‘No one else has the guts to tell you, but you look like a crack addict.’ I was surrounded by a looming cloud of self-hatred.’: Woman beats lifelong battle with eating disorders, ‘I get up every day and fight for my life’

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“I’ve been a prisoner of my own mind ever since I can remember.

My earliest memories of summer camp aren’t of splashing around the pool, having fun with the other kids, but rather, staring down at my thick, chubby thighs. At the age of 5 or 6, you aren’t supposed to feel self-conscious in a two-piece. You’re supposed to enjoy and embrace life with wonder. I, on the other hand, was surrounded by a looming cloud of self-hatred.

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be beautiful. I wanted to be ‘cool.’ I wanted to be famous. I can still remember rooting for the most beautiful character in a cartoon, even if she was the bad guy. Beauty was this shiny, seemingly unattainable goal I just knew held the key to my happiness.

By the age of 16, I was so tired of being called ‘Toucan’ for my large nose and feeling ugly every day. I would look at the ‘popular’ girls and think, ‘I wonder what it feels like to look in the mirror and see something pretty.’ So, I got a nose job. I had never stood out in high school, just went under the radar. They say any press, no matter how bad, is good press. I was the walking definition of no press — not cool or pretty enough to be popular, but not weird or dorky enough to be a loser. I was just THERE.

But after my nose job, people started to notice me. This is when I first began to realize…fixing my imperfections on the outside would make people like me, and give me what I craved even more than beauty: ATTENTION. I knew I wasn’t perfect, and so did others. At one point, I went to the dentist for a routine check-up and mentioned my recent nose job. His response was, ‘You should have thought of getting a chin implant along with that.’ This is where ‘never enough’ started for me. I am not enough. Anything I do is not enough.

Once I realized I could improve to get attention, I decided I needed to lose weight before college. I don’t remember how I discovered I could throw up my food, but I do remember the first time I did it. It was with the assistance of a toothbrush. It’s odd something used for cleaning could make me feel so dirty. I dropped poundage that summer, and left for college feeling like a new person. I wanted to create a new persona. Along with the new, cool Jill, I started drinking and smoking pot for the first time. Not heavily, but enough for it to increase my bingeing and purging. By the end of my freshman year, I had gained the ‘Freshman 26.’

Courtesy of Jill Pavlov

This started an endless cycle of bingeing and purging. During the school year I would gain weight, and then restrict and over exercise during the summer so I was back to my starting weight at the beginning of each school year. But the summer after my junior year of college, my family went on a cruise. I roomed with my sister and she heard me purging. She was scared and I will always feel guilt for this. The burden fell on her to decide whether to betray a sisterly trust and let me keep hurting myself, or tell my parents. Thankfully, she made the tough, but right decision, to tell them. For the first time since my illness started, I realized I needed help.

I was scared and resistant to go to inpatient therapy. But around this time, my 14 year-old cousin, Marisa, who I considered my second sister, had just returned from inpatient therapy for anorexia.

Courtesy of Jill Pavlov

She was doing so well and convinced me to take the plunge. I went inpatient at a facility in Florida, October 2007, and stayed for two months. I did really well on the food plan, refraining from alcohol, and going to meetings for about two months. But then I started to slip. I was 23 years old and more concerned with my newly found Florida party scene. I was in complete relapse and returned for another stay in November of 2008, where I stayed for 10 days. When I got out, I followed the plan for a couple weeks before I retreated to old behaviors.

I never told anyone for the next nine years, for fear my parents would be disappointed in me. If you’re only as sick as your secrets, I may as well have been put on life support. As painful as my secret was, I was able to convince myself this was just my normal.

I was obsessed with food as much as I was obsessed with being thin. I couldn’t get enough of either; and so my life consisted of eating, purging, and working out. I was a slave to the voice inside my head. I had no money because I spent anywhere between $75 to $100 per day on binge food. I lived in pure filth, as cleaning was not on my eating disorder’s agenda. Every time I leaned over my moldy, vomit-encrusted toilet and stuck my fingers down my throat, I would tell myself this was just what a disgusting person like me deserved.

Things really took a turn for the worst around January of 2017, when I discovered the more I drank alcohol, the less I would eat. Because my life consisted of extreme bingeing and purging, my body was always hungry. No matter what diet pills or food plans I tried, I was constantly starving. Later on, I would realize I was emotionally starving as well. But if I drank, I could hold off the hunger for days. So that’s what I did. If only I could get skinny and beautiful enough, all the doors would open for me to have the life I always dreamed of.

