“If someone told me a year ago, I would be sharing this story, I would have laughed in their face. My eating disorder was a private, dirty secret I was sure I’d never share. Let alone recover from.
The truth is, eating disorders aren’t just ‘diets gone wrong.’ They’re not even really about food and weight. An eating disorder is a symptom of a much bigger problem. Sometimes we feel unworthy and unloved. Sometimes we’re experiencing pain we’re not equipped to deal with. Sometimes a trauma has left us with so many feelings we need a different way to cope.
*Enter Eating Disorder*
At first, it seems great. You and your new friend, ED, are going to make things perfect. You’re going to make YOU perfect. Then people will like you, then maybe you can like yourself.
You skip your first meal. It’s so exciting! You’ve proved to yourself you can have mastery over your body, your primitive needs. You don’t need to eat. You feel in control, and now you set a goal — something to achieve to end your pain.
Before you know it, you’re not eating for two weeks at a time. You’re exercising silently in your bedroom until 3 a.m. every night. You’re now afraid of food, gaining weight, and people seeing you eat. You have rituals. You have to follow them everyday, or else you’ll feel terrible and bad things will happen. You’ll avoid social events if they challenge your new routine. You’ll lie to everyone who cares about you, and you’ll still think all you’ve done is ‘not enough.’
At least, that’s how it was for me.
So how did this all start? I was 14 years old. I always loved food and was a healthy weight as a kid. I never really thought about my body until I started secondary school. I had a unconventional upbringing. My parents were avid members of a money-making cult disguised as a religion. They met inside the organization, and at age 17, my mother gave birth to me. This ‘religion’ boasts brainwashing at an astronomical fee: $325,000 if you want to get to the top. It is dedicated to ridding the body of ancient, evil aliens who cause all of humanity’s woes. This would save our planet. According to the church, I was riddled with aliens.
At 8 years old, I was informed I was a ‘suppressive person,’ someone who will go to great lengths to hurt others. I was frequently accused of causing fights between my parents and my younger brothers, even ruining their business — which would have been important to their continued membership in the church.
They tried to fix me. I spent time in the East Grinstead base and in the famous Tampa Bay headquarters. This is where my parents would receive extensive auditing so they could cleanse themselves of aliens. It wasn’t long before they purchased an E-meter machine and began to use it at home. Sessions would usually commence at 3 a.m. My mom was a heavy drinker, and she often found reasons to drag me out of bed after a session. Sometimes she was lonely, other times she wanted to fight me, and other times she wanted to audit me.
It’s a complicated process to explain, but essentially, it is a sort of lie detector designed to reveal your dishonorable intentions — put there by the aliens, of course. It begins with a recount of a particular event or day. You go over and over the same event until the needle moves, then you’re prompted to reveal your thoughts. A simple tale of my morning would eventually become my apparent desire to end my parents’ marriage. At 8 years old, I didn’t have the skills to argue my case. So I not only started to falsely confess to these crimes, but I started to believe them too. After all, why would mom and dad lie to me?
Maybe I was a really bad person? I didn’t want to be, and was frankly horrified to think my seemingly harmless actions were having such harmful effects on my parents. I tried to be silent, then I couldn’t get into trouble. That didn’t work. So I set out to be the best daughter I could. When mom had been drinking, I would make sure my brothers got ready for school in the morning. I would make them breakfast, prepare their lunches, wait to bring them home; at which time, I would proceed with chores around the house to show I was really trying to be good.
Nothing was ever good enough. I still did not agree with the ‘religion’ or its practices. We moved houses almost every year I was in primary school, and for a short while I was home-schooled. This is where my parents would once again, try to convert me. An exercise I will never forget, was all about confrontation. You sit perfectly still in a chair and allow someone to verbally abuse you — shout in your face, say terrible things about you. You may not cry, flinch, or react in any way. If you did, you failed and you’d have to do it again. I can’t say I ever truly mastered it, but I did get used to being shouted at.
Fast forward to 2006, where I would begin secondary school. Now, not to sound like a nerd, but I loved school. I was praised by my teachers, my friends were fun and easy to be with, and I had hope for a future. I completed the whole five years of studying at the same school. But the first three years went by without anyone realizing what a strange life I was living outside of class.
I began to get involved with every extracurricular activity I could — netball, football, choirs, wind-band, school concerts, shows. I would sometimes stay in the practice rooms until 9 p.m. to avoid going home. By age 12, I discovered a real love for performing arts. I wasn’t the best singer, but I was willing to learn. And I loved to act. It took me out of my head, into someone else’s life. It was the first thing to ever make me truly happy. I started to focus on this, it made my whole home life seem far more bearable because I could always say, ‘Today is bad but tomorrow, we have rehearsals for this and that is all that matters.’
