One of the hardest journeys I’ve had to embark on was learning how to let people in. I needed to learn how to open up about some of the scary things that take up space in my head if I wanted to recover.
Constant deflection and innocent little lies of “I’m fine” were just a natural part of my vernacular, and anything that was even near the truth of how I was actually feeling felt alien to me, it felt scary to me.
As someone who grew up in therapy, starting at age 13, I knew the endless long-term benefits of it and would tell every person in my life that was (and is) the key to success. Everyone can use therapy. I speak from firsthand experience—it’s a lifesaver and a game changer. But sometimes, in life, it’s hard to take our own advice. Especially when the season we are in is darker than usual. It’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel when you can’t even see the next step.
The biggest monster that lives in my head, the one who always seems to send me running back to my therapist’s office is my eating disorder.
My eating disorder came before everything. It showed up to the party before self-harm, it showed up before drugs, before alcohol. It became my best friend, my trusted companion through the hardest years of my life—it was mine and mine alone.
For me, my eating disorder knows exactly how to hurt me. It shows up during the most unfortunate seasons and it seems to overstay its welcome every single time. Both my first love and my first drug, the easiest and fastest high I can get, and the thing that’s always there when I need to escape.
It’s also the one thing that brings me to my knees the fastest.
It’s difficult to explain eating disorders to someone who has never experienced a complicated and unhealthy relationship with food. Most people believe it’s simply that we don’t want to eat, or that all we ever do is eat, that everything you see in the movies is just what it’s like in real life.
What people fail to see when it comes to eating disorders is what’s lurking right beneath the surface. The fake smiles and the “I’m fine” or “I’m not hungry” lines we give to cover up the pain that’s screaming in our heads and in our stomachs.
It’s more than food for me. The counting calories and binging episodes. The purging sessions and the fainting in grocery store isles. The euphoric yet false sense of control when my life feels completely out of control. That’s the drug. That’s the high I’m running towards. But like all the other addictive substances in my life, after a while, it stops working.
It was hard to face the truth that no matter how fast the number on the scale dropped, how long I could go starving myself, or how small my waistline got, it would never be enough.
My self-confidence and self-acceptance were fueled by other people’s perceptions of me. The number on the scale somehow equaled the love and acceptance I would receive. And maybe, if I could get that number low enough, I’d finally be happy.
Initially, opening up about those things was brutal. To verbalize those words. To release my grip on something that I held so very close to my heart. This was my friend, my coping skill, and my sense of comfort and control. It took a long time to see that it was never my friend, but instead, a stranger that fed on all of my insecurities. It never wanted the best for me, it only wanted to take the best of me.
It’s required years, so many years, and many more to come, to learn how to open up. How to be vulnerable in the presence of another human and talk about the scary monsters who live rent-free in my head. So many countless beautiful things have happened since that initial conversation. Incredible moments of self-exploration, a-ha moments while sitting with a therapist, years and years spent finding myself and meeting people who also have a monster in their head just like me. It has been and continues to be a beautiful journey. Is it uncomfortable to let someone in? Absolutely. But not a day goes by that I regret doing it in the first place. And over time, it does get easier.
Taking that first step—walking into a therapist’s office, verbalizing to someone that you’re not doing OK, admitting you need help—is really huge. And it’s where the healing starts, in those small yet mighty steps. One foot in front of the other, all in your own time. The healing unravels from there.
You are more than a number on a scale or a measuring tape. You are human. Messy and whole, capable of so many good things, regardless of your body’s shape. We encourage you to use TWLOHA’s FIND HELP Tool to locate professional help and to read more stories like this one here. If you reside outside of the US, please browse our growing International Resources database. You can also text TWLOHA to 741741 to be connected for free, 24/7 to a trained Crisis Text Line counselor. If it’s encouragement or a listening ear that you need, email our team at [email protected].