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Editor's Note: We are a non-religious magazine. However, we acknowledge that spirituality is an important part for some. Our Faith column is a place for anyone to discuss how faith positively affects their mental health and how to improve the conversation around mental health within faith communities.
Five years ago on Easter Sunday I wrote out my story and read it out at my church. It seemed fitting to do this on this particular Sunday as, like with Easter, my story is about grace, it is about redemption, it is about freedom. After reading my story and then publishing it online, things began to happen. People started gathering around, coming forward, speaking up, wanting to share their stories. A movement began, as we all stood together, voicing freedom. I did not plan for there to be a whole community or an organization. I didn’t plan any of it. Libero does a lot of things, we have a lot of platforms, and a lot of messages, but it is my hope that our community will always remember what it was rooted in: redemption, freedom, the Cross. Happy Easter! It is my wish that today you find renewed hope.
I am going to talk about something that is not often talked about. It is a battle I have been facing since I was seventeen and I know I am not the only person dealing with it: Eating Disorders, or, more specifically, Bulimia, Anorexia and Binge Eating.
These three terms hide so comfortably behind the blanket term “Eating Disorders”; they are rarely named and forced to come out into the light. However, the thing about darkness is that when something dark is brought into the light it can no longer exist; it no longer has power. And that is what this is; I am getting rid of its power because freedom is needed.
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People asked me whether I would put my name on this article. The reason I chose to expose myself is that I am not tied down by this anymore. I am free and I do not need to hide or conceal my identity. I am taking ownership of my struggle and my victory – I have neither shame nor fear anymore.
My name is Lauren Bersaglio, and this is my story.
It all began four years ago when I made the decision to see if I could make it through a day without eating. Little did I know that that one choice, that one thought, in that one moment would redirect my life.
My first attack of anorexia lasted two months. I was eating just enough to stay alive and nothing more. I kept thinking to myself “two more pounds and then I will start eating again”; but inevitably I’d always find another two pounds to lose.
I do not remember how or why I started eating normally again; I think it was mere circumstances. I knew if I continued starving myself I was going to get caught, and I was too humiliated to want anyone to find out. However, the battle was not over; it had only begun.
Throughout the rest of that year, old habits would flair up during times of stress or emotional lows. I would go a day or two without eating and then I’d be setting the table and begin feeling faint. I’d realize what I was doing was not healthy and so I would force myself back into a life of eating. The diet rules I set for myself, however, were so restricting that I was never really free.
Each time I would tell myself ‘never again’; but as sure as life throws curve balls, I would find myself yet again with an empty stomach and a heavy heart.
For the most part I kept my anorexia a secret; I only talked about it when I was not dealing with it. I always spoke in the past tense: “Yeah, I struggled with anorexia, but it’s over now.”
It wasn’t that I was lying to people; I honestly believed it was over, and every time it reappeared I felt confused and defeated.
By the middle of 2009 I had been free from any anorexic behaviour for almost a year. However, as the stresses of life began building up, once again I found myself unable to cope in a healthy way. This time, however, I was so afraid of returning to old habits that instead I took on a new one: binge eating.
My bingeing was very sporadic; I would struggle with it for a few days then I would go back to normal life and then a month later it would re-emerge. See, the thing I learned about eating disorders is that food becomes this powerful substance that fools you into thinking it is the only way to cure the pain.
When I was struggling with anorexia, I would regain a sense of control by not letting food in; when I took on binge eating, I would numb the pains and stresses of life with the comfort of food.
By the end of 2009 I realized the only way I would respond to stress was through eating. I also realized that binge eating did not stick well with me. Not only did I not like what it was doing to my appearance, but it also made me feel like I was out of control – and I hated feeling out of control.
So I made another decision. Once again this decision happened in one moment with one choice and one action: I purged.
The moment it happened I knew my life would never be the same again; from then on I would live with the knowledge that I could eat whatever I wanted and then make it as if it had never happened.
And just like that I was in control again. Or so I thought.
For the better part of a month I found myself fighting two battles: one against bulimia and the other against anorexia. I did not care much for purging so I would try starving and then I’d realize I wanted to be normal so I’d eat properly for a few days and then I’d fall back into the cycle.
The bulimic and anorexic behaviour wore off as my stresses deflated. Then my family moved and I found myself in a new place with a new life and I swept my issues under the rug.
I told people I was done with the behaviours forever, that they had simply disappeared. I was telling them this because I truly believed it. However, when something is pushed under the rug it is never content staying there.
This past March I was hit by what Shakespeare refers to as “The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” In other words, life blindsided me.
I managed to get back up on my feet; however, I did not notice the current that was building beneath the surface. It started when my homework began piling up and I became overwhelmed with the amount of work I needed to accomplish in a short period of time. Needless to say, I was stressed. And I began eating.
It started with a few harmless (but unnecessary) snacks and within a couple days it turned into uncontrollable bingeing. Before I knew it, I was leaning over the toilet with my finger down my throat again – the position of defeat.
