A Journey of Self-Acceptance
“You should have died by now, you know that right?”
After detailing my nearly 5-year journey of living with anorexia, this was my therapist’s response. At only 19, I simply laughed.
Dead? I don’t think so.
I’d shared with my therapist how I ran with an off-hand comment from my high school track coach to have less soda and more water. How no one really knew until my physician didn’t clear me to run cross-country my sophomore year.
How my parents gave me weight contracts so I could run. The screaming matches I had with my parents throughout all of high school. The month-long restrictions before any race.
I told my therapist about the trips to the OBGYN to hear how I may never be able to have kids. The anger I felt each time I got my period (which rarely happened) because I knew it required body fat. The weird sense of pride I felt in my sister telling me I looked like a Holocaust victim.
I’d shared how I broke my foot at 18 doing a normal running drill. How I gave away lunches throughout high school so my mom thought I was eating. How I tracked my food to ensure I consumed less than 1000 calories a day – while running for a competitive collegiate program.
I’d just shared how I would weigh myself multiple times a day. Pinch my stomach with every mirror I’d passed. How I bottomed out at 5’2” and 78 pounds. About the “crazy moments” I now know were panic attacks over races and workouts.
How I’d just recently nearly collapsed after running my best 5k to date.
What I didn’t share was that I was scared. And why.
I wasn’t scared of dying. I was scared they’d make me stop. Stop running. Stop competing.
And if I was forced to stop, I’d have to face my biggest fear – slowing down and being with myself.
The root of eating disorders is different for everyone. The therapist who told me I should have died was the first to recognize I had severe anxiety. Others speculated I was seeking control. Coaches thought I just wanted to run faster.
I believe the root lies elsewhere.
Anorexia was just a symptom of a bigger problem – anxiety, depression, and self-loathing.
My therapist got at the first two layers. With some help from an anti-depressant and therapy, I was able to more or less ‘overcome’ anorexia (if one ever truly overcomes such a thing).
But these, still, were just symptoms. Symptoms of a lack of self-acceptance and self-love.
Once I stopped spending every moment ruminating over what I ate, how many calories I took in compared to how many calories I burned, and how much I exercise, I found other ways to engage in self-destructive behavior.
Alcohol became my weapon of choice to turn off my brain. And an emotionally abusive relationship allowed me a safety net so I never had to slow down and truly be with myself.
A relationship that sent me back into obsessive food tracking. Where he convinced me 105 was my ideal racing weight – so he needed to check at least once a week to make sure that’s where I stayed.
A relationship deep down I knew was simply convenient for him and a necessity for me. I convinced myself I would stay in it for the long haul – even if I was unhappy, at least I wasn’t alone with myself.
A relationship that lasted four years until I dropped him off for basic training. The beginning of the end of my marriage - and my nearly 27 years of being disconnected and disapproving of myself – when life forced me to be alone.
When I was forced to be alone with myself, I started looking more deeply at who I am.
And, alone, I was finally able to start moving towards self-acceptance. Towards recognizing who I am – and being that person.
Though my journey of self-acceptance started over 6 years ago, it is one I am still on today. It’s the journey of a lifetime.
When I look back, I grieve for the moments and opportunities lost - with friends, family, potential friends. But most of all, moments with myself.
I don’t know the physical impact of the years I spent letting my body waste away. But I do know the mental, emotional, and spiritual toll – and the constant battle to develop a loving relationship with myself. It’s one that will never end.
I don’t have one solution, but I do have a story. What I keep coming back to is our responsibility as humans to one another. When you interact with others – be kind. Affirm who they are – not just what they do, what they look like, or what’s on the outside. And if you know someone struggling – with an eating disorder or mental health concerns – listen, be patient, and connect them with a professional when they are ready. If you are struggling – know you matter and who you are is more than enough.