So this week is National Eating Disorder Awareness week and this is a cause that I’m super passionate about. I feel like our society both refuses to acknowledge eating disorders as a serious issue and alienates and shames those who are suffering. This is the kind of stuff that makes me absolutely furious. You see, I struggled with an eating disorder for many years and I know what it feels like to be struggling and to feel like you can’t tell anyone because no one understands and no one believes you.
I was always chubby growing up. I remember being teased about it all through elementary school and into middle school. It always hurt, but I always had some comeback to get the other kids to shut up. I remember going shopping with my mom and feeling like I didn’t look good in anything. I remember going to the doctor’s office and being told that I was at risk of becoming over weight. In my mind I didn’t hear “at risk” I just heard the words “Over Weight” echoing over and over again in my head.
There’s one very distinct memory that stands out to me. I remember riding the bus in ninth grade and the guys sitting across from me started making fun of me and at one point one of them turned to me and said:
“Abby, you’re so fat you should probably just kill yourself.”
I don’t remember when it started, but at some point I just started skipping meals.
“Sorry Mom, late to school! No time for breakfast!”
“No, I’m not hungry.”
“I already ate.”
“I’m just not feeling well.”
“We’re eating at her house.”
If I felt that I had eaten too much at a certain meal I would just purge it. I would tell myself that I had been weak and that I would be stronger next time. I punished my body for this perceived weakness.
But it didn’t matter what I did, I still felt terrible about myself. I couldn’t tell anyone because I was so afraid of people knowing how deeply insecure I was or knowing how much I hated myself. I covered up those feelings with false confidence and forced happiness. I found my own way of dealing with the deep pain I felt inside. I used physical pain to cope with (what seemed like) the unending emotional pain. And those scars, both physical and emotional, are still healing.
Now I don’t have an incredible recovery story about going to treatment for months and about suddenly becoming happy and healthy. It has taken time and is continuing to take time to become happy with the way I am. It came with making incredible and supportive friends, with building healthier relationships with my parents, and with growing in my Faith. There are days when it’s still hard, this isn’t a pain that just leaves you. There’s no immediate healing. It takes time.
Now I don’t tell my story because I want pity. I tell it for a couple reasons:
Telling our stories gives them validity. I’ve spent years denying my story for fear that it would bring judgement from the people closest to me and for fear of admitting to myself that I was deeply hurting and insecure.
We need to be encouraging those who are suffering to tell their stories and we must be willing to listen. Just by listening to people’s stories we tell them that we believe them and care. We cannot alienate and judge people for suffering. They deeply need us. They deeply need you.
I seemed happy and healthy. I didn’t look like I was suffering. I seemed OK. I look back at pictures from that time and can see that I wasn’t nearly as fat as I perceived myself to be.
If someone comes to you to share their story with you, don’t just assume that they’re lying or exaggerating because they seem happy and healthy. It’s not always the morbidly obese, the abused, or the stunningly beautiful who are suffering (not to say that they don’t.) If anyone comes to you and says they are struggling, you have to believe them.
My story has the potential help. There are very few people in my life who know this part of my story. And I never thought that it would be something that I would be able to write about, but I was prompted by another friend of mine sharing her story. While I’m not thankful for this part of my story, I have had opportunities in my life to help others who are struggling because I understood. I understand.
If you have a story to share, share it. It isn’t easy and it isn’t fun and sometimes it comes with tears and deep pain, but your story is worth telling and I can assure you that there’s someone in your life who needs to hear your story.
If someone comes to you and tells you that they are struggling do not assume that they are just doing what they are for attention. That is one of the most unhelpful and destructive things you can do in a situation like this. Take the time to listen and be supportive.
If you’re suffering:
TELL SOMEONE: I assure you that there are people in your life who care and want to hear what’s going on with you and want to help you. This person can help you in getting help or can help to keep you accountable.
YOU’RE NOT ALONE: You are not the only person who has felt this pain. You’re not crazy, you’re not a freak, you’re not unacceptable. The worst thing you can do is alienate yourself. I know how deeply it hurts, and you have to know that there are others who have gone before you.
IT GETS BETTER: I promise you, this feeling will not last forever. It hurts and is terrible and seems like it will never end but it will. There is hope for Joy and normalcy and acceptance. I felt like I was never going to be OK again. I felt like I was dying from the horrible pain and hatred I felt inside but I am OK. I am surviving. I am happy. I’m not saying it is easy or that it won’t take time but I promise that it is worth it. You will get out of this alive and there are people in your life who are willing to help you.
This was really hard for me to write. It’s never easy to tell my story but I know that I’m better because of it and that I am the person I am today because of the things I’ve gone through and the things I’ve learned from them. So let’s not sit idly by and ignore this very serious issue. Talk to the people in your life, do not shame those who are suffering, tell your story. I promise, you will not regret it,
Here are some helpful links: