“I remember growing up and not minding my body. As a child, my favorite thing was the treetops. I loved how they stretched and swooned for the sky, not caring about how desperate they looked, or how full their fingertips were as they embraced the clouds. I even told my aunt I wanted to marry the treetops.
I missed the days when big things didn’t offend me.
I was eight, with a body learning how to balance a tight rope between ‘woman’ and ‘fat.’ Tottering on ‘full figure’ or ‘belly,’ I remember being told I was gaining a stomach. Encouraged to do 100 crunches a day to maintain a flat stomach, as if the river of my flesh lapping over the shore of my belt was something problematic or left unkept. I wanted to be approved of, so I would pinch my body with disdain and would have fleeting thoughts I didn’t understand but felt.
I didn’t understand you, but I felt you. I didn’t understand you until we became teenagers together.
Some could blame my upbringing or the abuse I endured as a child for the foundation of my eating disorder, sure. It didn’t matter in the end though, because what gave you a voice was my ex-boyfriend.
David, let’s call him David. David was, in my eyes, the perfect man for me. Big, round, green eyes that sparkled like an emerald ocean in a chasm, surrounded by a meadow of lush lashes. Straight, fine, soft brunette hair always had to be cut above his ears, even though he hated it. His braces would cut the inside of my lips, and maybe I should’ve taken that as a forewarning, but I didn’t.
David spoke directly to my soul like the god he set himself up to be. Sitting on a throne of self-righteousness and pride that deteriorated my soul slowly in the name of love. Before our relationship developed, David had an attachment to a certain pastime that morphed into an overpowering addiction. He would then compare me to the women he stored in the cold self-preserving coffins of his imagination, pumped directly to his brain from the internet. He reached out his hand for help, in the name of ‘Accountability Partner’ just to grab my heart by the wrists and launch me to the floor as he berated me with, ‘If you had picked your phone up when I called, it wouldn’t have happened.’ Or, ‘I needed you, and you weren’t there.’
All I wanted was to please him so he made a pact with me. When my adolescent acne started guest-starring on my chin, he promised me his Proactive Skin Care if I could stay away from makeup for a week. He said it made me look too perfect. So, was I too perfect? Or not perfect enough? Either way, the tiles on the tectonic plates shifted by the sheer force of his mind, and I couldn’t keep up.
When I started showing signs of restricting my food, he encouraged it. ‘You know you’ll get fat if you drink that soda right?’ He’d casually say along with other degrading comments and jokes. He was the star of the show, snatching the spotlight from my love for performing arts and forcing it upon himself as the comedian and me the joke. His audience, his friends thought he was the greatest. They laughed as I slipped deeper into the arms of a disorder I didn’t fully understand but felt more deeply.
When David left and the abuse was exposed, you took the mask off, took my hand, and introduced yourself as Ana.
Ana was a knight in shining armor. She had the answers to all my problems. I already felt incapable, because I felt my family was at an advantage. They were achieving great grades in school, honor roll each year, and I could barely make it past a C in some classes. It’s not that I couldn’t. No, as you can see, I am smart.
No, it was because I was weighed down. It felt as if my trauma grew into a giant called Depression and sat directly on my rib cage comfortably, using my organs as pillows and my skin as a blanket. It got comfortable and made love with my mind until Ana was born. Ana convinced me if I could just lose weight, I’d be worth something. We had this ritual, you see. She and I would go over foods and decide which ones were too dirty for me. She was trying to make me pure and light, something I could not achieve with all the heavy, disgusting, greasy, fatty foods weighing me down. She was just trying to have me reach my full potential.
So, Ana extended her hand, I took it, and she slowly led me down a path of numbers. I began losing weight, but I didn’t notice. My body looked the same, even though my heart felt like a bird fluttering in a panic to escape its cage inside of my chest whenever I’d climb the stairs. Maybe it was my soul crying out for help.
