Why I Fought For Life – An Eating Disorder in Recovery

From the very first moment we met, I knew there was more.  More to offer the world, more to experience, more to learn, more to love. Life for this 17 year old wasn’t as it should be and it was heart breaking to see.

I first met Summer around two years ago after her desperate parents were seeking help with their daughters disordered eating. After a couple of stints in and out of hospital it was getting to the point where Summer’s eating disorder was doing damage to her internal organs. It was a worrying time for all.  More intervention was needed which is where I stepped in as Nutrition and Health Coach, and someone who had also suffered from disordered eating at the same age (food restriction), to help supplement the help she was already receiving.   

Summer was stuck in patterns of temporarily bingeing. This was leading to a decrease in the distress (that triggered the action) by offering a way to avoid true feelings. In the long run though, binge eating (with compensatory behaviours) also comes at a very high cost to long-term health.  As long there is a disregard of what the body needs, sufferers will be stuck in an eating disordered pattern which is where becoming mindful is crucial to recovery.  This is the area I focussed on throughout our 15 weeks together.
In a nutshell we focussed on together
– reaching a safer weight (without the pressure of using a scale but mindful strategies)
– learning to overcome bulimia / anorexic behaviours (through self monitoring)
– learning to accept your body
– being happy with yourself and setting larger scale goals to focus on
It has been over a year since our last formal chat and it has been beautiful to watch Summer go from only just surviving to now thriving and helping others understand the reasons why these disorders exist and wanting to assist others in recovery. Over the next couple of weeks, Summer will share her inner thoughts, feelings and words in hope of helping others become aware of the hidden world suffers with eating disorders live in.   It takes massive courage to overcome an eating disorder and to now have the strength to speak out and help others through their own painful journeys, is why this young woman is such an amazingly, beautiful soul.

Why I Fought For Life – An Eating Disorder in Recovery

I can pinpoint the precise moment I decided life wasn’t for me anymore. That I was done fighting, that I told the psychologist with doctors and parents in the room to let the disorder take me. It had been 3 years of mental torture to reach that point. Ironically, it was 3 days later that I woke up in a Mental Health Ward in Logan, Brisbane that I decided I wanted life. Waking up in that Mental Health Ward triggered a metaphorical response. For 3 years, I felt trapped inside of my mind; I secluded myself and felt like the world was against me. My vision for 3 days in the ward was precisely that. I woke up to 4 white walls, a box, with a dimmed light (mentally – my glimmer that life was still waiting for me) glowing above my head. My family and friends all lived on the Gold Coast, about an hour and half drive. Physically being in this ‘box’ made me value the love I had from my family and friends. I missed them. Dearly.

The mind is a very powerful thing. I created this false world that was filled with expectations that then lead to disappointments. I set out to achieve the ‘perfect’ image. Many times was I complimented on my physical appearance when I was very ill. This only fuelled my eating disorder. There was lots of ‘fads’ that created this image… “Thigh gap, flat stomach, skinny…” then “Big bum, lean legs, skinny…” Skinny. That was one fad that never seemed to go away. It seemed to be in every conversation… “I wish I was skinner.” “She’s so skinny, I wish I had her body.” “My Summer goal is so be skinny.” I couldn’t escape the conversation, how could I? It was a conversation between millions. A conversation that is still so prevalent today.

A lot of what fuelled my disorder was guilt. I felt guilty for feeling like I didn’t achieve this image of beauty. I felt guilty for not completing tasks. I had always had very low self-esteem, from a young age. That all started with bullying and noticing that my physical features were different to everyone else’s view of ‘beauty’ when I was young. I am a perfectionist. When I do a job it has to be done with such precision. I believe your mental health is very much dependent on your environment and how susceptible you are to that environment. A confident and driven young man or woman are going to perceive their environment, negative or positive, acknowledge the message and utilise the tools given. A low-self esteemed young man or woman will perceive their environment and will fall victim to the criticisms and ‘norms’. In turn, trying to control that image. With a feeling of failure to control the image, comes with the feeling of guilt.

Guilt (emotion): “When a person believes they have compromised his or her own standards of conduct or has violated a moral standard and bears significant responsibility for that violation.” With eating disorders, especially Bulimia, after a binge, purge, cycle the realisation that you violated a moral standard, a moral standard being control, intuition and peace haunts you. With anorexia, the ‘ghost’ is constant. The ghost being guilt.

I was always pretty aware that I had an eating disorder, just in denial that anything bad would happen to me. A breakup is what triggered my down fall. I allowed my happiness to be a person, I allowed him to be a comfort zone and home. When that stability, that ‘rock’ got wooshed away I felt lost and alone. Those feelings is what my disorder thrived on. It used them to guilt me into thinking I wasn’t good enough or I didn’t do good enough. You’ll notice I’m talking about my disorder as if it was a person… In truth, it was. It tormented and controlled every thought until it became cognitive. This is the process to the feeling I described earlier. You know how your car needs fuel in order to get you from A to B? My eating disorder’s fuel was my guilt, ‘happiness’, ‘love’ and everything in between, until it used it all up. Until there was nothing. Until I was empty.

Of course there is a lot of days I feel empty, depleted and tired. But I understand now that it is okay and normal to have those feelings. We are only human. We only have one responsibility in life and that is just to live it. Throw back to 15,16, 17 year old Summer she would have believed that these feelings were frowned upon. That if you had them, it meant you had to be ‘depressed’. That is not the truth at all. Something that I noticed growing up and something that is still so prevalent with children and adolescents today is that to be ‘sad’ means you are ‘depressed.’ Depressed is a feeling. You can be depressed and not have depression. You can be happy but not feel enlightened. All are very normal feelings which is something that I believe should be stressed to kids today, especially while they’re young and it even applies to all ages. Normalise their feelings, compliment their attitudes and behaviours. Let them know you are proud of how they treat people and how they apply themselves to work or school. Compliment their mind and heart. Something that really helped me with self-love was complimenting one thing about myself. Staring myself down in the mirror and complimenting one thing that I actually loved about myself. As silly as it sounds, I started complimenting my lips. I love my lips. From there it stemmed to my freckles, the kisses from the sun. To my big brown eyes, the eyes that are the window to the soul. It is then I started to realise the things I loved about my personality. It can start with just one simple thing! It can be absolutely anything… how you get happy when it pours, how your eyes crinkle when you smile and laugh, the feeling you get when you see your dog hurdling towards you.

Self-love takes time. Happiness is a journey not a destination. Join me on my yellow brick road, my quest to the big and wonderful emerald city. I believe beauty is around every corner and with one door closing, another opens. We gain mindfulness with our experience and our experience comes from a connection to the world. It can truly be a beautiful place, Don’t be afraid to go grasp it.

With Love,

Summer xx

See you next week with Summer’s next post that focusses on social media, technology and “My Life During””

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