This part of my story is hard for me to share with all of you. I have thought many times over about writing this, explaining my version of how I fit into the fight against eating disorders. Every time, I nearly hit "post", something has stopped me. For years, I fought an internal battle that was silent, hidden from those I loved, and was damaging not only my body, but most importantly my soul. Thinking back to these times is painful. It isn't easy, and I'm emotional writing this. I understand that there's no need to share this with everyone, it's a personal matter and nobody is forcing me to be open about my story. I'm not writing this for sympathy, for followers, or for some extra likes. I'm writing this to the girl struggling with every part of her life 4 years ago, the girl who needed to read this the most; me. I'm writing this for anybody else who needs this right now, or might need to be reminded that they beat this terrible disease. I'm writing this for anyone going through a struggle of any sort, to allow them to see that vulnerability is crucial in the healing process. You're not alone and it's important to know that you aren't weak for needing help, a concept that took years for me to understand.
I need to start from the beginning, as to how and why I developed severe bulimia. I say severe, because it indeed was for me. I'll get into this later, but it's important for me to express how it became so intense for me, as there is always a progression. When I was 19, I was told that I needed ankle surgery for numerous tears and sprains that had accumulated in my childhood participating in sports. Okay, fine. Why does that matter? Well, I got the surgery, the surgery was going to work, and I knew this, but my recovery was not at all a healthy experience. If you know me at all, you know that I love being active, and most importantly, it's very hard for me to rely on others, especially for basic needs. Having to ask my parents for a water, or to help me get up to go to the bathroom was excruciating. It became so stressful that I developed shingles. This is a nerve infection that typically only happens in people over 50 or the elderly, only extreme stress can trigger this in those who get it when they're younger. It's extremely painful, frustrating, and sometimes debilitating. To this day, I have nerve damage in my left quad from my infection, as it lasted for months. This was just the beginning of a string of hospital visits, from difficulty breathing and CAT scans, the list goes on. As you can imagine, the medical issues just added more stress. One day, about a month into my recovery, I got myself so worked up to the point of needing to get sick. My body naturally made me throw up, and strangely I felt so much better afterwards. I didn't understand it then, but now I know it was my body's way of purging the stress in a physical way. A couple days later, it happened again. I think it was the third time of working myself up to a near panic attack, where I became mad at my body for not getting sick naturally. I craved the feeling of relief that I had experienced after the first couple times, so I made myself get sick. It worked again. I had no idea that day what I had done to myself. I had no idea that it was going to turn into me hating my body, hating myself, and disrespecting it over and over again.
How did my illness turn from stress triggered to body dysmorphia? It's simple. After 2 months of being in a hard cast and not even being able to walk, your body is going to lose muscle. It's going to look differently. That is okay and it is normal. Well, I didn't see it this way, and I was in no state of mind to be able to handle these changes. My throwing up quickly became about trying to be "skinny" again, fearing that the changes in my body were not normal, and they were my fault for getting "fat". You guys, I had maybe gained 5 pounds at this point after sitting on my ass for 2 entire months. I was so deluded. I look back now like what the hell was I thinking, but that's exactly the issue. My body image was so distorted and my mentality was corrupted by my own dysmorphia disorder that I seriously looked in the mirror and saw someone 20 pounds heavier than they actually were. I can't stress this enough that this is a serious reality for so many people.
My disease progressed. I was forcing myself to throw up a minimum of 3 times a day, most days anywhere from 5-10 times. Even after losing a crazy amount of weight from it, I kept going. Even losing weight, I wasn't getting happier with my body, it was in fact the opposite. I became meaner, my grades struggled, I was set off my small things, I was frankly just so unhappy. I almost lost my closest friends and I saw my parents' hearts break, not knowing why I was becoming such a hateful person. It got so bad and obvious to the point where my friends already knew, and I needed to tell my parents. It was the hardest thing I had ever done up to that point in my life. I didn't want to admit to myself that I had this problem. I didn't want to disappoint them or make them think they had any part in why I developed this disease.
