NEDA Week: Finding Gratitude in Painful Circumstances

In honor of National Eating Disorders Awareness week, I am sharing a piece of my story. It’s a story that isn’t particularly unique, there are a dozen others like it, but it is my own. It’s personal to me. I used to think that because this chapter was so big and ugly and painful, it would affect all the chapters to come, but as I gain perspective, I know that’s not the case.

Eating disorders should not be secret burdens we carry around forever. Opening up is okay. Actually, it’s more than okay. Transparency is crucial to the recovery process. When tough, uncomfortable topics, mental health related ones especially, are stuffed in a box and locked away, they don’t become any less uncomfortable or any more understood. People struggling feel more isolated and more hopeless. But the solution is simple. We walk to the safe, unlock the combination, open the box, and we look inside. We talk about what we see and the emotion it elicits. We support each other.nedawareness_logo-colorThis post was in my draft folder since the October of last year. I have edited, reedited, and then reedited again. It has been painful to confront this piece of myself. It makes me feel vulnerable and guilty, but it also forces open my heart for big changes. I’m ready for those changes.


The last two years of middle school, I was anorexic. There wasn’t a definitive moment when my eating disorder started, but I remember stepping on the scale one morning and seeing a number pop up that was scary low. I felt sick, and elated, and ashamed. In my heart, I knew something was wrong, but I couldn’t stop.

People around started asking me if everything was okay, which made me angry. In my mind, I was better than ever. At my lowest weight, mom forced me to see a doctor, and initially, I refused to go but eventually gave in. I knew I would be weighed, and I drank so much water before we left I thought my stomach would explode, hoping the extra water weight would soften the number.

The doctor said some scary things about where my health was headed, but I was too angry and closed to listen. My recovery didn’t start until later on, when I started running. That sounds counter intuitive, but I found something in running that made me feel strong and gave me quiet space to sort through my thoughts. I realized if I wanted to run, I had to eat more. You can’t eat 800 calories a day and then pound out a 10k. I’ll add that I didn’t just start eating enough one day. Eventually I wanted to get better, but it was my parents who forced me to eat when I couldn’t force myself. They were patient with me.

More food resulted in a much needed weight gain, which was a huge adjustment in itself, and I started reading other recovery blogs and articles about nutrition. There wasn’t an “ah ha” moment when I finally acknowledged that food isn’t something to fear and idolize, funny how those two go hand in hand. It was a long process.

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Many thanks to A Little Contrast Photography for capturing my goofy self.

I’m still here, 45 pounds happier. I still struggle, especially when life is stressful. Sometimes I give in, but regression is apart of growth. Recovery from anything mental or physical is never a straight shot. It is important to recognize this and be gracious with yourself. Relapse does not mean you failed; it just means you still have more room to grow…and don’t we all.

This past year has demonstrated that I still have a long way to go in recovery. That makes me sad, really sad some days more than others.

My body is still healing too. I lost my cycle during my last year of middle school. Many other women struggle with amenorrhea too (not just as a result of anorexia), and it is incredibly frustrating. I understand that some days you might feel like less of woman for not having one of the defining, womanly characteristics. It hurts.

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Each step of recovery makes me more and more thankful for my eating disorder. I would never wish it on anyone, but it brought me to where I am now. I hope it made me a lot more compassionate and in tune with people around me. The immediate response that many people have, when they find out someone has an ED, is to assume vanity is the root cause, but eating disorders are about more than a desire to be thin. It’s so important to be sensitive of the personal, quiet struggles of people around me because no matter what facade they’ve built up, deep down they might be experiencing a whole lot of hurt.

It made me care more about true, holistic wellness, which means looking at the big picture, recognizing that living healthfully is more than eating veggies and exercising. It means balancing your mental, spiritual, social, and physical health. It encompasses the whole person, not just one aspect of the person, which makes sense because humans are pretty complicated, and whether we see recognize it or not, it makes such a huge impact in our lives, the environment, and society as a whole.