My parents started to forbid me from going to my own gigs, they hated me spending so much time away. I knew I’d found something I loved and was heartbroken. I disobeyed them and continued to go. Our relationship broke down even more. They refused to acknowledge my existence when I walked into a room…for weeks. I wouldn’t even be allowed to eat in the same room as them, and eating alone in my room while crying made me feel disgusting.
So age 14…I’ve got big dreams, a secret home life, and no one to talk to about what I was going through. I was never really in trouble at school; I got good grades and always did my homework, but my teachers were confused as to why my parents rarely came to parents’ evenings or my shows. I was stressed about growing up. I needed a new uniform because mine was too small, but I was scared to ask my mom. When I had my first period, I felt I was confessing to a huge crime. I started to feel depressed. It seemed like everyone had it really easy — they had boyfriends and sleepovers, chatted about TV shows and who fancied who. They could talk to their moms about boobs, periods, and boys. It seemed like nobody could understand me.
One morning, I was late for school and missed breakfast. The rest of the day went on as normal, but in the back of my head, while I was waiting for lunchtime, I started having thoughts. Everyone was talking about diets, eating healthy, being skinny…I usually ignored all of this, but I started to pay attention. It seemed really important to not be fat, and I saw a challenge. I already skipped breakfast once, so I knew I could do it.
I started an experiment: cutting meals out one by one. Maybe my life would be better if I lost weight, maybe my parents would like me more, maybe I would feel good about myself. I refused to let my parents cook for me anymore. I would leave empty dishes to cover my tracks. It had to be a secret, or else they’d take that away from me too. My friends started asking questions. I had a handful of excuses as to why I wouldn’t eat at lunchtime, but I could only use them for so long. I would go to different lunchtime clubs so no one could track me. I became very good at hiding it, and I started to see results.
Before I knew it, I was obsessed. I was eating 300 calories a day — tomato, cucumber, broths, and only the crusts off of bread. I couldn’t stop, I didn’t feel like I’d achieved my goal yet. I didn’t believe it, but I was anorexic. My too tight uniform was now too big. I had lost my period. My nails were blue and I was cold all the time.
I weighed myself three times a day, with the secret scale I hid under my bed, and kept track of all my measurements. I took pictures of my stomach nearly every day. I even made a chart containing every weight I could be within a 60-pound radius, complete with alternate conversions and the corresponding BMI’s. My hair started to fall out in huge clumps, and I would spend hours pulling at my skin, wishing I could cut it off.
I was sent to the school nurses. Horrified because they were both very overweight, I was sure they were trying to poison me. Food made me feel dirty and ugly, and I wasn’t going to change just because they told me to. Eventually, they told my parents, completely unaware of the havoc it would cause. When I was later referred to mental health services, my folks would ask me what I’d told my counselors about them. I was afraid to tell the counselors anything, in fear of what mom might do if she found out.
Therapy didn’t help me and caused me to rebel. I got worse because I was angry my new way of living was going to be taken from me. I would have no way to feel in control of my life. I would surely grow up to be fat, miserable, and alone.
Fast forward to 2011. I was taking my GCSE’s (general certificates of secondary education) over the Easter holiday. I was grounded — standard — but needed to go to school to finish a composition for my music class. It was a two week holiday, and because I was bound to my bedroom, I decided I wouldn’t eat until I returned to school. Almost two weeks went by; I’d been drinking tea and consuming nothing else. I’d do sit-ups in my room and sneak out of the house to go on bike rides when my parents were out. When I got to school, I could barely function.
I recorded my vocals for my song and was about ready to leave, when my music teacher pulled me aside. She asked, ‘What is going on? I’m worried about you.’ At this point, she had spent lots of time with me, and was probably the only person I trusted in the world. I told her…I told her everything I could. I asked her not to tell my mom. She became my ally, my friend. She didn’t think I was weird, she didn’t think I was evil, she just cared. It was exactly what I needed. We never knew we would become lifelong friends.
She would come pick me up when my parents refused to take me to school concerts. She would even call me when she went to gigs, so I could listen in over the phone. In the darkest times of my life, she was really there for me. She gave me hope and kept me inspired. She would teach me piano, challenge me academically, and always reminded me I was worth caring about.
In the same year, I turned 16, and my life changed forever. I’d been working with my counselors and managed to get to a healthy weight. But I’d started bingeing and purging. Almost two years of solid restriction seemed to equate to two years worth of hunger. I couldn’t control it. I hated myself for it and no longer believed I was worth caring about. I was convinced I was a failure. I was disgusted by myself.
