“I didn’t ever really think I was fat. I wasn’t disgusted by food. But it certainly appeared that way. Why else would I have been starving myself to death for over 24 years? Part of me has always known my battle with anorexia was not really about food and body weight. But if it wasn’t about that, what WAS it about? I had no idea. I was utterly confused by my self-destructive behaviors. I went from treatment center to treatment center. I was certain, I was broken, damaged, and in need of ‘fixing.’
As my 20’s were coming to an end, I had made my way to ‘functional anorexic.’ For the next few years, I was relatively content. I finally graduated college, moved to a new city, adopted a dog, was in a relationship, and started an exciting new job. I was at a healthier weight. I was not as rigid in my food choices. I was eating socially. I wasn’t counting every single calorie. And although I didn’t really FEEL recovered, I assumed this was as good as it would get. Maybe this is what recovery looked like. Things were certainly better than they had been, so I figured I’d take what I could get.
And then…January 25, 2013. The car accident.
At first, I didn’t even notice the eating disorder taking up more space in my life. We were all so focused on physical healing and rehabilitation, caring for my psychological well-being sort of fell by the wayside. After several months of specialists, MRIs, and physical therapy, my body was beginning to regain normal function. I was reminded time and time again, how very ‘lucky’ I was to have survived. Not only was I alive, but I had recovered with ‘no permanent damage.’
Of course, I still considered myself damaged on some level. However, to say I was broken or damaged would be to imply I had been WHOLE at one point. And something that had once been whole, could probably be pieced back together into something relatively ‘normal.’ At the very least, I should have been able to get back to the pseudo-recovered lifestyle I had prior to the accident.
But my attempts to get my eating disorder under control were proving fruitless. I was spiraling downward fairly quickly. This is when I went from damaged to defective. Damaged could be fixed. Clearly, I was not fixable. I concluded I must not have been manufactured correctly from the start. There is no piecing back together something that had never been whole to begin with. Still, I held out a tiny ray of hope. Perhaps even defective goods could be used for another purpose. I continued to search for an answer, but seemed to keep hitting roadblock after roadblock. Little wind was left in my sail.
But family members near and far, former bosses and co-workers, childhood friends, high school friends, college friends, friends of friends, acquaintances, and even perfect strangers, all rallied together on my behalf! THEY BELIEVED IN ME! They offered encouragement, kind words, prayers, good vibes, and a great deal of financial support. I even had several professionals offer their services pro-bono, or at drastically reduced prices.
I was pretty sure I was witnessing a miracle. I did not feel worthy or deserving of such unimaginable kindness and was overwhelmed with gratitude. Armed with such power, surely even a defective being, such as myself, could find a way. I went charging in with enthusiasm — feeling loved, supported, and hopeful. I had a solid reason to keep fighting. I could NOT let all of these people down!
But then I did. I let everyone down. I did not get better. Drowning in a sea of shame, I knew there was no point in fooling myself or anyone else any longer. I needed to face the truth. I was never going to get better. I was as good as dead. Never mind that my lungs continued to breathe in oxygen, and my heart continued to pump blood. Those were just mechanisms of the body, and it had been a very long time since I had lived in my body.
I ‘lived’ as the walking dead for the next several years. I stopped caring about my appearance — it suddenly seemed like a ridiculous waste of time. I hid my skeletal body underneath baggy clothing, alternating between the same three or four pairs of sweatpants and sweatshirts. I stopped taking my phone and purse with me when I left the house. Everything was hard. Everything took enormous amounts of effort and energy. And I just didn’t have it. I was totally disconnected from my body. I stopped truly SEEING people. I hardly ever made eye contact at all. Maybe if I made myself small enough, I would disappear all together.
Being as acutely malnourished and severely sleep deprived as I was, I had trouble staying alert behind the wheel. But I wouldn’t dare allow anyone else to run my errands or go to the store for me. I struggled to make it up and down the steps in my condo, and I barely had the strength to open and close doors. I was tired… physically, mentally, emotionally. And yet, I would not allow myself to rest.
As I retreated further and further into my own personal hell, hyper-vigilance took over. I was constantly ‘on guard,’ always looking over my shoulder, always keeping one eye open during the few hours of sleep I would allow myself. I was always scared. ALWAYS. Of what, you ask? I had no idea! And that scared me even more.
OCD had always been a strong component of my eating disorder, but in this incredibly weakened state, it took on a life of it’s own. My brain didn’t have the energy to use any of the skills I had learned to manage it. I couldn’t seem to get a hold on anything, and I wanted OUT. I was done. I was sad, confused, scared, lost, angry, and completely without hope. Desperate phone calls to my mother became a daily occurrence, because moms are supposed to make everything better, aren’t they? I must have known she couldn’t, but I was desperate and didn’t know what else to do.
With the patience of an angel, she listened to the same agonizing cries over and over again. And although she knew she couldn’t ‘make it go away,’ she showed empathy, reassured me of her love, and reminded me I was not alone. But being alive still hurt, and I was angry. Angry I was me, and angry I had not been killed in that car accident. I felt as though I was a prisoner sentenced to ‘life’ rather than a merciful death. Surely, death would have been the kinder route. So, I decided to do whatever I could to make that happen.
