I'm 26 years old and I have suffered from body image issues, poor self-esteem, and an addictive and impulsive personality for as long as I can remember. My swan dive into disordered eating began when I was 14, the summer heading into high school.
Now, there are many gnarly roots to the cause of this disorder, and these issues become quite complex and intertwined. As I struggled with trauma from my childhood and feeling completely inadequate at anything I ever did, I struggled to plant my roots into shaky ground hoping that these feelings of self doubt, guilt and depression would go away on their own. From about 6 years old and onward, I felt a sadness and loneliness that I could not explain or talk about.
Throughout this time, I began to feel that everyone was always watching me and judging everything I did. In my mind, my life was a movie script and I was the main actor. Ever seen the Truman Show? Every move and every small mistake I made felt like it was projected onto a big screen for the pleasure and viewing of anyone who wanted to see. I know this may sound absolutely absurd, but to me this was a reality for many years. The theatricality of it became lesser and lesser as I aged, but I still felt like everywhere I went people were harshly judging and watching me. In hindsight and in reality, these judgements were really just my own inner voice telling myself over and over again that I was not good enough.
As the years went on, I did not allow myself to come into my true self or share my feelings with too many people. I always felt a mental blockage, as if what I felt and wanted to say had no words to go along with it. There have only ever been a few people in my life who I could truly talk to uninhibited about almost anything. Because I felt like I was not worthy throughout my childhood (either I was not smart enough, pretty enough, creative enough, outspoken enough, too shy, awkward), I began to believe that these descriptions adequately represented the person I was as I grew into adolescence.
In grade eight when boys and girls began to mingle, I always compared myself to my best friend and all of the other girls in school. The combination of feeling unattractive, undesirable, fat, boring, and unable to be myself may have been in part the result of unresolved childhood sexual abuse which I had blocked out at the time only to have it resurface later on. Constantly repressing how I was feeling mixed with the lack of love I had for myself sent me spinning outrageously out of control at 14 years old. I began to monitor everything I ate, counting calories and exercising obsessively to lose as much weight as I could before high school began. I wanted to be a new me. I wanted to be a different me who did not have to deal with the insecurities of my body. I felt that a thinner body would mean a better me. I lost 25 pounds in 2 months, and everyone told me how good I looked upon returning to school in September. I hadn't heard that sort of praise about my looks ever in my life. Restricting my diet and feeling desirable seemed like the only option from then on. How would I feel good if I went back to being the old me? At this point in time, I did not understand that my worth as a human being was far more than how I looked externally.
At the ripe age of 15 I was hooked on starving myself, binging and purging. Becoming smaller and smaller in size spoke louder than the words I could never speak, and so as I began my journey into restrictive eating followed by bulimia my body and its shrinking size was a faint whisper of what I actually wanted to say. My way of saying that I was in pain and that I wanted to disappear manifested in the form of a full-blown eating disorder.
As the years went on, even when my eating disorder symptoms were lesser, I never really stopped struggling. I would lie sometimes to my friends and family and say that I was healthy now and that it was something of the past. Sometimes for mere snippets of time I would genuinely feel okay until I didn't again.
Currently I am not experiencing the full-fledged eating disorder symptoms although I am struggling very much with my body image. There is the occasional binge-purge relapse, I am not going to lie and say that there isn’t. Every time I look at myself in the mirror, I judge myself based on my current weight instead of my current achievements. I still feel inadequate in many regards. I feel anxious quite often. I yearn for peace of mind. Some months are much better than others, and even though I do feel that for me personally this might be a life-long struggle, I have learned a few things.
I have learned that it is important to speak up about what is bothering you and to make sure you have a support network that allows you, without judgment, to do so. The very isolating nature of such a disorder can make this an extremely tough task. It is important to figure out what works for you so that you can start on the path of breaking away from isolating behaviour and connecting with people who either love you, or understand you, and maybe even both. This person, or network of people, must be a safe place where you can be honest and communicative. For me, my family tried very hard to understand my disorder but I never did feel this connection with them in my recovery. Our understanding of the underlying roots of my disorder, as well as how we both managed it, were quite different and sometimes infuriating. They tried, but I never felt they understood that it was not as simple as me being self-conscious of my weight. It was far more than that.
I’ve also learned that even though it is hard to talk about experiences that may have led you to an eating disorder, it is crucial to dig into that closet and pull out the skeletons. It is so important to work on those ghosts of the past and to feel at peace with what has happened so that you can move on to what is happening now, and what can happen in the future. In seeking therapy to deal with my childhood abuse, I was able to begin to love myself and to see that I am and always have been worthy of happiness. This is an ongoing process.
Another saving grace in being able to live a more stable life has been my ability to figure out what it is I love to do, and then to spend more time doing these things. For me, these things have been writing and becoming more involved in music, whether it be gaining the courage to play in public or attending shows and concerts. I have also continued to snowboard and have noticed that being strong and healthy really does play a role in the enjoyment of this activity. Another thing I have picked up is yoga, which is beginning to teach me that my body is an amazing thing and that it is important to accept it wherever it is in the present.
When I think back to who I was in the depths of my eating disorder, I am very proud to think about how far I have come. The lessons are there to learn if you have the desire to learn them and to get better, although this is much easier said than done. I became sick of being sick, and I am so happy I did. Some days are much easier than others, but now that I have experienced what it feels like to be happier and healthier, and to feel human connection as opposed to feeling isolated and lonely, I believe I am able to pull myself through the tougher times and back into the light. I have been able to see that the world is not as deterministic as I had previously thought, and that even though things had been said or done that damaged me, these things could either aid me in finding the strength to seek happiness, or they could determine the course of my life from then on. I’m choosing to take the darkness and through a process of love and self-acceptance, turn that darkness into light. It is possible to get better and to learn to love again.