I am grateful for a Healer who forgives me and stands beside me in the midst of crashing waves, who calls me to cast my anxieties on Him because He cares for me.

Grateful for my parents, who support me and hold onto me every step of the way.

Grateful for close friends who listen patiently, encourage gently, and love me.

Grateful for the people who sensed I was struggling and reached out to me.

Grateful for this supportive community and strong women like Cora, Emily, Kat, and so many others who have shared about their own struggles with EDs. You all live and breathe a powerful example of what true recovery looks like.

I am grateful for healing.


 

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15 thoughts on “NEDA Week: Finding Gratitude in Painful Circumstances

  1. Wow Evangeline; I am thankful for God’s MIGHTY hand of healing in you too; Jesus truly does heal the brokenhearted and bind up our wounds. All these NEDA Awareness posts are inspiring me to want to write one; this was just so precious and you do seem so full of the joy of the Lord. He is AMAZING.

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  2. This is beautiful, eloquent, mature, and brave Vangie. Thank you for sharing your beautiful words with us – and I hope that you feel a sense of empowerment and release from doing so. I know it wasn’t until I started sharing my story that the chains really began to break away. Of course the journey is not yet over. I don’t think it ever is. “….regression is apart of growth” —> Now that’s a hard, but true, pill to swallow, isn’t it?? It almost feels counter intuitive to say such a thing, but you are absolutely right. It is the moments that I fall backward that push me to work even harder. At the end of the day I just want us all to be happy, healthy, human beings… and I think we are both on our way. ❤ ❤

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    1. It is such a hard pill to swallow. Sometimes those moments of regression leave me feeling like a failure, but like you said, they also push me to try again. They leave a familiar, bitter taste in my mouth, one that I want to get rid of. So in that regard, I guess regression can serve as a warning. “Hey, you’ve been here before. You really hate it here. Don’t come back.” Thank you for your encouragement, through comments but also through your honest posts. Your writing is so powerful, Cora.

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  3. This is a powerful expression of recovery. You have come so far, so remember that when you don’t feel like you are progressing or maybe have a slight blip. I agree, running was healing for me too. First I ran to get away from my problems, then I start running towards goals and more life.
    Thank you for sharing ❤

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    1. Thank you, Ellie. I love how you phrased that second to last sentence. Running is a constant. Whether we’re running to escape or chasing after something, it’s there for us, and it comforts and heals and empowers. Love it.

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  4. Thank you for sharing, Vangie. Every person’s story is unique–and even if some common themes echo in your story that echo and resonate in others, I think that shows as much as anything how deeply disordered eating has settled itself in our culture. I’m also grateful–grateful that you healed, grateful for the people who have helped you healed, and grateful that your beautiful blog has joined our community. ❤

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  6. Exercise has also been a big part of my recovery process. In the past I abused it, but once I decided to give up my eating disorder for good, it was super helpful to know that to perform athletically I needed to fuel. Even now, on the hardest days in recovery I remind myself that my body needs the energy, not only for exercise but for LIFE! I am so happy you are in a better place, much love ❤

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    1. Absolutely. And exercise can make us feel so much stronger and happier. It’s a thin line to walk though. It can be so easy to fall into the trap of exercising to compensate for calories. We have to be careful, but I do love the release and outlet of a good workout. Thank you for sharing your thoughts ❤

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  7. katalysthealth

    You are beautiful, and strong, and inspiring, and motivating and so gosh darn cute I could squeeze you. I think sometimes people are taken aback when they hear someone saying they are grateful for their ED but similar to you, I am SO thankful and grateful for mine. It has shown me 100% who I am, what I’m made of and how graceful our Lord is.
    I’m so happy to hear that you are blossoming from the dirt of your ED. Keep blooming girl – we need more like you in this world ❤

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    1. There are days when I’m not so thankful, but more often than not, I look back at where I was and where I am now, and I just know that Christ was (and still is) working in my life. He makes beautiful things out of the frustrating, heartbreaking seasons of life. Kat, you are such an encouragement. Thanks for being you ❤

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