I spent hours scouring the internet for an escape, hoping with all my heart to find something that would seem doable. But I never did. I knew no matter how badly I wanted out, I didn’t have it in me to take my own life. And I hated myself for that. If I couldn’t outright kill myself, what COULD I do? The only thing I knew I could master for sure was starvation. But my body had somehow managed to stay alive all these years, so I knew I needed to take more drastic measures. Anorexia was now a means to an end.
I wrote a good-bye letter, massively cut my already meager caloric intake, and began downing laxatives by the handful to ’empty out’ whatever I did allow in. Although those next several weeks brought misery to an entirely new level, I was thankful to be getting closer to my goal (and by ‘goal,’ I meant death). I would fall asleep crying, begging anyone or anything that might be listening to please take me as I slept. But each morning, I would awaken, feeling betrayed by my body yet again.
Once again, I was failing. I had failed at life. I had failed at recovery. Now, I was failing at death. I couldn’t even get THAT right! And then, I hit rock bottom. Which is silly to even say, since I thought I had hit rock bottom numerous times before. But one horrible evening, I went downstairs to get the laundry. I was weak, tired, and tearful. I couldn’t find the energy to carry it up. I crumpled down on the bottom step and sat there crying out in desperation. Eventually, I left the basket and crawled on my hands and knees to the main floor.
That’s when I felt the shooting pain of the latest round of laxatives attempting to kick in. I could hear my body crying out in pain, my stomach contracting fiercely. But there was nothing left inside to be expelled. Any food or drink had long been gone. There I was, a pathetic bag of bones, writhing in agony on the living room floor. Doubled over in pain and barely able to breathe; I lied there feeling humiliated, ashamed, scared, disgusted, angry, tired, and alone.
I tried to call my parents. Why? I’m not really sure. I certainly did NOT want to be taken to the hospital. I wanted help dying, not living. Maybe I called them simply because I didn’t want to be alone. Maybe I wanted them to hold me while I died. But there was no answer. I didn’t have the strength to hold the phone up to my ear, so I put it on speaker and called my sister. Trying to sound calm and collected, I asked if she knew where my parents were. She told me the name of the restaurant, but no answer.
I must have fallen asleep, because I was awoken by the sound of the phone. It was my parents. Half asleep and still struggling to breathe, I uttered phrases they had heard many times before: ‘I can’t take it any longer! I am not OK! It’s never going to get better! Make it stop!’ I declined their offer to come over and sit with me that night. There was nothing anyone could do, and I just wanted to go back to sleep and pray for death.
I wish I could say I was a fighter. That I mustered up every bit of energy I had and chose life over death. But I was alive against my own will. I was alive because I had failed at death. I couldn’t think of anything worse than staying alive indefinitely while teetering on the brink of death. I couldn’t live like this. But I couldn’t seem to die, no matter how hard I tried.
So when one of my dearest friends asked if she could send out another request for help, I didn’t put up much fight. I didn’t expect anything. And for some reason, I was given yet another miracle. Despite all of my failures, people showed up. I couldn’t wrap my brain around it. Once again, they believed in me more than I believed in myself. I tried to hold on to their hope. I kept my word, and began the long and excruciatingly difficult process of re-nourishing myself. But, as with most worthwhile challenges, things would get worse before they got better. The underlying issues the eating disorder had so successfully kept at bay, were now bubbling over uncontrollably.
The hardest part was I knew exactly what to do to make it all go away, at least in the short term. Restriction had served me well as a ‘numbing agent.’ I felt like a drug addict going through withdrawal. The manipulative eating disorder ‘voices’ in my head got ten times louder — berating, shaming, and torturing me, even as I slept. If I was going to allow myself food, there was going to be a long, harsh, detailed list of new ‘rules.’ There would be a ‘price to pay’ for nourishing myself. Anxiety was sky high, and it wasn’t out of the norm for me to experience several panic attacks a week. OCD became a nightmare of it’s own and made the eating process take hours upon hours.
With several months of re-nourishment behind me, my body had gotten bigger, but that was ALL that had changed. My behaviors were still completely dysfunctional, and the ‘new rules’ were causing unbearable misery. Despite my discouragement, I began to spend time reading up on trauma. Most of my therapists and coaches had suspected trauma was at the root of my eating disorder. I wasn’t so sure. So, we never really ‘went there.’ But maybe it was time to dig a little deeper. I learned how the brain, when developing in a traumatized state, forms neural networks based on that trauma. Maybe I wasn’t damaged, defective, or dead. Maybe it wasn’t my fault my brain couldn’t respond appropriately. And maybe, just maybe, I could turn that all around.
In therapy, I started addressing the trauma head on. I wanted to start this re-wiring thing ASAP! I got real with myself and delved deep into the lifetime of complex trauma the car accident had unleashed. I gained a much better understanding of myself and where things had gone wrong. But now we were over a year into this recovery journey, and behaviorally and emotionally, things were still out of control. The knowledge, validation, and insight were great. But it really wasn’t changing anything. Even the professionals were a bit dumbfounded. They thought we would have seen SOME improvement by now.