I remember snacking on Tylenol PMs when I was hungry, or just becoming so emotionally numb until I didn’t feel anything. Each morning I would tell myself, ‘String cheese and pistachios, that’s it. If you’re hungry, eat French fries, if you’re STARVING eat Greek yogurt. Only if you absolutely can’t stand it.’ The whole point was to starve though, I would tell myself my stomach growling was applauding me for having enough discipline to restrain myself from engulfing everything morsel of food I saw.
I would wake up in the middle of the night to feel desperately for my hip bones as if I was an archaeologist searching for a prized fossil I was afraid of losing. My collar bones were naturally there, so there was no neurotic haste and there was nothing to earn. I felt if I couldn’t feel my bones, all the fat had come back and my progress was gone. I was worthless again. My worth was a tiny ice skater, carving out a figure in my bones: The Perfect Girl.
People came into my life that silenced Ana with love and verses from the Bible. I reached for Jesus, and He took my hands and led me away from her.
I thought she was gone for good, but she had just tucked herself into my pocket for a rainy day.
And the rain did come.
In 2017, I was living in an Independent Living Program, and I had just been kicked out. I loved that group home, but it felt like my mind had not allowed me to live there. It felt it wasn’t ready to face the fact that my core truths were built on opinionated points of view. I felt so out of control.
I was sitting in the bathroom in March of 2017 and grasped into the depths of my mind and pulled Ana out from the chains I had her in for four years. She was a small little frail thing but smiled at me when I welcomed her back. She gave me an attitude of, ‘Okay, let’s get to work’ as I dedicated my life to my eating disorder.
It felt like a high, a forbidden love. Two star crossed lovers from the opposite side of the planet came together to reunite a spark that flamed a love story for the ages. Ana, a beautiful blonde ghostly siren who beckoned me, someone who didn’t deserve her guidance to an ethereal way of living. I was better than everyone else because I wasn’t reliant on food. I was so incredibly disciplined. I received accolades from my family about my weight loss, so I fastened my seat belt. I felt like my soul attached to a bird or the wind itself, and it flew wherever it took me.
And it took me.
People I once viewed as my loved ones became my enemies. Food was the enemy, everything but Ana was the enemy. Ana taught me tricks and tips to sneak this lifestyle under the noses of those who may not ‘agree’ with it. I would take bites of food, then throw the food in my mouth away. I would leave dirty dishes around so others believed I had eaten. I would go on strict fasting diets. These diets were training wheels to discipline my mind into eventually starving completely. Ana was the first and last thing I thought about every day.
The problems arose when my loved ones started to notice. Ana would scream internally when my best friend or father figure would walk into the room. Emily and Benjamin would fight Ana for my heart and voice, but Ana would win every time. It must’ve been so devastating for them to watch me silently slip away like dead leaves in the fall. I remember I would pick at my food, as if I was being fed poison and then push the plate towards Benjamin with disgust. We would get into so many fights, and I swore there were times when I would just let Ana fight the battles for me. I felt her use me like a puppet and God bless that man for seeing the demon in my eyes and praying over me.
I didn’t want God though. I, a dedicated Christian, didn’t want God. I wanted to be left alone with Ana, and I wanted to be free of the shackles of dirty DIRTY poisonous food he was trying to make me eat. He even bought me protein bars, then I would snack on just those. Anything to avoid eating a full meal. I had convinced myself to hate food. Ana had shoved my consciousness into a soundproof box, locked it up, and threw it into an ocean of sorrow. I wasn’t me anymore. Rachel wasn’t there anymore. Ana would imitate Rachel for guests’ appearances. She would use Rachel to soothe the unneeded concern from loved ones. Ana would have Rachel write letters to her parents from summer camp, assuring them she was okay when in reality, she was burning alive, and each moment Ana was there, Rachel was disappearing bit by bit.
I hid a scale in the basement I could go on each morning to record my ‘true weight’ after I used the bathroom. I’d strip and stand on the scale to await my fate. Ana told me for every pound I gained, I would self-harm for it, so I had to be very on top of what I ate. She reminded me daily this lifestyle wasn’t for the faint of heart and I was chosen because I was stronger than the rest. I was so proud of my weight accomplishments, even though I knew this disorder could eventually kill me, I didn’t care.