I lost a terrifying amount of weight and was truly a shell of myself. Friends, gym friends, even my nail salon lady, would make comments about how skinny I was and how I needed to gain weight. But I loved how I looked. I loved never having to say, ‘Oh, retake that picture, I look so fat.’ I reveled in the fact my thighs weren’t even close to touching, and the delicious cave my stomach would make when I lay down.

Courtesy of Jill Pavlov

One day, right before Thanksgiving, my trainer saw me walk in, tired, hungover, with my gym leggings hanging off of me, and said, ‘You, my office, now. Take off your shoes and socks.’ He weighed me on a special machine showing your body fat and stats, and the results were horrifying. ‘You are going to end up in the hospital,’ he said. ‘No one else has the guts to tell you this, but you look like sh*t. You used to come in here, smiling, joking, gorgeous as hell. Now you walk in and I see it in your face, I see it in your skin, I see it in your hair. You look like a crack addict.’

‘But I like how I look,’ I told him, ‘I love being this skinny. Besides not having a butt, I like my body.’

‘Okay,’ he said, ‘but you can’t see the inside of your body. You can’t see what your organs look like. I’d hate to see your blood test results.’

With some more elaboration on the science behind what my body was most likely doing to itself, he had literally scared me straight. I was so afraid of failing at life, I was letting my body and my organs fail me. I was so focused on my outside appearance, I forgot there is a whole inside I need to worry about. So in December of 2017, I hightailed it to my old treatment center. But I purged on the second day, never told anyone, and even got away with drinking on Christmas and New Year’s. I am someone who needs strict rules and tough love, otherwise I will push every limit I can. I basically wasted a month in there, because when I came back out, I was no healthier than when I started.

Courtesy of Jill Pavlov

I swore 2018 would be ‘my year.’ But I can sum it up like this: wake up in the afternoon; order at least $50 worth of food delivery (because I was too lazy and embarrassed to go get it myself); binge and purge for 2-3 hours while watching Real Housewives and fantasizing about being rich with boob implants; go right for the bottle in order to stop eating; head out to whatever social event I’d planned for the night; come home and try to go to sleep (but I typically couldn’t fall asleep until the wee hours of the morning); wake up late, full of shame; and do it all again.

It was a sad existence. And yet, I didn’t do anything to change it. I had accepted my fate. I knew this was how I was going to die, and I even prayed for it. I was too scared to kill myself, so instead I just slowly wasted away, begging God to relieve me of this pitiful existence. ‘Please don’t let me wake up tomorrow,’ I would cry, ‘I can’t live another day like this.’ No matter how many times I swore tomorrow would be different, that day never came.

The week of September 11th, everything changed. My Grandmom, who had been a consistent source of love and wisdom for me, landed in the hospital. She died in the early hours of September 15th. I hopped on a plane the next day to go to her funeral. My therapist made me promise I would not drink before her funeral, and I certainly owed it to my Grandmom. On the morning of her funeral, I woke up shaking. I was in full detox mode, and combined with my record low weight, anxiety, and lack of food, it was a dangerous combination.

As we sat in the pews, I knew something was wrong, but I kept telling myself to be strong like Grandmom was. I willed myself to pull through; I didn’t want to be selfish, cause a scene, and make the day about me. My cousin Natalie and I went up to the bemah to give our eulogies. I went first and somehow made it through my speech. But as Natalie began to speak, I started to shake. I started to shake so badly I was almost convulsing — convinced I was going to collapse I prayed for Natalie’s speech to end.

She could feel me next to her and placed her hand on my back, trying to comfort me. I breathed a sigh of relief when she finally finished and turned to walk down the three stairs to my seat. But upon doing so, I became completely paralyzed and couldn’t move. My body knew if I were to attempt the stairs in my high heels I wouldn’t make it, and so it froze. I was embarrassed and so angry with myself. When we left the synagogue to go to the cemetery, my mother wouldn’t let me get out of the car, for fear of me falling. So I sat in our SUV and watched my family, huddled around her grave, from afar. It was one of the most eerie things I have ever witnessed. Watching them, I was able to imagine what my own funeral would look like, with all my family gathered around my coffin.

Courtesy of Jill Pavlov

A day later, I was all ready to go home, when my aunts and uncles came through the door, followed by a woman I had never seen before. I immediately knew what was up: I was about to get an intervention. ‘When someone is drowning,’ my Aunt Judy said to me, ‘you don’t let them drown. You jump in and save them. Let us be your lifeguards.’ I was so overwhelmed, but vowed to myself to be strong. So I did what I do so well, I shut off all emotions and placed myself somewhere else in my mind so I wouldn’t cry.

