Growing up there was always a tension in my relationship with food. At 12, I was living with patterns of disordered eating, cutting out food groups or excessively working out. It’s hard to look back and say all of my teen years & my early 20s I worried more about my weight than enjoying myself. The 6 years I lived with bulimia all seem like a blur now; everything at the beginning seemed to move so fast (that or I’ve blocked it out) but the first time I was sick always sticks with me. At the time, I studied art at college and was approaching 18. I had gained some weight, only noticeable in the chest & I didn’t care. I was enjoying my social life, I went for dinner with friends & out to clubs, it was a load of fun and I felt pleased with my appearance. I was on a lunch break and a few comments were made like “Nads will eat it” and I thought… would I? Have I really put that much weight on? I went home after college and entered the beginning of the trap. I weighed myself.
Looking back, my weight was nothing, but it felt like the end of the world. My mind raced and tonnes of toxic thoughts took over. Is this how they see me? How could I let myself gain this weight? It’s going to get worse. I shouldn’t have eaten that lunch, I’ll skip it tomorrow. Everyone is noticing. I’ve let myself down. I need to change. I can see the difference in my face already! With my eyes filling up, I sat on the floor and let these thoughts consume my being. I sobbed, I whaled, I worked myself up so much that I felt physically ill. I could feel a hot wave of nausea rising up my body; I grabbed the bin in the room and was sick.
Just let it out, you have to get it out of you. I kept telling myself. After this had happened, I stepped back on the scale… YES! Back to my normal weight! Oh, that’s cool… I only have to do this once a week and then I won’t gain any weight. Little did I know it would take over my life and make me want to kill myself. It became my daily obsession, I would sometimes weigh myself 15+ times a day and if I didn’t, my world was ending. I couldn’t go to work, college or out with friends because I was on a tight schedule with the kitchen, toilet and scales. It was a routine I had built myself that I had no intention of breaking.
I spent the first 2 years of bulimia in denial.
There was nothing wrong with me. As far as anyone knew I was ok, I had a great appetite, I could eat loads and nothing had changed except those weird sounds coming from the bathroom after dinner. My parents had suspicions and would question me now and then but I could pass it off as something else. “God mum, you know I have acid reflux! It makes me be sick. I have medication for it now, it will go soon” would be my main snap back whenever they were snooping. They bought it. I’d silently cheer for myself as I got away with this lifestyle until the next questioning.
At the time I never wanted to admit it. I knew it would mean it would be over and I was scared about that. Who would I be? What would I look like if I wasn’t bulimic? Bulimia for me was such a love-hate relationship. I loved that I didn’t gain weight and that everyone saw me as the same person, but I hated the control it had over my life. I hated the crippling OCD, body dysmorphia, the tooth cracks and hair loss but at the same time, it all seemed worth it.
It took 6 years to start getting myself out of the darkness I had found myself in.
I’m really happy to say I’m in my second year of recovery now. The damage I caused to my body is starting to fade and parts of me are still repairing but we’re going to get there.
- My hair stopped falling out and is growing beautifully
- My teeth aren’t weak and don’t crack anymore
- I can go every day of the week without needing 3 naps a day
- I sleep at night
- No more acid reflux
- No more torn or bleeding oesophagus
- No more body pain or muscle spasms from poor circulation
- Sex drive is back
- No puffy cheeks or constant bloat
- No more dry, red & burnt fingers and knuckles
There’s so much about recovery that doctors don’t tell you about; things that you have to find out for yourself, things that you will and need to feel.
No one tells you that you might try and control another aspect of your life – you may start drinking alcohol, spending more money or dabbling with drugs in a way to both fill the void and gain control. No one tells you that you will mourn the eating disorder you’ve just parted with, you’ll miss it and those quick fixes but in this, you will remember the pain and I hope you will choose the stronger side of you. It’s a constant fight of pushing those bad thoughts aside and saying “F*** it! I can be free from this and I can choose which part of me is going to take over in this current moment”.
It’s important to not put harsh and unrealistic expectations on yourself. Healing isn’t linear and recovery is both free-flowing and constant. Even now at a healthy weight and with a more relaxed relationship with food, I know it will never be the same again. The difference now is I’m now in control of my illness. My bulimia no longer dictates my actions or my feelings towards myself, it doesn’t get a say. Why should it?! I’m now able to pull myself out of these dark moments, moments where I think, Give in! Give yourself to it. Make it easier for yourself.
You’re not alone, it’s just new.
When I started recovery, I felt so bare and empty. I honestly didn’t know what to do with myself and I kept thinking, Why isn’t this easier? Like I got told it would be. I don’t want to romanticise my life with an eating disorder, but I did miss it. I missed being so intensively in control of something in my life and channelling the OCD and anxiety into something. No doctor or therapist told me that I would spend hours crying over a conversation I had 3 days prior or social situations that I felt overwhelming. Instead, I felt my recovery was aimed more at being a healthy weight, which is great and is definitely needed but I would have liked a warning about the rest. My treatment was extremely focused on weight gain and my obsession with weighing myself. When this started to become less of an issue, I felt left to deal with the backlog of my past trauma. I shortly left treatment & went it alone.
This was a personal preference – if you’re in treatment and things are going well, stick with it.
When I was able to take a step back and see the bigger picture, I saw lots of things that were overlooked.
Like the people around me were being deeply affected. The years of denial and repetitive harmful behaviour are frustrating to those around you. Those around you see you decline and deteriorate, and we become angry in a way to defend and protect our actions. We lash out on those we love – we hurt them with our words and our actions, so we can protect our eating disorder. All the while knowing, deep down what we’re doing is destroying us. I put my mum through hell and even now, 2 years into recovery, I’m greeted with unshakable guilt. I was young when I was suffering and so were the people around me, it was new to all of us. My parents hadn’t dealt with this before and I put an emotional strain on them. I’m gutted that there was no help given to those around me during this time. This was their recovery as much as it is mine.
As time has gone on I’ve come to realise the importance of fighting these feelings of guilt.
It doesn’t benefit me, my recovery or those around me. All it does is bring me back into a cycle of self-loathing. I spent so much time, both inside my eating disorder and in recovery feeling indebted and like a burden to those around me. I would isolate myself from my family and this was nothing but detrimental to my recovery process. This feeling – feeling like you’re a burden is the reason so many people stay silent and don’t talk out about their mental health; it can lead you down a very dangerous path.
It’s not shameful that you’ve hated your body; it’s not shameful that you have been weak and need professional help. If you are able to speak to a therapist about your current or past situation then please do so. It is extremely important to seek professional help and I would encourage anyone suffering to speak to someone and to never feel guilty about doing so. I understand that there is a lack of funding for mental health so this is not always possible to some, so please speak to those around you. I promise you, your loved ones would rather you speak to them then lose you because you suffered in silence and slowly spiralled downward.
You are not a burden, you are not too much. You’re human – someone that makes mistakes and someone who is learning daily. Everyone deserves the chance to recover; everyone deserves to be heard and to have support.
Recovery is a daily battle and although you may not be “cured” you can be stronger than the voice inside your head.
Written by Nadia Luongo (@nadialuongo)
DON’T SUFFER IN SILENCE
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