National Eating Disorders Awareness Week
It's National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, February 24th to March 1st, 2020. This year's theme by the National Eating Disorder Association is "Come as You Are: Hindsight is 20/20." The goal of this years theme is to reflect on the postive steps taken towards accepting not only oneself, but others as well. As a culture, as a society, we have complex relationships with food, body image, appearance, and exercise. This pressure that society puts on us to fit within a cookie cutter mold is unrealistic and detrimental to the overall health and well-being of so many.
Upwards of 30 million Americans of all races, sexes, genders, ages, and socioeconomic statuses will fight the battle head on with a full-blown eating disorder, be it anorexia, ARFID, binge eating disorder, or bulimia. On top of that, millions more will face a battle with food and body image issues that have negative impacts on their lives. So many don't ask for help, don't acknowledge the problem, and are missing out on the help and support they need and deserve due to the stigma and stereotypes.
Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental health disorder. According to the National Eating Disorder Association, an individual will die as the result of an eating disorder approximately every 60 seconds. In being a part of the conversation, in speaking up, speaking out, we help raise awareness, debunk the myths, raise awareness, and help those suffering get the help they need to they may start their own journeys towards a healthier life, healing, and recovery.
"Come as You Are: Hindsight is 20/20."
"Come as you are" the way I interpret this, is come as you are, with all your perfect imperfections. Show up as your authentic self, with your own thoughts, opinions, ideas, like and dislikes. Come as you are, be who you are, put yourself first, love yourself, and get comfortable in your own skin. Just don't plan on staying as you are, because we all, always have room for growth. It reminds me to be myself, and that who I am, where I am in this moment in time, where I've been, where I'm going, it's all okay.
There is no right or wrong as to where I "should" be. In fact, I try to avoid shoulding all over myself, it's not helpful. I look at my own personal journey, I reflect, I take only what I need from my past, and let the rest be. Focusing on the positive steps I've taken for myself, celebrating all victories, no matter how big or small. Being mindful of the challenges and setbacks I have endured, and allowing them to be stepping stones to where I'm headed. All of these things helped me on my way to self acceptance, self love, finding my true voice, and the confidence that I once believed was lost forever.
Finding and Maintaining Recovery - My Journey
When I first spiraled into a full blown eating disorder I was only 12 years old. I had been in a traumatic, near death horseback riding accident. Life already had it's challenges prior to that night in late January when my life drastically changed. I had endured years of bullying due to my religion, socioeconomic status, choice of sport, clothing, and my appearance - kids were cruel. I had also suffered with chronic illness my entire life. Being sick for as long as I can remember, until my Celiac diagnosis when I was 7 years old. Later other chronic illnesses were diagnosed, however they didn't come into fruition until after my eating disorder. Anorexia, with restricting and purging tendencies. I can remember how it started, I just wanted the pain to stop, the nasty words from my peers to not seem so loud, the flashbacks from trauma to go away, and to feel like I had control over something in my life.
I can remember it starting slow, I never ate breakfast so no questions were ever asked in that regard. I went to school and would hide in the bathroom or nurses office at lunch, if I ate anything, it was an apple. Being that the school I was in did nothing about bullies, and didn't pay much mind to students at lunch, it was easy to hide out. I can even remember on the rare day I stayed in the cafeteria, others making comments about my not eating. Since we are talking over 20 years ago, it was much easier to blame it on my Celiac and the lack of gluten free options. This was partly true, as most of the lunch options weren't gluten free, there were most likely some items I could eat. The other kids, not knowing what gluten free even meant, eventually left it alone.
It was this dark dirty secret that I knew about, that I had complete control over. Or so I thought. I was a competitive horseback rider, so I'd ride after school a few days a week. I'd say I ate a lot of snacks with my friends at the barn so I wasn't hungry for dinner, or I'd say I ate late. There was always a new reason, and when I did eat, I was very aware of every bite. I wasn't aware of calories at that point in time, but knew I wasn't eating what was considered enough either.
I can't remember when my family found out or figured it out. I can remember the therapist that I divulged everything too, oddly enough she got me to talk by having caramels in her office. My blood sugar was so low, I'd get there and be beaming over the few caramels in her candy bowl- they are the only things I would go for. I can also remember I was less likely to talk to her or say much of anything if they weren't in the crystal candy dish. I am not sure why, I can tell you I still love caramel in every form - and if it's covering an apple, I'm all over it.
My protein levels were deficient, I should mention I also stopped eating meat in almost all forms, except chicken on occasion. I have always had this vague memory of being told I was going to need injections to help with the deficiencies, and I remember thinking there was no way I was having shots. I was petrified of needles, yes, I was the kid who hid under the table from the doctor. Yes, I also had bad experiences that led to me doing so, including telling the doctor I was going to pass out, her telling me I was fine, then yes, actually passing out. Traumatic for a small child.
I can remember I started eating more, to avoid the repercussions, and mostly the needles. However, I then spiraled to other behaviors, restricting, binging, and purging. It took a long time, and lot's of work to repair my relationship with food. It didn't start off being about a number, or a size, rather control. I was in active recovery for a long time, I was able to eat, work out, and just be without everything being about what I was or wasn't consuming. Things were good - or at least okay. I can't tell you when I slipped back into behaviors for the first time, however, if I'm being honest, and completely transparent, there have been several slips, and each time I've come out on the other side, grown through each experience, and it's led me to being able to honestly, unapologetically, show up for me, as I am.
For me, personally, each time has been about control. Being in an abusive relationship that I thought I could fix was a trigger, I slipped into using old behaviors in order to feel that sense of control, that evil little voice that is ED that tried so hard to suck me back into it's grasp. It wasn't about how I looked, or what other people thought, it was about the need to control something when I felt I was simply going through the motions every day and not actually living my life. Through each slip I learned more about myself. I became more resilient. I also became less tolerant of being treated poorly, and began to recognize my worth and what I had to offer.
Over two decades later I still have moments where I recognize my brain thinking in a distorted way, however, through all my experiences, through all my seasons of growth, I have learned self love, self compassion, grown confident in myself, learned to get rid of those people, places, and things that don't serve me well. I have cut out the toxic things, I have learned to be happy, to embrace life. Much like the ocean, life can be gentle and calm, or it can be rough, ridged, and unpredictable, either way it's still beautiful, and I'm grateful for it each and every day.