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Three Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I Was Anorexic
And no, “Just eat a sandwich” is not on my list, ThankYouVeryMuch.
Standing here, 14 years strong in my recovery, I sometimes wonder – what could have helped me?
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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45 responses to “3 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I was Anorexic”
I’m sharing this with one of my bestie friends who is a family counselor, biblically trained…your perspective will help her a lot. And, I’m passing it along to a mother-in-law of someone who has struggled in the past with an eating disorder. Great advice, especially when those comments can be administered with love. Keep rocking it!
Thank you for passing this on. I truly appreciate it and pray it gets into the right hands. Amen to that – speaking the truth in love is what we were commissioned to do. Glad you stopped by! Hugs and love xox
Random thoughts: A friend in college told me his dad’s advice. Imagine yourself as an old man, your grandchild on your knee. What do you want to tell him about your life? Anytime I’ve written a screenplay, novel, or a plain story, I start with knowing how I want it to end. Everything that gets me there is what I call The Path of Discovery. So we set our goals without dictating tactics and discover how we get there.
At 64 I look back and wish I could have more youth to do more, do better. But that time is gone and not returning. It’s something to learn to deal with. All choices have an opportunity cost, the relinquishing of one possibility in favor of another. Perhaps all the regrets we have are simply cases of not remembering the opportunity we took at the expense of the one we now regret.
Hey Jeff! Oh wow, that’s a powerful visual. One that definitely sparks emotion for sure! That’s such a phenomenal tidbit: begin with the end in sight. I love that. You’re right about that — all choices have an opportunity cost. I feel like I’ve definitely been grappling with trying to foresee various outcomes of choices in my own life recently. That’s really great advice – we’ve got to make decisions trusting in God, His goodness, His plan, His timing, etc. I really appreciate you sharing that Jeff. I think sometimes I like to NOT DECIDE, and just “let it ride” – but it turns out that indecision is actually a decision in itself. Which is how i’ve ended up in NYC for over a decade now. Anywho – that’s a tale for a different day 🙂 hope you and your girls are having a wonderful day! big hugs xox
Ah, my friend, the future is waiting for us to step on the bus today. Where do you, Caralyn, want to be when you sit in that rocking chair? What destination do you hope you will make that will possibly make you feel like you’ve done well by the gifts God has given you? Sometimes letting it (NYC) ride may indeed be the answer…especially if you haven’t yet defined what memories you wish to cherish at the end. Maybe…your goal may be as simple as grow what you have and let God surprise you. God surprised me with Julie and then 2 girls. everything from there was unplanned, but it turned out well. Just find a way to consciously pull the trigger on staying or going. A conscious decision isn’t procrastination or laziness, even if it’s for status quo. Good grief – I’ve re-entered Dad Mode! Hope it hasn’t been too tedious!!
oh wow, Jeff – that is incredible advice. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. You’ve given me lots to think and pray about tonight! I so appreciate Dad Mode! hahah 🙂 have a great night xox
Hugs & Love
14 years is amazing and you continue to bless and inspire others with your resolve and your authentic journey. You are a marvel, your battle made you a warrior and your words make you a healer for others. Keep educating and helping – as a high school teacher I know there are so many girls who struggle with the same battle as you!
Gosh, thank you KJ for your kind words of encouragement. Wow, I am truly so touched. God is so good, and I owe Him everything! You’re right: there are so many girls going through these same struggles, and if I can help even one, then my mission is worth it. I appreciate you stopping by and giving me this wonderful nudge of positivity. have a wonderful evening! Hugs and love xox
This was a little hard to hear for me right now, but so incredibly important. I relate very strongly to your descriptions of the all encompassing nature of Anorexia and yet for some reason I had never stopped and considered all that it cost me relationship and experience wise. I’ve had significant traumas throughout my life, Anorexia has just been another one of those things and with so much still happening I have had little time left through recovery to stop and really mourn its significant costs. You have reminded me here the importance of recognising that grief and I wonder if acknowledging it by taking the time to process it as a loss will actually really help me recover in a different way that will help avoid relapses in the future.
Thank you 💜
Hi friend, thank you so much for sharing your story and for your kind words of encouragement. I’m sorry that you can relate on such a personal level – but you’re right – taking the time and emotional energy (both of which are great) to truly *mourn* all that has been lost, I think is really important. Because on the flip side of that same coin, it allowed me to see how my life has changed since the, and all the immense blessings and life lessons I have learned and gained since that terrible season. But yes, that grieving process is so important in the healing process. Yes – I’m cheering you on, my friend, and praying for you as we both continue on our recovery journey! sending so much love and hugs xox
Absolutely perfect points. The point regarding ‘time’ is 100% accurate. That is one thing in life that we cannot revisit. Every moment that we allow ourselves to sit in silence, be frozen by fear, and hesitant to get help, time marches on with many missed opportunities. However, it should never be considered too late to live life in our fullest authenticity.
