So Much More to Life
My sister is four years my senior, which means that when she entered high school, I entered middle school, and when I entered high school, she entered college. This wouldn’t have been such a great challenge if it weren’t for the timing of my parents’ divorce. Although my parents separated two years prior, the burden of having to manage my time between households hadn’t yet been a problem, as my father didn’t find a permanent home until my freshman year of high school. I had quite intense anxiety form an early age, so the responsibility of splitting my time between households, without the emotional support of my sister, was an intimidating, scary, and stress-provoking challenge. It ended up working out that I would only see my dad on Sunday’s, which would always revolve around going out to dinner to give us something to look forward to during the week. As Sundays turned into a day focused on food, my relationship with eating completely changed.
With freshman year also came joining the field hockey team. The team was made up of beautiful, blonde, slim, long-limbed girls: quite the opposite of my freshman year self. I was tired of comparing myself to these other girls, and I realized, if I can’t be blonde and tall, what is some part of my appearance that I can change to feel adequate? My weight.
I had once loved eating; I ate whatever and whenever I wanted and never let my body image manipulate my choices. What started as making healthier choices when eating out (getting a burger and salad instead of fries, only drinking one Pepsi at dinner, etc.) turned into obsessive tendencies. I counted every calorie, weighed myself at least three times per day, avoided eating out and with friends at all costs, wouldn’t allow myself to go to sleep without working out that day, and much more that makes me shiver to think about.
While I can’t remember much about the period of my life when I had an eating disorder, as all I would think about was food, I do remember how cold I felt, how much hair I was losing, no longer getting my period, feeling weak at all hours of the day, and always being tired. I was in such a rut and I didn’t know how to get out of it, especially because some part of me actually loved having the eating disorder that I wasn’t aware of at the time. It gave me something to have control over, which gave me pride and contentment. I finally felt equal to my friends and teammates, as I was now skinnier than them. Looking back on it now, it saddens me to think that these unhealthy obsessions actually gave me happiness in a way.
This happiness eventually wore off, as I was so mentally tired of thinking about food all the time. I was ready to start over and become the happy, healthy version of myself that I once knew and loved. However, I couldn’t recover because the thought of eating beyond the restrictive menu that I created for myself brought me to tears of fear.
Over the summer before my sophomore year, I was admitted to the hospital to stabilize my vital signs, and was later released to undergo a formal outpatient recovery program.
While undergoing outpatient recovery, I would often put up a fight about my target weight, eating fear foods, and challenging the means by which I was recommended to recover. The voice that I was using to share these feelings was not my own; it was the voice of my eating disorder that still lived in my body. When I learned to separate my own thoughts from my eating disorder thoughts is when I was able to commit myself to recovery. I came to the realization that my eating disorder was controlling my thoughts, actions, and feelings to the point that I had completely lost my sense of self. I pondered the words of my specialist who had constantly told me that food was my medicine: by gaining weight, the intrusive thoughts regarding my eating would subside and I would return to my happy, capable self again. When I no longer challenged and argued against the advice of my specialist was when I found this to be true. Eating unrestrictedly disintegrated my anorexic thoughts, and I finally felt whole again. While it does sound cliché, and almost like a trick into eating more, it is true that food is your medicine.
These past two years of my life, the years post-recovery, have been the best times of my life. I have embraced the world and all it has to offer so openly, and I no longer let food restrict me from experiencing new things. I feel stronger than ever before, physically and mentally. I am happy, energetic, capable, intelligent, and compassionate. I have not only gained what I lost to my eating disorder back; I have gained a new found strength and perspective on the world that I take such great pride in.
Recovery was the hardest year of my life, there is no saying otherwise. Although everyone says it, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. The more you commit yourself to recovery, the closer this light will seem and the sooner you will feel contempt and strong. Learn to push all intrusive thoughts aside and remind yourself that restricting your diet, focusing on your body, and engaging in excess exercise is not only not sustainable, but not what life is all about. Why should we focus on our appearance when there is so much more to life? Stop comparing yourself to others and learn to love yourself whole-heartedly because the body we were given is not only all we have, it is also beautiful.
How has recovery changed your life? What would it mean to love yourself wholeheartedly?
-Written by Charlotte S.