Growing up I didn’t liked who I was and I never felt like I fit in. I didn’t think I was pretty enough; smart enough, funny enough, thin enough or good enough and I believed that there was something wrong with me.
From my earliest memory food was all I would think about. In school I couldn’t wait to get home because as soon as I got home food was there with open arms waiting for me. I was in love with food and spent a lot of time with it, food became my best friend, my comfort and my companion. When I was eating I didn’t have to deal with the confusion, pain and emptiness that I would otherwise be feeling.
Eating was something that consumed most of my time. I watched TV and ate, I hid in the closet and under my bed and ate and I would steal money from my mom’s wallet to go buy food and sit on the corner of my street and eat. “I love you food, you are always here for me.”
At age thirteen I was told by my doctor to lose weight and this was when my relationship with food changed. Instead of eating it, I would just smell it and then throw it down the garbage disposal. I became angry at food. Whenever I saw it I thought “You’re making me fat, that’s why nobody likes me.” I started to blame food and my body for how I felt. I began to eat less and less, denying my own needs and focused all of my energy on taking care of the people around me, trying to win love and approval. “Will you love me if I cook and clean for you, how about if I agree with you and do exactly what you say, will you love me then?” Even when I did these things it still wasn’t good enough and I felt like a failure.
“Hello exercise.” As I was slowly letting go of food, exercise became my next best friend. I didn’t exercise a lot at the beginning, but when I started losing weight, I began to exercise more and more. Not only did it make me feel good, but it helped me to lose weight. The feelings of exercise, starving and losing weight were so gratifying that I didn’t want to stop. Soon I became hooked; I found a way to numb out and to medicate the parts of myself that were hurting.
My relationship with food now became a secret love affair. When I was eating no one was allowed to disturb me or see me eat, it was as if I was doing something “bad.” My family knew to “respect” my privacy while I was eating and I began to use the eating disorder behaviors instead of speaking up for myself. I used it to set boundaries, protect myself and to feel like I had a sense of safety and control in my life.
I was so hungry and I wanted to eat, but it was a struggle because I thought if I did, I would get fat and fat to me at the time meant that I was unlovable. Whenever I did eat I would get a sick feeling in my gut and I would exercise until that feeling went away.
The more I cut back on food, the more bizarre my eating became. “Okay cheerios, I see you, I will eat six of you one at a time. I see you banana, but you are too big. I’ll cut you in half, nope, still too big. Okay, I’ll eat you but I’ll have to cut you in thirty pieces so you will last a long time.” I stopped using utensils and began to eat everything with my fingers; it was easier to eat slowly that way. As I continued to cut back on food, I began to feel more and more frightened to eat. If I did a “good job” of restricting during the week, then on Monday I allowed myself to eat whatever I wanted.
“Finally, it’s Monday, I’m free. Come here ice cream, ooh and chocolate cupcakes, and my favorite chocolate peanut butter cups, I see you pop-tarts, chocolate pudding, brownies, finally, I get to eat.”
I ate the same foods, at the same time, in the same way everyday, unless it was Monday, which was binge day. Eating this way became my “comfort” zone (so I thought) actually I never felt comfortable; it was just a shield that I hid behind, a structure and a way of living that I created that I thought kept me safe, however, I was living in a prison of my own creation.
Everywhere I went people would say; “Wow Debra, you look great.” I began to build my sense of self around the “success” and positive attention I got for being thin. For the first time in my life I felt acknowledged and appreciated and I also felt that I had a sense of power and control. I thought, “This is the best feeling ever.” The anorexia became my mask, my identity, my protector and my savior.
Have you ever been in a situation where you were upset, worried or anxious and finally found something that made you feel better? And what was it that made you feel better? And did you continue to go back to that person, place or thing to help you feel better? Well, this is how habits and addictions often start. Whenever I felt bad, I would engage in the eating disorder behavior to feel better. At the beginning I used the behaviors to lose weight, and because losing weight made me feel good, over time I would engage in the behaviors to cope with uncomfortable feelings and situations. After awhile I became trapped and I was a stimulus response machine. My mind took over, my behavior became automatic making it more difficult to stop and I was on a path of self destruction.
