I love my body and respect it as a vehicle for doing what I want in life.
Carrie Arnold’s blog inspired me to reflect. When I was 20, 30 and 40, I did not love my body. It bothered me greatly. I did not feel at home in it. The eating disorder illness that developed at age 11 was entrenched and rampant in my brain. It had ravaged my identity and I had no idea of who I was, let alone what size or shape my body was meant to be. I was in my late 40s when a therapist began guiding me to freedom.
Today, in my early 60s, life is an oasis of contentment, peace, and self-love. But for decades, when perception of physical appearance was a barometer for confidence, self-esteem rated zero. Distorted self-perception meant I was continually dissatisfied with my body and from a very young age developed dysfunctional behaviors in a bid to provide relief. Unfortunately, everything I did had the effect of feeding the torment. Hardly a day went by without feeling worthless because I had eaten too much, broken a new food rule made only an hour earlier, or had not done enough exercise. Preoccupation on weight and body shape centered on a persistent belief that if I weighed xx kilograms/pounds, everything in life would be manageable, and the torment would ease. Wrong. Even when the goal weight was met, which was rare because it was too low, I did not feel happier. The constant feeling that something was wrong, something was missing, something was eating a hole in my soul, intensified. Being a certain weight was not the answer. At some level I knew this, but the eating disorder behaviors were so entrenched, I repeated them over and over again.
From adolescence to mid-50s, the eating disorder played havoc with and dominated my life. It manipulated thoughts and behaviors. I appeared ‘stuck up’ or ‘aloof’ when deep inside I was feeling inferior and alone. I avoided social occasions, not because I did not like people but because I did not like me.
I missed out on a lot of fun because I did not feel worthy of having fun when I had broken my latest (impossible to keep) regimented diet. I missed opportunities for personal and professional growth. Relationships very dear to me were lost.
Everything about everyday life was based on a false premise. The eating disorder had taken over almost all of my true thoughts. Using weight as a gear stick on which to measure life quality was doomed to fail every time. I had no idea of what it felt like to be hungry, full, or satisfied. I had no idea of what it was like to eat three meals a day and not feel guilty. I tried to be ‘normal’ like others around me but this was impossible with the bully eating disorder in control. At school I looked at friends with envy when they ate a salad roll, cream bun and apple. They could eat and be happy at the same time; but I couldn’t. Eating was guilt-laden for me.
Black and white
Every day was ‘good or bad’, ‘black or white’, ‘happy or sad’, depending on the sense of control – this false measure of control was defined by adherence to my latest strict diet plan. Such control gave momentary relief from anxiety and I could feel bright and positive and achieve much in this small window of time before the inevitable crash, when a trigger would set off a binge, I would let myself down, hate myself, be immersed in guilt and self-loathing, all over again.
Well, the weird thing was that most people had no idea of my internal torment. I appeared normal – some people even said I was ‘attractive’. I didn’t believe them, of course. The high-functioning part of my brain enabled me to work in the media and work was important for it provided a sense of ‘at least I can do something right’. I felt unworthy as a mother but at least I could provide financially for my children.
‘Focus on feelings and food will take care of itself’
How to get out of this debilitating and depressing cycle of struggle?
My therapist said: focus on your feelings and food will take care of itself. Magical words. And they worked. The journey was long and slow and full of many twists, turns and potholes but giving up was not an option. In 2006, at the age of 55, I regained me.
For seven years, I have been free of prescription drugs for depression and anxiety; I eat three meals and three snacks a day; I am happy; I love myself; I feel at peace. I feel delightfully and childishly ‘me’.
A dream has come true and now I know what it is like to feel hungry – not only this, I have learnt to listen to my body when it is hungry and it tells me what it feels like eating. Yesterday, for instance (don’t laugh), I listened to my self at lunch time and decided yes, ‘I feel like eating sardines in tomato sauce, followed by an avocado sandwich’. This is what I ate, and felt nourished.
I know what it is like to feel happy without feeling guilty – in many ways I am like a kid. Catching up on life. Five grand children are my biggest inspirations. My children provided inspiration for fighting for recovery; the grand children provide inspiration for maintaining recovery. My children are now adults pushing 40. I tell them I am 33; that I am busy catching up on life, my life; they smile and are happy. They have witnessed the illness effects and to see me free helps them be free, too.
I love to go shopping with my daughter and grandchildren – and when I look in a mirror, I like what I see – a happy, fun-loving me. A mirror is not necessary to know this, though. Feelings tell me all I need to know. I play at the park with the children – they say ‘come on Grandma’ and we go up the ladder, down the slide, through the tunnel. We go swimming, run and kick the ball, blow bubbles and bake cup cakes. Bliss.
I also have acquired have another ‘family’ – of friends in the field of eating disorders. Being involved in advocacy, and learning about the eating disorder illness, understanding and sharing my experience, helps to make sense of, and give purpose to, a life struggle.
Acceptance brings freedom
Really, I give little thought to my body these days except to totally accept and love it, for it is part of me and I love all of me. Mind and body are one and I look after both with great care as there is much I want to do. My mind is the driver; my body is the engine for getting around! The eating disorder caused self-destructive thoughts that imprisoned, isolated and debilitated my true self. In contrast, the regaining and acceptance of self allows freedom to embrace life: once I feared being alone, today I cherish solitude – I love being with me; I also love being with my partner, family, pets and friends; I love gardening, cooking, knitting, reading, writing and eating disorder advocacy. This is living. I feel blessed and cherish every day. This is my wish for everyone, especially those who have an eating disorder.