And then, on a Monday afternoon at the end of September of 2019… SOMETHING!
I was recounting a conversation I had over the weekend, regarding a topic I felt very strongly about, but which the other party and I were NOT in agreement. This issue was close to my heart, and I could feel the anger and irritation welling up inside. There was nothing particularly special or significant about this conversation. In fact, it was a pretty accurate representation of nearly all my interactions with this person.
But as I told the story and replayed it in my mind, I felt myself getting nearly as heated as I was during the original conversation. Yes, I was irritated by the incident over the weekend, but it certainly didn’t warrant the intense fire burning beneath my chest. What WAS that? I had felt it before. In fact, I had felt it all my life. Yes, I recognized this fire. But I still wasn’t sure exactly what it was or how to describe it. All I knew was it was POWERFUL! It wasn’t ‘just a feeling.’ I felt it in my bones, as though it was a core part of me. I knew this fire.
It was the same fire that spurred me to submit story after story to Highlights magazine when I was a child. One of my stories was GOING to make it into that magazine. And it did. It had given me the never-give-up attitude I needed to learn to ride the unicycle. It pushed me to try out for the cheer squad, even though I had ZERO experience. I called the school to get information about try-outs, learned everything I could, practiced like hell, and made it! It inspired me to keep giving college a try. I lost count of how many times I started and stopped — always having to withdraw abruptly due to illness, hospitalization, or inpatient treatment. It took me 10 years to get my degree. But I did.
Once I set my mind to something, NOTHING could take me down. But was this fire also what had gotten me into this mess? I began to wonder if there was some truth to the old saying, ‘Your greatest strength is also your greatest weakness.’ Was my fire just as capable of destruction as it was of success? It was this same fire that had also driven me to starve myself… nearly to death. It was then I realized my fire had the power to either make or break me.
I sat with all of this. I waited to see if this latest ‘epiphany’ was going to leave me (as most did). How many times had I thought this was ‘the thing,’ the one revelation surely going to turn everything around. It was always powerful in the moment, but short-lived. So, I was cautious. I watched. I waited. I listened. I observed. And the fire was still there! Not only was it still there, it was growing stronger and burning brighter than ever! It couldn’t go away if it tried, because it was a PART of me.
How had I not realized this before? It had been there all along, in one form or another, and it was MINE. The same tenacity, discipline, and determination that made it possible for me nearly starve myself to death, was the very power I could use to set myself free! I was so excited; this was a GAME-CHANGER! I felt a sense of peace and joy I hadn’t felt in a very, VERY long time. I found myself smiling, singing in the car, playing with Bodhi, and walking with a little ‘pep in my step.’
But I still wanted to be careful with it, so I told very few people what was happening. It would be hard to explain, and let’s face it, it sounded a little crazy. It sounded like the pretty (but hollow) words that self-help books and motivational speeches were made of. But they felt real. They felt solid. They felt grounded in truth! It was as if all of the thoughts and ideas I had been storing for years, were finally moving from my brain to my bones. I GOT IT!
Armed with this unshakable power, things began to improve exponentially. One by one, self-destructive behaviors started to fall away. I started to feel strong. I started to feel confident. I even started to feel brave enough to step back into my body. And, for the first time I can remember, I wasn’t viewing it as a dangerous, evil mass of flesh and bone to be controlled, used, or abused. It was MINE, and it was safe.
I’m sure it’s no coincidence, not long after I ‘found my fire,’ my spiritual life also took a turn. Maybe the God I thought I knew, the God I seemed incapable of connecting with, no matter how hard I tried, maybe THAT God wasn’t God at all. Maybe God was (gasp) my friend? Someone who thought I was pretty great. Someone who had an amazing plan for my life, should I choose to follow. Someone who would never, ever hurt me.
Is that kind of love even possible? A love that continues to show up for a person who has failed, time and time again. A love that deems EVERYONE deserving and worthy, without condition. A love that declares we are ALL enough.
Maybe God had always been there. Maybe I didn’t recognize Him because He looked, sounded, and felt so very different from the God I thought I knew.
Maybe God looked like all of the MANY other family members, friends, parents-of-friends, friends-of-parents, friends-of-friends, and even perfect strangers, who blessed me with their support, love, and encouragement in so many amazing ways. And if God looked like all of these people, was it possible God even looked like… me? Could he be the wind to direct the fire inside of me? Blowing it AWAY from self-destruction and TOWARD peace?
I now have the unwavering belief we are here, at least in part, to take care of ourselves so we can take care of each other. I will continue to take care of myself so I can ‘tag in’ when one of my teammates needs to rest. It’s OK to take a break. It’s OK to let yourself be carried. It’s even OK to just watch from the sidelines for a while. But please, PLEASE don’t decide to leave the game before it’s over. EVERY single one of us is needed if we are to reach the end, even if we can’t always see that.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Beth Blubaugh. You can follow her on Facebook. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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