It was supposed to be the best birthday yet. Mom and Dad pulled out all the stops for celebration number 16—rented a room big enough for as many partygoers as I wanted to invite, prepared and decorated all day long, bought lots of food and a 6-foot long sub sandwich per my request. With games ready, a table full of presents, and a room packed with everyone I loved most in the world, you’d think that would stand out as one the fondest memories from my teenage years.
And it does stand out. But fondly? Not so much.
The only thing from that evening forever engrained in my memory, is going to the restroom after everyone left. I had eaten my fair share of birthday goodies. Normal for anyone’s big day, let alone a 16-year-old girl’s. But as I lifted my dress and looked at my stomach—for reasons I’m still not sure why I did—I was filled with a feeling of disgust I had never felt before. Self-loathing and hate towards my body enveloped me entirely in that one moment. And I remember having a very clear and decisive thought that seemed to burrow down into my very core:
This is not okay. That has got to change at all costs.
And so it began: ED—the name many people use to refer to their eating disorder. I could go on about how it started innocently at first, and gradually got more and more severe. I could tell you numbers and compulsions, habits and food-related fears I have grappled with over the years. And all of those things are important. They are the bends and turns, the failures and victories sprinkled throughout my story that’ve led me to where I am today.
But if I’ve learned anything since that birthday party almost 7 years ago now, it’s that talking about the root of the problem is the most vital and beneficial thing to focus on first. The “why.”
My whole life until that point had been a back-and-forth game of feeling completely and totally unloved by the one person who should have cherished me and loved me the most—my dad. There was no physical abuse, but verbally and mentally my home was a living nightmare to me. And each time there was another incident, I was left cowering in my room, crying and feeling out of control—my young, naive self scared, alone, and not sure how to process everything going on around me. I would hear his apologies and hesitantly daring to believe, yet again, that things might actually change this time. Venturing to hope that I would see and feel his love. But actions speak louder than words; and I never felt his actions fell in line with his heartfelt sorry’s and supposedly contrite will-you-forgive-me’s.
The eggshells we walked on always broke again as his rage and anger towards who knows what was taken out on us. This is my biggest “why.”
Given, there are other qualities I possess and activities I was involved in that quite honestly provided the perfect storm for ED to gain a foothold. But by far, the majority of the past six years of counseling and soul searching have been focused on how my home as a child—and the ways my father treated my mom, my sister, and me—led me to believe that I had zero control of my life, and worse, that I was unworthy of love.
I wish I could say ED is 100% in my past. But it’s not. I wish I could say my dad and I have a perfect relationship, but we’re still a work in progress. What I know for certain, though, is that
I am loved.
I’m loved by my friends. I’m loved by my family. And most importantly, I’m loved by God. And it’s only through diving into the hurt, opening up past wounds, and giving them a chance to heal, that I’ve learned to believe in love again. It’s because of this honest reckoning with my feelings that I’ve left the familiarity of cynicism and bitterness and been able to come to a place of hope and promise for whatever the future may hold.
I by no means claim to have totally figured out how to navigate these waters of recovery—recovery from ED, recovery from self-hatred, and recovery from buying into the belief that I’m not enough. I am constantly learning and growing, a never ending cycle of stumbling, falling down and then picking myself back up again. I’ve learned, though, that the only way to stand up and keep going is to accept love and then choose to extend that love to myself and to others. It’s the only worthwhile path through this life.
I believe in love because I’m learning to love myself again.