‘What if someone calls you FAT again?’ That word held so much pain. I associated my worth with what my body looked like.’: Woman shares journey healing from eating disorder, ‘It’s worth the messiness’

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Trigger Warning: This story contains mention of eating disorders that may be triggering to some.

“My name is Michele and I am currently in treatment for Binge Eating Disorder. I don’t know the exact day BED manifested into my life. For me, it wasn’t one acute traumatic event, but rather a thousand ignored splinters that turned into an infection.

I was 7 when I decided to wear a shirt over my bathing suit because I was shameful of what my belly looked like. The air was exceptionally hot that day, even for a summer day in Michigan. Together with family and friends, we were celebrating my brother’s birthday with a backyard pool party. I was so excited until I gazed at the girl standing in the mirror before me. My caramel and sun-streaked hair disheveled from playing outside all day and a tan to match. My blue almond-shaped eyes that observed everything, too much sometimes. And my belly that was protruding in the green and pink polka dot bathing suit.

Courtesy of Michele Marie

‘What if someone calls you fat again?’ I thought. The worst possible word for someone to call my 7-year-old self. A single word that held so much pain. A word that meant, at the time, something was wrong with me. I quickly rummaged through my messy drawer before settling on the perfect shirt that would cover up all my shame, but also one I wouldn’t mind getting chlorine on. I remember being questioned on that day as to why I was wearing a t-shirt. My response was I felt uncomfortable being in my bathing suit in front of my brother’s friends. Somehow, I knew that would be an acceptable answer over the truth I felt about my body.

Over the next several years, my relationship with food and my body became more complicated. I was 10 when I started experiencing severe anxiety eating certain foods in public. I would hide my school lunch from my classmates because I feared their judgment. I would start associating my worth with what my body looked like and the foods I ate. I’d turn the mirror around in my bedroom because I couldn’t look at myself. I’d decline any pool party invites no matter how much I wanted to go.

Courtesy of Michele Marie

At 13, I started dieting and exercising compulsively. It became an obsession. I hung up pictures of bodies I wanted mine to look like in front of our treadmill. I was determined to start high school with a different body, because then maybe all the shame and guilt I felt would disappear. That this void I felt from not loving myself would be filled. I began restricting certain foods, and binge eating to self soothe anything I didn’t want to feel. When you’re a sensitive soul like me, emotions are heightened, and you feel others’ like it’s another skin. It can be very overwhelming, especially as a child.

Courtesy of Michele Marie

I have always intuitively known my relationship with my body and food was unhealthy, but I also didn’t know what that meant. I knew I didn’t feel like myself in my skin, but for a while, I thought that was how everyone felt. Also, I grew up in a time where mental health and eating disorders weren’t talked about. We weren’t educated like we are today. It was all the rage to be on a diet, and to society, that was healthy. Additionally, I grew up with a split family where for a while, things felt very unsteady. I used food and exercise as a false sense of control to feel stability. I used it to numb out any emotions I didn’t want to feel. I felt like if I explained this to anyone, I would be burdening their lives and causing stress to already strained situations that growing up in a divided household can cause. And so, the restricting, numbing, binging, and ignoring continued, forging this perpetual cycle.

Courtesy of Michele Marie

BED is a nasty rhythm of shame, anger, guilt, and self-loathing. It’s swallowing emotions instead of breathing them in. It can be gruesome to think of food, something you need to survive, as an enemy. You must be around it every day. You must taste and touch it multiple times a day. Yet, when that first sensation of the food hits your tongue, everything fades away. A robotic trance takes over as a numbing mechanism to deal with the pain of being alive. After the box or bag of food is empty, you start to feel again. But instead of being encompassed with joy, you’re filled with that nasty rhythm of self-hatred again. This sequence happens continuously.

Living every day with an eating disorder is a daily re-shattering of already broken pieces. A crashing and breaking of oneself, while still smiling for the world. But I’m starting to see the other end of it. Where tiny flakes of gold shimmer hope against a bleak sky where conviction breathes.

Courtesy of Michele Marie

My journey to recovery from BED is new. After years of disassociating from my body and disregarding my eating disorder, the friction gave way and blistered. This blister forced me to seek out professional help. I suppose it was a matter of time and after all, it was 2020. Sometimes, the world slaps one leg out from under you. But in this instance, it felt like both legs were suddenly taken from me and I was expected to still walk. I was catapulted into my healing journey when driving home I broke down, emotionally. I wanted to disappear into the cosmos. Everything I felt up until that moment flooded my eyes. Maybe it was the nostalgic 90’s song playing on the radio or the peachy sunset exploding in the sky. Maybe it was a higher power forcing me to surrender or maybe I just reached my tipping point and everything started to boil over. Or maybe it was all of these, and they created the perfect container for me to completely fall apart into.

I’m not certain, but what I do know is it was a blessing that has compelled me to dive into this journey of recovery with everything I’ve got. It was a fork in the road kind of moment. I could either continue to suffer while not changing anything or I could suffer but look deeply inward and meet my body at 32. I chose the latter.

Courtesy of Michele Marie

When I submitted to seeking treatment for BED, I thought that decision would be the hardest part of the process. I never imagined finding the RIGHT treatment center would be even harder. Our country isn’t built to support mental health and eating disorders and I quickly learned this firsthand. I spent 3 days calling centers in and out of state. Talked and emailed with several people, including state representatives, and found my insurance covered only one treatment center program. On the first day there, I knew in my whole being this was not the right program for me. There was nothing wrong with it, but I could feel deeply it just wasn’t for me. It was adapted for adolescents rather than adults and I learned this is common among treatment centers because of how prevalent it is in that age range. But I knew if I was going to do treatment, I had to feel good about where I was getting it from.

Courtesy of Michele Marie

Last year wasn’t favorable for us, and I, like many of you, lost my job. Even if I had still been working, I couldn’t afford to pay out of pocket for treatment. Even though I felt discouraged by all of this, there was still this fire of tenacity that raged inside me to get help. I feared if I waited too long, that fire would burn out. The only option left was to take out my pension from a previous job. Though not ideal, I do feel fortunate to have been able to do this. I’m thankful to have had the choice to choose where to get treatment.

My days lately have been filled with learning how to bond with my body. For me, this means dismantling beliefs about what she should look like in order to be worthy. It’s discovering food doesn’t have to be the enemy. It’s using my breath to really connect to the emotions of each day, even the uncomfortable ones. It’s doing the deep work to get back to my core and authentic self. It’s being gentle with myself even when I don’t want to. It’s writing my truths out because they are honorable.

Courtesy of Michele Marie

As humans, we are taught our bodies are separate from us. It’s what I’ve been doing my whole life and I can personally say, it doesn’t work. We get sicker. We live in more fear, more pain, and more regret. When your heart is full of shame, there is no room for love. The more inner healing I do, the more obvious it becomes coming back home to my body is the answer for everything. I’m learning that to gain wisdom, I must turn inwards and listen to her. For freedom, move her. That when the world is on fire, I know I can always keep her safe.

Recovery is not linear, and mending pieces I once thought were broken takes time. I can feel the union back to my body, though. It’s a slow merging of everything I was, everything I am, and everything I can be. There is a dancing ebb and flow to the inner work. But as someone who is in the thick of it, I can tell you it’s worth the messiness. When you start to love yourself wholly, nothing can break you.”

Courtesy of Michele Marie

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Michele Marie from Michigan, USA. You can follow their journey on Instagram and Facebook. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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