|A Drawing by the Author|
I struggled with bulimia for a long time. I was sent to the Renfrew Center in Florida, an eating disorder (ED) residential treatment center, for a month, struggling to gain control of my life again. The thing about an eating disorder, I learned, is that it will creep up on you.
You’ll start off completely in control. Maybe your reasoning will be to lose a little weight. It couldn't hurt to lose a few pounds, right? Everyone in the magazines look so much better than you think you do. It’ll start out slow, maybe by cutting out snacks and junk food. It’ll go on like that for a while. That’s okay, though. It could even be healthy. Only if you stop there. Then that might be too easy. Too little. Maybe just skip breakfast. Who has time for that anyway? One day, you might wake up hungry, but you've been doing so well, so why stop now? It’ll keep going like that, slowly more food will be cut out, more meals. When people ask, you tell them you aren't hungry. Well, maybe you are, but you’re so used to the hunger by now it barely bothers you. People may start to notice, but you’ll just lie. Tell them you've already eaten or you’ll eat when you get home.
Someone may compliment the way you look, but if you were insecure before, that’s absolutely nothing compared to how you feel now. Every little compliment is a lie, an insult. Some people may adopt a wardrobe filled with baggy t-shirts and sweats while others may wear whatever fits them. It doesn't matter what you wear, though. Every time you look in a mirror you’ll immediately point out your flaws, whether they be real or a distorted image from your mind. The only way to make yourself better is to continue on the same path.
Even at this point, something like that could never happen to you, right? Sure, you've heard all about eating disorders, but you’re completely in control... right?
You’ll start to push people away. It’s just you and ED. No one understands or cares. People keep lying, telling you how amazing you are, but that can’t possibly be true. You may feel lonely all the time, but it’s better than being with people who are trying to make you feel ‘better’. Pushing people away becomes the only way to hold onto your addiction. What you are now is just a shell of what you once were. A shadow. No matter what happens, you have changed. You don’t know who you are without ED. You don’t know what to do with yourself, because it’s become your whole life - the lying, isolating, crying, dizziness, fatigue - it’s natural, familiar, comfortable even.
Maybe you’ll want to stop one day, but you realize that you aren't in control. You haven’t been in a long time. It’s an addiction you never would have thought you’d have. You need help.
Many people do eventually find the courage and will to admit to themselves and others that they do indeed have an eating disorder, although coming to terms with the fact is incredibly difficult, and often people will go their entire lives denying it.
Once a person has been put into therapy, even if they still deny having an eating disorder, it is much easier (although still extremely difficult) to recover.
This is only one example of what could happen with one specific kind of eating disorder (Anorexia Nervosa). There are many others including Bulimia Nervosa (purging), emotional eating (eating when emotions get too strong), EDNOS (eating disorder not otherwise specified) and overeating There is no disorder that is ‘worse’ or ‘better’ for a person. They are all different, but just as deadly. Eating disorders don’t have a set scenario. There’s no script it follows or warning signs that you’ll get. They all have a few things in common, though. They take time and slowly grow, taking over. Once a person has started, it’s nearly impossible to stop without help. Even when a person has recovered, there will always be that piece of them, no matter how small, that wants to relapse. Addictions come in so many different forms and are incredibly difficult to recover from.
Often, eating disorders stem from emotional instability whether it be depression, feelings from trauma, anger, insecurity or something much smaller. Whatever the event or emotion that triggers the ED is, it’s important to process what’s going on and how to deal with the emotion as opposed to losing yourself to an addiction.
I am not going to write about my recovery because I am nowhere near recovered despite the fact that I went to a treatment center. It doesn't matter where I go or for how long. Recovery comes from within and there will always be times when I want to relapse and times when there’s no doubt I will. It takes years of fighting to overcome the demon. I can decide to recover one day, but without fighting, the decision means nothing.
Recovery is definitely possible although it is never easy.