How did you stop?
It’s a question I get asked frequently by women who are in the midst of a struggle that I know all to well. Though the memory of it has faded, when I close my eyes and think back to where I was almost six years ago my heart aches for the woman I used to be. I was trapped. A prisoner to the addiction of bulimia. Out of control and unable to stop my destructive behavior, every day was filled with dread, remorse, self-loathing and fear. And my addiction didn’t just permeate my waking hours, it haunted my dreams as well. I can remember on occasion dreaming I had binged and there was some impediment keeping me from being able to purge. The fear and anxiety so palpable I’d wake up in a panic.
I struggled with bulimia for nine years and prior to that, anorexia. The bulimia came about as I fumbled through my recovery from anorexia. Even though I’d gained the weight I was “supposed to,” the source of my disorder went unresolved. I did t look anorexic anymore, but I was still battling food and discontent with my body.
When I think of my nine years of struggle, every single one of those years my desire was to stop. But I couldn’t. So what was it that brought my disordered behavior to an end?
Belief. I believed with all my heart that I could be completely free. I believed I was made (by God) to be free. There were several doctors and mental health professionals in my recovery journey who told me that I would always struggle. I didn’t want to believe them, because if that was true I didn’t want to keep living the life they described. Believing that I could be free gave me hope and kept me seeking recovery and freedom year after year.
One Step Forward, Two Steps Back. Recovery is rarely linear. It doesn’t often progress perfectly from one improvement to the next. There are setbacks and hiccups and do-overs. My recovery was filled with them and it bothered me. I wanted a perfectly predictable recovery with constant and continual improvement, but that didn’t happen. When I accepted that there would be setbacks BUT my overall momentum was taking me forward, then I was able to roll through a lot of my slip ups and keep moving forward. But it took me a while to get to that place of acceptance.
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Addiction. When I first started my recovery journey I thought of bulimia as a disorder, something that had happened to me. But the more I searched for the issues causing the disordered behavior the more I realized that the behaviors were an addiction. The more I treated my bulimia as and addiction and less as a disorder, the better I seemed to get. Working through the twelve steps of recovery from the book Anorexics and Bulimics Anonymous helped me to see that I was powerless against my addiction, but it also gave me steps to change.
Tell the Truth. The more people I brought into my world of struggle the less power it seemed to have on me. Being open and honest is essential to breaking the power of addiction. There were several close friends and family members who knew my struggle. I wasn’t always honest and I didn’t always tell the truth, and I didn’t always pick up the phone when people called. But when I did it helped: I didn’t feel alone and it renewed my sense of hope that I could be free. Telling the truth is a catalyst for change.
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Reaching Rock Bottom. For some people who face addiction, you have to reach a turning point: a rock bottom, before you are willing and ready to make a change. Everyone has a different point at which they feel they have hit “rock bottom.” Mine came the day I found out I was pregnant with our first child. Unplanned and unexpected, when I finally received confirmation of the pregnancy I realized that I had been pregnant for over a month already. And in that month is binged and purged nearly every day. I thought of what that was doing to my body, my baby. In a moment of intense emotion, crying over the years of struggle and wondering when it would end a very clear picture popped into my head. The picture was of a toddler girl, knocking on a locked bathroom door asking for Mommy to come out. I knew that my struggle with bulimia wasn’t going to be compatible with becoming a mom. And even though I didn’t know the gender of the baby I was carrying, I knew that if it was a girl I would do anything in my power to make sure she didn’t walk the same road I had. And so I stopped. I made a deal with my self: if after nine months I wanted to go back to bingeing and purging I could. But for nine months, there would be no purging. That nine months has turned into six and half years of freedom, without relapse.
If you are struggling with an eating disorder or if you know someone who is, please know that it is possible to be free. But you can’t do it alone. Please seek the help of a licensed medical professional in your journey to recovery.
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Email: RunFarGirl [at] gmail [dot] com
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