Today, I am a motivational speaker for Eating Disorder recovery, I am writing a book about Hypothalamic Amenorrhea and disorder eating, and I am about to start co-facilitating an eating disorder recovery group for teenagers. Today, I am leading a life worth living. It is my mantra in life – to lead a life worth living. Thus, to tell you all my story, the only way I felt I could do so was to incorporate bits and pieces from my speech I give several times a year at “Hope and Inspiration” – a program where recovered people speak to those who may be struggling in some way to give them none other than “hope and inspiration.” Here we go…
Hope & Inspiration
Once upon a time, I was a very happy girl. I was content with life. Did I always love how my body looked? No. But on a day-to-day basis I was happy. I looked at pictures and I saw life, experiences, relationships, and joy. I did not see the size of my clothes or judge my appearance.
Going into my sophomore year of high school, I decided to lose weight. It was not about being the ideal body type, it was not for anyone else, it was not used as an unhealthy coping skill, at least at first. Rather, it was about leading a “healthy” lifestyle. Eating well-balanced meals and becoming more fit. There were lots of different areas to change but restricting was not an option. Some things were cut and some things were eaten more sparingly but all in all, it was done in a healthy manner and I lost weight, became more fit and felt healthy and alive. Maybe because at that point, I was not losing weight uncontrollably, I was not starving myself. I was developing, a healthy relationship with food and exercise, or so I thought. Within a few months of my “dieting,” I had met my goal. I did not need to go any further. My body was getting what it needed, it and I was happy.
Happy picture time during a hard post…
But yet there was something inside of me that made it so I could not stop losing. “It” beamed with pride when people told me how great I looked and told me not to stop dieting! “It” was ED – and I listened. After all, ED told me that I could be thin, beautiful, and popular. ED also told me he could solve my problems. He could help me feel in control of something, anything. When school became difficult, I turned to ED. When my mom, who had been sick for a long time, grew sicker, I turned to ED. When I had to take on adult responsibility at a young age, I turned to ED. He was there for me. He could help me, or so I believed. He made me feel in control of the things I could not control. He provided me a means of coping, albeit an unhealthy one. He made things better or so I thought. ED also told me that if I did what he said, all the boys would notice me and they did, well, they noticed my body anyway. So I listened to ED. ED told me what I could eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I was only allowed certain foods, certain amounts, and certain times. As the days stretched into months, this list of what I could eat and how much kept decreasing while the list of no-nos and scary foods increased at an alarming pace.
ED made me believe things were going well, while in reality things only grew worse as ED staked out his claim on me and overtook my life. My health and well-being were rapidly deteriorating. From rules about food, ED turned to rules about exercise. ED yelled at me to listen to him and told me what to do. He obsessed over numbers and his rules grew more intense and stricter. The once healthy relationship that I believed I had with food was gone. Instead, ED helped me develop an unhealthy relationship with food, exercise, and my body. I was miserable.
Here is where you usually see “the perfect body;” here is where you realize there is no such thing
ED was with me throughout high school – he came to Prom and enforced severe rules around meals. He was there when I was President of my Jewish Youth Group telling me the boys would only notice me if I looked a certain way and he was there when I went off to college requiring me to bring my trusty scale and “safe” foods. In college, ED remained slightly on the back burner for a while. I had found myself a wonderful man who loved me for me and while I still followed some of EDs rules, I was maintaining a healthier diet and had regained my health. That man, my future husband, helped me to relinquish control. He made me happy. He showed me that life was something to enjoy and cherish in the here and now. Being away from home and the demands of having adult responsibilities at a young age alleviated my need for ED. ED provided me with an unhealthy way to cope with those “not so fun” emotions. But I did not need him when I was free from life’s struggles and enjoying the moment.
It was not until I began planning my wedding during law school that ED came knocking, and I answered. You want to lose weight for your wedding? You are stressed about law school? Your mother-in-law has cancer? You are injured and can’t run – don’t worry I will help you said ED. Just like last time, I did not have the healthy coping skills in place to fight back when life hands you lemons. It was not my fault. I had never learned how to cope in a healthy manner and because I did not have these necessary skills, I turned to ED. He seemed to always know what to do. ED set up new rules – more severe than last time – after all this was serious – I was dealing with many stressful situations and had a lot of needs and did not know how to deal with them. ED went to work. He knew what to do, he knew how to solve my problems and did so through a variety of unhealthy behaviors. Once again, ED told me what I could eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and made sure to explain the consequences to my body and life if I disobeyed him. He also helped me reconnect with the trustee old scale and adjusted my food intake and workouts to obtain and stay at the “magic number.”
