Content warning: the following story contains references to a survivor's experience with an eating disorder, which may be triggering for some readers.
I have struggled with disordered eating and poor self-image off and for years. For me, nature loaded the gun, nurture took the safety off, and a series of unfortunate circumstances pulled the trigger. My goal in telling you these stories about a particularly odious part of my life isn’t for sympathy. I’m telling you how I forgave myself seventy times seven times over to find the my road to recovery– the most important part of recovery is giving yourself the space, grace and forgiveness to do so.
F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote that the loneliest moment of someone’s life is when their world is falling apart and all they can do is stare blankly. I didn’t stare blankly, I was internally screaming like Ruby Rhod in Fifth Element. On the outside looking in, I’d made it out unscathed like Luke Skywalker shooting the Death Star– I took a new job and immediately managed two internationally recognized projects. I had people who loved me. I was grieving the death of someone close, sure, but I seemed to be coping. I dealt with rejection swiftly and to the best of my ability given the circumstances. Me: 1, everything else: 0
But the reality was that I was silently falling apart. I refused to be a “crybaby”– I pushed myself to the limit, by trying to get in shape and pretend that I was okay. I decided to eat nothing but meat, fruit and vegetables and eggs. I ran every day too. I couldn’t push my emotions down forever.
The more I felt, the more I restricted. Every time I made a “food mistake” I could feel the emotions coming to the surface before I purged:
There’s nothing about you that’s of value. You could risk or give anything up for someone and it isn’t worth a damn thing. You can work as hard as you want, you deserve the way your bosses treat you. Your family doesn’t even care about you. You’re just fat and totally pointless– you deserved everything that happened to you. Maybe you should eat what you should be eating and you wouldn’t have these issues.
By mid-summer, my eating disorder was at full tilt. I purged nearly every meal. My skin was ghost white, with dark circles under my eyes. My lips were so chafed from stomach acid I had chemical burns on my lips that still haven’t healed. I nearly fainted on a 1 mile trail walk in July. My friends, family and coworkers expressed concern. I still didn’t think that I was sick. Sure, a little messed up, but not sick.
In December, I accidentally overdosed on laxatives. I took a few before I went to bed on a Tuesday night and woke up around 5 a.m. needing to use the restroom. When I stood up, I was weak. Everything started to spin during the 10 foot walk from my bed to the master bathroom. I immediately started cold-sweating. I collapsed on the floor of my bathroom, heart racing. I’d forgotten my phone on my nightstand, I tried to scream for someone, anyone to help me. Both of my cats laid down by my head, meowing their tiny heads off. Then nothing, then black.
I woke up around 7:45, and somehow made it to work on time by 8:30. I was too weak to walk the 15 feet from my workstation to my boss’ office for most of the day. I got lightheaded driving back from a meeting with a client, and stopped at a dingy gas station to get a gatorade. It took me days to feel better.
I needed more than physical strength, I needed a way out of the rabbit hole I was in. I knew then I was fighting for my life. I was either going to get better or die.
Recovery is a bumpy road. It’s not a fluffy bathrobe at a posh rehab facility. There’s no Dr. Drew, no tell-all biography with a wan, thin portrait of you on the front. I was lucky to have a family practice doctor who set up a medical and psychological plan in one visit.
Recovery is setting boundaries with friends, with coworkers, with family. It’s in recognizing that moving from a victim to a survivor is a series of small decisions empower you to do so. I accepted better job in terms of pay, benefits, and environment. I eat most meals at home so I’m able to make healthy decisions. I am training for a half marathon– to raise money for one of my parents’ health conditions, to ensure I’m fueling my body properly, and to have stress relief. I indulge in joys that I’d forgotten about: from deer hunting to getting my nails done.
Much like Jesus said to Peter in Matthew 18, I had to forgive myself seventy times seven times over– and that’s been the hardest part of all, but at the core of every recovery.
About the art:
My inspiration for this piece came from the survivor sharing with me her lowest moment, when she felt a turning point inside her. Looking up at the stars, she felt overwhelmed and empty. The background of the painting is blue freckled by stars.
The quote, I chose for them because I want them to feel hope when they read it. The quote is "The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new". I hope the survivor can benefit by looking at her change positively instead of holding onto the negatives and trying to fight it.
I chose the colors blue, red, and yellow because they are primary colors. Primary colors are the building blocks for all other color and represents how the survivor has rebuilt herself and her character by going back to her core self and rebuilding from there.
You'll notice that the words in yellow read "secret: focus on new". Again a subtle reminder to focus on the positive change in self.
I hope whenever the survivor is feeling down, they can gain strength whenever they look at their painting.