The first 5 words that come to mind when I think back to my eating disorder are:
As a child, I went from being fearless to being full of fear. I began to second-guess myself, my every move. Certain people would undermine my confidence and I just didn't have enough to draw from when that happened. I also let fear stop me from being who I really was inside. I played the "what if" game constantly. What if this happens, but what if that happens, etc. I was afraid of what other people would think of me. I was afraid to make a wrong move. I was afraid of being hurt. I was afraid to mess up. I was afraid to see what else I could be besides the thinnest girl that everyone knew. I was afraid to live.
alone. I was bullied by other girls in middle school and that terrible, awful "alone" feeling began then. I was shunned, left to myself. Hurt. I went home crying every day. I had no one. Actually, that's not true. I had one dear friend who kept herself close to me regardless of what others said and did...and for that I will be forever grateful. But I was miserable beyond words and even when the bullying ended and the hell subsided, I felt damaged and cautious. And the fear I described above was ever-present. (Being bullied is part of why I'm so fascinated about the "mean girls" phenomenon and why I am so passionate about helping girls - or anyone! - who are bullied. The link to development of an eating disorder also intrigues me, and if you were one of the 491 participants in the graduate research study I conducted - and even if you weren't - you'll get to hear about my findings at some point this summer.)
I was always the thin girl, often the thinnest girl that anyone knew. It was so much a part of my identity that I was afraid to lose it. I thought that if I stopped being the thinnest girl that I would somehow cease to be ME. There was always so much emphasis on how thin I was - and I felt I had no choice but to feel a sense of pride about it, simply because that was what people focused on so often. Even though my eating disorder was about so much more than weight and appearance, I was obsessed with being thin and staying thin. Mostly because of fear. Partially because I wanted to make myself less, and uglier - to take the focus off my looks. I wanted so badly to be more than just a pretty face, to be seen as the smart, kind, creative person I knew I was - but it was always my appearance that was remarked upon the most. Being thin, staying thin, and getting thinner was a way to detract from that - or so I hoped. It was no way to live and it was dangerous. I was very ill, especially in my first 2 years of college.
And while I had a lot to work on personally, within myself, so much of what fueled my eating disorder had to do with other people. I was a self-proclaimed people pleaser extraordinaire. It goes back to the fear I explained above - being afraid of what they might think about me. But it went further too. I wanted to please my mom, my dad, my teachers. Make them proud. And berate myself if I felt I didn't. I didn't want to do something or be something that would make everyone suddenly shun me again and leave me in the cold, the way it happened in middle school. I tried to please everyone, which is impossible. It took me a long time to learn that, but an even longer time to end the people pleasing, even after I realized the conundrum. I was also shy. I let people take charge, convinced I couldn't be as good at it. I held back, reverting into a scared little girl.
And I was empty. So empty. I was lost. Depleted. All of my energy was gone, all of my hopes and dreams seemed like they were down a deep well and I simply didn't have the strength to pull them up.
***But recovery, now THAT is a splendid thing, my friends. And recovered feels even better. :-) The first 5 words that come to mind when I think of recovery and life now are:
In leaving my eating disorder behind, I was able to learn to love myself. I was able to see and appreciate what I could do and be. I was able to understand myself and give myself permission to feel and falter and move on. I was also able to love everything else. There was so much more time in my every day for LOVING THINGS! I didn't have to waste energy or brain space or time on counting calories, or burning calories, or trying not to think about how hungry I really was, or obsessing over how I looked, or coming up with mean things to say to myself as punishment.
Part of the love came from the fact that I was finally getting back to my authentic self - the self I was as a child. When I was little, I was free and happy. I wasn't shy, I wasn't afraid, I wasn't worried or obsessed. I used to love life and the more I recovered, the more I realized that it had been a long, long time since I had been ME. After age 10, I just kicked the real Arielle to the curb. But I got her back. I got that precious, creative, lit-up, helpful, engaging, ready child BACK. And guess what...
...She was also a woman. I found that all the good parts of me, the REAL parts of me that I loved and longed for had nothing to do with me being a child, even though that was the last time I remembered being my real self. Being a woman was just as good as being a child - but better. I know this is going to sound strange, but I think Women’s Studies helped me be able to accept my body in a big way. I was an English major in college, but I also ended up leaving with a degree in Women’s Studies as well as English. I dabbled at first, taking a Women’s Studies class here and there, ended up making it my minor, and then took the plunge and added a second major to my workload. I liked it that much... and what's more, it made me feel good about myself. While I sat in a lot of my Women’s Studies classes, I began to GROW a deep appreciation for my female body. I was super proud to be a woman, and I realized that a body came with that. I also was able to delve into a lot of eating disorder issues via books, films, discussions, and courses, so I could explore my own feelings, experiences, and better help myself and others. In short, being a Women’s Studies major helped me to like myself. I don’t by any means think that the answer to accepting your body is Women’s Studies. It just happened to be a big part of the equation for me. I found my voice in those classes. I found some of the spirit I felt I had lost. I became less shy, less self-hating, and I discovered things about myself I didn’t even know. Plus, the feeling of...sisterhood, for lack of a better word... made me feel comforted and at ease. I liked feeling like a part of something and that something happened to be womanhood... a piece of the human race... which allowed me to express myself, accept myself and my body, and understand that all women are incredibly different and beautiful.
And all of that stuff helped me to become a leader. In all recovery, and especially as recovery progresses to "recovered," I think we are all leaders. For me, becoming a leader in various aspects filled my heart with purpose. I always say that I'm a woman who wears many hats. I'm an eating disorder recovery blogger (5 years this October!), a soon to be mental health professional (will be an L.M.S.W. this time next year - FINALLY), a wife, a Caseworker, an ANAD eating disorder support group leader (4 years!), ANAD resource person, new eating disorder researcher apparently(!), proud member of EDAN (Eating Disorder Activist Network), contributing blogger to We Are the Real Deal (a fantastically informative and renowned site), weekly video host of the WeRFreEDomFighters channel, and eating disorder speaker.
Now, and for the past several years, I'm free. I've used the word free a lot in regards to recovery and what it feels like to be recovered. I know that for some, using the word "recovered" can feel impossible. For others, it feels like they're jinxing themselves to say something so definitive. For me, I am confident when I use that word and I don't use it lightly. But the word I most prefer - the word that "recovered" really means - is FREE. A few months ago, I created and posted a video called "Arielle's Timeline to Freedom." I had never made a personal timeline to share, simply because that's not what this site is about and too often, people want to see the "triggering" stuff, the shock value glamorization of anorexia. But people are forever asking about my story, and I can appreciate the humanization and closeness that kind of sharing can create, so I concocted my own Arielle-esque idea - a completely different kind of timeline than you've ever seen, complete with resources built in. If you haven't seen it, you can find Arielle's Timeline to Freedom here:
Fight on, so YOUR second set of 5 words can be great ones!