To Write Love On Her Arms originally published this piece, and I’m really proud of it. 

I felt trapped for far too long, held captive by my own preoccupation with the number displayed on my bathroom scale. On particularly dark days, it seemed to glow brighter than the hope in my heart. Staring at it had the same effect as an eclipse, overshadowing any redeeming quality about myself. It seems unlikely that something that is powerless when I remove the batteries could have so much power over my brain and how I lived my life. But that blinking number trapped me into thinking things that were not true about myself, what I am worth, and what I have to offer the world.

One day, while driving in the car with my mom, I told her about my struggles. I did so much in the same way I would make a casual observation about the weather. “It’s raining again. Also, I have anorexia and bulimia, and I need to do something about it.” This revelation brought about a period of positive change in my life. Old ways of coping were not working anymore, and I know I needed to learn to live in a different way. I learned a lot in my eating disorder recovery, and some of it was rather unexpected.

I learned body image is like algebra. “I feel fat” is the problem. Fat is the variable. It stands for something. Figuring out what it stood for was the key to my recovery. When you try to solve the problem, accepting “fat” as the actual value and not as a stand-in word for something else, you create an entirely different and much more dangerous problem. You do all these things to eliminate “fat” when it wasn’t the issue in the first place. It was sad, angry, ignored, or something else. I had to stop counting the things that didn’t matter and that drove my disorder. I had to learn how to do math to interpret my feelings and see the big picture.

I learned body image is holistic. The danger zone was when sentences began with “My body this” or “My body that,” as if my body was separate from me. It is easier to love something when you see it as a part of yourself; “us” and “them” divisions allow room for resentment. When I started to see myself as whole, it was easier to accept and love myself. “My body is tired” had to become “I am tired.” Taking care of my body is an obligation to something external, while taking care of myself is self-care and personal responsibility. I had to learn how to see myself as an integrated whole and find power in that.

I also learned about empowerment. Undergoing treatment and interacting with qualified professionals gave me the tools I needed to reshape my life in a healthy way. There were psychologists, psychiatrists, pediatricians, social workers, art therapists, and youth workers. I had a team of people to assist, encourage, and support me. It was still my responsibility to put their lessons to good use. Nobody could do it for me. I had to do the work. I had to actively participate. I was in the driver’s seat and I felt like my life was going somewhere, even if the road wasn’t always smooth.

I learned the recovery process isn’t a constant, perfect thing. There are ups and downs. It’s a way of travelling more than a place to arrive at long last. It is the way you approach your journey, because seasons and circumstances can allow symptoms to resurface along the way. Recovery isn’t about making sure you never fall; it’s a whole-hearted commitment to the business of getting back up again.

Recovery was my personal commitment to me to embrace the joy in my life. It was about counting blessings instead of calories. It was about lifting my gaze from the number on the scale and appreciating the beauty that surrounded me. It was about coming to the humbling realization that I am part of that beauty myself. The only eclipse obscuring my vision is the way self-love can cover a multitude of insecurities. The hope in my heart finally glows brighter than the scale.

If you or someone you know may be struggling with an eating disorder, there is help and support available for you. Find more information through the National Eating Disorders Association or on TWLOHA’s Find Help page. To take an anonymous eating disorder screening, click here

This post originally appeared on To Write Love On Her Arms.

3 Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing your experience, Alison. This is something I know so many women (and men) have struggled with a lot in their life, including me. It’s helpful to hear we’re not alone, and that there’s help out there. There are other ways to think about ourselves.

  2. I honestly and truly cannot imagine how difficult it must be when dealing with an eating disorder. I had my first real exposure to eating disorders in middle school when I learned that my best friend was both anorexic and bulimic. I’m so happy to hear all that you have learned, and I know that standing up and talking about issues like these will definitely help someone else. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Deborah Reek Reply

    I truly don’t know who to turn to for help anymore. The only thing I haven’t tried is “O.A.” and although I’ve heard wonderful things about the group, at one time, in order to STOP wanting to eat, I starting drinking. Right there was an “Oh-Oh!” and it turned into a huge problem that after many years of concurrent problems with drinking, bulimia and anorexia, I at least became a Recovering Alcoholic and stopped smoking. Now how to stop the ed problems. I’ve seen SO MANY therapists, none of whom were able to help me at all, that now I’m almost scared to try again. The “let down” from trying so hard and realizing I went NOWHERE was more catastrophic than if I’d never gone at all.

    I read these posts as if they’re a way through to my psyche – and this time I do believe I found a WINNER! Thank YOU! I know I’m not alone in this miserable existence. I don’t martyr myself. I do care about each and every one of us. If I can’t find an answer(s) for me, I guess the only thing left is for me to “listen” intensely to others. it’s so important that THEY know how important they are, as an individual, a whole person, aside from their ED, including ED, they are a complete person – just with a little extra baggage that I know they’d rather just toss into the nearest garbage can (recyclable please), and go much more merrily along their way – Look out world! Here we come!!!!!

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