How Surviving Anorexia Taught Me Self-Love

When I was young, my mother loved to cook. There was little processed food in our house and mom made it a point to create wholesome, nourishing meals for my family.

I began gymnastics when I was six, and with my mom’s healthy cooking and countless hours practicing a sport I loved, I was a wiry spitfire, too lanky to be a great gymnast but disciplined and dedicated. Then when I was 10, my parents’ marriage fell apart. A cloud of tension moved into my home and my brother responded with defiant, emotional explosions my father tried to squelch and my mother tried to manage. I witnessed these messy altercations silently, the girl in the corner, losing control.

In an effort to control my devolving family dynamic, I tried to become the "perfect child." In my mind, straight A's and athletic excellence, I could bring the love back into our house.

My father moved out a year later.

I spent the next few years playing my role of over-achieving auto-child. But with dad gone and mom back at work, no one took notice of my interests or achievements. I began to care less and less about the things I once loved, and instead turned to the company of processed food every afternoon, bingeing on daily doses of sugar and solitude.

At 13, I left gymnastics. Without the level of activity to which I was accustomed, I gained 20 pounds, my once-athletic body now foreign and fat. I appealed to my mother for help, but she was stressed, harried, a working single mother just trying to get by. So I took matters into my own hands. I stopped eating.

Thus began my struggle with anorexia nervosa, an insidious disease that began as a desperate exertion at control but soon transformed into a full-fledged, full-time affliction. Each day, I measured my self-worth by my success at self-control. I felt powerful when I could so exactingly choose what I put into my mouth. At my thinnest, my 5’5” frame carried 85 pounds.

After two years, my mother helped me dig my way out of my illness. Believing I was strong enough to understand that my morbid experiment in self-hatred had to stop, she encouraged me to find a better way to heal. I turned again to my love of fitness and began the long journey toward regaining my health.

I still struggle with my relationship to food, and often use it to procrastinate and avoid. When I fall back into self-sabotaging behavior, I use three healing exercises to help refocus my energies, reaffirm my self-worth and nurture a deeper level of self-love.

1. Grieve

When that “girl in the corner” emerges, I see the world through the eyes of a victim. It's then that I write a eulogy for the child I once was, documenting the events that shaped her, the challenges she faced, and the immense fortitude and resilience she possessed through it all.

This process helps dissociate who I am today with who I once was, and encourages me to let that girl go. I honor her, grieve for her, then lay her down to free myself from the past and forge another step toward self-realization.

2. Forgive

When I feel hurt, I regress back to my child self, spending my energy replaying those seminal moments of pain, blaming all my woes on those I feel have wronged me.

It's then that I try to look through the eyes of my perceived wrongdoer, writing a list of emotions and circumstances that may have influenced their own actions. This helps me understand the motivations of those wrestling with their own scars, whose deep-seated pain may have been the catalyst for sending their hurt outward.

Through this exercise in compassion, I learn to forgive not only others, but myself for giving these people and events so much power over me for so long. I reclaim my own power and move forward with greater clarity and self-possession.

3. Take responsibility.

The most miraculous (and terrifying) ability we possess is choice. It’s scary to lay down the crutches of the past, but those crutches are almost always more a burden than a bolster. Although I may fall more than once, taking hold of my destiny engenders the self-trust necessary to get back up on my own terms. The more ownership I take over my life, the more motivated I am to treat myself with kindness, respect and love.

I invite you to take account of the stories that have brought you to this moment and commit to making a new story, one where the choices are all yours. Harness the potential of your one and only precious life, forgive and love yourself. Choose you.

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