A Battle with an Eating Disorder
Author: Shannon Miller Lifestyle
Millions of people in the United States will struggle with an eating disorder, such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating, or other unspecified eating disorder at some point in their lives. Eating disorders are often misunderstood. They are serious illnesses not to be taken lightly.
In observation of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, we are sharing one woman’s personal story.
To respect the privacy of her family, this woman wishes to remain anonymous.
Tell SML a little background info about yourself.
I was raised in a family where achievement and one’s body weight were prioritized. If someone gained weight, they would immediately be put on a diet, or even paid to lose the weight. I was afraid of being publicly humiliated, of not being enough in life, and of being rejected. I was quite an inhibited child and young adult who experienced alarming levels of anxiety. This, combined with a family who loved me but didn’t always know how to show it, set me up to use addictions to numb the pain I felt inside. Bulimia, a form of compulsive overeating, was the most severe and dangerous addiction I have ever experienced. The insidious, shameful downward spiral of the disease seemed hopeless. While food is only an object, I felt it was my best friend. The disease isolated me and consumed my life. I tried to stop and could not. I was afraid of being alone for the rest of my life, bingeing and then throwing up in toilets or fields, or spending weekends sick from abusive laxative consumption. I felt that I had failed in college by not graduating with a high enough g.p.a. or going straight into a good job; by not making enough friends or finding a great boyfriend. I felt inferior compared to the intelligent and gifted students who surrounded me on the campus. The only identity I knew was being an outsider. It was a difficult prison to emerge from. I am grateful and amazed to say that eventually the recovery from this dreadful disease came, and I have been free from it for over 27-years. I have now been married for 22 years and am the proud mother of 4 grown children. My life is full with friendships, family and faith. Life is not easy; some days are emotionally hard, but I do not have to binge and purge to get through the day anymore. The fears of being alone for the rest of my life were unfounded. The enormous emptiness I used to feel has been filled with God. I wish for anyone who has a similar fear to realize it is just a fear, not something that will happen.
When did you initially realize that you had an eating disorder?
Though food control issues began in college, I realized it was an eating disorder the summer before my Senior year when I dieted all summer, blew it with one huge binge, and threw up the food. I had judged vomiters before that for doing something so absurd, now I had done the unthinkable. I determined to not do it again. It was a shock to not be able to stop and see how rapidly the bingeing and vomiting took over my life.
What were your initial thoughts when faced with recovery?
That it would not be very hard. For me, it was excruciatingly hard. I had to feel everything that was stuffed down and face life without my “old” best friend of food. Having to eat every day for nourishment presented such problems. It was not like I could just give up food totally.
How did you get through it?
I had to hit bottom before placing recovery from bulimia as the top priority of my life. The discomfort of the disease had to become greater than the discomfort of recovering. I received a grace in that the drug-like effect of numbing began to stop working. After two and a half years of trying to recover alone, and failing, I joined a 12-Step recovery group and went to meetings every day for the first year, then to meetings regularly for the next 4 years. I had to recognize triggers such as sugar and alcohol, and abstain from them for about 5 years. Most of all, I stopped trying to control my life, rather turning it over to the love and care of God.
Did you have any major setbacks or relapses?
Yes, in the beginning of going to the 12-Step groups, I would take a white chip and relapse before the next meeting. I was told to “keep coming back” and took them at their word, and I kept going back. I was told to choose a Sponsor carefully, someone who had actually accumulated some recovery. It took about six months of relapses before my recovery became secure.
What was the recovery process like for you?
It had to be the most important thing in my life. If traveling, I would go to a meeting out-of-town. If there was something else to do, forget it, I would go the meeting and do what it took to not binge and purge for that day. I felt a sadness or a grief a lot of the time that was uncomfortable and tempted me to use. I am thankful to have recovered with the groups, because I always had friends to call or go and do things with who understood and were also trying to recover. We had lots of fun times during those years of recovery.
What’s one thing you would pass on to someone currently struggling with an eating disorder?
You don’t have to do this alone. Second, you are not hopeless – there can and will be recovery, a big and new life ahead of you with fullness in relationships, people to love and who will love you back. Though you may not be able to imagine it now, you have another purpose, and it’s not your eating disorder. Please tell someone about your secret or find a local support group.
Anything you’d like to add?
It’s okay to fail, to be slow learner, to not meet others’ expectations. It’s hard to find out who you are in this world and life without one’s eating disorder will be scary for a while. Go easy on yourself, if you can. My prayer for you is that you will one day be thankful for the way your eating disorder taught you it’s okay to be weak, for in weakness is great strength.
For more information on eating disorders, recovery, or if you or someone you care about is currently struggling with an eating disorder, please contact the National Eating Disorder Association for help and support.
The Change a Life Spotlight is a new feature which will focus on an individual’s battle.
- Battles with life threatening and life changing illnesses and disorders.
- Battles that may stay with someone for their entire life.
The mission of this SML feature is to bring light and hope to those suffering with these illnesses and disorders. If you are currently struggling or recovering from such an illness or disorder, and would like to share your story, please send it to Liz of the Shannon Miller Lifestyle team. You may remain completely anonymous, and you may be helping many others.