One thing that would have been really helpful for me during my darkest days with Anorexia is support and inspiration from people who knew exactly what I was going through – people who could encourage me and help me to feel as though fighting it was the right thing to do. That’s why I wrote Tough Cookie and my other books – but I also wanted to gather other people’s stories – as the more I share the more I hope I can show that it’s 100% possible to overcome an eating disorder.
In this post trainee nurse Cara shares her wonderful story. Her insight is incredible and her story really resonated with me – I hope it does for you, too. If you find this helpful please share it – it might make a really big difference to someone else.
Cara’s Inspirational Recovery Story
“I have had many successes in recent years; personal, professional and academic, not one of which is related to my physical appearance.”
My journey to recovery was anything but linear. There were times when I believed it would be impossible to undo all the many years of self hatred and buried emotions I experienced. But it wasn’t, and I did.
My eating disorder began to dig its claws in at around age 8 or 9. I started to see my body not as the incredible thing it is, something that allowed me to run, dance and carry me wherever I desired to go; but instead as something that others would judge me by, that defined me as a person. By aged 11 the eating disordered behaviours has started, and by aged 14 I was diagnosed and entered treatment. In the space of just a few years, my entire world view and how I saw myself and others had changed. I was failing school for the first time in my life, and I didn’t care. It was my weight that defined my success, not my academic achievements. I had to quit my dance class, but it didn’t matter. My ever shrinking waist size was my greatest accomplishment, not my annual dance performances. My social circle shrank with my body, but I didn’t mind. Anorexia was my best friend and I thought I needed no one else. I shut down.
I was admitted to hospital at 15, where I remained for several months; lonely, scared and isolated. Upon my discharge, my old thoughts and behaviours returned almost immediately, though I kept my head above water for a long time following this.
The next few years were cyclical; restriction and weight loss, binging and weight gain, restriction and weight loss. Each cycle was worse than the last, and at 21 I went back into treatment again. By this point I had zero hope. Ten years of my life had been swallowed up in what felt like an instant. I was bitter, tired and miserable. How could I ever get past this? I knew nothing else.
The most frightening thing was trying to discover who I was without my eating disorder. It had defined me for half my life and was all I knew. It controlled every aspect of me; my thoughts, my actions, my relationships, my personality. If I stripped all that back, would I be nothing? What if I didn’t like who I was without it?
I didn’t understand what I would think about if I wasn’t thinking about food. It took up every second of my spare time – how would I fill that now? After many hours of talking therapy, I learned something about myself. I used my
eating disorder to avoid life. I didn’t have to have emotions or think about anything difficult, because all I felt was empty and all I thought about was food. I had to face myself, and understanding the function my eating disorder had for me after so long was truly the start of my recovery. I had to allow myself to face difficult things and experience the painful emotions I had been shielding myself from. Seeing my eating disorder as something that served a purpose for me allowed me to start to separate it from who I am, which gave me the strength to start challenging it. Over the next months and years, up until my
discharge from the service and long afterwards, I overcame many hurdles. There were still times where I felt like giving up, but I forced myself to continue. There were times when I found old habits almost impossible to break, but I made myself break them. There were times where I found my changing body unbearable, but I worked through it and silence
d those thoughts.
Which brings me to today. I am 26, studying for a nursing degree and in a healthy long term relationship. I have had many successes in recent years; personal, professional and academic, not one of which is related to my physical appearance. Are there still times I experience negative thoughts about my body image? Of course there are. Are there still days where I feel guilty about my diet? Sometimes. Do I resort to old behaviours in times of stress? Rarely. Whether it is possible to eliminate every trace of an eating disorder from your mind is not for me to say. However, every day these thoughts bother me less and less. I am able to challenge the voice that tells me I’m not good enough, not thin enough, not perfect enough, and tell it that it’s wrong. After all the years I mistreated it, my body still allows me to run and to dance, and still carries me wherever I want to go. It has forgiven me, and I have forgiven myself. And that’s what recovery means to me.