Last week I wrote an entry in my journal that I labeled “Catharsis” and underlined twice with a black pen. I wrote down pages of hurtful quotes — things people said to me about my weight when I was too thin, too chubby, too…anything.
Many lines later I realized I had written my way back to age twelve. Ten years, I thought. Ten years of hurting in front of mirrors, in restaurants and alone in my bed. A whole decade of hating my legs, my arms and my stomach.
And then this little voice came through the pages: Ten years of tremendous growth.
They call it the “perfect girl” disease, but I felt as far from that as possible. From the age of fourteen, I suffered from anorexia nervosa, and then later bulimia and binge eating.
At the onset, I was running races, mostly 5K’s, and noticed my body changing. The observation turned into an obsession. I was running half marathons and eating less than I ever had.
Soon I was ninety pounds, then eighty five. My hair was falling out, my menstrual cycle obsolete. I had frequent fainting spells and anemia that left bruises on my legs and arms.
I can hardly remember these months of my life. I only remember being tired, being angry and waiting for someone to say something other than “I think you should eat more” and “you’re really skinny”.
One day when I was fifteen, I snapped and ate an entire bowl of peanuts at a family party. I still have no idea what happened, or what part of me knew that I needed nourishment.
It wasn’t, of course, the end. There would many more years of self punishment. My parents had no experience with this disease and they thought my gaining back weight was enough. I spent the rest of my high school years loathing my body, hiding from relationships and experiences. I gained over fifty pounds, and thought that the scales told the whole story – a story of total failure. I soon found purging as a response to “I have no idea where to go from here”.
It wasn’t until college that I sought help. I don’t think I’ve ever been lonelier than in that dorm room, hiding food and canceling dinner plans. The counseling helped me admit that something was wrong. This wasn’t my weakness, my lack of discipline. This was something to be treated with compassion and tenderness.
Therapy wasn’t enough. No amount of talking and sharing could take the place of reconnecting to my body in silence. It was yoga, meditation and lots of reflection that led to the strength I feel today. I made pacts with myself to heal, to accept. I attended yoga classes, became a trained instructor and spent more time on the mat than in class. It was a connection to nature, to other people, to my mind and my body that would eventually help me grow.
This journey has been the hardest challenge I have faced, because it is a journey to understanding my real self. I was never the kind of person who cared a lot about my looks, or clothes or status, but my disease taught me to understand the many roots of suffering, and the power of my mind.
While there are many days when I wish I didn’t have the lasting scars and frustrations of my eating disorder, I also know that I wouldn’t have had this much love, compassion and strength for others and myself.
I’ve learned to be comfortable with the unknown, and to expect much more freedom in my life. Now I travel plenty, often with just a light backpack, and write as much as I can. I serve, I volunteer, and I help when I see pain. I do things my 12-year-old self had no idea I could or would do. Loosening the reigns has led me to learn and think beyond the structure of education and my family.
It has been eight years since those first few extra miles, and ten since the first stirrings of the disorder, and I can’t say that I’m cured or “over it”. But I can say that my connection to my soul and body is deeper than I thought possible, and that I feel stronger than ever have.