Gloria: Finding My Recovery

Where Do I Go From Here?

I’m standing in the shower, trying to wash off the feeling, but no matter how long I stand under the running water, the feeling doesn’t go away. The hunger, however, lingers, and I cling to it like a lifeline, hoping it will cleanse me of the impurities I feel. Nonetheless, it hollows me from the inside out, grabbing onto me with its claws no matter where I go. Did the trauma come first or did the eating disorder? Did the egg come first or did the chicken? It’s a classic unresolved question, but at this point, I am the unresolved question. 

I was ten years old when I first started experiencing eating disorder symptoms. I fixated on certain behaviors in my life in order to feel like I had more control of my body, but they all backfired in the end. I was exhausted, hungry, and feeling like I’d lost my way; it wasn’t long before I started self-harming and both loving and loathing the way the scars appeared on my skin. The scars were a physical validation of what I was going through, but I was too young to contemplate the permanence of them. 

Now, fifteen, I was lying in a hospital bed, staring at the scars on my arm like they were a foreign map. I couldn’t comprehend how I got here, why I’d got here, or really, anything that was going on. I wanted to change, but I was stuck in repetitive patterns, feeling like I was wasting away my life. When I talked to a psychiatrist about my eating patterns, he told me that as long as I stayed at a normal BMI, I could reach the limit of what was normal and underweight and that of course, as a teenage girl, I could “lose a few pounds.” I couldn’t grasp the invalidation I felt or the pervasive effects that said comment would have with me throughout the years that followed– the years I spent feeling as if I was not “sick enough.”

"Recovery. Recovering. What loaded words. I knew that I fell somewhere in between living and lived experience, but it took me a while to define what recovery meant to me."

Navigating Living Experience

I was twenty-one when I was diagnosed with an eating disorder. It felt like I’d been punched in the stomach and like I’d won a token. A token for being “sick enough,” a token for having beat the psychiatrist’s ignorant comments, a token for nearly passing out on the daily. A token for nothing; a token that ultimately had no worth. I’d dealt with my trauma for ten years with the same patterns, but it wasn’t working. I knew something had to change. 

Recovery. Recovering. What loaded words. I knew that I fell somewhere in between living and lived experience, but it took me a while to define what recovery meant to me. Harm reduction, routines, safety. Safety. Safety. It was like learning to turn off the constant fire alarms in my head, screeching at me to locate every exit door around the corner; it was like learning to finally turn off the faucet, which was drowning me in self-doubt and carving me empty. 

I started sharing my story far before I was ready. I ventured out and hoped that someone– that just one person— out there might understand how I was feeling and hope for the same change I did. I started being more vulnerable with those around me about how I was feeling and was grateful to receive the same support I’d give to myself back. But it wasn’t easy. It didn’t take a day between when I started struggling to when I started sharing my story to put my thoughts into words. Still, some days, I find it hard to put a voice to what I’m feeling. 

Putting Words to Stories

When I think about sharing my story, I think about a particular moment in high school that changed me for years to come. I was at the end of track practice, and it was raining outside, so much so that it was almost hailing. I was soaked in rain, my hair sticking to my clothes and my socks wet in my shoes. One of the upperclassmen and I huddled under an awning, barely hiding from the elements. I don’t remember how the topic came up, but she talked to me about her struggle with  an eating disorder and how she was there for me if I needed it. She didn’t know what I was dealing with, but it was the first time I had ever heard someone talk about their story, and it was the warmth I needed in the cold. 

Years later, I still think about her and her courage to tell me about what she had been through. Years later, when I was on stage sharing my story for the first time through spoken poetry, my voice shook but I felt the same warmth she transmitted. Because I know that I am not the only one living through recovery– because I know that I am not the only one alive through harm reduction and peer support– because I know that I am not the only one living my experiences. 

Recovery may be a lifelong process for me, but that doesn’t mean I can’t share my voice. It doesn’t make me too sick to share my story or too innocent to use my words. Instead, it reminds me of how privileged I am to share what I can and how honored I am to hear the stories of others. Maybe the purpose of sharing stories is to hear stories in return, and I am ever so grateful for anyone who has ever entrusted me with theirs.

Facing Eating Disorder Recovery Together

Sharing my story was scary and shameful, but it brought me grace and courage. It showed me I was not alone and that there was a whole community of people willing to support me when I needed it. While sharing your story is not necessary to recovery, for me, it was a stepping stone to finding motivation and working towards living a meaningful life. 

For life, as hard as it is, is not a solitude one. Within each other, we find community, and in that community, we find recovery. Recovery is the individual setbacks and comebacks that we all experience, on our individual terms, and it is the rally when we come together for one person. It is sharing your story, even though your hands shake and even though you drop the guitar to sing acapella on stage. It is living through tornado warnings and surviving taco bars and watching one another thrive, each one in their own beauty and right. It is advocating for dignity and consent and it is supporting one another through harm reduction and medical advocacy. 

I’m grateful and lucky to be alive today through the people who have supported me. I’m especially grateful for resources, like ANAD peer support groups, that bring people together on hard occasions and turn them into places of solace. Thank you to those who have brought me this far– thank you to myself for being willing to share my story– and thank you to my body for allowing me to speak. 

Recovery is possible, no matter what that looks like for you. I’m still on my way, but one thing I do know is that I won’t let this disorder silence my voice. I am one of many, but through this, I know I am not alone. You are not alone. If you are reading this and questioning trauma or sharing your story, please know support is out there. I am here rooting for you, and one day, I hope you will find the courage to root for yourself too.

Gloria headshot, smiling at camera

Gloria J.

(she/her)

I choose to share my story because I want others to know they are not alone. Everyone’s voice and story deserves to be heard, and I hope to create a community that fosters open and honest conversation. I’m a huge advocate for consent when it comes to treatment and believe patients should retain their rights and individual dignity when seeking treatment. I hope that by joining ANAD’s committee, I can help bring a voice to the Asian American community and also those who may feel like their eating disorder journey doesn’t fit into the stereotypical narrative. I’m here to break boundaries and stigmas, and I’m excited to work with everyone!