I realized I was back there; the monsters had crept out from under the rug and come to play, only this time they were playing to kill.
What started as one binge and purge in one day turned into two or three in a day. Then the bingeing stopped, but the purging continued. I was throwing up as many as five times a day. I couldn’t eat a piece of toast without rushing to the bathroom straight afterwards.
I had lost control.
The experience of purging, I found, was incredibly traumatising. It started with the unpleasant action of forcing myself to vomit, and was followed by the bloodshot eyes underlined with dark circles, the puffy face, and the constant feeling of defeat.
Giving into bulimia became my only focus. I wasn’t getting any work done; I was eating, purging and sleeping.
Almost immediately I felt the physical toll on my body. My stomach burnt from all of the acid build-up and my throat felt raw and strained. My teeth had made permanent marks on my right index finger and I was low on energy and had a permanent, dull headache.
I knew I had to stop purging, but I couldn’t. When I ate, even if I intended to keep the food down, it always ended the same – me bending over the toilet, allowing my life to slip out of my hands.
I realized as long as I was eating I would continue to purge. That’s when anorexia came knocking again – only this time it was far worse than it had ever been.
No longer was my motivation losing weight; I was motivated strictly by fear.
Rather than eating tiny bits of food every so often, I was eating nothing. I was so afraid of vomiting that I became unable to put anything in my mouth – not even juice.
I went three days without food.
On one of those days social obligation forced me to eat lunch; but after eating I purged, further confirming in my mind that the only way to avoid throwing up was to starve.
By the third day I was a wreck. I could hardly stand up without being overcome by dizziness. Exhausted, in pain, and emotionally broken, I wandered from class to class, lifeless.
I didn’t want it to be that way; I wanted to be outside with the living, but I was trapped.
I was being held captive by my fear and addiction. I had no escape. I told close friends about my problem, but there was little they could do to help; the choice was up to me. I had to decide if I wanted help or not, and the frightening truth: I didn’t want it.
The more I realized how addicted I’d become the more frightened I became. I didn’t want to destroy myself but I couldn’t stop what I was doing to myself either. I found myself sitting across from friends trembling and petrified, my shaky voice telling them how much I didn’t want to die. But the darkness had sunk in too far; I didn’t know how to stop it.
I had lost all control – I was a slave.
In desperation, I went to one of my professors. As I sat across from him, numb and broken, I asked him how much longer I could live like this. He informed me that without food a human being has thirty days to live.
I went back to my apartment and tried to sleep, but my mind would not shut off: thirty days and then dead. Not passed out and in the hospital, but dead. Gone forever.
I wanted to be alive!
I curled up on the couch hugging my knees and began crying uncontrollably. I was killing myself and I couldn’t stop. I knew what I had to do; I had to save my life.
I called up my closest friends, who came from all over the city. They sat in my living room with me for over three hours. I explained to them that I was destroying myself and that I wanted to be alive but I didn’t want to stop what I was doing. I told them I couldn’t stop and that I didn’t want their help. That’s when my roommate stepped in. She told me, “Lauren, you can do it. You are doing it right now; you called us all here because you want to stop this. You want to quit and you can.”
I looked around the room at the people I love and who love me and I realized I was hurting them. I had to stop what I was doing to myself, if not for myself, then for them.
So for the first time, I let them pray for me. I handed it over to God and told Him I didn’t want it anymore. I was able to do this because Jesus already paid the price for it; He paid for it on the cross. He was simply waiting for me to give it to Him and when I did I was transformed. It was as if I were awakened from a bad dream.
I stood up straighter, my eyes shone, and God breathed life back into me. I was free.
A few days later I found myself sitting on the bathroom counter facing a decision: I could give in to my weaker self: purge and kill my chances of enjoying my evening, or I could overcome and have a great night. I thought about what it is I wanted, a good night or a bad, and then I made my choice; I stood up, walked out of the bathroom, grabbed my coat, and went to the CanAm game. I overcame and I had a great night.
That night I realized the battle is still not over; this is something I will have to face for the rest of my life. There will be many more nights spent sitting on the bathroom counter rocking back and forth between giving in and overcoming; sometimes I will make the right decision and sometimes I will make the wrong one. It is a decision I will have to make every morning when I wake up and every night before I go to sleep.
Even while writing this article I have binged twice and purged once. But the difference is I am not afraid anymore. I know that God is here with me through all of it. The fight is still not over, but now I have the right armour on. And I know it will not defeat me because I have God on my side and I have an army of people who love me.
Opening up and allowing myself to receive help was one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do, but it was a decision that saved my life.
I am not afraid anymore because I know that no matter how many bad days I have, no matter how many relapses and slips back into darkness I have, it will not defeat me because my people will not let it.
What makes a good story are beautiful characters; in this past month I have learned my life is filled with them.
This is how I know my life will be a good story. I will have a happy ending. I am sure of this now.
And I am not the anorexic girl or the bulimic girl; I am a girl who struggles with anorexia and bulimia. It does not define me.
I am not alone. You are not alone. And hope is never lost. We are free.
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