I went on my first diet when I was 14 years old.
This was following a year where I had essentially lived on the living room couch. Eating cookies. Lots and lots of cookies. And pop-corn with WAY too much salt and vinegar seasoning on it (you know what I am talking about – when the corners of your mouth start to crack and sting with every bite, the acid and salt burning your raw tongue, but you keep eating anyway?)
I went through puberty, got stretch marks, gained 30 pounds, got some acne and essentially turned into every girls worst nightmare. This all being the case, dieting was the clear and obvious solution. Lose weight, life will be great.
All my pain will go away just as soon as I can fit into those tiny skinny jeans.
What followed was not a happy go lucky story of a young girl who gained her confidence by losing a few pounds – as I am sure you were able to predict. Instead, I went on what was essentially an 18 year crisis cycle – dieting, bingeing, flirting with and then eventually fully committing to anorexia, diagnosis, refusal to accept treatment, ‘recovering’ from anorexia physically while staying totally sick mentally – basically the perfect story of ‘girl goes on diet and becomes completely insane.’ This may sound familiar, as I am surly just one out of a million girls who have played out this particular drama. In this thinking, every problem in my life was because of my body. Happiness was just the next diet away. If I could just get this whole body issue under control, the world would come together. Right? Right?
The Roots Of The Ill:
Looking back, it all makes sense now. I was a super duper energetically sensitive soul with an out of control savior complex and a life full of people who were in pain and no way to interpret, understand or manage my lack of ‘filter.’ There was no ‘them’ and ‘me’. It was all just a big blur of thoughts/feelings/emotions and no way to determine where anything was coming from. If the people around me were feeling something, I was feeling something – and it was always an emergency to my little mind. Add to that the fact that I am naturally super outspoken, brash, loud and expressive, born into a family that cherished ‘normalcy’ above all else. I wanted to be the perfect, nice, quiet girl everyone around me wanted to be - and that meant that I was in a constant battle with my essential nature.
Nothing was OK, I didn’t know why it wasn’t OK or how to make it OK. What I did know was that it was my sole responsibility to figure that all out. I couldn’t go into any public space without getting emotionally overwhelmed. I see that now. But back then I had no language for what I was experiencing, nor did anyone around me have any understanding of what was going on.
Of course my parents in all their good intentions did their best to socialize me. I was in school, dance, went to church, was put in summer camps – all the things you are supposed to do to create a well rounded, socially capable individual.
Which would have been totally reasonable, except for the fact that I was always the kid who would break down in tears at random intervals throughout the day. I would have what would appear to anyone else as being totally uncalled for emotional meltdowns before going to the amusement park with my friend and her family on the weekend. I cried and needed to be held by my grade school teachers more times than I can count. They sent me to the school guidance counsellor in grade one because I was so ‘stressed out.’ Yeah, diagnosed as stressed out at the ripe old age of 6.
Fast forward to that year on the couch – the previous few years had been extra crazy. My family had moved from my small town birthplace to the big city. Kids were way meaner there. The haze of family issues, parents getting divorced and uncertain emotional climates that all the other kids were carrying around made school a living nightmare. I wanted so badly to save all of them, and I couldn’t. For the most part there was almost nothing I could do and this tore me up inside. I wanted to be liked, to be perfect, to be everything everyone expected of me – but I knew in my heart I was nothing like what I was ‘supposed’ to be.
The pain was too much. I had no way of processing or dealing with it.
Dieting was a torture device and a saving grace all at once.
Slowly but surely, all of my existential angst melted away. All of my fears for others, all of my trying to save the world and be perfect while I did it gave way to calorie counting, food blog reading, walking, shopping for, preparing, resisting and running from food. All the shit I had no idea how to handle was all of a sudden off my radar. Sure I was obsessed with my body and food, but that pain seemed way less than what I had lived through until then.
I did every diet you can think of from 14-18. I stayed in the upper end of my healthy weight range, because I never restricted the amount I ate – only the types of foods I was ‘allowed’ to eat. By the time I was 18, I had done everything except for total caloric restriction, mostly because I never had enough willpower to not eat. At 18, I fully committed, and after a year and a half of hard core starvation, I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa at 19.
Which landed me back on that couch. I sat there – 5 years of weight crazed life later – and I realized that all of my pain, all of my stress, all of my fear, all of my not being able to save the world or feel good or lovable was all still there. I was devastated. I cried for a good 2 hours lamenting the fact that I was not at all healed from any of the pain I thought had gone away, and now I had an eating disorder to contend with on top of it.
Then, after a few more years of fighting with myself, trying to recover and ‘get rid of’ Anorexia, I began to understand some things.
Anorexia Was Not My Problem.
Anorexia was the shadowed solution to all the pain I had no way of dealing with. She was the shadowed expression of all the aspects of myself I was unwilling to embrace.
Anorexia was trying to rescue me from the depths I had no way of getting out of.
I realized that I had created, cultivated and needed my own psychosis. Anorexia was my way of rebelling when I was not strong enough to rebel, of numbing the pain of the world I thought was my fault, of standing out without having to be obvious about the fact that I was standing out.
