In honor of National Eating Disorders Awareness week, I choose to give meaning to my own voice, not to the voice of my eating disorder. If you have concerns about yourself or a loved one, you are not alone. Visit myneda.org for more information.
I am a girl. I am a daughter and a sister. I am a student, a writer, a friend. I am a dreamer and a thinker.
I am a person struggling with anorexia.
I am also a badass. I am strong and brave and funny. I care deeply about other people and have a strong desire to be a force for good in the world. I am a mathematician and a scientist, a reader and a puzzler.
I am an enigma.
But I am NOT my eating disorder.
I spent three months in treatment, knowing that I was there because of my eating disorder and surrounded by others who were dealing with similar issues. We had groups and lessons and discussions about our food rituals and behaviors, trying to figure out how to replace them with healthier coping skills. Our food was measured and monitored by trained counselors.
There was an awful lot of focus on my eating disorder. I was hyper-aware of its presence in my head and the distorted way that it made me think. Everything I did was about fighting against Ed, challenging Ed, ignoring Ed. And that’s the way it needs to be in treatment – you have to notice and understand an eating disorder before you can effectively engage in combat. But at some point, it has to stop being about that. It has to start being about YOU.
Without the knowledge that you are more than your eating disorder, you cannot win. For me, the longer I stayed in high levels of care, the more everything seemed to revolve around the anorexia. I was constantly held to expectations regarding how much I should eat and how much I should weigh – just as I did when I was being controlled by my eating disorder, except this time the expectations were external rather than internal. In order to be successful in treatment, like in my eating disorder, I had to constantly think about food and weight. Now, I understand that these were essential components in my recovery because they allowed my body to return to a much healthier place. But returning to a healthy weight is not permanent lasting change. It didn’t make my obsessive preoccupation with food and weight go away, because the focus was still on those things.
There was a label on me. “Anorexic” was stamped on my forehead. Not literally, but for all intents and purposes, it was there. I embraced it, because I had to if I ever wanted to get rid of it. But it got me stuck. I worked so hard on the eating disorder part of myself that I completely lost touch with the rest of me. And that was the part I needed, that would help me fight.
You can’t fully recover from an eating disorder in treatment, even though it’s a crucial place to start. You have to recover from your eating disorder in life. At some point, something else has to become more important than your eating disorder, and it won’t unless you let your life get in the way.
In my life, I see that I am a member of a truly beautiful family. I recognize that I love to learn and that I want to finish college no matter what. I know that I can combine my love of writing and my desire to help other people into a powerful hobby.
I still struggle with my eating disorder every single day. It’s never easy, even though I have a LOT of help. But I recognize that what defines me is not the battle I’m fighting against the monster that is anorexia, it is all those other things. It is the joy I feel when I get to watch my brother open his first college acceptance letter. It is the completeness I experience when I am able to capture emotion in writing. It is the freedom I feel when I’m driving down the highway and singing along with the radio.
My life is more important than my eating disorder.
I deserve better than my eating disorder.
I am more than my eating disorder.