That Christmas, my dad came to my room and said, ‘It’s not safe for you to stay here anymore, you have to leave.’ I was given a weeks notice. My mother had been fighting me more and more and she said she would kill herself if I stayed in the house with them.
January 1, 2011. The day I left.
I asked her, ‘Why?’ She simply said, ‘Out of sight, out of mind.’ She believed I had robbed her of her teens. Everything I did seemed to make her more unhappy. She was 32 now, and she left home at 15, so I guess she saw it fair I leave too. My parents lied to my extended family, they told them I was living with friends at college. I was, in fact, in a run own bed sit where nobody spoke English. I couldn’t talk to anyone, there was no lock on the front door, and I frequently saw and heard people doing drugs on the roof of my bedroom.
How was I going to tell anyone? My parents were paying for the place and sending me $35 a week for food. I was scared they’d cut me off if I spoke up. I had plans to go to a university. But if I was going to have to get a job to live, I wouldn’t be able to go to school.
I told my school. I was never good at asking for help, but I was so stressed and desperate. I was lucky, because my school really supported me. Every solicitor and council meeting I had there was someone with me. And when my parents eventually did cut me off, I was safe. I had legal emancipation and received funding to live off while I finished my studies. I eventually moved in with a friend from my theater club, and went on to get my A-Levels.
I still struggled with bulimia, all the way up until I went to the university. In all the craziness, I needed something to hold on to. My eating behavior got more intense as I fought to restrict, only to eventually binge and purge. I was taking laxatives, diet pills, throwing up in secret at school; but I was hovering at a minimum, healthy weight. People saw me eating so it went unnoticed, for the most part.
Age 17. I was studying for my A-levels but I was completely numb. I missed my little brothers, who were forbidden to speak to me. I was put on antidepressants and sleeping medication. My friends were great but they couldn’t understand what I was going through. I was still doing shows, even more since I wasn’t at home. I joined a local theater group, a jazz orchestra, along with my other commitments. I’d go home and practice my lines, my dance moves, and just forget the sh*t show that was my life. I ended up overworked and undernourished and eventually…I snapped.
I try to commit suicide. Pain killers, 40 of them. I’d been saving them for weeks. I went to school that morning, and by the time I went to my rehearsal after school, I had taken 20. A friend noticed my skin was yellowing and I felt really unwell. I was sent home, took 20 more, and prayed I would fall asleep and not wake up.
It didn’t happen. I woke up around 2 a.m. and threw up. I felt poisoned and scared. ‘What was I thinking?!’ This wasn’t going to work. I called the ambulance and (embarrassed as hell) I asked them what I should do. They picked me up and took me to the hospital. I passed out on the street when I got out of the ambulance, and woke up in the accident and emergency wing while they figured out what to do with me.
I felt so stupid. I regretted what I had done and didn’t want to die. I stayed in for five days while they un-poisoned me. They said I was hours away from liver failure, I was lucky. Lucky. I was quiet, exhausted, and lost. When friends came to visit, I told them I did it by accident — I had a toothache. Nobody ever said anything, but I think they knew the truth. When my dad came to see me, I refused to let him in. My mom didn’t come.
I tried to get better. I did well on my A-levels and got into a university, in London! A drama school. This was the beginning of my new life. I decided I wanted to try to be healthier because my purging was having really bad effects on my voice. For six months, it even hurt to speak, because my vocal chords were shredded. I had big dreams and now I was the only thing standing in my way.
I became vegan. It was better than what I was previously doing, but I knew it was restriction in disguise. I did eight months of it and remained vegetarian afterwards, but I went back to my old ways. I now had a combination of restrictive eating with occasional bingeing/purging. It felt pretty tame compared to what I was used to. I was sure I was just quirky and not suffering with an eating disorder anymore. Plus, at drama school, it seems everyone is on some kind of diet. I didn’t feel out of place. Purging four times a day became normal. Sometimes I’d worry my heart would stop. But I couldn’t stop myself.
Two years went by and I was about to enter my final year of studying. Before the semester was up, we received an email welcoming us to our final year, and reminding us we were showing ourselves to the industry so it was time to get ready. The email ended with this:
‘Now the awkward conversation. If your BMI is not where it should be, and you are not at a weight that suits your casting type, I urge you to take this summer to address this. Next year you will be outward and industry facing, and you want to present yourself well from the very start of the year. If your current weight doesn’t support your casting, then now is the time to do something about it.’
And click. A switch flipped in my head. Did I come all this way to be rejected because of my weight? Hell no! It would be embarrassing to have come all this way to be told I was too fat for my casting type. My anorexia woke up and I stopped purging and began fasting, overexercising, and taking diet pills and laxatives.
