I met Sara at the first NEDA walk in New York City two and a half years ago and we have remained in touch. After ten years of living a healthy, ED-free life, she looked back at her experience with bulimia and realized how lucky she had been to make a full recovery after suffering for 6 years. She decided to get involved helping others and went back to school for her Masters in Mental Health. This guest blog is a retrospective of how she traveled from then to now. ~ Judy
Fake It Till You Make It
The other day, my younger sister sent me a text asking how my fiancé had done on his first semester of law school finals. All three of us are in school working on Master’s right now, in a variety of subjects, having returned to school after years in the work place. I responded that he’d done well (my opinion) – he’d gotten a B and a B+ so far, however he thought the outcome was so-so, and was being a bit hard on himself as a result. I condensed this information into a text response, to which my sister replied that she understood his position, she too is similarly hard on herself. Playing into my typical role in our family, I messaged her back, “You two should both be more like me – I think I’m amazing!”
I’ve come a long way from the days when my thoughts were quite the opposite. When I was growing up, I was very, very hard on myself. Similar to many who have struggled with ED, almost like clockwork, I developed bulimia at age 12, right around the onset of adolescence. Regardless of the strong set of supports that I had in place through out my life, I fell into a spiral of self-loathing and angst. Everything seemed difficult. Years passed and the feelings and the ED behavior continued.
As my freshman year of college closed out, an especially rough one on my poor body, a real sense of my own mortality rose within in me, and I went from feeling invincible to be concerned for my health. I realized that, for all the love and support we might have in the world, we are ultimately responsible for the outcome and direction of our lives. No one can give us happiness or fulfillment. The realization of being alone in this regard wasn’t lonely, it was empowering. No relationship with a friend or a guy was going to make me feel whole, because nothing external was going to. All of the ability to feel the way that I wanted to lay square within me. And I was ready to take that responsibility and make a change.
So I started giving myself the pat on the back that previously, I had expected and desperately needed everyone else to give me constantly for so long. I reminded myself that getting healthy was going to be hard and uncomfortable at times, but it had to be the priority, and I was going to fake it till I made it. It was not going to feel natural or authentic to start, but I needed to practice living like a healthy, confident person with good sense of self and esteem, in order to become one.
I sought the help of a number of therapists at different points during the years of my illness. While I know that they helped in a variety of ways, it wasn’t until I had a modicum of commitment to getting better that I was able to make inroads into the roots of it. This therapist was a woman that I began seeing when I was eighteen. She described the mind and decision-making part of us as the “adult-self,” and the vulnerable, emotional part as the “inner-child.” It was the adult’s responsibility to take care of the child by making good, healthy decisions to keep the child safe. With this in mind, I started to make decisions by checking in with my inner-child. “Does this feel safe? Is this going to be the best decision in the long run?” I stopped acting tough, and I started being real. I reminded myself that I was lucky to be alive, to have a life, to have a family and friends, despite any difficulties I had experienced. I wasn’t perfect, and I was never going to be – nobody is! But I had to take care of myself, because there was only one me. And I began to nourish myself, with healthy food, and sometimes less healthy food, and visits to the gym. I didn’t lose weight, and I didn’t expect to and I didn’t need to. But I felt a whole lot better about myself. I started taking Pilates, and found that connecting to my core muscles gave me a sense of inner strength. Slowly but surely, I began to love myself. As my confidence increased and I set boundaries in my life, the way others related to me changed as well. I was teaching other people how to treat me, based on the way I treated myself. Slowly, all of my relationships began to improve.
My un-wavering commitment to myself manifested into an ED free me, and the empowerment I experienced in getting over that major hurdle in myself carries through into the work I do with people today. I am utterly fulfilled by my life. ~ Sara