There were a lot of reasons for me to quit eating. As the youngest in my family, I often expected my body to elongate and grow in the same way that my older sister’s did. This belief that my body should be three-years ahead of its own development was reinforced by my mom who would constantly make comparisons between me and my sister.
I was also deeply entrenched in baton, ballet, gymnastics and other styles of dance. I became so focused on dance, I ended up being tutored at home to allow for three, three-hour practice sessions seven days each week.
My focus on dance necessitated that I watch what I eat in order to keep my body from burgeoning outward into flubbery oblivion.
I was also mentally and physically abused by my mother and older sister. My father ignored me. I was painfully shy and didn’t have a lot of friends. Sadly I never felt as though I fit into society’s narrow vision of what beauty is…the list of reasons goes on and on.
The thing is though, there was only one reason why I quit eating – I hated myself.
Dark night of the (young) soul
From a very early age, I struggled with depression.
When I say “a very early age” I mean to say that at 8-years- old, I began to formulate a plan to end my life.
It felt like there was a lot wrong in the world and in my life and I believed that I was 100% the problem.
There were two problems with my grand suicide scheme. The first was that I had a cat named Samantha whom I couldn’t bear to leave behind. The second was that I was scared. Samantha and my fear kept me from taking my own life, but they didn’t stop me from hating myself.
Instead, my fear of ending my life only made me despise myself that much more. Without what, in my mind, I termed “the final solution” (I read a lot of WWII books – I was a very serious child), I found a way to wrestle with and harm myself without actually ending my life.
Periodically, I’d stop eating.
It started that I wouldn’t eat breakfast.
I’d take my lunch to school (I did attend regular school until I was in fifth grade) and I would throw it in the garbage, or trade it away for an afternoon of friendship. Then I’d come home and eat as little of my dinner as I could get away with.
It’s difficult to rationalize now, why I let this demon take root in my body and manifest itself as the bones protruding through my skin.
I do know, however, that is exactly what disordered eating was in my life – a demon.
As time went on, I ate less and less and found true comfort and companionship in my hollow and empty gut. For me, it was the pain of not eating that I relished. I wasn’t particularly concerned with how my body looked. It was the company of pain that I became addicted too.
And a reversal
My story doesn’t involve some a-ha moment where my disordered eating was discovered. There was no life-saving intervention. Truth to tell you, no-one even seemed to notice that I didn’t eat all that much.
People did notice that I was thin. My friends would often comment on how skinny I was.
This was like a badge of triumph to me. It showed how successfully disciplined I’d been and how just I’d been in doling out punishment to myself.
Of course, if my mom or sister heard anyone call me thin, skinny, or anything close to svelte, they’d be quick to correct them. The women in my immediate family have always been quick to have body dysmorphia on my behalf.
Yet, there was no big event which lead me to start eating, I just did it.
I ate, and I ate, and I ate. I ate a lot.
Instead of hurting myself by not eating, I began giving into my every whim. Pretty much all of my whims involved fries, chicken nuggets, burgers, food-court Chinese food. Really anything greasy, salty or deep fried.
It got to the point where I would order two lunches and two dinners while pretending that one of the meals was for a friend.
Because I’ve always been extremely active, rather than gain weight, I kind of just filled into what a “normal” woman looks like as I filled my face with whatever I could get my hands on.
I’m not even overstating things a little bit.
When I entered university, there were entire weeks when I wouldn’t leave the house. I’d lay on the couch and watch movies while I ate whatever I could get my hands on. The second I ran out of food, I’d get more.
A “magical” change
My life has a message and is a testament to the fact that things change. Whether you are struggling with an eating disorder, secretly harming yourself, or contemplating the end of your life, I want you to know that things change.
Really and truly.
In retrospect, my recovery seems almost magical. In my mind’s eye, it’s like I snapped my fingers and BAM! I was fine.
When I dig deeper however, I feel a mental resistance to thinking about what was going on inside of my from the age of 8 to about 25. My brain has built some sort of coping mechanism that encourages me to gloss over a significant part of my history and development.
The part it is glossing over is all of the work I did to turn things around for myself.
I want to believe that my story is unique in that I didn’t have a lot of people I could rely on. I hope that everyone has a family who notices that they’ve stopped eating, or that they’re so profoundly depressed they’ve begun planning their suicide when they’re just eight-years- old. I hope that for all of you.
If you don’t have anyone like that in your life, however, I want you to know that you still have enough – you have yourself. You are worth more than punishment, pain, tumult and toil. I promise you.
This realization didn’t come to me in one huge moment of inspiration and clarity. Instead, it came to me in drips and drabs which all culminated in a decision to try.
The thing that I was trying for was a version of my life that was better than the one that I was currently living.
For me, the only logical way to find “better” was to change myself. It didn’t matter where I went, what I did, how I hurt myself or how I indulged. No matter what I did, I’d still be me. That meant that for things to change, I had to change.
To be clear, I don’t mean that I needed to change the things I liked, how I talked, or anything like that. What I mean is that I needed an internal shift.
I decided the catalyst for this internal shift would require the formation of new habits and go-to coping mechanisms.
To help myself develop these new mechanisms for coping, I visualized the old elastic band on your wrist technique.
It’s something people might do if they want to stop chewing their nails or something. They wear an elastic band around their wrist and each time they find themselves chomping away on their fingers they snap the elastic band.
I visualized this technique rather than putting it into practice because I’m pretty sure snapping the elastic band would have become the new coping mechanism.
When I found my internal dialogue drifting toward the taboo subject of my depression and perceived worthlessness, I’d use my visualized elastic band to slingshot the thought out of my mind. I’d deliberately replace the thought with something else – something outside of myself.
Slowly the thoughts that began to replace the negative and depressed thoughts in my mind, centered on Vancouver. That became my focal point, my goal and the next stepping-stone in my life.
To tell you the truth, I did relapse. All of joints in my body ached and I started growing patches of fine white hair on my shoulders and the small of my back (it was gross, they looked like mold).
Growing up in Calgary, I’d had the same friends for a long time, and obviously, my family didn’t change.
The stagnation in my social life meant that the people in my life had me pegged. They expected me to act in a certain way and these expectations threatened to force me to relapse into my old habits of coping with my depression.
It was a bad time and the final straw in making up my mind to leave.
I’d visited Vancouver a number of times and loved everything about the city. Moving there was something akin to a sleeping limb waking up, or the feeling you get after shifting positions when you’d been sitting still for too long. It just felt natural, intuitive and instinctual.
Moving to Vancouver was all of those things. It was also a way for me to shed the expectations that others had of me. For the first time, no-one placed me in a box of expectations. I was free to explore myself, develop myself and truly be who I wanted to be – the me that was buried down deeper than depression.
What happened since then?
It has been almost eight years since I left Calgary. Since then, I met the man I want to spend the rest of my life with and we’ve moved to Australia together.
I want to tell you that those 8 years have been blissful and that I’ve never struggled or stumbled. I also don’t want to lie to you.
Sometimes I feel sad. Other times I feel far more profoundly dark and hopeless than “sad” implies.
There are days when I hate myself and the body that I’m in. Sometimes my internal voice tells me that the only solution is to end it all and my mind races through a movie montage-like slideshow of all the different ways I could harm myself or end my life.
Now, however, the struggles are different.
Now, I know that I was right, there is another side to things.
I now know life changes and that it gets better. I know that it takes work to make things better, but I also know that the work is worth it.
That’s the message that I want to share. That’s what I want you to know.
And I love that this site is called Recovery Warriors. Because we are all warriors and the fight has always been worth it.
Image: Amy Goh