For 14 years of my life, I have struggled with anorexia, depression, anxiety, and self-harm. I was in such strong denial and had so little hope for recovery or change that there were times I prayed for God to take me from the earth. Instead, my husband and I moved across the country in late 2012 for new beginnings, new opportunities, and for the first time, a feeling of hope for life beyond my illness.
The journey of recovery has not been easy. It is a daily choice, at many times a moment-to-moment choice. For the first many years, I didn’t recognize that I was sick, and then when I did, it was terrifying to speak the words “I need help.” I then spent seven years in one-on-one counseling before the denial and fear subsided just enough to accept the fact that I needed a higher level of treatment. Right after we moved, I checked myself into a six-week residential facility and then spent four months in a partial hospitalization program at a psychiatric hospital. I now meet regularly with my therapist, and dietitian, as well as attend support groups.
The start of 2014 marks one year of choosing life over death and the stability to start living my life in terms of hopes and dreams. It is hard for me not to get emotional over that statement because for so many years my life was lived so narrowly that I lost sight of all my dreams and lived in fear, disappointment, silent suffering, punishment, and loneliness. My husband and I now dream of having a family, living overseas, camping and hiking together—and these dreams can actually be our realities for the first time in eight years of marriage.
The process of healing is not an easy thing to engage in, especially when the fear of change is debilitating. It was only through the healing nourishment of my physical body that my mind was able to function well enough to start the work of emotional and mental healing. I describe my eating disorder as an iceberg: The struggle with food and physical appearance is just what you can see above the water, but the mass below the surface— the emotional and mental pain, lies, and struggles that no one can see—that is the bulk of the illness. In the midst of the disorder, I could not comprehend that the root cause of the disease was my mental and emotional health. My body and mind were in a tug-of-war between raw survival and violent punishment fueled by self-hatred. As a result of my body being so malnourished, I could not even attempt to delve into those wounded places in my heart and my mind to process through the pain and emotions. Opening up and talking about the deepest hurts of your inmost being and identifying the lies that somehow became your truths is not pleasant. It is as painful as the silence and isolation that the eating disorder and depression brought with them.
Recovery and seeking healing is the stuff of warriors, because it is truly a battle. I was fighting against myself for my very life. Fighting for the right to embrace who I am and who I was afraid to be for what felt like an eternity, because I had lost sight of myself somewhere along the way. I was consumed by pain, lies, self-hatred, hopelessness, the addictive nature, and denial. But in seeking help, I found I was not alone in my struggles. There were others who “got me” for the first time in years. I found a vocabulary to express my struggles, my thoughts, my feelings, and discovered reasons behind my pain. With those discoveries came understanding, and with understanding came the opportunity and ability to implement change, as hard as that change was.
Through the ongoing process and daily choice of recovery, I have rediscovered life. At times, I am still paralyzed by my anxiety and fear, but it does not define who I am anymore. I am learning to reach out and ask for help, and that doing so is strength, not weakness. I am learning to advocate for what I need. Life and living has flavor and texture again. I am sharing my story and finding peace, healing, and the opportunity to help others in the process. I am finding that when I choose to love myself—accepting and owning my struggles and experiences with anorexia, depression, anxiety, and self-harm—I am better able to give outwardly and better equipped to listen and love others.
I am getting a second chance at dreams that once seemed distant and lifeless. My hopes are on fire again with vivid color and tangible excitement, and for the first time, I can feel those raw emotions and celebrate them. I’ve found that people do not run away or withdraw after they hear my story, but instead want to engage and bless me with opportunities, encouragement, and support to chase after my dreams and the deep desires of my heart. Thankfully, I am getting to a place where I can accept and live into those opportunities and dreams. Through recovery, I am now able to daily choose love and grace. I now choose to thrive, not just survive.
If you or someone you know may be struggling with an eating disorder, there is help and support available for you. Find more information through the National Eating Disorders Association or on TWLOHA’s Find Help page.