Not very long ago, I didn’t know myself. I was utterly consumed by voices in my head I’d like to be able to say were not my own. I was driven by a desire to reach an unclear and unattainable image.
I can’t tell you when it really all started, but at some point in my high school career, I looked at everything about myself, including my achievements, and decided they could be improved upon.
I made a list of my grades and wrote next to each of them where I thought they should be. This doesn’t seem so bad for your average high school student striving to attend a good college; however, the focus of my perfectionism quickly shifted paths.
I started to scan people and their behaviors differently, noting the size of their bodies in comparison to my own. I fixated on the idea of needing to be better and my primary target was my body.
For the first time in my life, I became caught up in an exercise frenzy not unlike ones trapping people temporarily during “new beginning” events like New Years.
Unlike these people, I viewed my new obsession as a permanent means to my desired improvement and took it too far. As my social support became to crumble, with a falling out between me and my best friend, I began to rely more heavily on my scramble for an improved self. I listened and latched onto the little comments of the perfect-body-striving society we all live in – the one most people are not overly affected by.
The behaviors and comments of my then-boyfriend, my mother, family friends, and even random strangers were organized in my mind as either useful or not useful in my search.
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This unconscious scanning quickly led to conscious thoughts and compulsions.
As I increased my exercise, I decreased my food intake. I came up with two simple labels to assign to every food I encountered – they were either “good” or “bad.” Anything deemed “bad” would never be allowed to so much as touch my lips.
Sometimes, my mind would go berserk mid-bite, having belatedly decided it was in fact a “bad” food. On such occasions, I would spit the unworthy food out into a napkin, trash bin, or anywhere I could to relieve myself of the burden of eating a “bad” food. The concept of “less is more” seemed to become infused in my own mind as the be-all and end-all of maxims.
So, not only did I not eat “bad” foods, but I restricted my “good” foods too. The growling of my stomach pleased me. I don’t know where I meant to be going in the mess I had created, but at some point I realized I no longer liked it.
I resented the late night exercises, the rigidly limited food options, the weird rules, and most else of the demands an eating disorder brings. I then learned eating when I don’t want to is much harder than not eating when I do want to.
As I journeyed towards recovery, I may not have lost myself any more than I did when I began my own destruction, but I sure felt it more.
Waking up knowing my day would be filled with snacks I didn’t want to eat, friends I didn’t have, a school I no longer liked, and frightening challenges made me miserable. This is when I really became the person I never wanted to be. Being obsessed with body size and exercise isn’t a good person to be either, but I would choose it over being a miserable girl who couldn’t feel any of the happiness around her.
Recovery was long and hard and seemingly never ending, but somehow it did end.
Somehow, I rose up out of the ditch I dug myself and found the person I love to be. I found the girl who will never wear fake smiles again.
When I finally made some breakthroughs and began to wear those true smiles on my face, I had an encounter with my mother I hope to never forget. She looked up at me with tears in her eyes and told me I had my “shine” back. It was music to my ears.
To this day, having a “shine” is one of my greatest joys. I love feeling loved, happy, and all together grateful for the life I live. I no longer dread getting up in the morning, no longer have a tense relationship with my faith or my friends, no longer feel I need to become something vastly enhanced over who I am now.
I am able to look in the mirror and smile at myself. I know who I am and, arguably more importantly, I like her.
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