I don’t remember a lot about the first eleven years of my life. My memories begin when I was twelve when I first started to get sick. At the time I didn’t know the word Anorexia, but over the next 6 years my life would revolve around that very disease. Up until I turned eighteen I have relapsed and recovered… and relapsed… and recovered, beating the voices in my head bite by bite but never quite able to shake the demon off my back. It took 6 years of my life to build up my strength to finally kick my eating disorder to the curb (where it belongs). This leads me to today. Where I would describe myself as being in Strong Recovery.
I believe in recovery from an eating disorder. I believe there is the potential for everyone to have a life after Anorexia. But I also believe that Anorexia will never fully leave my brain. It reminds me of a parasite of degrees. A parasite that can be restrained but not destroyed. Throughout life it will bloom and wane, it’s up to me to control it, and each time I find the power to overcome it, I grow stronger. This is why I describe my recovery as Strong Recovery, because although the poisonous thoughts will never go away completely, I know that I am fully in control now.
For a long time I was petrified of letting go of anorexia. I felt safer when I was in relapse instead of recovery. The reality was that although the illness brainwashed me into thinking it would make me beautiful, and that it was keeping me safe from the world, it was doing nothing but killing me slowly. Through years of therapy and help from mental health services in psychiatric hospitals and in the community, I have explored the reasons why I developed an eating disorder.
When I was younger I struggled with family life, with friendships and with myself. I felt powerless in a world that seemed scary and turbulent. By restricting my food and shrinking my body, and with every kilogram that I lost, I felt more in control. My hunger numbed the pain swirling around my head, all my emotions had become far too intense to manage. That feeling of having control of my life and my pain was something I’d never experienced before and it became addictive. The smaller I shrank, the smaller I wanted to become. I wanted to be skinny enough. Not for society’s standards, not for the standards of my friends or family. It was my own standards that were so cruelly unrealistic that I wanted to meet. But no matter how much weight loss your eating disorder tells you is satisfactory, it will never be enough.
I turned into a bit of a monster when I was sick. I was awful to my parents, who could see me melting away right in front of their eyes. I was stuck in a thick denial. I was filled with anger. I didn’t care about anything except for losing weight. I sent myself down such a toxic path of self-destruction and my family and friends became collateral damage. The girl that screamed, cried and swore was not me, I was just an embodiment of anorexia. Although I know it was not my own fault, the way I behaved and treated the people who loved me while I was sick is still something I regret today.
But I am the most regretful of the way I treated myself. I put myself through agonising torture of starvation. I weeped with hunger pains. And I ached with weakness. All I really remember from my lowest moments of anorexia is being so cold and sore. I could shiver in a room that other people would sweat in. And I had a chain of bruises all down my back from where my spine would grate on plastic chairs at school.
All of these things for a happiness that wasn’t real. I destroyed my body for a peace of mind I never got.
To say that Anorexia is no longer a part of me, would do me a great injustice. Because Anorexia has greatly changed me. To call myself recovered would be saying I am the same person I was before I got sick. I am not. I am stronger. Through all the pain this illness has dragged me through, I am now colourful, articulate, passionate, deeply caring and empathetic, and wise. Anorexia has changed me, but now that I’ve freed myself from its tight grip, I can firmly say it’s been a personal revolution that ended in a victory for me.
I spent too many years when I should have been a normal teenager, having fun, tasting romance and acting out, trapped in a body that was malnourished and a life that was deficient in so many ways. At my worst, I remember hiding tubs of uneaten food, food that my parents thought I had eaten, under my bed. The day that my parents discovered what was under my bed, was also the first time I had ever seen my father cry. My actions were diseased. My thoughts were diseased. My words were diseased. Unfortunately, they infected the people I loved too. Now I realise that we spent too many years of suffering for the struggle to not be worth something beautiful. I am rewarded every day that I spend being healthy and happy now. Recovery has been such a wonderful gift.
I haven’t always seen recovery as an opportunity, though. At times it has felt more like a war. I remember people saying how quiet I used to be when I was unwell, there was none of my usual laughter and chatter. This was because every minute of everyday I was fighting with my eating disorder inside my head. Everytime I wanted an apple, or even just a glass of water, I could spend what felt like hours locked away inside my own head. My thoughts were a huge battle. Emma vs Anorexia. Even on the rare days I managed to allow myself some food that hadn’t been part Anorexia’s meticulous, bare plan, I still felt like I was bound in chains. Anything I ate, I had to repent for. Whether that was by exercising until I couldn’t stand up, making myself sick or self-harming. I inflicted so much punishment onto myself, even though now, in my logical mind I know that I was completely innocent. If anything, the only thing I deserved was some love.
Looking back, anorexia was like an abusive relationship. I thought that it loved me and that I would be nobody without it. Meanwhile, my friends and family were all pleading for me to see sense, they could see that all it was doing was killing me. But like all abusive relationships, the only person who can save you from the abuser is yourself.
I started to feed myself slowly, allowing my body to savour the fuel that I had deprived it from. And each day that I got bigger and stronger, Anorexia got smaller and weaker. The space that was once taken up by food, calories and kilograms is now full of laughter, ambition and joy. I’ve found myself again. When you recover from anorexia you gain so much more than weight. You find friends that care about you one hundred times more than your eating disorder. You gain focus and a passion for life. You start to feel again. The emotions that I used to be so afraid feel like sunshine. And now? I am living.
The future is bright.