Emily: My Journey to Healthy

Not all girls with eating disorders are stick thin, emaciated, and could break at the touch. I was sturdy, always. Sickness isn’t always marked by weight, but by behaviors. I’ve had an eating disorder since I was eight. I spent sixteen years restricting, bingeing, purging, abusing diet pills, laxatives, exercise, and anything else I could get my hands on.

Sometimes, I think being a normal-weight girl with an eating disorder is harder. No one can tell behind the smiles and eyes, just how much pain you’re actually in. I’ve had countless friends shrug off my struggle, dismiss me as an attention seeker, and my parents tell me that if I just stopped eating junk, I could lose weight. I’ve had people at my job make snide comments about dieting to me, and I’ve felt suffocated in conversations that triggered me. There were only two periods in my life when people were aware that my behaviors were supremely unhealthy. But those aside, no one thinks twice when I decline a dinner invitation, leave a restaurant early, or exclaim that “I absolutely HAVE to workout forever today.” The best is when my friends laugh as I say, “I’m never eating again” after a meal. Usually they think I’m just dramatic. They don’t know that I mean I really don’t ever want to touch another morsel of food again.

I can’t even say I remember what started this whole mess in the first place anymore. I just know I was in the fourth grade when I thought it was a fantastic idea to skip lunch. It wasn’t a particularly bad day, or anything. I just know my packed lunch was suddenly unappealing. And so it began…

Initially, my eating disorder was in fits and phases. A few months here & there, a year in middle school. In high school it reared its ugly head my sophomore year and stayed until I was a senior. I hoped I was done with it. However, in college, it came back with a vengeance, and became an unwelcome roommate for many years.

As I finished college, and had no direction as to what came next, my eating disorder just got worse. In college, I had used restriction and exercise as my two modes of control, however, once back in my parent’s house I began experimenting with diet pills, diuretics, and laxatives, and began down a road of bulimia.

The summer I turned 23, I was out to lunch with friends at our local Whole Foods. I had been following some crazy regimen consisting primarily of protein shakes and power bars, and decided that day to have a salad. When I felt compelled to purge after a SALAD, I knew I needed help. Without telling my family (who believed i needed to lose weight) I found myself an outpatient treatment team and got help until I moved for graduate school that fall.

I transitioned to a new city that fall (2008), and convinced myself I’d leave my eating disorder home. However, by January I was miserable. I had convinced myself I needed bariatric surgery (I was nowhere close to qualifying) and made an appointment for a consultation with a doctor. When my mom found out, it caused a whole lot of tension. I found myself a proper treatment team in my city the following week. After that, things seemed to start getting better! I was able to be behavior free for six full months and complete the first year of my masters!!!

Last September, I got busy, and my meal plan, self care, and any ability I had to put recovery as a priority fell to the wayside quickly as I began my internship, the next round of classes, and a rigorous job. With little time to complete my school work, I started to look for control in the only way I knew, and without ever really realizing it, bulimia was back. It quickly spiraled out of control, yet I refused to believe that. I refused to go to a residential program when urged to in January by my treatment team. It wasn’t until March, after a rock-bottom week, and realizing that I was losing all of my friends, that I knew it was time to do something.

With the support of my team, my mom and my friends from back home, I took six weeks off of school and started a day treatment program. I didn’t like it, or get along with the director, so I left and decided to try and finish the school year. As soon as classes ended, I found a new program, at night, that I  clicked with instantly.

Despite my strong connection and gratitude for this program, my anxiety was still soaring. I didn’t know how to manage the feelings arising from treatment, or days without my eating disorder. I felt lost, alone and confused. I had always done yoga but never with any consistency. One night at treatment, I stood in the hallway talking to one of the caseworkers, tears streaming down my face. It had been a particularly rough night, and I felt like things would never get better. I had been using skills all evening but nothing could alleviate my feelings. She asked me if I needed to go to the emergency room. I shook my head violently no. That was the worst idea ever. Then, she suggested yoga.  I didn’t think yoga could do anything for me, but I sure as hell didn’t want to be hospitalized, so I nodded through the sobs.

Slowly, as I pedaled my feet in downward dog, I felt things shift and my tears start to slow down. As I did vinyasa after vinyasa, focusing on the poses I always loved the most (pigeon, tree, wheel, & hip openers), my breathing returned to normal and I found silence in the chaos.

The next day, Ashley blogged, challenging us all to 30 days of yoga, and I decided to take her up on the offer. Still slightly skeptical, I figured I had nothing to lose but bulimia and that wouldn’t be half bad. I started small: ten minutes a day, in my living room or on my porch. I was hesitant, and often my inner critic got the best of me and I was distracted, frustrated and hesitant. However, I was also excited. I remembered that I had enjoyed hot yoga a few years back when I lived at home, and began to research studios in my area. I found one, and excitedly called my treatment team to ask if i had medical clearance to practice in the 100 degree heat.

I got bloodwork & vital signs done and my doctor made a deal with me- I could go, but only if I was completely compliant for 24 hours before hand. If I was to use any behavior, I wouldn’t be able to go. It was a goal, and something I COULD achieve. For the first time in months I found myself having behavior free days, and skipping off to yoga. Knowing that I had EARNED the privilege of classes made it that much sweeter. I did crow for the first time, and was overjoyed. I was behavior free at work so that I could make the 6:30pm sunday class. I looked forward to yoga.

I wish I could say that I found yoga and suddenly was bulimia free. If only! Its still very much a work in progress. But yoga has become vital to my treatment. It was the first thing that broke through my wall, gave me something to work for that was exciting and positive. Its helped me significantly reduce certain behaviors. Its become my go to in program when groups get hard- all the case managers know that when I can’t calm down, that asking me to find my yoga playlist & a mat is the best way to help me get grounded. I’ve found a permanent space on my bedroom floor for a yoga mat, and spend the last ten minutes of most days on it.

There are so many things I want to be able to do on the mat- more twists and binds, and tons of balancing poses. I dream of getting myself into headstands and side crow. I know that the way to do this is consistency, and the way to be consistent, is through being healthy. I’m looking forward to the day that I can say that I held side crow, because I know that it will be about much more than yoga- it will be about my journey to healthy, too!

– Emily (also posted here)

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