Recovery comes in all different shapes and sizes, and this is mine.
Over the past year, I made friends who are top-notch lifters in the powerlifting world. Many have been doing it four, five, six+ years, and it shows. I cracked a joke once about how I couldn’t think of anything I had been that committed to for that kind of time.
But one thing did come to mind – my eating disorders.
Since I was 15 years old until this year – almost seven years of my life – I cultivated some incredibly destructive and damaging behaviors. To think back on it now is strange, because while that was me…it also wasn’t.
How do I describe the mindset to someone who has never dealt with something like this? As my mom put it once, “I feel bad when I overeat, but I don’t hate myself.”
I think that gets to the heart of it: never, in all my years of disordered eating, was it about the food. Never.
The 900 calorie (or less) days, hours on the elliptical, being afraid to go out to dinner because I didn’t know what food was going to be there; the months of not exercising at all, eating anything and everything, hiding away in baggy clothes; and all the eating until I was sick, jamming fingers down my throat, abusing laxatives, avoiding my reflection in the mirror…
It was about control. It was about hurting myself, hating myself. It was about making myself look as bad as a felt, or feel as bad as I looked. No logic, just compulsion and misery on repeat.
For anyone going through something similar – whatever it may be, this isn’t limited to body image and disordered eating – here is what I’d like to say.
You are not your illness. When you carry something that dark and heavy for so long, it feels like it is a part of your very identity. But just like asthma or the flu is not you, neither is this intangible illness. You must take responsibility for your actions, but the things you do because of your disorder are not the real you. I often pushed away my loved ones, because I didn’t feel like I deserved their kindness and support. But I have a big heart and a lot of love to give, and now that I am separate from it all, I know it was my disordered thoughts that wanted to isolate me.
You are not weak. You are here, struggling to improve your life because you know there’s something better out there, even when it feels like you’re drowning in anxiety or stress, and change is almost scarier than staying miserable. But when you choose to fight, even when all the odds are against you? You are strong. You are the strongest kind of person I know. But you have to keep struggling and growing, don’t you ever give up.
Seek help and be honest. You don’t need to have a mental breakdown or have your life fall apart to “qualify” for help. See a professional if you can, or online chat rooms and hotlines. Then be honest with them, and with yourself. I recognized times when I was not ok, but I waited until the moments my disorder actively impaired my life before seeking counseling, and even in my sessions, I would downplay the extent of my duress. You will get the help you need, but only if you’re honest about what you need.
Address the underlying problems. You and I both know it’s not about the food, or your love life, or the stress of work and school. Those might be triggers, but they are not what is causing you to self-sabotage and burn yourself to the ground. The way you think about your body and yourself is something you have internalized, and you will have to dig deep to find out what exactly is your struggle. It could also very well be a chemical/hormonal imbalance that requires medication. Whatever it is, confronting it will be difficult and painful, but you can’t ignore it; you must deal with it head on if you ever want to heal.
There are some things you have to do on your own. Recovery, in my experience, is one of those things. It is something you must choose and actively work at. Being around supportive people who try their best to love you through the dark moments, seeking professional help, confiding in and learning from others who understand your predicament – all of these can help, but no one except you can actually own your recovery and wellbeing.
You keep fighting and learning and struggling until one day, things actually do get better.
I’m not sure when the change happened for me exactly, but taking the leap into powerlifting was a factor.
It is something I wanted for a long time. But when I was barely eating and obsessed with becoming smaller, I didn’t have the energy to grow and lift heavy; likewise, when I did nothing but eat and sit around, I lost all strength and physically couldn’t train the way I wanted.
Committing to powerlifting was the point when I let go of a lot of fears and doubts about myself to finally chase a dream. But just as importantly, it was also the time when I had taken care of myself enough to have the physical capabilities as well.
I had a lot of drama when I first got into it. I got injured in a few minor ways. I was also on my own initially, and then after graduation again. I had to learn things on my own, find help by myself, and put in work with very little assistance and support. And yet, here I am.
Because here’s the thing: the weights I lift now are nothing compared to the weight of negativity that dragged me down all those years.
That’s why powerlifting, for me, is so empowering. It is the bright light after the darkest years of my life, and the final piece in solidifying my recovery. It is a physical manifestation and an almost daily reminder that I did it. I did it. I made it out, and if I can do that, I can do anything.
It is also an integral piece in maintaining my recovery (ya gotta eat well if you wanna lift well), and further strengthening my body and mind. I approach the sport a lot like I approached recovery – I want to get better and stronger, and I will do whatever it takes to make that happen. I haven’t missed a workout in months, I finally eat without guilt (!), I’m around amazing and motivating people, and it is truly a blessing to be in this community.
It challenges me to grow every day, in every sense of the word, and I look forward to my future in the sport…and my future in general.
At the end of the day, people don’t know your life. They don’t know your journey and your grind, your triumphs and your strengths, your goals and motivations. They don’t know what you’ve had to overcome, the demons you beat and maybe are still fighting. And a lot of people won’t care, even if they do know.
I’m sharing this for the people that do care. I lived so many years in a bad place, and though I am recovered from my eating disorders, I am still working tirelessly to heal and grow into a stronger and happier version of myself. I drew a lot of inspiration from the stories of others, and I feel a duty to share mine in the hopes that it can help someone else.
My road to recovery has been long and winding, but it was worth the fight! So worth it. I am proud and excited to confidently close this chapter of my life, and to continue on with this new, brighter future.
But ANYWAYS. This was longer and heavier than I thought it would be, but such is life! Thank you for reading, for supporting me through everything, and for just being a part of my life. I appreciate you, and as always – I am here if you need anything! Much love to ya.