After dwindling down to 80 pounds at 5 feet 6 inches tall, I entered my first hospital at age 15, and for over 23 years of my life I was living in an eating—exercising trance. At the beginning it gave me a sense of power and control, but after awhile my life was on automatic and I felt like I no longer had a choice. There were times when I was so desperate to stop the behavior and when I couldn’t, I attempted to kill myself thinking that would be the only solution. (I’m glad I didn’t)
My life was consumed with eating disorder behaviors. If I wasn’t eating, I was exercising, reading cook books or baking for others. I loved food and was obsessed with it, but I didn’t allow myself to enjoy it because of the association I had with it.
Whenever I ate my emotions and feelings became more intense. Food was something I could physically feel in my body and I didn’t want to feel something I hated (Which was me.) I used food as a child to stuff down all my uncomfortable feelings and when I ate, those feelings would surface and I didn’t want to feel them so I would exercise all day because it was the only way I thought I could feel better.
I was forcing my body into a form approved by others but completely opposite from my true nature. Food, exercise, my body and love all became intertwined. The feeling of food inside my body triggered a panic response and I would immediately exercise to “soothe it.” The feelings didn’t go away though; I was just pushing them down more and more, creating more feelings of self hatred and unworthiness and blocking me from experiencing my true self.
Being so consumed with food and exercise I didn‘t have to deal with anything else. I was determined to stop the process of life. “I don’t want to grow up; I don’t want to take personal responsibility, I don’t deserve to live, please, someone show me you love me by taking care of me.” I was frightened of everyone and everything and by living a strict and rigid schedule around eating and exercising; it gave me a sense of structure, consistency and safety.
Everyone around me got frustrated because they didn’t understand; know what to do or how to help. At the beginning I got praise for losing weight, but when I became too thin, I received blame, anger and resentment from significant others as a reaction from their own fears. The things that were said to me made me feel even worse about myself, and I would continue to starve and/or binge and exercise to escape those feelings. It was a lose-lose situation all around.
My inner and outer worlds seemed too frightening and the eating disorder became my protection and safety. At the time I wasn’t aware of the reasons why I starved/binged and exercised, I was just responding from an uncomfortable feeling in my gut. The more I did the behaviors, the more I impressed the thoughts and ideas on my subconscious mind, making them automatic, fixed and habituated.
I continued to get worse over the years even after going through numerous hospitals and treatment centers. I ran to hospitals and treatment centers looking and begging for some relief, which I got, but it was only momentarily. As soon as I left, I resorted right back to the eating disorder behaviors and once again became trapped. I temporarily changed my physical appearance, but I never changed the unconscious patterns, negative beliefs and perceptions I held about myself and the world, thus I automatically went back to my old patterns. I was filled with so much fear and self hatred and I didn’t feel that I deserved to or even wanted to live.
My life was contained and controlled. I built a wall around myself, allowing nothing to come in and I wouldn’t come out. I didn’t travel because I wouldn’t have access to my “safe foods.” I limited my time with people because it would get in the way of eating or exercising. I was locked inside my “safe” house or should I say a prison of my own creation, looking out the windows and watching everyone else enjoying their lives. I was playing two roles, the mean prison guard and the prisoner. (Judge/victim.)
The eating disorder was a mask that was comfortable, not because it fit, but because it was familiar and I did it for so long. Eventually it was the only way I knew how to live and how to function in a world that seemed so overwhelming and confusing. Even though I was miserable, I was too frightened to let it go.
People would say to me, “I wish I was as thin as you, or I wish I was anorexic.” I don’t think they truly understood the torment I was living in. Most people think that it’s just about being thin and able to control food. I always wanted to say; “Okay, you want to be anorexic; here’s the deal, NO MORE FUN, EVER AGAIN! You can only eat certain foods, and they must be eaten at a certain time in a certain way, you can’t change your schedule for any reason, you have to wake up at the same time every morning, you must keep moving all day long to burn calories, you can’t try anything new because you won’t like it and you’ll fail, you can buy new clothes but you can’t wear them, you can make money but you can’t spend it on yourself, you must put others first, you must constantly be mean to yourself, think that you’re not good enough and find the least deserving way to give to yourself, do you want me to keep going because there’s more.” In essence I was torturing myself and living in lack, limitation, deprivation and fear.
