10 years. A decade. A stolen decade. For 10 years I was consumed, obsessed, irritable, uncomfortable, and silently screaming in suffering. Eating disorders are not what you think they are. They are not a diet gone bad, or an obsession with being skinny. They are life sucking, relationship destroying illnesses that cause severe trauma to the victim and the loved ones around them. Recovery is not linear progression. Recovery is a roller coaster of emotions, hate and love, suffering and relief, tears of fear and tears of joy whilst I stare at myself in the mirror, conflicted with feelings of shame and pride. Recovery is the journey to finding yourself again and claiming your mind and your body back from the devil that stole it. And if you learn to love yourself for who you are beneath the illness, you can make it.
10 years later I am learning who I am again without my eating disorder. A life I have not known. I am learning that I am funny, and energetic, caring and really enjoy spending time with my family and friends just relaxing. Something that may sound like common sense, was not common sense for me. After 10 years I bought my first pair of tracksuit pants. Something I never realised I never owned because I never rested or laid around. Every minute of every day I was busy, focussing on burning energy anyway I could, and I didn’t even know that way of thinking was not normal. I am also now learning that people exercise not to lose weight, but just to feel good by walking and talking, but it is also okay not to exercise some days. I am now learning everyone eats food for energy, because that’s what it is for? How strange. And 10 years later I have no idea what number is on the scale beneath me, and I have no desire to know because the scale does not dictate my life anymore.
A psychologist once told me that “A thought is just a thought, and it only has as much power as you give it.” Somehow this just stuck. Thoughts are not reality or facts, thoughts are dictated by perception, or in my case, mental illness. And those thoughts can be changed, if you just believe in yourself to fight against the eating disorder thoughts that so seamlessly control your life.
Eating disorders don’t just distort your eating, they distort your sense of self, your values, your dreams, your perception of your relationships, they distort everything. And unfortunately ‘just eating normally’ isn’t quite going to cut it. Recovery takes hard work, and it will feel worse before it feels better. But every extra bite you take, every time you chose to not listen to a ED rule, or you break away from your ridiculous exercise regime, you are killing it. And you will feel anxious, and you may cry or scream (sorry mum) and it might feel like you need to ‘make up for it later’. But don’t. Push through it. Fight back. Feel more anxious. Just don’t give in. Because the more ED rules you break right now, the more anxious you feel in the moment, the more free you will be tomorrow, and the next day and the next day and the next day. It’s time to build yourself up, so there’s no room left for that nasty thing.
But most importantly thank you to our loved ones, our beautiful friends and family and partners. Thank you for being there. Constantly walking on broken glass, tiptoeing, trying to work out when to be quiet and when to say something. Thank you for holding us while we cry, standing there quiet while we scream, and holding our hands through new terrifying experiences that change our life. Thank you for being the reason we may push some days, when all we want to do is give up. The hardest part of having an eating disorder was watch you cope with it too. Thank you for being our eating disorder’s worst enemy and fighting for us when we feel like we have nothing else left to give. We love you, and we thank you everything you do, the true superheros in this war against eating disorders.
Contributed by Stephanie for Body Image and Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2020