I remember distinctively thinking and believing ‘I’d rather be dead than fat.’ ‘Underweight’ was like winning ‘Heavy Weight Champ’ or getting the Honor Roll. I remember thinking my family could get the honor roll, but I could get my goal weight. Since appearance was the most important, wasn’t my win the most important? I was able to fit my whole thigh around my hands, and that gave me a light-headed feeling of fear and accomplishment. I had to calm the fear because this was what I wanted right?
I hated myself so much I wanted to disappear and become someone else, someone better. The 2.0 of me. The prettier, better, more gorgeous version of me. Emily saw this lie for what it really was, for she struggled with anorexia too in the past. Emily began to feel so angry with me because she knew I was fully aware of the catastrophe I was in agreement with. Emily could not stomach watching her best friend decay, so she packed up her mind and her belongings and left. My eyes had trained themselves to reach for her in the dark, just to make sure she was there. I did not want to unlearn that habit.
As Emily was leaving, she had talked to Benjamin about my going into treatment. I REALLY REALLY didn’t want to, but Ana reassured me. ‘We’ll go and act. This is all an act, just for them to stay away from us. They’re trying to tear us apart. They don’t understand. Just tell them what they want to hear and act how they want to act and we can continue this. You do want me to help you, right?’
‘YES!’ I’d always, always reply.
So, I went to treatment and hated it, I even recruited two girls while I was in treatment to be my ‘Ana buddies.’ An ‘Ana buddy’ is basically like a hype man for Anorexia. They help you stay on the path of the disorder because they’re struggling too. It’s like a gym partner or a running buddy. They encourage this behavior until A) A girl gets help or B) A girl dies. I talked to them for about 6 months, I even talked to them when things started looking up.
Emily eventually came back, and when she did, she was terrified of me. Emily had witnessed me go from a healthy 130 something to 100 in a matter of months. I’m a short girl, I’m 5 ft, so any weight loss is noticeable on me. When Emily returned into my life, I was down to 86 pounds. I cut my hair short, something I swore I would never do again, and began self-harming, something I also swore I would never do again. A moment I remember was when she was folding my laundry. She picked up my black skinny jeans and saw ‘size 0’. The emotions that swelled and spilled from her throat must have been a cocktail of betrayal and grief. She didn’t speak to me for the rest of the day.
January of 2018, I genuinely began to feel afraid of Ana. My fingers looked like fragile twigs that dangled loosely off of an aged, dried branch. My face had aged and wrinkled in ways it wasn’t supposed to for the next 40 plus years. Even though I was 21, my body had reverted back to the structure of a prepubescent child. My collar bones jutted out of my body and scoffed at every living person who Ana did not approve of. I felt like my spine had become a demon’s jump rope. I wanted this to take over me, but I was too scared to fully commit. Let me stay on the kiddie coaster and never face the big one, even though the big one would be for my benefit.
God saw I felt lost unless Ana was my compass and introduced Ermes into my life.
Ermes is and was a force to be reckoned with. Ermes and I met online, and we started talking on January 16, 2018. Ermes’ passion was bodybuilding and my passion was anorexia. He noticed real quick something was wrong. He saw on our dates, I would cut my chicken into small bites, and when I thought he wasn’t looking, slide them off of my plate into my napkin. This was a ritual I had practiced and thought I perfected. Ermes and I fought a lot at first, and I didn’t understand his humor. He didn’t understand my strict diet or how talking about calories sent me into an anxious frenzy. I think somewhere when he saw there was hope in my recovery, he met me halfway.
And there was hope.
From January to March, I felt myself slowly distancing myself from my disorder. Ana noticed and started losing her mind inside of me, screaming and throwing tantrums. She would summon the tsunami of anxiety and crash the racing thoughts into my lungs until she drowned out my hope, and I was submissive to her again. I remember in January, to prove to Ana I was fully committed to her, I carved her name into my hip, a faint scar I still have to this day.
