I guess it is kind of incredible, I thought. I’d been struggling with bulimia, anorexia and general disordered habits around eating and exercise since I was 11 or 12 years old. And now, for the first time, at nearly 24 years old, I was sitting in a therapist’s office.
“Pat yourself on the back,” the therapist said. “ For finally getting here. And for doing so much of the healing on your own. That’s actually pretty incredible,” she said.
Am I sick?
I had never been hospitalized (let alone seen a real therapist) so on some level, I don’t think I ever believed I was truly “sick enough” to be worthy of recovery.
When my anorexia was at its peak, my BMI did put me in the underweight zone but I didn’t stay that low for long.
During most of high school, I appeared physically healthy. But my bulimia was worse than ever and I was obsessed with calorie counting. I’d send myself to the gym for hours and began the viscous cycle of demonizing certain foods. My eating disorder persisted in this way through most of college as well.
Then I graduated and things kind of just went on: ebbing and flowing, getting “better” for a bit and then getting worse again…
Through all of this, I didn’t want to have an eating disorder. But I didn’t exactly know how to admit to myself that I had one.
Then my grandma passed away. Through grieving for her, I started to look closer at myself and my life. I began the arduous journey of uncovering the person I used to be. The person that years of self-hate and self-abuse had buried.
It was on this journey that I started my website, Tallulahish. I also started talking more openly about my eating disorder and being more active about the process of real recovery.
At 23 years old, I came to what I never thought was possible: “real recovery”. I hadn’t purged in over two months and I was eating enough to fuel my active lifestyle.
It was then, after doing all of that work by myself, that I finally went to a therapist.
The decision to finally talk to a professional didn’t happen in one moment. There were a series of honest “oh-goodness-please-don’t-make-me-dig-that-out-from-under-the-rug” realizations that actually forced my fingers to dial her number.
The first came when a loved one actually suggested I talk to a professional about my history with eating disorders. I resisted. “I’m just so busy…” I said.
Then I realized a pattern I hadn’t seen before. I had not been to the dentist or the doctor in years because, “I’m too busy.” Busy doing what?
My job is fairly flexible and my bosses schedule time off for health and beauty appointments regularly. So why didn’t I go to a dentist or a doctor? Well, in the past, I was always too busy fitting my workouts and food plans into my day to schedule in much else. And I was too busy avoiding health care professionals out of fear of what they might notice or ask.
Another realization moment came at a concert. I’d decided I didn’t want another drink because I’d started to worry about the calories. My boyfriend didn’t know this, of course, and bought me one anyway while I was in the bathroom.
On another night, I’d have likely thanked him and danced on in happiness.
But on that night I fell into an isolating panic attack in the middle of a rock concert over some “wasted” calories.
I stared intensely at the stage to hide the tears welling in my eyes. My heart was racing, my hands had started to sweat, and every muscle in my body was stiff with anxiety.
As I started counting my breath in one, two, three, four, five and out one, two, three, four, five… I remember thinking clearly and plainly:
I don’t want this. Crying over calories at a concert is not okay. This isn’t full recovery yet.
Fully recovered? – not yet
Moments like this one kept collecting in the back of my mind until I had no choice but to admit I was not living the recovery I needed.
No, not yet.
My relationship with food and exercise was still keeping me from living a normal life. It was keeping me from living my life.
Even if I wasn’t actively binging, purging, or starving myself, I was still living in fear of falling back into those habits. And that didn’t feel like recovery.
When looking at all that fear – the fear I’d spent over ten years fighting alone, the fear that I knew I was ready to let go and strong enough to beat – I knew that the final piece to unlocking my real and true recovery was asking for help.
I’d never asked for help before. I’d never given up control over my own fears. But sometime’s it’s just too much to carry them all on your own.
And that’s what therapists and communities like Recovery Warriors are for.
Needing a support system doesn’t make you any less strong. It just makes your strength more accessible. It brings it to the surface, so you don’t have to work so hard at healing yourself.