How Sex Helped Me Recover From My Eating Disorder
I remember the evening clearly. I was a junior in college. I had been with my boyfriend for my entire college career, which at that age, was considered a successful long-term relationship. We basically lived together. We did everything together. It seemed perfect. The relationship was second nature. I was 20 years old.
One night, while in the middle of cooking dinner, he broke up with me. Just like that. I didn't believe him at first. In fact, I laughed and made fun of him for joking and went back to preparing fettuccine alfredo.
"Shay, I'm serious," he slowly and somewhat hesitantly responded.
I turned from the stove to glance at his expression, which was nothing short of serious. And he wasn't that good of a jokester, anyway.
My heart dropped. I was nauseous.
From that day on, I felt like I was in a trance. I had no idea who I was outside of that relationship. To this day, part of me still believes he was just joking. I was in utter disbelief and shock. Shattered to my very core.
Until that event, I had never worked out in my life. Immediately following the breakup, I started running daily. I don't even know why.
I was attending college in Rhode Island, so the beach was readily available. I remember listening to my iPod (do those still exist?) and running miles on end under the chilly New England sun.
Fast-forward to two years later: I had lost not only my freshman 15 but over 50 pounds in only a couple years. I'd gradually become obsessed with exercise and monitoring my food intake. It provided me with an illusory feeling of control and belief that everything was right in the world.
I was living a life of severe deprivation.
If I skipped a workout or ingested a morsel too much of food, all hell would break loose…or so my mind believed. And surprisingly, I was able to exude an enormous amount of discipline in order to sustain this risky lifestyle.
After college, I chose to study yoga in Costa Rica. Having never truly been consciously in touch with my physical body before the age of 20, stumbling into a yoga class opened the door to my own inner pilgrimage.
Despite the healing properties yoga is undoubtedly known for, my fascination with controlled exercise and eating was far more powerful. In other words, my mind ran the show.
During this time, I attended nutrition school in an attempt to let go of some control, learn more about nutrition, and tune into my body's natural signals. Though I learned a lot and was deeply inspired, I was still sick. In fact, now I could hide behind yoga and nutrition. My mind was very clever.
Yoga was the reason I chose celibacy (yep, that happened), and I learned that a vegan raw diet is ideal for optimal health. I even experimented with fruitarianism and breatharianism—living on only fruit and breath and sunlight, respectively.
Ironically, the entire time I was living this fear-based life, each night before bed I would read. In fact, I suffered from tremendous insomnia at the time since I was not eating enough food to fall asleep. The only thing that would calm my mind was reading but specifically reading books about tantra.
My own sexuality was the exact medicine I needed.
I didn't know it was tantra at the time because the books talked about the simple pleasures of life, such as taste, touch, smell, and sight. I didn't know that was tantra. The simplicity of being at ease with one's body and indulging in life's bounty was tremendously inspiring to me, as I was living a life of severe deprivation.
I wasn't stupid, though. I knew I was far too thin and there was something up with my sexuality, as I stopped menstruating and virtually lost interest in anything other than fantasizing about food I wouldn't let myself eat. So there was no desire for sex or a relationship. I felt I was "beyond" that, but little did I know that my own sexuality was the exact medicine I needed.
It wasn't about the food. I tried eating more, eating meat, and exercising less. I saw healers and acupuncturists and doctors. But to no avail.
I believe that I had been accumulating a fair amount of shame from my early years, not only in regard to the breakup but beforehand, too. I was very sexually active from a young age but not in a conscious way. I was used by men, not sober, and I viewed my body as an object, not necessary a living, breathing organism that stores every ounce of trauma. I didn't really acknowledge or love myself.
When I eventually moved from Costa Rica to Los Angeles, I met my current partner. Neither one of us was looking for a relationship, yet things do happen in strange ways.
He's a tantra teacher, sexological bodyworker, and sex and relationship coach. Go figure.
His patience and sincere understanding of my situation made me feel safe. Within that safety and with the help of conscious communication, I was able to surrender, step by step.
Our intimacy had and continues to have a drastic effect on my overall level of well-being. I no longer have any food cravings, nor do I binge. In fact, my eating disorder now feels like a distant dream.
Now I'm in touch and in sync with my body's natural signals. Sex energy is life energy—it's where each and every one of us comes from, and unless we harness it for ourselves, it's virtually impossible to live a balanced life—it balances everything. It is the ultimate nutrition.
I healed myself, but my partner was a catalyst.
And truly, if you don't use it, you lose it. It is so easy to get stuck in the mind by philosophizing, contemplating, and talking. But if we truly want to heal our bodies, it's only possible through the body. It must be a somatic experience.
Chronic malnutrition through undereating and overeating are similar in that they both numb us from experiencing the true bliss potential of our sexual energy. They dissociate us from our own bodies and our core energetic system that guides all of life.
As Taoist master Mantak Chia wisely says, "Sexual energy is the chief commander of Chi. We must cultivate it for health, wealth and longevity."
Now please don't misread this; I'm not suggesting that my relationship healed me. I healed myself, but my partner was a catalyst. Perhaps it was just the right timing, I felt comfortable enough at that exact time to let go, to breathe, and ultimately to be myself.
My partner served and continues to serve as a direct reflection of my own deservingness to experience love and joy. I no longer am "against" anything and have harsh rules or self-imposed boundaries because I trust myself.
I trust my impulses, my desires, and my body. Depriving myself only caused more disconnection. Being against myself only created more resistance and imbalance in my body and mind.
My journey to eventual self-love and acceptance was fueled by my own inner journey, which included yoga and meditation. These practices put me in touch with my body, my intuition, and my true desires.
The practice of tantra connected me to my heart and taught me how to move into my desires (i.e., indulge) but with awareness. Becoming self-aware is a prerequisite for self-acceptance.
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