Wow. Sitting down to tell ‘my story’ is very uncomfortable which is why it is so important to do. Learning how to experience the discomfort and not try to hide or escape it was and is a huge part of my recovery journey… learning how to be okay not being okay. Bulimia and Anorexia, the food and body obsession, the too many to count behaviors that I was using were my hiding place, my escape. They kept me from uncomfortable feelings. I perceived this as my eating disorder was protecting me, keeping me safe. The reality is I was buried so deep in all of it, not only was I was I unable to feel, I could not connect, open up, share, create, express, experience, live fully.
As early as I can remember I loved food, which is completely fine (Enjoying food, I’ve learned is ok.) but as an only child of a working mom, a latchkey kid they referred to me as, food also became my babysitter and best friend. What a clever disguise! Binge eating on anything I could find in the cupboards was my first compulsive behavior, the one my mother noticed and the one that began the lies. FYI it’s very hard to blame things on anyone as an only child but I tried.
I don’t have completely clear memories of childhood but I recall being introduced to diet culture young and being told by family and peers that something was not ok with my body. I definitely recall being called fat. There began the battle of wanting to change my body but loving the food- my delicious babysitter, best friend, distraction, protector of hurt feelings and fears. Bulimia was born. I began throwing up my food and abusing laxatives around 10. Where does a 10 year old learn this?? From made for TV movies supposed to scare people away from eating disorders. I watched them as a weight loss manual. I lost a lot of weight. Like many stories of Anorexia, I was flooded with compliments from my weight loss until the compliments turned to worry and fear. To me, there was no difference- compliments, worry, concern, fear… They were all attention to me and I became fueled by that. So I kept losing weight.
I was admitted to my first treatment center at age 11 and there would be 5 more long-term treatment facility admissions over the years. I was the perfect patient on the outside, but holding on tight to my eating disorder on the inside. Even if the treatment centers took away my behaviors, the thoughts, feelings and beliefs remained alive and strong.
I will say that each time I was distanced from my behaviors in treatment, I would start to open, to connect, and to feel. I was supported so feeling was not as unbearable as I imagined. I actually made deep friendships for the first time ever because in some ways I was free, which is a strange perspective on being ‘locked up’.
There was definite benefit of weight restoration and not acting on my behaviors in treatment. The challenge was always managing life after. I would continue for about 20 more years cycling through living functionally as a bulimic, losing weight, treatment, weight restoration, and so on… By the way, there’s nothing functional about living with bulimia but I was ‘getting by’.
The last treatment facility I was at offered a weekly yoga class. I was never into fitness in my disorder or life. I was always awkward in PE when I was little and shied away from all sports when I got older. I just wanted a change of environment from the too familiar walls of the ED floor so I joined the class.
That class changed my life. It was not strenuous at all. I was invited to get quiet, to notice my breath, to relax my body, to move intentionally. I felt a freedom I’d never experienced before. Something came alive inside me. Though a pivotal experience, it did not work like the magic pill we all dream will take away all obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. It was, however, the beginning of my recovery journey. I relocated to NYC where that treatment center was and once discharged continued my yoga practice at a very traditional Hatha ashram where breath, meditation and relaxation were given equal value to the movement. I learned to create a pause between thought and feeling, feeling and belief, belief and behavior, behavior and pattern, pattern and habit. Sometimes it took stringing together what seemed like a million pauses to stop an obsessive thought from becoming a compulsive behavior. It was messy. It took a while. It was perfectly imperfect. I just did not stop practicing. I also kept learning.
Through a consistent practice of getting quiet, pausing, breathing consciously, moving mindfully, I slowly started to let go of the self-judgment, comparison, and the idea of perfection. I began to give myself permission to take care of myself, to try new things, to feel, to feel good even. In the quiet I was creating, I was able to just be with myself, get to know myself for the very first time without an eating disorder as my identity, and just be myself. I began look at my fears and challenge them. This is all still my work.
The several years to follow I started to organize the tools I was discovering. I created a system called the 4 As: Awareness, Acceptance, Appreciation, and Action. I still use a toolbox of mind, body, breathing practices in my life every day.
I truly hope through sharing my story someone sees that there is a different way. The path may not be clear. The journey will not be linear and likely pretty bumpy. Also, the work is never done but over time the work feels less like work and more like a practice. That is where the transformation lives. There is freedom and life on the other side.
Remember: Courage is feeling the fear and taking action anyway. It is strength in the face of that fear. You are stronger than you think, more capable than you know, and braver than you believe…
I am a yoga teacher, doula, author, and mama of 2.