Anorexia was not my problem. She was my solution when I had no other tools to turn to.
You may be wondering how exactly I came to this conclusion.
Essentially, I got to a point where I was so tired of fighting with Anorexia, so tired of trying to not starve, of feeling like a total piece of shit inside my body, of the desperate attempts at weight loss – that I just stopped fighting her. I surrendered to her. I told her “Ok, if you are going to take me down, do it. Have me. Destroy me. I don’t care. You win.”
In that, a shift occurred.
I inadvertently made space for my shadow by ending my war with her. In that moment I was able to be fully present with this aspect of myself for the first time in my whole life. When the battle stopped, I just sat there, with Anorexia, and she started to reveal her truth to me.
She started to reveal my truth to me.
In this, I stopped assuming I knew what was ‘wrong’ with me, and what I needed to do to ‘fix’ myself. I stopped assuming I understood Anorexia. Or myself. I start to get curious about me instead.
I asked questions like
“Why do I need to starve?”
“What am I really feeling?”
“What is really going on with me?”
“What do I really want to express right now?”
“What am I picking up on that I am not able to process or deal with?”
“What do I need right now?”
I sat in the painful emotions, and learned to ride the wave. I cried. I got angry. I swelled with pain – and rather than running or trying to fix it, I just stayed still. I watched as these emotions took me on a journey, I saw them transform before my eyes into revelations of what I needed to do, be and say to feel at peace in the world. All I had to do was stop running, get still, be ok with not feeling Ok for a while.
From then on, whenever the urge to do any Anorexia behaviors came up, or whenever any feelings of being fat surfaced, I went in and got curious. I made space. I didn’t fight - I asked questions and sat with myself in those feelings, those thoughts, and made room for the deeper revelations to take place.
Simply stated, I stopped the fight and got curious instead. I made space.
From this place, I realized that we as a society are creating our own neuroses just like I did. We are so terrified of how we feel, so afraid of who we are, that we reject ourselves to the core. We run from ourselves at every turn. In this, the rejected aspects don’t go away. The unprocessed with emotions don’t magically disappear. They express through addiction, eating disorders, psychosis, obsession and everything else we see in our culture today.
The Solution To Neurosis Is Simple:
I saw that the solution was simple – not easy, but simple – we just need to make space for ourselves. We need to stop fighting who we are, and learn that we have two options – we can either embrace who and what we are, feel it and express it as it is and be ok with what others think, or we can suppress these things and live in shadow, self destruction and lives that feel horrible.
There is truly no real denial of the self. We express whether we like it or not.
It is our choice whether we get curious about who we are, show up for ourselves and live in our truth – with all the bravery that requires – or if we are going to allow ourselves to be taken down by the coping mechanisms we develop as a way of avoiding ourselves.
Anorexia taught me that there is no bad, wrong, negative, aspect of myself that needs to be fixed or ‘gotten rid of.’
Anorexia taught me that everything I ever did in my life was for a reason.
Anorexia was there as a friend when I had nowhere else to turn.
Anorexia was the part of me that was taking my power back but felt she had to do so in a covert way.
Anorexia was not afraid to disappoint people, she was not afraid to be judged, she was not afraid to be rebellious and wild and angry and sad.
She was all of these things when I was not strong enough to be them.
On my long and winding road to recovery, I never got rid of her. Anorexia is still alive and well within me. But now, she expresses in a totally different way.
She no longer counsels me to starve. She no longer sends me into a tailspins about the size of my thighs or how I will get out of eating today, or what the caloric content of every single bite of food I eat is. She no longer lashes out in fits of rage at the people in my life. She no longer expresses my pain, she no longer has to.
Now, Anorexia Lives As My Self Esteem.
She expresses as me serving the world how I came to serve – regardless of what other people think, she is sassy that way – without the intention to ‘save’ or ‘fix’ anyone. Anorexia is now the part of me that has self respect, limits and boundaries that are expressed in loving, healthy ways, rather than as lashing out. Anorexia doesn’t have to save me from this life anymore. She now helps me live it.
Anorexia almost took me out. And in the end, there may have been a part of me that thanked her for doing that. But over here on the other side, I can see how the journey ‘back’ from Anorexia was the journey back into my power. It was the journey back into who I had always been. It was the journey of self discovery that has enabled me to be who I am today.
Anorexia was always with me and will always be with me. She just goes by different names now.
Ownership of my emotions.
Autonomy in relationships.
Offering without expectation.
Gratitude for this life.
The capacity to see the pain of others not as a mistake, but as a blessing.
There is no aspect to get rid of. Only to discover in the light of love.
Anorexia turned into my super powers. All I had to do was love her, love me, make room for myself to live, and get brave enough to express who I really am.
Who I always was.
She taught me that.
I will forever be in her debt.
Now the question remains – can we a society learn to stop fighting with who and what we are, and learn to get present and curious with ourselves? Can we embrace our coping mechanisms and let them lead us back to who we are? Can we release the idea that there is anything to fix, and step into the truth that all we must do is learn to love?
I believe we can. One moment of surrendering the fight at a time.