They told me they had changed my flight and I’d be heading to Wickenburg, Arizona to get treatment at ‘The Meadows Ranch.’ I was livid. I was going to have to miss my cousin’s wedding, my best friend’s bachelorette party, and most importantly, my week long trip to Paris and London with my Dad, where we were going to see the Philadelphia Eagles play. I texted my parents from the airport, telling them I hated them to my core and I would never forgive them.

My first night, I cried and screamed bloody murder, fully unable to accept my fate. But as my head hit the pillow, dressed in a hospital gown, so far from home, a weird peace washed over me. It was almost a relief to no longer be responsible for my own life. To no longer be alone in this secret. And for the first time in years, I felt safe.

One of my first days of treatment, one of the techs told me she previously had a drug problem and an eating disorder. ‘If I can recover, anyone can.’ I remember thinking, ‘Anyone can, EXCEPT me.’ I’d always succeeded at whatever I put my mind to, but stopping my eating disorder behaviors was something I just could not do. I had tried this before and failed. I walked around with my eating disorder like an impending death sentence, progressively getting worse and worse, praying for death to finally end the pain and mental anguish.

It was 65 of the hardest days of my life. I was so underweight and fragile I spent the first three weeks in the hospitalization unit, where I wasn’t even allowed to walk. Meals were chosen for me and I had to eat 100% of foods that absolutely terrified me. I was stripped of my cell phone and laptop and didn’t have a connection to the outside world. I was monitored in the bathroom, which at first was humiliating, but it was for my own benefit. I spent all day with therapists and nutritionists, answering soul searching questions. I was forced to tear myself apart from the inside out to get to the root of what was really going on inside my head.

And something happened in those 65 days I spent in treatment. Being removed from the insanity of my life, having stricter rules than previous treatment centers, not being able to get away with any of my behaviors…it changed me. And as my weight went up the scale, I began to feel lighter and lighter. I learned to value things in myself other than my looks — like my humor, my compassion, my writing skills, and my family. It was the first time I felt like my old self in almost two decades.

Courtesy of Jill Pavlov

And the better I felt, the more I realized my life isn’t dependent on how I look, it’s about how I FEEL. And I feel the best I’ve felt in my whole life. I am FREE from the mental anguish of my eating disorder. I no longer chastise myself for a natural human act: EATING. I don’t berate myself with insults if I skip the gym. I don’t punish or shame myself. My happiness is not related to the size of my boobs or butt or stomach or thighs.

I’m no longer selfish, and I have the mental space and emotional availability to be a good friend, daughter, sister, girlfriend, co-worker, and cat mom. I’m more creative with my career because I’m not weighed down with depressing or anxious thoughts. All the things I thought beauty would bring me, I got after gaining 50 pounds in treatment. I got them because of the person I am inside.

Courtesy of Jill Pavlov

Life gets SO MUCH EASIER when you realize all you need to feel beautiful on the outside is to love who you are inside. I don’t always love my body’s physical appearance, but that doesn’t stop me from appreciating what ACTUALLY MATTERS about it — it’s ability to do all the necessary functions to keep me alive. It may not have a model body, but it is a HEALTHY body, a body that deserves to be nurtured and fed, not deprived!

Recovery from an eating disorder is not guaranteed. No one with an eating disorder is ever ‘cured’ or ‘fixed.’ I have to get up every day and literally FIGHT FOR MY LIFE. It may sound dramatic, but one wrong step and I’m back in the binge/purge/restrict holding pattern. I have to be aware 24/7, because food isn’t something I can just avoid the rest of my life, like drugs or alcohol. Every meal is a potentially life-altering decision.

Don’t get me wrong, it definitely gets easier to eat normally. At this point in my recovery, it’s pretty close to natural. But it’s key for me to stay humble and know there’s always a chance I could slip. I’m not invincible, as much as my ego used to love to think so. But I’m thankful and grateful for the self-monitoring recovery forces me to do. It means I’m constantly evaluating. Constantly learning. Constantly growing. Staying in tune with my true motivations allows me to control my actions in all areas of my life.

This eating disorder, this dark cloud once thought to be my death wish, has been a blessing in disguise. I wouldn’t be the strong, confident woman I am today without having hit my rock bottom. I realized it wasn’t ATTENTION I was craving, but PURPOSE. And now I have a solid one: to help others achieve the happiness I have, hopefully through my talents in writing. I want to write multiple books on all I’ve learned!

I’m so happy and fulfilled I want to shout it from the rooftops, and I want everyone to be able to feel this way. No one should have to live in darkness. If you are suffering from an eating disorder, I will remind you what was told to me: ‘If I can recover, anyone can.’ And maybe you don’t believe it, just like I didn’t at the time. But I am living proof it can, and will, happen.”

Courtesy of Jill Pavlov

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Jill Pavlov of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. You can follow her journey on Instagram. 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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