I’ve been going back and forth, debating whether I should write this post. I don’t even know right now if I’m actually going to publish this. But it deserves to be spoken, so if nothing else, it’s a space to process for myself.
As I write this, it is 3:10 pm on June 25th. I am currently sitting in the Cool Springs Starbucks (surprisingly good vibes) passing time before I go to treatment for the very last time.
After a very painful road, filled with fear, confusion, apathy, rage, and flat out denial, I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa when I went home for Christmas break this past December. I couldn’t believe it. There was no way I could possibly have an eating disorder, absolutely no way. I thought maybe I had a bit of a problem, but no part of me expected it to be as serious as it was.
That’s what happens when an eating disorder takes over your brain. Lies become truth, and truth becomes irrelevant. My perception of reality was drastically different than what it is now, and I still have a very long way to go. Despite being seriously underweight, I kept focusing only on what I saw as “flaws” that needed to be “fixed”. Deep down I knew I was sick, but I couldn’t change.
I was enslaved.
Without realizing it, my mind had been hijacked and flooded with false information, but in the most subtle of ways. I’ve always had a very loud, very convincing voice of toxic shame, it’s latest target being my body and self-image. The routine of restriction and over-exercising became my new normal, capturing 100% of my mental energy. I had no idea how to vocalize my hurt, so subconsciously I decided to show it through my body. My eating disorder numbed the immense emotions I never allowed myself to feel and provided a way to quiet my racing anxious thoughts.
Starvation is exhilarating and addicting in the most twisted of ways. While my body grew sicker and sicker, I felt increasingly more powerful and in control. I saw every physical warning signal my body sent me, screaming at me to stop, as proof I was “doing it right”. I mean how screwed up is that?
An eating disorder is a sinister creature. It continually tells its victim they’re not “sick enough” or their pain is not valid. It sees everyone else as either a threat to its existence, or a competitor in a game where no one is allowed to win. It is a companion through severe loneliness and depression. It offers protection, safety, predictability, comfort, and control. It gets people’s attention.
Man, I really hate admitting that last one, especially since our culture tells us that it’s not ok to have needs. But it’s the truth. And despite how much this next sentence makes me cringe and squirm in discomfort, it needs to be said.
I am super needy.
And I would bet that you are too. I hate it just as much as the next person. But I’m writing it in hopes that it will actually help me believe it’s ok. Still working on that one…
By some miracle, I was allowed to return to Vandy to finish out my senior year. I could not be more grateful to my parents for allowing that to happen, even though I’m sure it was not their first choice. However, after 6 weeks of trying, and failing, to recover in an outpatient setting, I was referred to a treatment facility and began their partial hospitalization program (PHP). Every weekday, from 8 am to 3 pm, I sat in an entirely beige colored room (exciting I know) and did the exact thing I had avoided for so long: feel my feelings and talk about them.
So simple, yet so difficult.
Needless to say, I HATED it for the first few weeks. It was my living hell. Putting words to my deepest fears, insecurities and shame with a group of strangers is awkward, to say the least. Having to eat (and eat A LOT) is uncomfortable and infuriating and truly miserable. Feeling weight cover bones and watching the scale increase every single morning is excruciating. And since my level of motivation changed every 2 seconds, I continued through a cycle of gaining and losing much longer than I would like to admit.
Luckily things began to change (very slowly), and after 7 weeks of PHP, I transitioned into the intensive outpatient level, just in time for finals and graduation. And yes, I did actually pass the one class I was in despite not going for over half the semester (PTL for Professor Chase for being the GOAT).
And here we are, 18 weeks later…
18 weeks of struggle and anger and sadness and fear. 18 weeks of insecurity and exhaustion. 18 weeks of doubt, skepticism and stubbornness. 18 weeks of confusion and conflicting desires and being overwhelmed by my emotions. 18 weeks of repeated discouragement and failure. 18 weeks of pure exhaustion.
But it was also… 18 weeks of incredible growth and wisdom. 18 weeks of connections and relationships and a community I never knew I needed. 18 weeks of feeling emotions I believed I wasn’t capable of feeling. 18 weeks of asking for help and admitting weakness. 18 weeks of learning how to be honest and vulnerable and to let people in.
And, most importantly, 18 weeks of experiencing God’s redemption and faithfulness like I never have before.
God’s work in my life has been powerful and encouraging in the pit of overwhelming hopelessness and confusion. He is revealing to me the glorious and liberating concept of grace. Grace I will never deserve. Grace which covers me anyway. Grace which transforms me into a new creation.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” – 2nd Corinthians 5:17
But don’t get me wrong, I still have A LOT of pent up anger and doubt.
Most days, I really hate recovery.
I hate having to continually defy the voice of sickness and suffer through the agony of properly feeding myself (Yes, I know how irrational that sounds). And don’t even get me started on the messages I get from outside my head… Eating disorders are glorified and flat out encouraged in our screwed up society. Plus, giving up control feels like I’m letting a 5 year old do surgery on my brain.
We all know how that’s gonna turn out.
Nevertheless, I have to face the reality of this next chapter without the built in support network and level of accountability I’ve been lucky enough to have for 4.5 months. That freaking terrifies me. I’m constantly anxious, uncertain and skeptical that my life will ever look different than it does right now.
And honestly, even though I know I’m going to regret writing this, I hate no longer having the body of starvation, while my mind is still very much in full-on starvation mode. It feels like shit. Being in this ambiguous middle area between sickness and life is so much harder than I ever imagined.
I once heard this described using an analogy of the ocean. The shore, where you’ve been stranded, is the starting line. The ocean, in all its power and unknown terror, stretches as far as the eye can see. You’ve been told there’s an island somewhere in the distance, but you can’t see it.
The waves gently flow over your feet, calling you into the ocean and away from the place you’ve been trapped for so long (cue Moana singing “How Far I’ll Go”).
You try several times to begin swimming, only to be pushed back to shore by the current. Finally, after many attempts, you make it into the ocean and begin to swim, often turning back to gaze at the shore wondering if you should turn back. It would be easier that way. The farther you travel, the stronger the waves crash around you. Every stroke requires greater energy than the one before it.
Suddenly, the shore is no longer in sight. Panicking, you squint your eyes to find the island that has been promised. But nothing is there.
While I admit this is a bit dramatic, it paints a pretty accurate picture of where I’m at right now. No longer on the shore, but nowhere close to the island. I’m just flailing and kicking, trying to stay afloat while continually being bombarded by waves of insecurity and anxiety.
I know that going back to the shore will only lead to more destruction and pain, but with no island in sight, how can I trust that it’s actually there? Was it all just a ploy to get me to leave the safety of the shore? Does this “freedom” that people talk about actually exist? I have no idea.
My time in treatment is over. Yet, much swimming is still required.
I wish I could get up, dust off my hands and walk away like nothing happened. Or attempt to paint this season of my life as “an illuminating experience where God taught me so much” and wrap it all up in a bow and make it look pretty. However, that’s not life. It’s never that simple.
But isn’t that also what makes each of our stories so beautiful?
The awe and wonder of surprise plot changes, the curiosity of undiscovered territory waiting to be found, the mystery of questions left unanswered. After all, the only ending that really matters is one that’s already been written.
“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” – C.S. Lewis