Community Stories

Colleen: Free from Fake Smiles

Colleen: Free from Fake Smiles | Libero Magazine
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 a fake smile again.

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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.

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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Did you know “Libero” means “Free”? Libero started with a story shared by our Founder Lauren Bersaglio back in 2010. We believe when we share our stories we can champion mental health, end stigma, and spread hope. We would love to have you share your story and celebrate freedom with the rest of the Libero community! Click here to learn more!

SITE DISCLAIMER: The opinions and information shared in this article or any other Content on our site may not represent that of Libero Network Society. We hold no liability for any harm that may incur from reading content on our site. Please always consult your own medical professionals before making any changes to your medication, activities, or recovery process. Libero does not provide emergency support. If you are in crisis, please call 1-800-784-2433 or another helpline or 911.