I am going to shift focus with this blog post and talk about another illness that plagues the body -eating disorders. Because today starts National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, I wanted to share my 11 year battle with bulimia and what it feels like to have an eating disorder, as the National Eating Disorder Association theme for this year is “Let’s Get Real”. The campaign aims to start a conversation about the medical and psychiatric illness in order to break the stigma and stereotypes that have long surrounded this disorder, which affects some 30 million Americans -with the hopes that those suffering will “start journeys to healing”.
There is a common view that an eating disorder is a choice and can be overcome by changing one’s negative behavior. But it is more complex than that – it is a psychological disorder that wreaks havoc on you mentally, physically and emotionally. It is an addiction, a mental illness and once the disorder has you in its claws, it may never let go. A popular misconception is that eating disorders begin as just a way to lose weight. But it is about more than just shedding pounds and each person has their own reasons for why they started and why they cannot let it go. For me, it was my low-self esteem that made me turn to the dark side. I was overweight for most of my life and at 16-years-old, I weighed 160 pounds. I was socially awkward, shy and very timid. Because I was overweight, I was bullied and felt I was ignored in school.
I envied the “popular girls” who got all of the attention and I believed it was because they were thin. As a teenage girl, I was convinced that the secret to happiness was being a small waist and a pretty smile. I would flip through magazines (yes, I am that old) and seeing thin models who looked like they had it all -and I so desperately wanted it too. I remember standing in front of the mirror, grabbing at the fat all over my body, crying and wishing it would just disappear. I believed all of my sadness and depression would end if I would just lose weight – and that is when it started. I began throwing up here and there, but what I thought was innocent, slowly took over my life and started to become part of my existence. Food became my everything and I liked the way it made my feel. It was there for me when I was sad or anxious and it comforted me in times of need. The purging was a way to eliminate the bad emotions I was harboring and I had convinced myself that this was my way of taking control of my life – my way of improving it. However, every time I would partake in the viscous ritual of binging and purging, I would feel tremendous guilt and shame that led me to hate myself even more.
At 25-years-old I had reached the peak of the disorder. I weighed about 90 pounds soaking wet and was binging and purging at least six times a day. I was eating enough food for a family of four in one sitting, draining my bank account in order to buy all the food and was withering away to nothing. But the worst part is I did not see it. When I looked in the mirror, I still saw an overweight girl– even though I was wearing size 00 pants. I just kept telling myself that once you are skinny the world will love you, but it was really me who just did not love myself. My hair started to fall out, blood came up when I vomited and I passed out a few times due to a lack of nutrition. But none of this was enough to seek help.
(Pictured is me in my mid-20s and at the peak of bulimia. I weighed about 90 pounds and as you can see in one of the images, my bones were starting to show through my skin)
I began this dangerous journey with the idea that it would make me happy, but in reality, it was doing just the opposite. I was miserable. I would cry all night and wake up wishing I hadn’t. I did not recognize the person in front of me. I felt empty and lifeless and everyday wondered, how this happened to me. I forgot what it was like to be who I was before bulimia, as I had morphed into “Stacy, the girl with the eating disorder”. It was my identity and in some way, I was scared of recovery because I did not know how to be a person without it. I also started drinking alcohol excessively as a way to self-medicate and forget the pain I was feeling from the bulimia, which caused me to ruin some many relationships throughout my life. I would live like there was no tomorrow, because I honestly believed the illness was going to kill me one day – and I made a lot of reckless and regretful decisions along the way. Bulimia became a constant voice in my head, telling me I was worthless and that my life was falling apart, but promised if I ate more, I could gain control. I was living in a prison and the disorder was the guard. It tricked me into thinking that if I just played by the rules, it would give me everything my little heart desired. Bulimia convinced me to trust it, lean on it, but in reality, all it wanted to do was torture me.
But it was my new found faith in God that helped me defeat this monster. I know, it might sound crazy and those of you reading this may be rolling your eyes at this very moment – but its true. Leading up to this this I had tried it all -counseling, discipline and even tried to kill myself in order to just make it stop. But none of these had worked. But at 27-years-old, I had reached my breaking point. I remember breaking down in tears and screaming for God to help me and He did. I am now 34-years-old and have been recovered since. The point of this blog is not to turn you into a Christian, but I felt it was important that I be honest with how I recovered. Regardless of how you break the chains of an eating disorder, whether it be counseling or a divine intervention, the freedom transforms you into a new person. It’s funny, before I could not imagine myself without bulimia and now I cannot see myself with it. I look at pictures from when I was sick, like the two in this article, and I see such a sadness on that girl’s face. She looks lost, angry and broken. If I could speak to her, I would tell her to just hold on, because the nightmare will one day come to an end – and it finally did. It took some time after recovery to find my way, but I can honestly say that I am on the right path. I judge myself less, have a healthier relationship with food and am learning to love myself for who I am and not just what I look like.
An eating disorder is an experience that I would never wish upon my worst enemy. It breaks my heart to know that there are millions of people struggling the way I did. That is why I wrote this post, to hopefully paint a clear picture of eating disorders for those who do not understand how someone could do this to themselves. To show them what it feels like to be a slave to an invisible monster and a prisoner in your own body. How it breaks you down both mentally and physically. How it ruins lives and sometimes takes them. It is time we stop brushing this epidemic under the rug and start searching for ways to save those who are locked in an internal penitentiary.
For those who are suffering with an eating disorder, I want to say that you are worth more than the number on the scale. I suffered for 11 years, time that I will never get back, and I hope you seek the help you need before it is too late. Recovery is hard and scary, but the life you could have without the eating disorder is worth the fight!