In no time at all, I dropped down to a weight I hadn’t been since I was 7 years old. I had been frequently missing classes and was pulled in by one of my lecturers. She knew what was going on and said I needed to seek help. She would help me get my credits or I would fail the course.
Damn. I did not want to go back into therapy. But I had to. It was my last chance. I couldn’t fail university, not after everything I had been through. I went to my doctors, got put on a waiting list, and just like that, I was in weekly sessions at my local eating disorders service center.
I really didn’t think I was bad. I did want to stop, but I didn’t feel worthy of help. Here I was again, in a therapy room. I was going to have to explain my whole life story again — ‘cult baby gone calorie counting part 2.’ I would have to deal with weekly weigh-ins, which made me feel sick, and talk about how I was scared of food. I felt pathetic.
But, I was crafty. I could joke and banter for 50 minutes easily. And for many sessions I did. When it came to talking about my eating disorder, I couldn’t form words. Every food diary had to be looked at and I would hand it in and bolt to the opposite end of the room. I was embarrassed. I felt like there were people worse off than me, it was a joke I was even there. Riddled with shame and guilt, I found it difficult to make real progress.
I entered a state of quasi-recovery. I had gotten slightly better but I was still restricting and purging (though less frequently). I found it hard to let my weight get above the minimum healthy threshold for my height. And I stayed there for a long time. I had two different therapists, and they were both very kind and understanding. But I just couldn’t shake my eating disorder. I didn’t feel like I deserved to eat. I had a hard time understanding why I should even try to change. It was not possible. It had been too long. I was messed up, and that was it.
2017. I graduated with a first class honors in musical theater. One year later, I was discharged from treatment. I had made some changes, but not enough to call it full recovery. I still hated my body, I still wanted to lose weight. I wasn’t even trying to audition for anything, I didn’t want to be seen. I felt like I failed my younger self. I got a job working events and promotions. I had a few gigs and acting jobs here and there, but my heart wasn’t in it, my confidence had disappeared.
People always want to know what sparks the desire to recover. If I’m honest, I grew tired of the pain. Numbers never satisfied me anymore. I felt sad and weak and cold. I wanted to feel alive again, to really feel present in the moment, instead of thinking about food. To be the determined, driven, loud, excitable person I had once been.
I had no idea how I’d do it, I was on my own. I started to research eating disorders and I kept a journal to help me track progress. It really was day by day. Every meal presented me with challenges. I had to stop using my scale (though I could never get rid of it).
I first committed myself to never purging again, which was hard for me. It was my get-out-of-jail-free card; sometimes I’d even purge liquids, and now I had to quit. I had been writing my own music and wanted to be able to sing it. I knew my voice was suffering because of purging, and no matter how much I would practice, I could never achieve much because I would tire so easily.
Then I had the task of increasing my intake. This was the hardest, I just wasn’t used to eating normally. But day by day, I challenged myself, reminding myself it had to be better than staying in my eating disorder. I would try new things, things that scared me, things I swore I’d never eat again. I’d go and eat with my friends, they helped me through some very difficult days.
I used the same strategic method that spiraled my eating disorder, and flipped it on its head to aid my recovery. I made a journal where I noticed patterns, triggers, and trends. This helped me really understand my own behavior. I decided I would write about the things I learned and put them on a blog. It kept me accountable, like I was fighting for more than just myself. I would share how I was keeping my journal, and the things I learned while I was recovering. Then it could maybe benefit someone. It made it easier for me to accept what I had done to myself, knowing I might be able to help somebody else.
Recovery is something you have to choose every single day. Even though I would never want to go back, I have to be aware relapse is a risk. So every day, I wake up and choose recovery. At first it was hard, but the more I did it, the easier it became. I started to like who I am, accepting my body and all the weird and wonderful things that make me… well… me.
I am now the healthiest and happiest I’ve ever been in my life. My face is no longer grey and tired, I have more energy to focus on the things and people who really matter. I live in the London with my best friends, and for the most part, have a normal life. My confidence has started to come back and I plan to achieve my dream of releasing my music into the world, and to continue sharing my story to help others.
Most people describe me as a positive person and, I guess it’s because the people who cared for me never gave up on me. I didn’t have to be perfect, I could make mistakes and not be exiled. People showed me love and kindness, even in my darkest moments. It was this beautiful act of humanity that inspired me and gave me hope, courage, and strength.
If you are suffering or know anyone who is suffering with an eating disorder, do not lose hope. Things CAN change and they CAN be so good. But, it starts with you. You have to decide enough is enough. Talk to someone, whether a professional or a family member or a friend. It can feel hard to imagine a world where your life is any different, but I absolutely promise you: Recovery. Is. Possible.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Kelly of London, England. You can follow her journey on her blog and Instagram. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
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