5 Years Ago
I’m sitting in my childhood bedroom, painted pink and orange from when I moved in at 13, staring at my reflection in the mirror. My best friend Kiley is curling my hair and we’re sipping a fruity cocktail of some sort, shaken up and delivered to us by my mom. Kiley turned 21 on Wednesday and at midnight, I will join her. About ten of our high school friends are coming over for food and drinks before we head downtown to celebrate. As we get ready, my mom bakes pasta, cookies, my favorite chocolate chip cheesecake, and whips up some magical champagne jello shots.
When our friends arrive we eat, drink, and chat about everything from middle school drama to post-college plans. Most of us are heading into our senior year and won’t see one another again until Christmas. Everyone was enjoying themselves, including me, but there was a voice in my head that I couldn’t turn off:
You shouldn’t have eaten dinner, now you don’t look good in your dress.
Why are you having that cookie? You’re disgusting.
Do you even realize how much sugar is in that drink?
You have no self-control.
My friends were there to celebrate me, yet I was completely incapable of celebrating myself. Throughout the night, the feelings of guilt and shame never subsided. The champagne glass in my hand was filled to the brim with regret. A night that I should remember as pure joy is clouded with vivid memories of self-hate.
The next morning, while my friends slept-in, I got up early and went for a long run. I ran 12 hard, fast miles. Sure I was training for the upcoming cross country season, but the real reason I ran that morning was an attempt to shed the guilt of the night before. I wanted to burn calories and run my body ragged as punishment for letting go and letting myself live.
The following day, I ate very little, still attempting to purge the guilt. But finally, the lack of nourishment caught up to me and I ate some leftover pasta. I dove into the bowl and with every bite the guilt came back. I quickly felt like a failure and the voice of my eating disorder grew louder and more aggressive.
You are worthless.
Why would you eat that? You’re so fat.
I was angry and frustrated with myself for losing control. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t just stop eating. I wished I was better at restricting. I thought, “I’m not even good enough to have an eating disorder right”. So I ran.
I went to my favorite trail and set off for a run on my full stomach, knowing I would feel sick and hoping I would throw up. It was muggy with a light rain when I stopped on the shoulder of the road and cried. I tried throwing up but it barely worked. I felt trapped in my own skin and wanted a way out. I wanted to look different and feel different but I couldn’t find a way. We only get one body.
When I look back on my 21st birthday, these are the things I remember most vividly. Unfortunately, this type of memory is not isolated to one birthday. For years, Christmas and Thanksgiving were holiday’s I feared and my memories of them are clouded with anxiety and guilt about food and my body. When I remember parties with my friends and teammates in college, I see images of certain photos that I once shed tears over because I thought I looked so terrible. It’s painful to recollect these memories but they are an important reminder of just how far I have come.
Tomorrow I will turn 26. Twenty six isn’t really a monumental birthday (other than losing your parent’s health insurance) but to me, it is. I am celebrating more than another year on this earth. I’m reflecting on that birthday 5 years ago when I was at the height of my eating disorder and I am taking pride in how far I’ve come.
It has been a long, slow journey to recovery and it’s a journey that has no end. Everyday I have to make choices to keep myself on the road to recovery. I still occasionally fight the eating disorder voice in my head. Some days are easier than others, but most days are pretty good.
Tomorrow morning, I will run long with great friends not because I want to burn calories or punish myself but to enjoy running and prepare for my upcoming marathon. Tomorrow afternoon, I will celebrate at brunch by drinking mimosas and eating as much Mexican food as I can, surrounded by wonderful people. I will fill my day with laughter, absolutely no guilt, and I will contrast it wil that birthday 5 years ago.
My eating disorder can no longer rob me of beautiful memories.
This year, I am not just celebrating a birthday, I am celebrating the control I have gained over my life. I am celebrating that my eating disorder can no longer rob me of a beautiful memories.