while writing this. So I guess that goes to show that the healing process is always evolving, even 14 years into recovery!
I pray that this makes it into the right hands: of someone who may need to hear it, or the loved ones grappling with how to reach their daughter, or sister, or friend who is wasting away before their very eyes.
May these words open up a conversation that ultimately will lead to getting professional help – preferably at an inpatient treatment facility, where supervised, medical care can be administered, which will ultimately save her life, like it did mine.
Thank you for reading.
Just do the next right thing.
“This is what the Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life.” Ez 37:5
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