This wasn’t my plan.
From the time I was six, I experienced and internalized anger, panic, paranoia, and hyper-reactivity. I became like a pinched balloon, plump, filled to the verge of popping. If any air was let out, it was only enough to be able to seal the knot holding it in. Like that balloon, I held what filled me in, and I jetted forward wherever the hands of others pushed me. Like the air inside, my inner hurt and rage were invisible to anyone else.
As a young teen, bulimia became my survival mechanism, my escape. While I was successful ending the food binging and purging behavior at age sixteen, insecurity and hostility remained, on the inside. For years I suffered from bloated and severely tense, tight intestines. I had only eliminated the eating behavior but maintained the mental and emotional anguish and resistance that bulimia used to relieve. There wasn’t much that had changed in my thinking patterns and in my discomfort with unpleasant emotions. I harbored patterns of intolerance for imperfection, escapism through achievement and recognition, and anger projection. My cathartic anger release, now recognized as a substitute for purging, was towards those closest to me.
I felt “recovered” from bulimia as a teen. I didn’t realize at the time that it was only partially. Knowing and experiencing self-care, soulful healing, love, and forgiveness were foreign to me. I tried so hard to create the life that I understood to be “the good life”, seeking independence, education, financial freedom, career, and a family. In themselves, these are all culturally acceptable and commendable endeavors. But, for me, there was something very core, deep, and nuclear missing. For twenty-six years I shared my eating disorder as a teen with no one other than my husband. I always felt like I had this secret, and was inferior as a human being when I was around others. This isolated me. I felt like a fraudulent human being.
Over three years ago, facing midlife and many tough decisions, I was suffering, and I felt alone. I launched into deliberation about my purpose as a person, unattached to achievement, career, education, or knowledge. I imagined I had no identity in any of these. I wondered if the story played out at this point in my life was the story intended. My intestines were in knots again, and it lasted for months. In a pair of visits, two family physicians connected me with faith-based organizations and people. My understanding of God had been from the Bible all of my dependent youth life, and I abandoned it after graduating from high school. These faith friends helped me open to the idea of a personal relationship with God, which was new. I needed a place I could trust to be completely open and honest, about my suffering, about the anger and the accountability I had for it, about my feelings of inadequacy, and about what I should do next. I figured God knew everything about me anyway, so acknowledging my truth was no news to Him. It was novel for me. Visiting with God required sitting, usually in my bedroom, until everything was erased from my mind. On some days, this took quite some time. Gentleness with myself, sitting, was a challenge. Years of intestinal tensing reflex, mind busyness, and escapism didn’t disappear at first attempts in stillness and mindfulness. I was experiencing the beginnings of mental and emotional overhaul, in a healthy direction. In this quiet time, I started asking questions about my life’s use, versus my use of life. I started reading more, mainly autobiographies depicting human struggle. My sister took notice and suggested Spirituality & Health magazine, which resonated with me. I opened up, after twenty-six years, to a couple of trusted friends about my eating disorder as a teen. This progression of exploration in humility and in truth, while excruciatingly painful at times, brought opportunity for real healing. When I got still, and gentle with myself, I found clarity. I felt relief. I could take another step. I decided to let go of paid work, and to give my kids and husband more of my presence.
I prayed for volunteer opportunities for the use of my life. In solitude and in mentorship, I navigated to ANAD, seeking the connectivity I didn’t previously have with others who understood the ED struggle and who I may be able to help in the sharing of my own. This very act in itself, to be paired with women struggling with or in recovery from eating disorders was life-changing for me. We “walk” together in recovery, in the place and stage we are in. Our lives intersect, and there’s significance to these intersections. We share coping strategies, experiences, challenges, and successes. I may not ever know the outcome in some cases, but I know that each interaction has good energy and healing potential, for myself and for the other person. These pairings produced river flowing emotion that commenced healing in me. This revisiting, opening up about my past bulimia and connecting with others in their current struggle, was the path to unfinished work within myself. Our healing, our moving forward in a positive direction is anchored by the same source, the desire within to be whole, fulfilled, accepted, and loved, and to break free of that which binds us from it. Bulimia is on my life’s map and I’m not ashamed. This opportunity to connect with courageous women in their own recovery journey has been healing, life-giving, and inspiring. For me, this has been requisite to continue my own life’s healing journey.