Anorexia isn’t a diet, although many people seem to assume that it is. Anorexia is not something that girls do to try and look skinny like the models in those glossy fashion magazines. Anorexia is not about getting attention or about a confused girl “going” through a phase. Anorexia is an eating disorder; and definitely not a synonym for “thin,” or “skinny bitch.”
I have anorexia and I’m not ashamed at all to admit it; but it wasn’t always that way. I used to walk around all of the time secretly ashamed that I starved myself to the point that I had to be hospitalized for two weeks when I was a teenager. I used to be ashamed that I spent half of my teenage years feeling guilty for putting food in my mouth. And I used to be ashamed to admit to anyone, including myself, that I still struggled with anorexia as an adult.
I stopped being ashamed when I discovered why I was anorexic in the first place. I stopped being ashamed when I realized that my eating disorder had absolutely nothing to do with wanting to be skinny or a deep desire to fit into the latest fashions. It had nothing to do with going through a phase and wanting attention from my family or peers. It had everything to do with needing to have control over some part of my chaotic life.
When I was hospitalized for anorexia as a teenager, and I sat in group therapy and listened to the stories of everyone suffering from anorexia, it became very apparent that we all needed one thing in our lives: control. I remember a woman who would bring a box of Teddy Grahams to each meeting and chew them up and spit them out into a napkin; her husband was cheating on her. I remember a man who starved himself because his boss was a bully. And I remember the young girl my age who starved herself because her dad wouldn’t stop raping her.
Not everyone who is anorexic is getting raped, cheated on, or bullied. Those of us who suffer from this disorder have very personal reasons as to why anorexia crept into our brains and took over our lives. I allowed anorexia to take over my life when I was fourteen years old and I was unable to cope with the constant physical and mental abuse being inflicted on me by my mother. I had been abused by my mother my entire childhood and I was weary of the punches, the slaps, the torture, and the constant mental abuse she pummeled onto me on a daily basis. Anorexia crept into my life and took over my brain when I saw nothing but a dark, abusive tunnel ahead of me with no light at the end.
I may not have been able to control my mother, I may have not been able to control what she did to my body or control the horrible words that came out of her mouth; but I could control those numbers on the scale and I could control what went into MY mouth. Anorexia wasn’t about getting skinny; it was about feeling powerful about some part of my life. I’ll never forget my early days of anorexia and lying in bed at night, hearing my stomach rumble from a lack of food. I absolutely loved that rumble because it took my mind off of the pain from my latest beating and it made me feel some control over my own body.
Sometimes; when everything in my life seems to be falling apart, I restrict food because I know it’s my quick fix. I know that when I feel that familiar rumble in my stomach, I won’t focus on my other pain quite so much. Some people take a drink to deal with pain; I skip breakfast, lunch and dinner. Different strokes for different folks, I guess.
But that’s not how life works; every time something gets hard, it’s not acceptable to inflict pain on ourselves because of it. We are shortchanging ourselves and those who love us each time we allow anorexia to creep back into our brains. We can take control of our lives without punishing our bodies at the same time.
Those of you reading this who are adult anorexics like me—I understand. I understand that there will always be relapses because anorexia is like a computer virus that infects our brains and we never get the anti-virus. I understand that the first thing we think of when things are rough is restricting food and starving ourselves. I understand that many of us have silent battles in our heads when we sit down to a meal and feel shame when we put food into our mouths. I understand that in a world of unknowns, anorexia is a known. Anorexia was our shelter in our time of need, and continues to provide a roof over our head for us as adults.
But you know what I’ve learned and what has helped me? If I allow myself to be vulnerable, trusting, and use people to comfort me or help me instead of focusing on food, I can have an easier day and maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to eat dinner that night. If I allow myself to feel and experience every emotion that comes my way, I might be able to look at myself in the mirror the next day. I’ve learned to throw away the scale and never think about what number I am. I’ve learned that healthy exercise helps keep my anorexic thoughts at bay and that a support network is an absolute necessity. Anorexia is not something that you can conquer alone and it is not something that you can battle by yourself.
To those of you suffering—please remember that nobody is perfect; we all have bad days, imperfections, and insecurities. We all have things that we cling onto throughout our lives for security; but anorexia should not be one of them. Remember it’s ok to not be in control; if I’ve learned anything about life; it’s that the universe has a funny way of working things out for all of us.