As I’ve written previously, I have a history of disordered eating that spans almost a decade of my late teen and early adult years. I don’t claim to be perfectly recovered, never having a bad day or slipping up on occasion when ED’s voice is particularly loud (ED is the term many people use to refer to their eating disorder).
But on the scale of recovery, I am leaps and bounds better, healthier, and more at peace with myself than my 16-year-old self could have ever imagined possible—thanks to my faith, my family and friends, and one very special woman who helped me see my worth and believe that my size doesn’t determine how deserving I am of love.
My eating disorder started when I was 16, during my junior year in high school. It seemed innocent enough at the beginning—I simply stopped having snacks between meals. But then my meals got smaller and I started measuring everything, obsessing over calorie content. My actions weren’t super extreme yet, just calculated and monitored. Yet my closest friends were still worried about me, often voicing what I thought was unnecessary concern.
I was unable to see or admit what a slippery slope I was on.
By the summer between my junior and senior year, their fears became reality as my actions became far more extreme and the pounds started falling off at a scary rate. I was so weak, physically and mentally. But in my mind, I still didn’t have a problem. Thankfully my friends could see that I did and were willing to seek outside help for me, even if that meant betraying my trust. Good friends love you enough to keep you alive, even if that hurts your feelings.
After barely surviving a physically grueling week at dance camp, I started packing for a week-long church trip in North Carolina. We would be hiking and doing physical activity every single day, and my friends were concerned that my small body simply couldn’t withstand it. So they told on me. They talked with our youth pastor who then kept an eye on me all week, talked to me, made sure I was eating, and by the end of the week told me he was going to find a counselor for me to work with back at home.
I wasn’t happy my friends told him. I was furious that my parents found out and that my dangerous actions were being challenged. But the help I got in the years following that week may very well be the reason I’m still alive today.
When a person has an ED, it’s not about the weight. Their body is simply what they’re using to displace their feelings about something else. As I’ve written previously, I grew up with a father whose words and actions were abusive and unpredictable. I lived with a man who made me feel scared and helpless. So for me, my eating disorder was about having some say over my surroundings for once. I may not have been able to protect myself from my dad or control his actions, but I could control food. I could control how much I ate and how much I weighed.
It wasn’t until I started seeing my counselor that my eyes were opened to the truth behind my eating disorder. My therapist helped me see beyond ED and to deal with the much deeper issue at play—the fact that my dad’s actions had made me feel abandoned by others and totally undeserving of love. So to fill in that void, I had been trying to earn people’s love, attention, and care with my weight. Whether that was receiving praise for my self-control and petite size, or experiencing people’s concern for how dangerously skinny I had become.
Like I said, this has been almost a decade-long struggle. It’s not a quick process reversing the damage done in those formative childhood years. And although I still have some work to do, it was more worth it than I can possibly describe to get help all those years ago. Choosing to open myself up to healing was the first step in a long, but worthwhile road to recovery and learning to love again. At first I was resistant to help, showing up every Wednesday to counseling begrudgingly. But over time I grew to cherish those conversations with my counselor. I learned to be truthful about the hurts in my life, and slowly but surely, how to say no to ED.
If I could say anything to my 16-year-old self, to the girl who still felt so lost and out of control, it would be this:
Morgan, your dad’s actions don’t define you. He is hurt and broken himself and never learned how to deal with his own problems. So he took out his anger on you. Don’t let his inability to love and care for you well, stop you from letting other people show you love.
Don’t let it stop you from loving yourself.