Disclaimer: This story contains details of sexual assault, self harm, and disordered eating which may be upsetting to some.
“I remember the exact day I woke up and something was different about me. I felt like a stranger in my own body. As I looked in the mirror at my 280-pound self, I couldn’t remember how I had gotten so big. It’s like I subconsciously ignored it. I was looking at reality and I didn’t like it. It was time for me to stop hiding from happiness. When I was 13, I was sexually assaulted and hid it from my family until I was 16. Through this period, I gained more than 100 pounds to hide myself from the truth I didn’t want to believe.
I was a sophomore in high school, sitting in my ceramics class when I decided to tell my family I had been sexually assaulted. Something told me it was time to admit what happened. I had been gaining this weight to hide myself from the truth. I didn’t want anyone to look at me the way those boys once had. I couldn’t stand hiding anymore. I texted my mom. It took a long time for her to respond. I remember going into a panic attack and spending the rest of the day hiding in the bathroom. She responded the way most parents who love their kids so deeply would: She blamed herself. She said it was her fault for sending me to that school, her fault for having a job that required my brother and me to stay after school. It tore her apart and I’ve regretted telling her ever since. She made me promise not to tell my dad – he had enough to worry about. He held our family together through all of this and I am forever grateful to him. All he knew was I was touched inappropriately by a few people, and that’s why my mom pulled me and my brother from the school. He didn’t know I was raped until years later.
My mom has been my rock through this. She took all my emotions and struggles and made them her own. She has been nothing but kind and fierce through this. By the time I told her, it was too late to do anything about it. I was so deep in my hole and didn’t want to pursue any legal action. I wanted it to go away, though I know it never will. It’s something we learn to live with. My brother found out years later as well. He took it very hard but he doesn’t show emotions the way most do. He is very inside his head, but he has always been by my side, protecting me from the bullies and from myself. I was relieved that my family knew the reason behind the weight gain finally.
I’ve struggled with self-harm since all this happened. During my darkest times, my parents felt helpless because I felt helpless. I was institutionalized twice for self-harm and suicide attempts. There I learned coping skills I still cling to when I get these urges. I put my family through hell but I’m so thankful for their support and love.
The day I decided to change myself resulted in a 3-day fast leading to a long road of Anorexia Nervosa. I would spend days in my room hiding from the world and anyone who would tell me I shouldn’t be doing this to myself. I had no other obligations — my focus in life shifted to ‘I must lose the weight.’ It’s something I still battle to this day, but I am living a healthier happier life. I was in denial about this until I lost my ability to walk due to undernourishment and spent months on and off in the hospital.
My weight loss was achieved through an uneasy mind. Without the help of my boyfriend, who lived in the hospital with me and loved me through this journey, and my mom who bathed me, loved me and handled everything that needed handling, I would not be where I am today. I was in a dark place for a long time. I was so focused on losing weight it became obsessive and I lost myself. I went from 280 pounds down 101 pounds and back up to 120 pounds.
During my struggle with anorexia, I remember hiding food under my pillow. When my boyfriend and family would go to sleep at night, I would silently unwrap a wax-wrapped cheese and eat it. I thought to myself, this isn’t bad, it’s all you’ve had to eat all day. This is your reward for starving yourself. Anything I ate and drank came right back up and I became weaker as the days progressed. I landed myself in the hospital for the first time when I couldn’t keep anything down. I was dehydrated, malnourished and my potassium levels were dangerously low. They told me they were glad I came when I did. My heart was working on overdrive and they didn’t know how much more it could handle.
They pumped me full of vitamins and hydrated me. I was in denial about what I was going through so I never told them, ‘I have an eating disorder.’ Everyone could see that was the case, but I was not ready to admit this. My mom, boyfriend and I spent the night in the ER and they sent me home in the morning. This was the first of many hospital visits and eventually stays. I became a test dummy, they didn’t know why I was losing this weight or why I couldn’t walk. I wasn’t ready to admit this, so they did test after test to see what was wrong with me. They all came back normal. I cost my parents thousands of dollars in medical bills because I was not ready to admit my problem.
My 19th birthday was the first time I had left the house in 8 months (other than to go to the hospital). I was relearning to walk during this period and my legs were bones and no muscle. I remember standing in front of the mirror, holding onto my dresser for balance, and sobbing. I hated the way I looked. My legs were so small and it scared me. I never thought I would get out of this. My mom came into the room and told me no matter what I look like, I was beautiful. She calmed me down as she always has and refocused my attention.
That afternoon, we went to a pizza restaurant and I ate a small cheese pizza all to myself. I felt immediate panic and rushed everyone to get home. This was my first experience with bulimia. I thought to myself, ‘Ok, I can eat but not gain any weight.’ From then on I would sneak food, wait until late at night and silently binge and purge with no one knowing. This was my secret. Only I knew about it so no one could be mad at me for it. I felt like I would get in trouble if I ate. The voices in my head hated me and I hated them, but I listened to them. I felt helpless and wanted to give up. I had gone from one extreme to the next in a matter of months. It was unreal. I still saw myself as that 280-pound girl I had once been. So I was determined to keep going.
The first time I saw my true self, how small I had gotten, was Halloween 2015. My mom stood in the doorway and as tears streamed down her face, she took a picture of my boyfriend and me. I was terrified of the person I saw. I could see my bones. I was scared. I wanted help. I told her I wanted help. She created a GoFundMe page to try to help with the medical bills and potentially send me to an eating disorder home to get the help I needed, but I begged her to take it down. I wasn’t ready for my story to go public yet. She did everything in her power to help me and I knew it was exhausting for her and took every bit of energy she had.
When I was strong enough and ready to come out of hiding I forced myself to get a job. I ended up getting a job at an amazing place, and this was my moment to reclaim my life and love myself. It was here I learned who I am. It sounds silly, but it truly changed my life. The people I’ve met here are a support system like no other. They are the reason I get out of bed some days. I still struggle with depression, anxiety and PTSD but as the days go on I’m finding myself. I’m maintaining a healthy weight and mending my mind and soul. I do yoga and meditation which has helped me so much. I’m finding things I enjoy in life and remembering the little things are what to cherish. I’m a stranger to who i used to be. I was stuck in a pit and was mad at the world.
We all deserve love and we all deserve to love ourselves. We are not enemies to our own bodies. We need to learn to work together with them. Maintaining this healthy weight has helped me overcome a lot of my demons. I look at myself in the mirror every day and some days I’m actually okay with what I’m looking at, whereas some days I’m scared to look at myself. It’s all part of healing. Sometimes I still see the big girl I used to be. I miss her some days too. I felt safe in that body, but I’m happy I overcame every obstacle that led me to this body.
As I remember who I used to be, I’m thankful for the experience. I was so bitter and angry for so long but I’ve grown and realized life is all about experiences. This is what molds you into who you are. I look at it as I survived each version of myself and I’m better for it. I miss feeling safe in my bigger body, I felt less vulnerable and was able to cover my emotions with weight and food. I love the life I live now, I embrace my body, I love that I can express how I truly feel and not be afraid of judgement. I’m happy I have found myself, and without this journey I wouldn’t be who I am today. It’s the life we choose to live that makes it worthwhile. It’s been a long road but I know I’m worthy of happiness now. Everyone is worthy of life. We all go through struggles and we are better for them. This is our moment to love ourselves.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Christina Baker, 22, of South Carolina. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.
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