Hello, my name is Julianna Hilton. I was born and raised in Calgary. I am 26 years old and I have been recovered from both bulimia and anorexia for about four years. I first became bulimic at the age of 13 and by 17 I stopped throwing up and began starving myself. Though a lot of people noticed my significant weight loss, no one chose to inquire if I was okay. I remember that most of the comments I heard were "you look so great, I am jealous" or " why are you so thin, eat something?". On top of this my parents were so busy dealing with my younger sister's condition that I felt unnoticed. And from my dad's perspective, my weight loss was positive and indicative of a "healthier lifestyle". All the factors steered me towards a route of constant starvation.
My older sister was the first person to pull me aside and ask if I was okay. I feel like it was the sadness in her eyes that compelled me to seek therapy for the first time and admit to the harmful cycle that I was caught up in. Though initially therapy seemed to help, I wasn’t as present as I needed to be because I still believed that I was in control and could stop at anytime. Also, I was not ready to give up my eating disorders. So after therapy, I relapsed and began alternating between bulimic and anorexic behaviours.
At around age 21 I began dating the man who is now my husband. He is the first person who I have deeply cared for and who deeply cared for me. He has never judged me and is kind, authentic and, happy. I remember thinking about how much I wanted to be happy like him. When I confessed my eating disorders to him, he just wanted to support my healing. By 22 I was in such a dark and negative place that I could no longer lie to myself or him. My husband and I talked about everything I'd gone through and where I wanted to go from here. For the first time, I didn't have to handle my eating disorder alone. I began therapy a second time with my husband's support and this time, I achieved recovery.
Looking back on my recovery process, a couple of things resonate with me:
- You must look beyond your physical self. Heal your mind first and then your body. My eating disorders were not about a desire to be thin. They were coping mechanisms for emotional stresses in my life. The silver lining is that although recovery requires a lot of mental discipline and strategic planning, so does maintaining an eating disorder. You hold the power to change your behaviour but first you need to deal with the underlying issues that brought out those harmful behaviours in the first place. What was the catalyst? Why do you think that you need to look a certain way? Figure it out and address it. Then you can have an open and honest dialogue about these issues and begin to heal. You are your solution.
“My body is a cage that keeps me from dancing with the one I love but my mind holds the key.” - Arcade Fire. When I was recovering I would sing this lyric to myself as a constant reminder to look beyond my physical self.
- Get to know yourself. Recovery is possible but getting to know yourself is essential. During my recovery process, many people reminded me to “love myself no matter what I looked like on the outside.” You need to know and love the "inner you" as well. What do you want out of life? What do you love about your personality? When you answer these questions, loving your physical self comes more easily.
- Find your purpose. When I was recovering I needed a healthy outlet for expressing my emotions. Bringing music back into my life not only helped me heal but also gave my life purpose again. When you are in the thick of suffering from an eating disorder it is almost like an out of body experience. You are alive but not truly living. Music grounded me, expanded my mind and filled spaces that my eating disorder could not. I now compose music for a living and this is my purpose in life. If you create or find something that is bigger than yourself to be a part then this can give you a purpose. Purpose brings fulfilment and fulfilment leads to happiness.
It has been said that the most beautiful people are those who have overcome the darkest sufferings. Beautiful people do not just happen. Though I wouldn't wish my former illness on anyone, it has left me certain gifts. It has given me more appreciation for life. It has made me more empathetic and kind to others. I am a better person and a braver person. I am myself.