Love of my Life
My family was scared, I was scared, my husband was scared. ED had clearly taken over and it showed physically and mentally. Everyone noticed, everyone made comments. To make matters worse, I was not consuming enough fuel and therefore had no energy and was moody all the time. I remember catching a cold one day that my husband had the week before. My husband was sick for a day. I was sick for a week, my father thought I had a severe case of the flu I was so sick. I didn’t, I had ED.
ED and I continued our relationship for my entire three years of law school. I missed my wedding, trips to Florida, my honeymoon, dinners out with friends, lunch dates with my husband all because of ED. Don’t get me wrong, I was definitely present at my wedding and these other events. But so was ED. I could not truly live through the experience as he clouded my head. My life day in and day out was a constant struggle. I existed in a fog, always occupied by ED thoughts. It was impossible to concentrate. It was impossible to accomplish anything, unless ED was telling me to do or not do something. Either I was too tired or faint from lack of fuel or too consumed by ED’s demands to focus on anything else. In short, I was not living.
Honeymoon in Vegas! I could show you the full picture here and then you could compare. But truth is that does not help
On a basic day, life would revolve around ED and my awful state of starvation. If we wanted to do something or go somewhere, I had to know exactly what foods were available and when we would be eating. If it was not the right foods at the right times, I would not go or I would go feeling anxious and upset the entire time. My husband, who was often with me, would also be uncomfortable and not know what to do. Others would ask questions. My husband would feel like he had failed me. He had not, he never did, it was impossible for him to help, ED had me in his grasps.
Every day ED took up all my time and energy. It was frustrating, exhausting, agonizing and upsetting. I would send my husband about 100 emails a day discussing each meal and what I could and could not eat. I could not concentrate on my schoolwork and was distracted all the time. To make matters worse, I was grumpy and irritable. I would snap at my husband, father, and friends – then feel “guilty” and come crawling back for mercy.
My relationships deteriorated. My husband and friends tried to help. One night in particular we went out for dinner. ED was letting me eat a little but only a little. My friend and husband pushed me to eat more. The waitress came, she asked if I was done. I said yes. My husband and friend said no and pushed me to just take a few more bites. I have seen people plead, bargain, and bribe me to provide my body with the nutrients it needs, wants and deserves. Nothing worked. I was hurting myself and those around me and I hated every minute it of it. But there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. I knew what needed to be done, I knew I just needed to walk over to the kitchen and get some food but there was something stopping me. I was hungry, I was STARVING, but something made me stop, again that something was ED.
After law school, I studied for the bar exam. After the bar exam, my therapist approached me. Throughout my struggles I did have a wonderful outpatient team. They stood by me, helping me as much as they could. But I needed more. They only saw me once a week at best and I was with ED 24/7. After the bar exam, my therapist sat me down and handed me pamphlets for a program. I sat there stoically as she talked – I felt sick to my stomach. ED told me I could not go to this place that all my biggest fears would come true if I went there. I would not go to this place I thought as my therapist talked, what did she know? I could take care of this problem on my own, who needs her right?
This woman saved my life. That day I went home to talk to my husband. I cried. I told him I did not want to go. That I had too much to do – after all I had a marathon to train for (even though there would always be another one) and law to practice (even though I did not have a job or school). We agreed, I would try myself and then talk to my therapist in two weeks. I tried. But I needed more. It was not my fault, it is not your fault or your family’s fault. ED is very VERY strong.
You can be stronger, happier, healthier
We went back to the therapist. She talked to us about the program and we decided to call and set up a consultation. The weekend before the consultation I was sick with the idea of going to get help. ED kept telling me it would all be over once I was there and that I needed to have one last hurrah – we went to the Cape. I gave into every order ED told me to do. It was the most self-destructive I had ever been but I was so scared, nervous, and sick to my stomach. I was scared to lose ED and his rules. ED was my life, my comfort. I could not image the world without him. How would I cope? I needed ED to maintain control. I could not go on without him I thought. So I did everything I could to avoid the inevitable even calling and postponing the appointment due to illness. But after all that, I went to the consultation.
On my first day in program, they told me I could no longer listen to ED’s demands and have my ED behaviors – exercise and restrictive behaviors were no longer an option. I was killing myself and this needed to change. They told me no exercise. I told them I could go a day without exercise – I went 7 weeks and only returned when I was ready to do so in a healthy manner. They told me I would have to eat, I told them Go to hell. Today I eat 3 full meals a day and 3 snacks. They told me I could recover, I told them I had nothing to recover from. Today, I am recovered. Today I live without ED. Today I live a life worth living.
A Life Worth Living
This is not the end of the story. This is background. The story starts here, when I truly began to live. I hope to share this portion of the story with you next. To show you life got better, much, much better now that I live without ED. But I want to hear from you? Shall I go on? Do you want the rest of the story? How much does this interest you? Can this help you?