However, God had other plans for me. The floods lifted up, the floods lifted up their voices. But mightier than the thunder of the great waters is the Lord on high. – Psalm 93:3
March 25, 2018. I woke up that morning feeling something. Something I didn’t feel in a long time and a part of me didn’t want to feel it for a long time.
With Holy Spirit muzzled, I had numbed any feelings of conviction with my lies and opinion. However, God gently nudged on my heart and told me it was time. I turned on ‘Control’ by Tenth Avenue North, and I went to Emily. I told her in a very serious, but anxious and frantic way to turn her camera on and follow me. She followed me into the basement where I pulled my scale out. I felt so embarrassed she saw it, yet, this was confirmation I was doing the right thing. I walked outside, my frail, little, brittle, bony legs carrying me as I made a beeline to the trash can. My weak heart was charged with Ana’s anger as it slammed against my chest, yet it was that pounding that let me know I had to let go. Once I threw it in the can, I looked at Emily and it felt like, for the first time in a long time Ana went silent.
I believe pain is released when freedom is given. The first thing I had tasted and truly enjoyed for the first time in almost a year was Freedom. The taste was so satisfying it trickled down my throat and swelled into my stomach. It illuminated all the empty parts of me that desperately needed nutrition.
I. Was. Free. I WAS FREE. I was FREE!
My face collapsed in on itself as pain swept over me. My eating disorder had wreaked havoc over my body and mind. What had I done? What had I done to myself? The blinders were lifted, and I finally saw the horror that was a skeletal Rachel. There’s nothing romantic about anorexia. There’s nothing kind or soft or safe. It’s a parasite that eats you alive in the name of love. It will give you nothing but cruelty till you die or defeat it.
I told Ermes, and he supported my recovery in such beautiful ways. Not only did he give me whatever food I wanted, he also encouraged me not to be too hard on myself and to continue eating. He was so proud of my recovery and my progress towards healing, that a month and a week or so later, he proposed to me.
What really made my recovery concrete was finding God. It was the love of God that healed the wounds that Anorexia had left me with. It was Jesus, who died on the cross so I wouldn’t have to die of Anorexia, that touched me. I truly felt like I didn’t deserve any love because I had destroyed the temple He created, yet He didn’t punish me for it. He saw my body, cold and on the way to death, and emptied my pockets of anything hiding in them. Anything toxic had to go in the name of Jesus. He saw me for me, not for what was left of me.
There’s a story in Ezekiel 37 where God told His prophet, Ezekiel, to speak over a valley of extremely dry bones to live. Ezekiel believes in faith and prophesies over these bones and they begin to rattle. Muscle, tendons, and skin covered the bones and their life was restored. That’s what The Connect Church in Cherry Hill did for me. The story of the resurrection of Christ carved my recovery in stone. The Bible says the same spirit that raised Jesus from the dead lives in me. (Romans 6:10-11) So since Jesus was raised from the dead, I can be alive and well too. I feel Anorexia can not touch me again because I believe Jesus disarmed all powers of the enemy and made a public embarrassment of them by nailing them to the cross.
2 years, 5 months, and 23 days later, I’m doing very well. My husband and I have our own place, and I found a place in the gym for me. We’ve both awakened a passion for each other’s passions. I’m so grateful for the grace of God. When the self-conscious thoughts come and go, they can never find a landing in my mind because of the Cross.
I’m extremely grateful for the grace He gave others to forgive me for being so cruel and toxic to them, when I was letting that disorder run my life.
If I could give something to you, reader, it would be this: Please, show yourself the love and grace you would show someone you love. A celebrity if you want. Please take this personally, God doesn’t make mistakes, and He made you so beautifully and perfectly. I think you’re perfect. I love what you bring to the table. You are so valuable and loved by God and me.
Thank you for reading this and coming on this three-year journey with me. God has been so good to me and I can’t wait to see how your journey unfolds! Please, one more thing. Use your voice more. The world needs to hear you speak, it’s like a songbird to the oppressed and downtrodden. I believe in you. I’m proud of your journey too. Thank you again for taking the time to hear me, and I’d encourage you to speak up and tell your story too.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Rachel Rojas. Follow her on Instagram here. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your journey. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.
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