Doctors, treatment centers and hospitals wouldn’t allow me to come back after numerous visits. It seemed as if everyone gave up on me. This was actually the best thing that happened because I kept doing the same things over and over again expecting different results.
Looking back at my experience at age 13, I recognized that the interpretations, rather the mis-interpretations I made at the time were; “I wasn’t good enough, I didn’t deserve to live or experience any pleasure, I was wrong and flawed, it wasn’t okay or safe for me to be me, my body was wrong and in order for me to be okay and accepted I had to be thin or someone different from who I was.”
Was the way I was experiencing my life at the time reflecting back to me the beliefs, judgments and perceptions I held about myself and the world? Was the eating disorder a symptom, a way I played out those beliefs, judgments and perceptions? Did I develop an eating disorder because of the suggestion given to me from my doctor to lose weight? Was he my teacher, an angel in disguise? Was it part of my destiny to have an eating disorder; what I came here to experience so I can help myself and others heal? Was this an issue I had with needing approval from others in order to approve of myself? Did I not like who I was, feel good enough, worthy or lovable? Did I use eating disorder behaviors to avoid feeling my feelings, numb out and disassociate? Was I trying to feel safe and accepted in a world where I didn’t and I chose to use eating disorder behaviors to comfort and protect myself? Did I identify myself as an anorexic and shrink my sense of self down to completely identify with it and isolate myself in the experience? Did I believe that if I was sick enough, then someone would care about me?
Probably all the above and more, everything happened perfectly for what I’m here to learn and experience. If earth is a classroom where we get to learn and grow and my outer world is a reflection of my inner reality, then all my experiences and everyone in my life then and today are the perfect people to assist me in my healing, learning, growth and evolvement.
The eating disorder served a purpose in my life, it wasn’t all negative; as it gave me a sense of comfort, safety, and control and it worked up until it didn’t. My healing process started when I truly decided that I wanted to have a chance at life, to experience what it would be like to be happy and healthy, to be a loving friend to myself and others and engage in a fulfilling life experience. By allowing myself to feel what I was feeling I was able to recognize the beliefs, judgments, perceptions and misunderstandings that were creating self hatred, destructive behaviors and feelings of unworthiness and then brought forgiveness, love, compassion and understanding to my mind, body, soul and spirit. I did this by staying in the present moment, being 100% in my body, allowing myself to feel all of my feelings, unconditionally loving, appreciating and accepting myself and my experiences and seeing what I could learn from them. In quiet times and meditation I’m able to receive guidance from my inner wisdom and true self assisting me in making more loving and positive choices for myself. By trusting my process and allowing my healing to happen on its own time without trying to force it, focusing my attention on becoming healthy physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually and loving myself unconditionally, I’m now experiencing self love and inner peace.
Challenges are a part of life; they give us strength and help us grow. By staying with what I’m experiencing and not using an avoidance strategy, I’m able to understand, change what is necessary, create new perceptions and beliefs, have compassion, learn what I need to learn and love myself unconditionally.
It’s not always easy to look at certain thoughts, beliefs, feelings and behaviors, however, by being willing to become aware of the parts in which I didn’t want to embrace and by bringing compassion, love and understanding to the little one within me, it’s gives me an opportunity to live more in alignment with my heart and soul and experience self love and inner peace.
I’m very grateful for everything that has happened and continues to happen in my life, it has made me who I am today. Through my experiences I’ve gained tremendous strength, insight and wisdom and have become more compassionate, loving and peaceful. Life is a process and everyday we have the opportunity to learn, grow, heal and LOVE.
If you’re struggling today, I encourage you to be gentle with yourself, trust your process and never give up because change happens little by little.
Blessings of Love, Light, Abundance and Inner Peace to you on your journey,