A few posts ago, I mentioned my newfound blog-reading style: finding blogs that match my outlook on life and represent a healthy approach to living. One blog in particular that stands out in this regard is Caitlin’s “Healthy Tipping Point” . Through her blog and “Operation Beautiful”, Caitlin is spreading the message that we are all beautiful, and it’s time to stop trying to be someone else. Today, I’m posting as a contribution to the “Change the way you see, not the way you look” campaign- something with which I agree wholeheartedly.
This morning I woke up and said to my mom, “I felt like a real girl yesterday”. As goofy as that sounds, it was a revelation to me. For the past nine months, my life has been a whirlwind of change- a fascinating revelation of what my life could really look like if I commited to recovery and being true to myself. The life that I am living today is so different from my life at this time last year that I sometimes have to stop and give myself a little shake to remind myself that it’s real.
I struggled with an eating disorder for the better part of 5 years, and recovery has been a year-long process thus far. In various levels of intensity, I spent 5 long years hating every part of me- I was simply never good enough for my own ridiculous standards. I read fashion and fitness magazines like it was my job. I threw myself into my schoolwork in an effort to be the perfect student. I would accept nothing short of perfection in everything I did, be it academics, relationships, sports, or hobbies. Even if I tried something new, I expected myself to excell from the first try, and would berate myself incessantly if I struggled at all. I cried nearly every single day- I was always disappointing myself by not living up to my very high standards.
I was stuck in an endless loop. I would, frequently, manage to reach an objective standard I had set for myself. A number on a scale, a number of miles run per week, a grade in school. The catch-22 was that although I always said that I would be happy once (insert crazy goal here) happened, I never was. I allowed myself 5 minutes of self-congratulation before feeling that this standard was no longer high enough. I clearly believed that if a standard could be reached, it too was not good enough. I was a woman obsessed- living in the future and regretting the past. I put on my blinders and bee-lined for the next hurdle.
I was always willing to put 110% effort into everything that came up, except for one thing: recovery. I toyed with the idea of recovery for at least a year before I finally went to treatment, but I always thought that I “wasn’t sick enough” to get help. That I could stop at any moment, as soon as I got down to a certain weight, as soon as I felt good. What I didn’t realize is that living that life would never make me feel good- it would simply never make me happy. It took my life literally falling down around me for me to seek help. Even the beginning stages of recovery were extremely difficult. Grappling with the label of my diagnosis – “Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified”, or ED-NOS, was especially difficult. Countless times I would tell the group and my treatment team that I didn’t feel like I deserved to be getting treatment, that I was not sick enough to even have a “real” eating disorder. ED-NOS is most certainly as real and as dangerous as any other eating disorder, I was told. I conceded that maybe for other people it was, but not for me.
It was very serious. Despite my resistence, I did commit to recovery. My blind desire to be the best served me well for perhaps one of the only times in my life- at first, it was my rule-following personality that kept me in treatment. I gave up exercise, I ate my meal plan, I gained weight to my set-point. The physical changes I underwent were difficult and painful, but manageable. It was the mental work that challenged everything I previously knew about myself, society, eating and exercise.
What I learned in treatment essentially threw societal conventions and conceptions of “healthy living” to the wind. We learned about studies like the Key’s study of human set point, as well as other physiological reasons why no two people’s bodies are exactly alike. We worked through major life issues that had manifested themselves in eating disorder symptoms and learned ways to deal with life stressors, like mindfulness and thought-records. We were encouraged, time and time again, to try new hobbies and find new things to enjoy.
Throughout my journey, I learned so many things about myself. I learned that I am, as it turns out, a pretty quiet person, and that I don’t need to try to fit in with those around me- that instead, it’s ok to surround myself with people who make me feel good about myself. I learned that meditation keeps me grounded, and that I actually enjoy going to a yoga class that is focused more on breath than movement. I learned that I can actually enjoy foods with little “value” beyond sheer enjoyment and taste. I gained confidence with exposure to social situations, and even managed to travel to NYC and really take it all in.
Today, I feel like a real girl. Though I am still “in the process of recovery”, I no longer feel like my recovery defines me. I no longer feel like my appearance defines me, period. I no longer need to be the “perfect” person. I can go out for lunch with friends, go shopping, and enjoy the summer sunshine. I can take a dance class for the first time in two years and feel fabulous after- not because I’ve burned calories or worked up a sweat, but because I could express myself in an artistic way and be active in a healthy way. I can finally feel proud of myself for living with both eyes open.
I hope that someday I can help other young girls see that beauty is not an external thing, or a societal norm. Initiatives like “Change the way you see, not the way you look” are paving the way to a future that will hopefully help women everywhere appreciate themselves, and I feel so excited to be even a small part of Operation Beautiful. Thanks for reading!