After a few months of recovery, I was getting much better. I sought out therapy and researched ways to help. I confided in a friend who was going through the same thing at the time, who is now one of my closest friends. She might have been the only person who accepted that what was happening to me actually wasn't my fault and stood by me through it all, she understood. To this day I thank God for her because she has always been one of the biggest parts of my recovery. If you're struggling with something and have a feeling there is someone in your life that can empathize with you, I urge you to talk to them.
I was doing better, and I indeed was gaining weight. There were days that this scared me shitless. It took everything inside of me not to fall off the wagon and purge again. I think I lasted 6 months before this actually did happen. After a bad time with relationships, both with friends and a romantic relationship, along with school and normal stressors of life building, I finally broke. I was devastated, and even more devastated that it progressed again for a few months. This time my behavior was different. I would restrict myself so much with food that by the end of the day I would binge on an insane amount of food and purge. I became incredibly swollen all over, my body held on to all the water it could because I was treating it like it was in survival mode.
My face was unrecognizable. I was gaining more weight than ever before due to the binging, because I wasn't able to actually throw it all up. I don't know what clicked, but by the grace of God, and the small hint of will I had gained during my previous recovery, I said enough is enough.
It doesn't happen like this very often. In fact, I feel lucky. I think there was a moment where I thought about all the things I almost lost and it scared me so much that this life, this disease, was no longer an option. It never made me feel better, look better, or happier with my body in the long run. To this day my very best friends have no idea that I relapsed, except for the one person who knew what I was going through. The rest will find out through this post, including my parents. It will probably hurt them that I didn't tell them, but hopefully they know that they're all the reason I have now been healthy for more than 2 full years.
After committing to loving myself, I knew I needed tools other than just "wanting to be better". I found Pure Barre and I fell in love. I'm not sure if it was the specific workout, or just the right workout at the right time. I cut my drinking more than in half, I went out less, I stopped restricting my diet to the point of counting calories. I would eat smart, I would indulge, I would workout a healthy amount. I found balance in my social, school, and work life. Overall, I was committing to respecting my body, loving it for all that it does and that I knew it could do if I just took care of it. After about 6 months of committing to putting myself first in all aspects, I finally felt like I had a grip on my recovery. This 6 months was different than the first, because I knew what it was like to fall off, I knew how to get back up and I never wanted to feel so sad, alone, and depressed as I had for the past two years. I vowed to myself that I deserved more, so I demanded more from myself.
If you asked me now, if I could go back and change any of what I've been through, I would say that you're crazy. Ironically, I'm so thankful for having bulimia. I love that I overcame a time in my life where I really thought it would be better if the disease had killed me, because I would be done suffering. I look back and reflect on where I am now, and all I can do is smile. I am so incredibly happy, healthy, fulfilled, and blessed beyond belief. I would have never guessed that I would have said that sentence in my life if you had asked me a few years ago. I'm amazed that as humans, we have the ability to be in such a dark place, and emerge with such light and love that it's like we never fell down in the first place. I am stronger, I am happier, and I am healthier because and in spite of my struggle with bulimia. And that's why I'm ready to share it all with you.
I sincerely thank you for allowing me to tell you my story, and I hope it resonated with a struggle you may have been through or are going through. If you're reading this and can relate specifically, I would be more than willing and happy to talk with you, offer a supportive ear, and give any guidance as to doctors and rehabilitation that helped me. Please, do not feel as if you are alone, do not feel embarrassed. You can rise from your struggle no matter the circumstance.
Renfrew Center: 1-800-736-3739
National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA): 1-800-931-2237
National Eating Disorder Referral and Information Center: 1-858-481-1515
National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD): 1-630-577-1330
National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-784-2433
Bulimia and Self-Help Hotline: 1-314-588-1683