Eating disorders thrive in shame, stigma, and secrecy. If you’re aware you have an eating disorder or think you do, it can be both embarrassing and terrifying to tell someone and get the help you need. Eating disorders are unhealthy coping mechanisms that can happen to anybody, but they happen for different reasons. They can be a coping mechanism for everything from anxiety to trauma, always with their own complexities and rules per person. Although we are often shown how bad eating disorders can physically get in pop culture and health class, we rarely are shown how an eating disorder begins, how it progresses, and how finally someone has an “aha” moment that they really aren’t okay and don’t think ED is actually there as a guiding light.
So that’s what I wanted to talk about today: my “aha” moment. I know how frustrating it is when you aren’t sure what’s going on in your own mind and body, how freeing it is to get answers, and how scary it is to begin to recover.
Like eating disorders tend to do, mine started out with a few rules and a few rigidities. Then more crept in. Then a few more tagged along. Then I was fully consumed with ED. Calories, working out, “health,” guilt, perfection, and success were the only things allowed to take up space in my mind. Because of the slow build up of ED, the people and things around me adapted. My family, friends, and boyfriend became accustomed to my new “lifestyle”- they just thought I was a bit of a “health nut.”
I would kick my boyfriend out to workout, avoid foods my ED deemed “unhealthy” at all costs, and constantly track my steps and calories on my Fitbit. In fact, that Fitbit only left my body when I was sleeping. It was like a ball and chain that kept me going back to my disorder, attached for what felt like forever.
I struggled for two years before I finally realized the way I was living, or maybe the way I wasn’t living, wasn’t working for me anymore.
I had just gotten to college and with tons of newfound independence, I ran right into the arms of ED. My physical symptoms were wearing me down and I was quickly deteriorating. As much as I didn’t want to believe it, I knew something was up. It was even more clear to me when everyone else was having fun being in college. The people I were meeting were going to parties, cheering at the game, and totally loving the food nearby. I couldn’t even go to the dining hall without my anxiety spiking to a ten, climb stairs without being out of breath, or find the strength to open a door.
Then one day I went to the gym as usual. It was like any other day, but this time I was already tired before I even went in. Still, I felt like I had to workout. I couldn’t have a rest day. So, I got on the treadmill and began to run with my playlist on shuffle.
After a few minutes, the song “Spirits” by The Strumbellas came on and when I heard the part of the song that went like:
“And I don’t want a never ending life
I just want to be alive while I’m here
And I don’t want a never ending life
I just want to be alive while I’m here
And I don’t want to see another night
Lost inside a lonely life while I’m here”
I began sobbing right there in the middle of the gym. Two years of pent up frustration, fear, and the underlying feeling that I was withering away came up to the surface. I tried to keep running, but I could feel my mind coming undone. I had realized I was not really living anymore. I was a prisoner to food rules, exercise compulsions, and ED as a whole. I stopped the treadmill and although my eating disorder was angry, I was angrier.
I took a moment, looked down at my feet, and I made peace with the fact that it was my last run. Not because I was immediately recovered or immediately okay with healing, but because I knew it had to be. If I wanted my life and my actual self back, something had to go.
And it wasn’t going to be me.
Looking back I like to think that the universe was sending me a sign. My “aha” moment seemed sudden to me at the time and was extremely emotional, but in hindsight I think there were a lot of moments that I had a bad feeling about what I was doing- and that’s my message here. Every time I cried over food, a loved one brought up their concerns, a new physical symptom sprang up, or I was consumed with anxiety over my Fitbit steps- it was a sign. I just didn’t know what to look for and I wasn’t ready to see that ED hadn’t led me to the land of greatness like I thought it would.
I want to be clear: you don’t have to hit rock bottom before you get help and you don’t have to cry over a song in the middle of the gym to trust your gut. If you have a feeling that your relationship, thoughts, and/or behaviors towards food, exercise, and/or yourself aren’t healthy for you- trust those instincts! I want to share my “aha” moment to show that you can recover even if you feel like you’re too far in and you shouldn’t blame yourself for not realizing sooner that you need help. Eating disorders are extremely diverse and will affect an estimated 30 million Americans in their lifetime at some point. Your moment when you realize you want to get help will likely be different than mine, but I hope that for someone this article is it. Recovery is scary. Admitting you need it is hard.
But it’s all worth it.
Featured photo courtesy of Unsplash
All content on RecovRoad is based on personal experiences, research, and ideas. Please do not repost/share without credit and be aware that nothing on this blog takes the place of professional help. This is also a formal trigger warning: content about and relating to eating disorders may be triggering to survivors. Please see the “RESOURCES” tab, call the National Eating Disorders Association hotline at 800-931-2237, and remember to take care of yourself.