Life without ED
Recovery from an ED [eating disorder] is possible and is different for everyone. I had Bulimia for about 10 years and didn't really acknowledge that I had an eating disorder for a few years. I thought having an eating disorder meant that you were severely underweight. I was always overweight and even when I was a normal weight I felt fat and ugly.
My eating disorder started when I was around 13/14. It was on a background of already feeling pretty bad about myself. I experienced physical, sexual and mental abuse by the time I was 6. Life at home involved arguments between my parents, my mum and brother being in and out of hospital with their respective health problems and I was often left with my grandparents or other relatives and friends. For these first years of my life I was brought up in Singapore and in the latter part we moved across the border to malaysia. When my dad lost his job a friend suggested that we move to England. This was mainly because my brother was born with spina bifida and would only really have the chance of proper treatment in the UK.
Leaving my grandparents, especially my grandma, was heart wrenching. We came to a cold country where people looked, spoke and ate differently. I totally withdrew and remember crying a lot those first few months. When I started school things got worse for me. I was bullied because of my colour, because I was quiet, because I was clever and because I was overweight. School did provide a temporary shelter from home life which was still full of arguments and shouting. I felt very lonely and did not feel in control at all. So much of my life was taken out of my hands and I felt controlled.
I never set out to have an eating disorder, nobody does, and I don't think that I ever really made being slim an ultimate goal in life. My school work was good and my reports were always full of praise from my teachers. Being overweight was a problem though and I remember people always making comments about my size and how I needed to lose weight. My dad was a physical trainer in the army in his younger days and continued to keep himself in shape with weights and sports. My mum was always exercising and tried to keep herself slim. She would encourage me to exercise with her. Aged 14, I remember my mum asking me to step on the scales that she had brought to the kitchen and the needle going to 11stone. I was just over 5ft and a size 16. People had always made fun of my large backside and "thunder thighs", the way I walked and that I was a bit clumsy. It was the start of actively trying to lose weight. My brother also had to lose some weight but more because of his disability. We ate loads of salads and went out on daily bike rides. We even got an exercise bike at home that my brother could use. I use to use exercise videos or programmes that came on the telly. I just wanted to be slim. My biggest problem was that I used to get so hungry. I tried to drink countless glasses of water to try and suppress my appetite and then my mum caught on. I needed some other way then.
That's when I discovered laxatives. At one time while taking the laxatives, I lost 2 dress sizes in a really short period of time. My mum was really pleased at the amount of weight I had lost which made me feel good. I was suddenly acceptable. I had done something right. My teachers at school had noticed too. I was suddenly getting some positive attention that wasn't just about my schoolwork. I managed to steadily lose weight and maintained a weight that was healthier than before. I carried on exercising everyday, taking laxatives and I had also discovered vomiting after eating "bad food". When I was in sixth form, my friends and I would go down to the local shops and treat ourselves to sweets and chocolates. I would sit and scoff them then go to the toilet to vomit them out. Bingeing and purging became a habit. I would get into a cycle of starving and seeing how long I could go without giving in to my hunger. When my mum found food going missing and realised that I was eating it all in secret when I was alone, she thought it was just that I loved food so much.
It became easier to keep up with the habits when I left home and went to university. I didn't see that I had an eating disorder until at 19 years old I ended in hospital after an overdose of painkillers. I remember sitting on the hospital bed with a sick bowl after being given some medicine to get rid of the tablets and a lady doctor talking to me. She was a christian and she knew that I was a christian too. She asked me why I tried to kill myself. I started telling her that I had been abused for such a long time, that I hated myself. She asked what I did to deal with the pain. I told her that I would drink alcohol by myself, not to get drunk but just enough to numb my pain and help me cope. She told me that she had experienced similar pain and that she had bulimia, that she would eat and then make herself sick. That was when I realised I had an eating disorder.
It wasn't enough to know that I had an eating disorder. I just wanted to be as good as everyone else. To me being good meant that you had to look slim, have a flat stomach and thin thighs. The only thing that I could do that without eating salad all the time was to eat what I wanted, throw up, starve myself from time to time and exercise. It sounds stupid but I was locked in the cycle and it worked for me. I t was something that I could control and nobody could take it away from me. This went on for a few more years until I was 23 when I got to a point of despair. I was tired of fighting the pain inside, not ever being good enough, hating myself, having to constantly look for excuses to get out of eating or looking for opportunities to purge when I had eaten more than I wanted to. I got tired of all the secrecy and finally told a couple of ladies at church who then encouraged me to tell my mum. My mum was really upset and I apologised for adding to her stress. The next day she told me to go to the GP because I had an illness. When I saw my GP she told me that I was cheating by making myself sick. This really hit me. I hated the idea of being dishonest. I was brought up to tell the truth, that lying was bad. I made a decision that I wasn't going to cheat anymore. I still felt bad about myself but stopped purging.
The turning point came a few months later when I went into a Christian rehabilitation programme at Teen Challenge. The truth was that I could never be perfect. My drinking, and ED was my way of coping with pain and in a sense I was letting my abusers continue to abuse me. The key was forgiving them. In my mind I believed that forgiveness was justifying or agreeing with the wrong that been committed, saying that it was ok. Like downplaying the seriousness of what had been done. The reality though, is that forgiveness is about agreeing that what they did was wrong and that my pain was justified and real but deciding to move on. In reality the best payback is getting on and living life to the full. It was hard but when I realised that by not forgiving I was robbing myself I was able to start the process.
Recovery didn't happen overnight for me. It was a process that started with me realising that I couldn't do it on my own. I didn't want to allow the people that had hurt me to continue hurting me but by not allowing people to help me I was letting them control my life. Recovery is a series of choices that we make. It involves sometimes making choices that don't feel comfortable, choosing to believe the truth rather than depending on feelings. For me the truth is what God says about me in the Bible.
Change can be scary but it is a necessary but of life. What will I do without my eating disorder? How can I meet my needs without resorting to my old habits? What happens if I put on loads of weight? I have learned to challenge my thoughts and beliefs. I have also learned that I can't get it right all of the time. I'm not perfect. I've learned to accept my faults but focus on my strengths. I 've learned to differentiate between the things I can change and the things I can't.
It takes certain characteristics to maintain an eating disorder. Commitment, discipline, high standards, perseverance.....are all very admirable qualities but using them to maintain an eating disorder is destructive. I have learned to use these qualities to achieve positive things like full recovery.