Living a life I only ever dreamed of
I’m Sophie, aged 32 and I have recovered from bulimia nervosa.
How it started
After years of disordered eating and an unhealthy relationship with food and body image, I developed an obsession with ‘healthy clean living.’ From here my food intake became incredibly restrictive. I started to withdraw from social situations where I might be expected to eat and before I knew it my only thoughts each day were around how little I could ‘get away’ with consuming and how much exercise I could fit in to compensate for anything I consumed. At the time, I thought it would make me look successful, my message to the world that I was winning, because inside, truth be told, I was bitterly unhappy. As my disorder took hold, I spent each day filled with panic, crippled with all-consuming thoughts of having to eat. Come nighttime, I was so hungry and weak I could hardly think straight. That’s when the bingeing started. Something which would leave me in a comatose state, filled with self-loathing and shame. Filled with anger at those who cared and tried to encourage me to enjoy a dinner with them. I thought I was in control, but I was rapidly losing it.
Deep down, I knew I was very unwell. After another night crying on the bathroom floor, consumed by disordered thoughts, praying for a different body to my own, I realised I needed to ask for help. So I did. I saw my GP, accessed a psychiatrist and started on some medication to help stabilise my mood. But that was really where the medical intervention ended for me. And often this can be part of the challenge. You need support every day. And I lived in a different country to my family, had no significant other and a lot of work and study commitments. I realised I had to be my support. I had to be my own biggest advocate for my recovery. So, I educated myself on ways to recover, but in truth everything felt overwhelming. I started basic and tried to eat three meals a day. But for me, I knew this was only half the battle, I needed to figure out why I’d got to this point in the first place. I took to journaling. I wrote a little each day. Every time I started to panic, wanted to binge or wanted to avoid a meal; I wrote about it. I needed to figure out how I’d got here and why. A recurrent theme seemed to be shame, something which eating disorders thrive in. So, I decided to tell everyone in my life what I had. From colleagues through to old friends. I simply told them what I had, that I needed to tell them so I no longer felt ashamed and that I was trying to recover and left it at that. Often people didn’t know what to say and that was fine. I wasn’t looking for advice. But it was incredibly freeing. I’d admitted it, told the disorder it no longer had power over me and stepped into the light. It was a huge relief and felt like the first big step in defeating it.
Some tips I learned along the way
Clean out your social media (if you have it). Anyone that makes you feel bad, brings up toxic diet culture, unfollow, unfriend, or at the very least mute!
Remind yourself of your why. Why are you doing this? Sometimes that’s a hard one to figure out but an essential one. Mine was and still is; I want to be present in my relationships and enjoy my life. It can be broad (like mine) or more specific, but this worked (and still works) for me.
Learn to articulate what you need from others. You have to tell them, as often they don’t know. For example, if conversation at a family dinner turns to body related topics, tell them you don’t need to hear it and remind them of your disorder. If it feels too uncomfortable or you haven’t told them, excuse yourself, pop to the bathroom and give yourself a pep talk.
Find a few people that you can talk to comfortably about your eating disorder and hang out with those people more. Anyone that isn’t going to support your recovery or try and be sensitive to what you’re going through is not someone you need to be around, especially in the early stages.
The happy ending you hoped for
Three months after I started my recovery, I met my now husband. On our first date I told him of my disorder and that I was on a path to recovery. He became instrumental in repairing my relationship with food. He encouraged and continues to encourage me to see the beauty in me that others see, to grow my confidence and to occupy my mind with all the excellent things life has to offer. Five years on, I can happily say I’ve now been in a place of recovery for around three years. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t hard to recover in a world which perpetuates a toxic diet culture. But is it worth it? One hundred times YES! I cannot stress this enough. I absolutely love my life now. The freedom and joy I find in the simplest of things is something my eating disorder took from me. It stopped me from enjoying meals with friends, from staying for a drink after work or even celebrating birthdays! It stopped me from actually living life.
When your preoccupation with your body fades into the background, a whole new world of possibilities opens up to you. I’m now able to connect with people on a deeper level and I can be fully present in my relationships. I now care for myself from a place of love, not fear and punishment. Recovery is hard, but I can’t stress how worth it, it is. It’s allowed me to live a life I only ever dreamed of and if you’re reading this and struggling, this is your sign to keep going. Defeat the disorder and reclaim your life!