Trigger Warning: This post will discuss disordered eating, sexual abuse, self-harm, and suicidal thinking.
Next month will mark my 14th anniversary of entering an in-patient eating disorder program in Guelph, Ont. The journey to get to that point and since leaving it has been a roller coaster of emotions, highs and lows, and life realizations that I needed to put my healing first.
For the most part, I’m very open about my mental health diagnoses and how I’ve learned to cope. However, one that I have been relatively quiet about, aside from simply mentioning it, is my journey with an eating disorder (ED) or more commonly referred to nowadays as disordered eating.
This has been a part of my life since I was young, and when I say young, I mean before I hit double digits.
How it began
You see, I was six years old when my disordered eating began. A babysitter was looking after me after school during that time. She had three children, with the youngest son being 12 at the time, taking a bit of extra interest in me. Then, one afternoon, he decided to change my life forever. That day began three years of constant sexual abuse at his hands. I’m not going into further detail about the abuse; however, I will say that to this day (I’m now 35), I still have vivid flashbacks that bring me to tears.
Anyway, my disordered eating began after one of these encounters (I really don’t know what to call them). There was a box of cookies sitting just outside the kids’ area. I snuck out, grabbed the cookies and binged on all of them. It was an almost full box of cookies, and I ATE ALL OF THEM! My thinking, which I remember so clearly to this day, was that a good girl does what they’re told to do, and they get cookies for being good. I took what I had to endure as a good girl, and I needed to feel that way, which is where the cookies came in as some award.
The abuse went on for three years without a soul knowing about it. I was threatened with a slew of things by my abuser, and I just wanted to survive. This disordered eating began seeping into other areas of my life and became my go-to coping mechanism. As a child, my weight started to skyrocket. I wasn’t happy with what I saw in the mirror, which would lead me to binge on food.
It got to the point where I stopped eating my lunches because I didn’t want to gain weight, although they were very healthy. I would leave them in my backpack for weeks to the point that my parents started to get suspicious when I would carry my homework instead of putting it in my bag. It was terrible, and this went on until I was nine years old.
How it progressed
Just before Grade 4, my parents let me switch schools, which was a damn blessing! It was my way of escaping my abuse, and no one had to know what I went through. Unfortunately, however, the damage from the abuse and disordered eating was done, and it would take almost 20 years to start to recover.
In my new school, I started trying to purge after eating. Then, when it wouldn’t work, I would binge even more out of disappointment. While all this is going on, puberty hits and my body changes, and my mental health issues come with it. So when we moved to a new town in Grade 7, I hoped it would kickstart my recovery. But man, was I wrong. From 12 onwards, ED goes completely wild.
Things get even worse when I come home from university after my first year. I decided I needed to get my weight under control, so I signed up for a popular diet program. But, as the weight started to fall off, I wanted to lose even more. So, In addition to my limited calorie intake from the program, I decided to cut it even further. I also added exercise to my routine to burn calories even faster.
The restrictive eating led to countless hypoglycemic episodes, fainting spells and more. But I never told anyone about what I was doing.
The secret is out
In the autumn of 2007, my life was in utter disarray. Actually, I would say that’s an understatement. I was in a severe spiral, where about everything helped hide my depression, mania and eating disorder. Then, one night, following things about me being discovered, I attempted suicide. My boyfriend came to my house and told my parents, and I was rushed to the hospital.
I was in the hospital overnight, and it was there that my habits and actions were given names and diagnoses for the first time. The first was depression, which I had been treated for off and on for about seven years at that stage. And the second was an eating disorder. Somehow, this cleared so much up for my parents at the time.
Being in such a spiral was crucial for me to get into a program. Unfortunately, once the diagnosis was made, my coping mechanisms were taken away from me (food), and I found myself cutting. This was the darkest of times. That’s where my father went into overdrive to get me into Homewood in Guelph, Ont. In February of 2008, I was admitted for a three-stint for their eating disorder program.
Everything is better in a bubble
During my months at Homewood, I found myself opening up about things I’d never talked about to anyone. It was the first time I spoke about the three-year-long abuse I endured. It was also the first time I acknowledged my self-hate and how badly I had lost control.
I found myself getting my voice back, becoming assertive, and learning to appreciate my body and what it does for me. Not only that, I was learning how to intuitively eat and not feel guilt with the food I was consuming. I was being healthy. I was getting to be active in the right way. I was finding myself.
At the end of my three-month stay, we were prepped to re-enter the real world. This was a terrifying time. I hadn’t noticed at the time that I had built up my entire recovery to that point on the idea that my boyfriend would be there to support and appreciate the new me.
When I left Homewood, it was about another six weeks before I could join an outpatient program to continue with my progress. And, what seemed to be the worst thing of all at the time, I learned that my boyfriend, the one I did everything for, was cheating on me.
The relapse and rising from the ashes
Following our breakup, I didn’t see the point in anything. I was suicidal, binging and purging, and just a complete mess. It took me about four weeks before realizing I didn’t want to live like this anymore. I wanted recovery. I wanted to be happy. And I wanted all of these things for me.
When I started the outpatient program, I worked hard and focused on becoming a better version of myself. I followed meal plans, attended all the therapy sessions, including family therapy and more. As a result, I found a confidence in myself that I’d never had before. I started to acknowledge my worth and what I bring to the world.
It’s been a long road, with some slips along the way, but I keep sticking with it. Some days, there are times I want to say, “Fuck it!” and give up. But thanks to therapy, including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and, more recently, dialectic behavioural therapy (DBT), I’m becoming stronger than ever.
I’m am a work in progress, and I always will be. But I vow to myself, and I guess anyone reading this, that I will never get to where I was in my early 20s. The past helped make me stronger and wiser.
When I look back on where it all started to where I am now, I wish I had found my voice to ask for help a hell of a lot sooner. I wish I weren’t so afraid of people and opening up when I was younger. But, those challenges and struggles helped make me the person I am today. I’m perfectly flawed, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. So, that’s my ED story.
If you ever need someone to talk to, please don’t hesitate to reach out. I will be your shoulder to cry on, vent to, and most of all, support you. You will always have a friend in me.
Until next time.