TRIGGER WARNING: The following discusses Eating Disorders and mentioning of some behaviors.
During my senior year of college, I wrote a “break-up” letter to my eating disorder in honor of National Eating Disorder Awareness week. It was a very strong “It’s not me, it’s you” declaration of me initiating taking my life back. In that season, I was two years out of treatment, and beginning to experience the fruits that were sown through all the heart work that is in congruency with recovery. In that writing piece, I researched and crafted this statement:
“ Somewhere in the world right now, you have eight million people held hostage in the grasp of your hands. Eight million people whose time is being wasted believing lies about them that isn’t true. Eight million people whose passions aren’t being pursued. Eight million people whose support system and friendships are crumbling before them. Eight million people who cry themselves to sleep. Eight million people who skip meals. Eight million people who lost their joy. Eight million people who don’t remember what it’s like to live without a fiery voice barking orders in your ear. Eight million people who have a false representation of what love is. That is eight million people too many”.
This year though, I couldn’t just repost that blog in honor of this week and call it a day. You see, that post is due for an update because the above statement I wrote is no longer accurate. In fact, a statistic provided by the National Eating Disorder Association, as of January 2021 corrects my 8 million referenced and increased to 10 million. One of those 10 million people included within that statistic was a girl I attended school with at one time in my life. Only, this girl isn’t celebrating her healing this week like I am. Instead, she lost her life to the disease that has the highest mortality rate among any other mental illness in women 18-24 (Source: Eating Disorders Coalition, Facts About Eating Disorders: What the Research Shows). I am celebrating healing this week, she is not. I simultaneously radically accept this and find my heart completely broken and hurting over it.
It was a rare, rainy Sunday in San Diego and I was partaking in what every other young adult does… browsing social media with a glass of wine to avoid the “Sunday scaries” of course! I came across a name that took my breath away. One I once knew in what seemed like another life. Right below the fifty thousandth engagement post I eye-rolled at, I was met with “name of girl obituary”…. My heart dropped. I subconsciously held my breath and tension housed itself in my chest as I hesitantly clicked the link to reveal what I wondered all these years… “did she make it?” I didn’t like the answer to my question: No. She lost her battle. The one we were fighting at the exact same time and no one knew about…but we did. We knew it about one another, but we were the “secret keepers”. The AP students and valedictorians of secret-keeping. In my experience, usually, people with big secrets are gifted in detecting the big secrets of others. This turned out to be a secret I wish I never kept.
Twice a week, I lead a small group with my 5th-grade gals and we talk about all things growing up. One topic we’ve touched on is promises and secrets we keep, and promises and secrets we should NEVER keep. Promises/ secrets you should always break are classified under if someone is being hurt, is hurting themselves, or is unsafe. As a teacher, my biggest hope is that my kids turn out FAR better than I am. Please, surpass me in all areas, that’s what I want and dream for you. This is a lesson I hope they carry with them in the depths of their being far longer than their time in my class is sentenced to be. I would rather them experience having a “mad” friend than a dead friend. I hope they never know what it’s like the receive news that doesn’t just knock on your door but breaks it down only leaving you with the remorse of keeping a secret they never wish they did. Because that’s what I was handed on that rainy Sunday. The sky cried with me.
This year, in honor of this week and the girl I once knew who isn’t celebrating with me, I wrote a letter to my treatment team.
While I did an incredible amount of heart work, I would be nowhere without the team of professionals I had. The full circle life moment about this is I have to drive past the center I was in every day on my way to work. A job I most likely wouldn’t have if it wasn’t for this team. As imaginable, there are several deep layers and elements to this letter I’ve crafted, but a section includes lessons I’ve learned and accomplishments I’ve made. My sincerest and only reservation or agenda in sharing this intimacy in this blog resides in hope that a struggling ED sister or brother sees the tangible life and love that has the potential to lie ahead of them like it did for me. You see, when I was struggling with ED, hopes for the future were clouded. ED just unplugs all of the electricity for hope and I was trying to navigate myself to find candles, flashlights and turn the light back on in pitch-black darkness. Here’s what life can looked like when finally turned the light on:
Lessons I’ve learned:
- Reconnecting with life, is way better than rushing through it.
- Saying “no” is loving yourself.
- Treatment is where the worlds’ secrets to “success” were exposed. I never listen to the world anymore.
- Let me eat cake! Education and value in learning there no technical label “good” food or “bad” food…yes really! Go ask my kick ass Dietician!
- I want my heart to weigh as much as possible.
- Drive life, don’t just survive it.
- Fat is not a feeling.
- Feelings are not facts.
- Anger is not a “bad” feeling. Also, whoever told you to sweep anger under the rug to never see the light of day…was WRONG.
- There is a whole, complete separate person from your Eating Disorder. Get to know THAT person.
Accomplishments I achieved, and experiences I lived WITHOUT my Eating Disorder and post-treatment:
- First-person in my family to graduate college!
- Moved to a city I never visited 5 days after graduating.
- Built a life I loved in that city (Shoutout to you Nashville, I miss you).
- Earned a teaching credential and license.
- Taught Kindergarten in an underprivileged school.
- Started a blog and writing more.
- Had my story put in a college ministry book (HEY DELIGHT).
- Surprised my best friends MULTIPLE times.
- Gained THE BEST friends. Seriously, all the best friends in the world…I get to call them MINE!
- Was able to BE THERE for friends. Support them. Cheer them on. Love them.
- Drove cross country with my dad.
- Saw snow fall for the first time
- Became a dance teacher.
- Became and fell in love with being a 5th grade teacher.
- Rescued a pup.
On this week every year, I am often met with “why are you so open about your Eating Disorder?” “Isn’t that personal?” The answer is YES! This is not my favorite topic to pour out into the world. First, I cannot sit here and fail to acknowledge that people shedding their armor in exchange for vulnerability to share and let me into their own story is one of the strongest tools that empowered me to want to recover. Second of all, as I learned from this entire experience I just wrote about, look where keeping secrets got me. Look where it got the girl I once went to school with. This is not a secret worth keeping. Having your hair fall out due to a lack of nutrients in attempting to exchange it for control, is not a secret worth keeping. Having difficult moments breathing because your internal organs are working overtime, all the time to keep you alive is not a secret worth keeping. Crying yourself to sleep feeling like being “skinny” is the only aspect of life my mastery is found in, is not a secret worth keeping. Everyone’s story is so unique, intimate, personal, and woven into the depths of their lives, and I honor that to the highest degree. This is a chapter of my story I personally don’t find value in keeping a secret. Eating Disorders have secrets too. In fact, ED keeps the best secret of all from you: LIFE.