Every once in awhile I come across another person’s recovery story that I think truly needs to be shared. Given I can’t actually share my client’s stories, I have decided this week to share a fellow therapist’s story so you can understand some of the healthy and important steps you need to take to get to the other side. Give Megan Bruneau’s story a read below and let me know your thoughts in the comment section below.
“Are you getting help?” the emergency room physician asked, his voice stern yet his eyes soft with pity. I wondered if he had a daughter.
“Yes,” I lied, averting his concerned gaze. My shame was compounded by awareness of my naked body, visibly starving through the slits of the humiliating blue hospital gown. “I’m seeing a therapist.”
Hours earlier, I’d bussed myself to the hospital after throwing up blood and feeling scared my eating disorder was going to kill me. I’d sat in the waiting room alone, too ashamed to tell my boyfriend at the time why I couldn’t meet up with him that night. I have too much homework, I’d told him.
Having managed my depression and anxiety with bulimia and anorexia for years, I’d “binged” on a bagel (a “forbidden” food) and, in a panic, made myself throw up. I’d lived this way for almost a decade—a cycle of self-loathing, restriction, over-exercising, bingeing, purging, lying, isolating, and crying on the bathroom floor. Having an inexplicable hatred for myself for as long as I could remember, part of me believed that if I could be thin enough, I would finally be good enough. I’d been reading airbrushed fitness magazines and believing healthy eating and exercise meant I should look like that. Turns out I did get to a point where I looked like “that,” but it came at the cost of joy and was certainly not the result of “healthy eating and exercise.”
If you were to meet me today, almost seven years later, you’d find it hard to believe I was once that shell of a person. I’ve since gained half my body weight—my “worst fear” realized —and yet I’m the happiest, most confident, and most connected I’ve ever been in my life (fo’ realz). And I want everyone to get there, because everyone deserves to live life free from the shackles of an eating disorder. Here’s how I healed.
Realizing My ED Was Lying to Me
When I was in the pit of anorexia and depression, my boyfriend of three years dumped me. To this day, it’s still the most painful thing I’ve ever been through. However, it was also the best thing that ever happened to me. You see, I’d grown up with the mentality that being thin would protect me from pain and ensure no one would ever leave me. My parents went through a brutal divorce and my true greatest fear—under the illusion of weight gain—was abandonment. Having my worldview flipped upside down in that way showed me experientially that my eating disorder was lying to me. And if it was lying about that, what else was it lying about? Was being thin really the avenue to happiness? At my lowest weight, I’d been my most miserable and disconnected. Realizing my ED had been lying to me allowed me to open up to the “risk” of change and weight gain.
Restoring Weight and Saying Goodbye to Dieting
Studies show that as long as we’re underweight, our eating disorders stay “switched on.” We think about food nonstop because our body is in starvation mode, and fixating on food is what we do to survive.
In a similar way, most eating disorders are triggered and perpetuated by dieting. Similar to being underweight, restricting (which is what dieting is) causes our body to compensate by thinking about food and bingeing when it is available (or when we “allow” ourselves to eat), then following up such “bad” behavior with purging, overexercising, restricting again, or some other form of “diet” behavior. Giving up dieting, coupled with the acceptance that there is nothing “wrong” with my body as it is, allowed me to get out of the vicious cycle of restriction, bingeing, purging, over-exercising, and obsessing about food and my weight.
Connecting with Others Again
Eating disorders are incredibly disconnecting. Not only do they take a great deal of time to manage, they make it very challenging to do anything social. I declined invitations for fear of the calories from food and alcohol. I canceled on people if I hadn’t made it to the gym. When the interventions began happening, I just avoided friends and family because I didn’t want to feel like I had to explain myself. After the breakup, though, I was desperate for reprieve from my pain. I sent out some awkward “Hey, I know we haven’t talked in a year, but…” messages, and attended events with my anxiety at ceiling levels. But it got easier, and I began to reconnect, and once again proved my ED wrong: I had believed I’d be unlovable if not thin, and as I gained weight I continued to be welcomed and loved by friends and men I feared would reject me.