It’s difficult to explain the excruciating pain of an eating disorder to someone who doesn’t understand.
Respectively years and months into treatment, my friends and I sat talking about how far we had come, how bad it had been at one point in order for us to seek treatment. How sad it is that many people continue to perpetuate negative stereotypes of the disorder from sheer ignorance.
As painful and triggering as it sometimes may be to tell my story, I know its power. To shock and inform and create a sense of empathy that ultimately dispels the shroud of lies that protects our culture from really seeing this terrible disorder for what it is.
So here goes.
My eating disorder was my coping tool. My protector. A numbing agent. I shoved down food the way I shoved down feelings. The anger, sadness, loneliness I felt were all too consuming so instead of choosing to feel them, I preoccupied my mind with the numbing comfort of food, knowing full well that it was fleeting. That at a certain point, my stomach would groan in protest, and I wouldn’t be able to shove more down. The shame of what I had just done would begin to settle in, replacing the numbness, and I would need to purge.
I still remember certain days, extreme binges, very clearly. As if they are burned into my brain. I remember deciding on my ride home how what I was going to binge on after being explicitly told at work that my nose ring made me look unprofessional. I made and ate an entire batch of mac and cheese only to ten minutes later see it all floating in my toilet, along with a bag of cookies and candy. I remember being so determined to make sure there was nothing left of the binge. Crying, in part from the pain of what had happened earlier that day and in part from the knowledge of what I was doing to myself. It was the first time my vomit contained blood.
At my worst, the week before starting treatment when I was no longer working, I was binging and purging up to seven times in day. I had chronic pain in my side from in purging, so bad that I couldn’t lie on the right side of my body and it hurt to laugh and cough. Real meals were not happening, and if they did, I purged those as well out of shame and confusion. I would lie all day in bed, watching TV, eating, sleeping, crying. The only times I left my apartment were to go get more food to binge on. I would stumble out, my body week and trembling, the ground spinning beneath my feet as I was suddenly aware of the challenge that walking in a straight line had become.
I knew I needed treatment. I would lie in bed and think how did it get this bad? And yet I felt chained to this pattern of behaviors. It felt like the only thing that was going to get me through the day, that would allow me to tolerate the unspeakable pain that I was feeling that was otherwise too much to bear. I had daily thoughts about ending my life, since it didn’t seem to be much of one anyway. I felt like a failure, an embarrassment to myself and my family, shame was everywhere.
I have so much compassion for myself during this time. Thinking that there was something wrong with me and trying to “fix” myself was entirely my motivation for seeking treatment. I had no idea that my disorder was the manifestation of years of suppression: suppression of feelings, my voice, and authentic self. A scratch that had become a gaping wound from being scratched at over and over again. It’s going to take some time for me to heal.
I’ve been in treatment now for four months. A drop in the bucket of my twenty-five years, but it’s easy to want to move faster. Thinking back to where I was when I first entered treatment, the seven binge/purge days, makes it easier to ground myself in the moment, to just be and be grateful for how far I’ve come. I never want to go back to that place, to the shame that consumed me and the dark thoughts that occupied my mind.
Having compassion for myself and fellow clients, and sharing that with others outside of the community, is enough to keep be present and motivated for now.