In today's guest post, Jen from Semi-Charmed Wife shares with us her story of recovery from "refunding" and anorexia, and what those EDs really meant to her. I remember back in my late 20's my friends and I would call bulimia the "debit and credit" diet. It's interesting how money terms can be used as metaphors to describe eating issues. There's kind of a synergy there I suppose.
Jen's blog is a great place to hang out because like me she focuses on the bigger picture of life, and that our experiences both good and painful are here to help us grow and evolve. Jen likes to help others find their life purpose and live their dreams. In the process, she shares her own experiences of finding meaning and passion in this place called life.
Jen shares with us today when and how her eating disorder issues started, and how over a 10 year period she has come to a place of recovery that can be an inspiration to others.
Update: I'm so excited! Jen's picture is highlighted in a NYTimes article about the BlogHer 08 conference. Woo-hoo!
It started just before my 17th birthday. My best
friend Christina was working at an ice cream shop. As you might imagine, the
job entailed confronting a veritable smorgasbord of frozen delights for eight
hours at a stretch. She gained 5 pounds during her first week on the job. She
was horrified—she loved the job and needed the money, but couldn’t handle the
constant temptation and the resulting weight gain.
One afternoon, Christina called me to tell me that she’d
discovered the perfect solution. She could eat all she wanted and simply
“refund” it later. (Yes, you guessed correctly—that was our euphemism for the
act of purging.) I didn’t know it at the time, but that phone call would
catapult me into a decade-long battle with eating disorders.
Christina saw “refunding” as a weight loss tool and was able
to walk away from it when she found out it wasn’t that effective. It was always
much more than that for me. First and foremost, it was a self-punishment
mechanism. I knew that I was weak, greedy, selfish, and overall, a rotten
person. If I enjoyed a meal, I had to make myself suffer for it later because I
didn’t deserve to feel good. (This led to a mental phenomenon wherein I always
expected something good to be followed immediately by something catastrophically
bad. It took years to overcome that way of thinking.)
My disordered eating evolved into a way of taking control.
That’s when I slid down the slippery slope from bulimia to anorexia. I didn’t
have to eat anything. I controlled my
food intake—me and me alone. I starved myself down to 118 pounds, which at 5’9”
is virtually skeletal. My hair fell out. My periods stopped. My parents were
terrified. Still I refused to eat. A part of me felt gratified that all the
pain I felt on the inside was finally visible to others. See, I wanted to shout, see
how much I’m suffering!
The turning point came on my 27th birthday. I
realized that eating disorders had stolen a decade of my life. How much money
had I spent on food that never had the chance to nourish my body? How many
dinners and social events had I avoided because I was on 200 calories per day
and couldn’t stand the smell of food? How many lies had I told to cover for
myself? How many people had I hurt? That’s
it, I thought. No more. I thought
I could just turn it off, like flipping a light switch. Ah, if only it were
To anyone who’s ever thought that eating disorders are a
sign of weakness—after all, why can’t you just stop (or start, as the case may
be) eating—I’d like to say this: recovering from an eating disorder is the
hardest mental, physical, and emotional work you will ever do. Imagine telling
a heroin addict that he must shoot up
three times per day, but only a little
bit. Imagine telling an alcoholic that she must have one beer with every meal. Imagine telling a compulsive
gambler that he must play the horses
every day, but only three $5 bets. Alcoholics, drug addicts, and gamblers can totally abstain from their drug of
choice. Disordered eaters can never, ever get away from it.
When I made the decision to get better, I thought that
“recovery” was a place I’d eventually get to, a physical state of being that I
could achieve. I was so wrong. Recovery is a lifelong process. Recovery is
waking up every day and making the decision to be healthy. Recovery is learning
how to feel again. Recovery is falling down and getting back up again, time
after time. Recovery is getting to know—and more importantly, love—yourself. Recovery is the most
blessed, most beautiful, most freeing journey I’ve ever taken.
If you’re in the “maintenance” phase of recovery, I’d like
to offer a piece of advice that has been a huge help for me. If you slip, don’t
immediately jump on the blame train and start beating yourself up. Look at your
relapses as a barometer for your emotional wellness, an early warning system
that something’s not right. What’s going on in your life that has you stressed,
angry, frustrated, sad, or restless? What can you do about it? You can actually
use those episodes as tools for
self-discovery and transformation.
Oh, and never give up on recovery. I promise, it will get better—just never, ever give up.