I love public speaking. It's part of why I've started writing again - it feels amazing to get thoughts out of my head and onto a page so that I can speak them or read them aloud. In both high school and college, I gave speeches about my eating disorder. During both, I believed that I was "recovered" or as recovered as I was ever going to be.
What I know now is that, at least for me, my eating disorder functions very similarly to an addiction. I am always in recovery. I am removing and managing; never fully recovered.
When I was 13, I had a size 10 shoe and was the same height and roughly the same weight as I am now at 30. I hit puberty early and remember gaining weight / filling out rapidly. I was never overweight by medical standards but I was slightly uncomfortable with going from a size 2 to a size 4 at my beloved Abercrombie & Fitch. At the same time, a boy in my class (who of course I had a crush on), grabbed the back on my arm one day and exclaimed how fat I was.
I do not blame him. There were a slew of other factors that contributed to what happened next. But I made an immediate decision to lose weight. I did a little research and cut out all simple carbohydrates and desserts. I started running, an activity which I had previously loathed and at which I had never excelled. I started weighing myself every morning and was delighted as the number started getting smaller. The compliments started rolling in and the achiever in me rejoiced.
Every afternoon I would come home from school, put on a bikini in front of a full length mirror in my room, and spend hours scrutinizing, pinching, and mentally comparing. I would fantasize about cutting off body parts like the insides of my thighs. I started a process of body checking, consisting touching my stomach, putting my knees together to see if my thighs touch, and looking to see how prominent my ribs and collar bone were.
I ran farther and more often. I added exercise videos that my mom had at home. I cut out more food groups and downsized my portions. Eventually, the scale was dropping about 1/2 a pound per day and I was eating 500-800 calories. The compliments turned into concern but I only heard the words "thin" and "skinny". Too skinny? No. Not yet.
My mom tried to reason with me but finally admitted defeat and took me to my doctor, a pediatrician who my mom actually worked for as a nurse. He was an amazing doctor and person who told me that my heart rate was so low that I was a high risk for a heart attack. I looked at him, stunned, and replied that fat people get heart attacks. He explained the bruises covering my body, the peach fuzz that had sprouted on my face to keep me warm, and the low heart rate indicating that my body was trying to protect itself from the threat of starvation.
Since my mom was a nurse and I didn't require a feeding tube, he gave the green light to a plan to have me "recover" and finish the final month of eighth grade from home. I had to stop running - which I agreed to and then started walking 10 miles a day. Then I had to stop that. I had to eat enough to gain weight, which I hated most days. Other days, the hunger would overcome me so fiercely that I remember digging through our trash for the final quarter of a Frappe my mom had tossed into the garbage.
But my weight stabilized and I taught myself a delicate balancing act of eating enough but not much while exercising a lot but not enough to alarm people. I was introduced to a family friend at a party that summer who responded, "oh you're the girl with anorexia, aren't you?". A piece of my identity clicked solidly into place.
In a recent therapy session, my counselor asked me to talk to my 13 year old self. Asked me what I would say - both to her now and what she would say to me. My immediate response was that she would be so disappointed in me. Almost 16 years later, I still stand in front of the mirror and struggle to decide whether or not I'm fatter or thinner than the day before. I vacillate back and forth between wanting to track every calorie that enters my mouth and deciding that no TODAY is the day that intuitive eating will work for me. My husband has conducted a virtual affair with a woman I do not view as attractive or fit... so doesn't that automatically mean that I'm not attractive or fit? The critical part of my brain views it all as failure, plain and simple.
But the compassionate part of my brain, the part I'm working every day to get more in touch with, sees that both of those girls, the 13 and the 30 year old me, is doing her best. She is a girl with anorexia, yes. But she is so much more than that.