Better late than never, but better never late. You demonstrated clarity and walked into that unknown. I am certain that you are glad you di. You are a better version of you, always moving into your absolute best self. Bravo!
Thank you so much JaDonnia, I really appreciate your kind words. You’re so right – that is time we can’t get back – and it’s *never* too late to start living in our fullest authenticity! I love this comment. Thank you for taking the time to read and sharing your heart. big big hugs xox
I like your post you so beautiful
thank you so much! Hugs and love xox
Hi Caralyn 🙂
Here’s one thing I want to tell you right now: listicles suck.
One blog post, one idea, one world (not three — that’s a little hat tip to Sting & The Police 😉 ).
Seriously: make it simple. Don’t submit to pleasing the algorithm. We are your audience, not the robots. Don’t use click bait. Real friends don’t let friends lower themselves into submission (at least not unless they actually WANT to 😛 — LOL).
Hi Norbert, thank you for this feedback! Yes – that’s very true! In this instance, I really felt that all three needed to be shared, so I made a list! haha Thank you for being a real friend and setting me straight! 🙂 hehe Hugs and love xox
Just do the next right thing. That’s a message we all need to hear. Bless you, Caralyn xx
Thank you Penny. Yes! That piece of advice was given to me by my mother at the beginning of my recovery, and it has been the foundation of my healing ever since. so simple and yet so profound. Glad you stopped by! Hugs and love xox
This is a really beautiful post Caralyn. Your perspective is always fresh. God bless you. Thank you for sharing your story.
Thank you so much Temiloluwa! I really appreciate your kind words. It seriously means the world. God has been so good to me, and I owe my entire healing to Him! So glad you stopped by! Hugs and love xox
Bravo, Bravo, Bravo!
I thought your written post was deeply personal and uplifting but your spoken testimony need be heard by so many.
What the Lord has done is so exhilarating and you, sister, have exalted Him greatly with your testimony.
Indeed the devil had you captivated, but in allowing that time of suffering and affliction God rose up to victory in your life and continues to come forth as a shining light for many.
May the Lord deliver this post and video to every lonely despairing soul and break through in their life as He did yours.
Thank you Caralyn for boldly sharing this. ❤
Hi Lisa Beth! Gosh, thank you so much for these wonderful words of encouragement! You’re so right – I owe ALL of my healing to Him. He has rescued and redeemed me, and I cannot help but sing it from the rooftops, because there are so many who are trapped in the horrible cycle of eating disorders like I was. Amen – Jesus has overcome the world, and the enemy stands no chance! God is good, and I am grateful every day for this second chance He has generously blessed me with. Thank you again for being such an awesome source of positivity! You are a blessing to me! big hugs and lots of love! xoxo
thank you Greg 🙂 have a wonderful evening. Hugs and love xox
Like Jeffrey (above) one of the encouraging words to me to overcome my obsessions was: “What do you want your life to look like in 5 years, 10 years, 35 years?” Now, just having sailed by my 70th birthday last month, I look back at wasted years and wounds in lives that I may never know if or how God healed those damaged in my wake.
I am reminded of Martin Luther’s words just before he died, “This is true, we are all beggars.” Thankfully, we have a gracious and merciful Father who loves us “recklessly,” so recklessly, He let Jesus go to the cross for ME! This beggar. And now, because He lives, I will live also! Hallelujah!!! 😊
Hi CA! Thank you so much for sharing that – what a powerful question: what do you want your life to look like in X years? It really makes you put, into clear cut parameters what you want, and what you need to do to get there. And happy belated birthday, my friend! That’s a powerful reflection: Yes – God HAS covered you and I in healing, and I have found peace knowing that nothing is wasted for God. Nothing. He will use everything – even those years we may believe were wasted, God was refining us through fire. Amen – THAT’s how much He loves us!! He and we live! So so glad you stopped by, my dear friend. Thanks for blessing me with your wisdom! Hugs and love xox
Caralyn, thanks for being so vulnerable with us.
BTW, your toothpaste says out of stock.
Thank you so much! I really appreciate you taking the time to read. And oh gosh! really!! I’ll have to look into that, thanks for the heads up! Hugs and love xox
Beautifully done as usual. Hugs!
thank you so much S for your kinds words. I appreciate it. Hugs and love xox
Great Post Keep providing the great information to help others
thank you so much for your encouraging words. really means a lot! Hugs and love xox
Heart-warming recovery story shining rays of hope to others who need such encouragement! Good read indeed:) I am happy to hear your positive transition with God.
thank you so much Zao for your kind words of encouragement. it truly means a lot. Yes! God is good! Hugs and love xox
Thank you friend for stopping by and taking the time to read! Hugs and love xox
David could use a hug. :.) https://i.redd.it/5njifja6fas71.jpg
So special. Thank you.
thank you friend. i appreciate your kind words. Hugs and love xox
Great post. I had a set back with my recovery, however my husband is helping me get back on track.