I can’t tell you the first time I looked in the mirror and hated myself. I can’t tell you if there was a time when I didn’t do that. A morning ritual of pulling my shirt up around my chest and pulling worn-in boxers down below the hip bones I wish I could see and staring at the rise and fall of my skin over my bones and thinking such perverse self-deprecating thoughts that I would never dream of saying those things to anyone else. Wash, rinse, and repeat again come bedtime. I was drowning in self-hatred and I was okay with it.
I starved myself for the first time during junior year of high school. I try to figure out how I got to that place and when I stopped knowing better, and honestly I couldn’t even begin to tell you. I think it had been coming for a long time. I was heavily involved in the dance world and at that time I didn’t think you counted for anything if you can’t count all your bones just from looking in the mirror. Those floor-to-ceiling mirrors were my hell. I tried to hide from being called “princess pumpkin” and being thwacked in the stomach by covering up with what skirts and shorts I could manage to get away with. I was convinced I was huge. 136 pounds and convinced I was fat. So I stopped eating.
It didn’t last long, but while it did it was severe. Writing down every calorie in-and-out trying to make sure the net total for the day was a satisfactory negative. People were telling me I looked thinner and I loved it. I didn’t care that my knees were permanently weak and my fingernails were breaking off, I was skinny. But some people started to worry and reality kicked in. I did know better. I tried to help myself, and for the most part I did. I ate more and quit dance. Problem solved, eating disorder over. It seemed like everything would be okay.
I didn’t know that most people that suffer from eating disorders generally have more than one. I didn’t know that people that suffered from eating disorders are always in recovery. I didn’t realize I had developed such an unhealthy relationship with food that some less than welcome friends had stuck around. I didn’t realize I was a binge eater. Anorexia was the pretty girl disease. The one that makes you skinny, the one that makes people like you more. Binge eating was the fat girl disease. Racing to bottoms of chip bags and ice cream cartons before you could get control over yourself. A little bit of pain was enough to send me on the Ironman Triathlon of eating. Drowning myself in food until the sadness caught up and fully pulled me under. My metabolism was coming in second every time, and I put on some weight.
I had gained weight. 146 pounds and I thought I was obese. The anorexic thoughts came flocking back faster than seagulls to a piece of bread at the beach. I obsessed over every photo of myself. Analyzing my body, comparing myself to the other people in the photo. I was addicted to body image – mine, my friends, celebrities, strangers. It didn’t matter. I needed to be thin again – but this time I knew better. The need for control manifested in a different way. I was gluten-free, dairy-free, and free of the fact that didn’t realize how few calories I was actually consuming a day – I’ll give you a hint, it wasn’t nearly enough. And then the summer before college rolled around and I pulled a full grain-free, dairy-free, soy-free, legume-free and sugar-free stint for a whole 30 days. I had lost weight and I knew it. I went on a cruise and gained it all back. 146 pounds and I thought I was obese.
Then the first semester of college came. I didn’t do well with not having any friends at first. There was no one to talk to and no one that knew me. The pain set in and my relationship with food spun out of control. I knew better than to starve myself, but I had never dealt with the binge eating, and especially not the emotions behind it all. The freshman 15 became my reality – let’s be honest, it was 20. And writing that and having to see it in black and white is as difficult and shameful for me as posting a photo of myself in a bikini would be. I continued to obsess over photos of myself and photos of my friends, and eventually it graduated to obsessing over what every passerby thought of what I looked like. It consumed me and I stopped leaving my room. I avoided events with friends and skipped meetings because heaven forbid someone see me in anything other than a large t-shirt. Nothing was in my control anymore and I was at a loss.
I can’t tell you what made me see a counselor. I can tell you that I almost didn’t walk through that door that first time. I can tell you it didn’t fix everything that’s wrong with me and my relationship with eating. But I can also tell you that it helped. I started to be able to assess my body for what it actually is, and now when I look at old photos of myself I can see the reality, not the twisted images my brain had created. I had become the body I always feared becoming and it gave me perspective. My eyes were opened and I wanted to cry. I think that’s the moment when I truly started to be in recovery. I had hit my low and it gave me the perspective I had been looking for. I was definitely not satisfied with how I looked – but I knew I could change it, and healthily. It was possible to be happy and lose weight and have the damn hamburger if you want the damn hamburger. The morning and bedtime rituals of self-deprecation still creep up and there are still nights when I find myself eating more than I know I should, but there are less of them. My weight stopped setting parameters on my happiness and the self-hatred started to fall away a little bit at a time. I know it takes a while to un-learn habits, so I’m trying to be patient with myself. I am happy and I am losing weight and I am not obsessing over it. I am free.