I had few “constants” in my early life.
We moved often and had no financial stability. Mental and emotional abuse by my stepfather made each day hard to predict. Physical and sexual abuse by my stepbrother, however, was consistent. Because we moved so often, and I had to say goodbye to so many, I learned not to really connect with people outside of my tight circle. Between the ages of six to about twelve, that circle was comprised of my mom and my cat, Boo (rest in peace, bub). I had family I wanted to be close to and those people supported us from afar the best they knew how, but they were 2000 miles away.
When we moved to be closer, it felt as though the reality of our turbulent life needed to be kept secret, and I never opened up or asked for support the way that I maybe should have.
When my brother was born, I was nine years old, and it felt like an invasion. Before he grew old enough to form a real personality or comprehend much of anything, I despised him. He only resembled people who’d done us wrong and I feared he would steal away what felt like my nearly-nonexistent support system at the time.
Side note: I would simply like to acknowledge that my brother is nothing like those people who did us wrong. He is one of the most loving and loyal human beings, one of my all-time favorite people to be around and I count myself lucky to have such a close relationship with him. Back then, I was naïve and angry, and he was a normal toddler.
In middle school, I was diagnosed with Clinical Depression. I felt so alone, struggling with deep guilt from the sexual abuse I’d endured, and I self-harmed regularly. I learned to live in my head because reality rendered me hopeless. In my daydreams, I could be successful, powerful, rich, beautiful, adored – anything I wanted. At times, it was my only relief. The summer before my transition to high school, I found a new source of relief: an elliptical machine off Craigslist. I discovered that after I worked out past the point of exhaustion, my mind entered a blank state and my body was contentedly occupied. The world fell away. It didn’t bring me joy, just pure distraction from the agony. If I wasn’t at school, you could find me on the elliptical. I was on it constantly.
One day, as I got ready for school, I glimpsed at myself in the mirror and for the first time that I could remember, I liked what I saw. It sparked something in me. If I felt that good by losing weight without even trying, how good would I feel if it was a goal I had achieved? I hopped on the scale, and I began planning my diet. At first, it was nothing crazy. I was yo-yo dieting throughout high school like nearly every other girl. I’d binge and restrict, but it felt normal and accepted. At some point, the old hand-me-down elliptical broke and we disposed of it. I felt panic. I had to find a solution, otherwise I’d have to go back to being faced with reality. I’d get depressed and I’d get “fat.”
I woke up feeling bloated one morning shortly after, and I panicked. I felt I had to do something. I swore to reduce my calories that day and I made it through without cracking. I was so proud of myself. So the next day, I swore to consume nothing but a glass of water, and I did that too. I was elated. And so I continued, alternating between nothing and next to nothing, and math was never my subject, but I became addicted to numbers. Seeing them go down, namely. All of my other problems melted away. Nothing else mattered. Nobody else mattered. This new “lifestyle” made me almost perfect. I could float through life as long as everyone just stayed out of my way and none of the problems that arose interfered with my diet and exercise schedule.
And then one day, I was sitting in my desk at the last class of the day, and it felt like the room was spinning around but I knew I was still. It was so loud in the room, so I tried to focus in on my teacher’s voice, but it sounded like an echo from far away. I was always cold at that point, but suddenly the heat rose in the room. My heart sunk, and I was washed with fear. The bell rang, and I couldn’t work up the strength to move. I waited until nearly everyone left, and then I used all my might to lift myself out of the chair. Using the walls and rails to stabilize myself, I made my way to the nurse’s office where I called my mom. I felt like I was about to die, and for the first and only moment since my eating and exercise disorders began, it didn’t feel worth it. I confessed to my mom on the phone that I was going to pass out. She came to pick me up, took me to the ER, and then shortly after, on the road to recovery.
The lure of anorexia is different for everybody. Anorexia was reliable – that was my lure. Predictability was something I felt lacking in my life in its entirety and I wanted more than anything. Feeling in control was something I’d never felt before. Being able to chase a goal and succeed was a satisfaction I’d never known.
Anorexia gave me a way to my desire, but it’s the devil. I made a deal and I sold my soul, and it’s a hard contract to get out of – with a lifetime of repercussions. It will give you what you want in exchange for everything you have. There are aspects of my health that have declined and never recouped. I had to earn back friendships, and I severed my mom’s trust and our close relationship. We rebuilt it, but it took a long time. Moments and memories that should’ve been happy and special (graduation, birthdays, holidays, etc.) were demoted to bittersweet. It ferociously attempted to take my life and I ferociously fought back, but who was going to win was a coin toss. It is no understatement to say that I got tremendously lucky.
Today, I consider myself recovered and I’ve been so since late 2012. In addition to my family, friends, and pets, I had a team of phenomenal doctors, therapists and a nutritionist to help me. Their time, knowledge and compassion are the reasons I’m still here.
I’m in a good place 90% of the time, but that devil does occasionally knock on my door when I’m feeling low and vulnerable. Sometimes it comes up right behind me and whispers in my ear. It’s very charming, and it seems promising. But luckily, I can hold a grudge and there are some things I don’t forget.