Three years ago was the last time I made myself throw up. Since then, I’ve graduated from college, started my career, and moved cities. Sometimes, as I drive to work, I remember the girl sprawled out on the floor alone in her bedroom, begging out loud for someone to come and help her.
People in my life called me fat, likened me to a bowl of Jell-O, and commented on my “spare tire” on many occasions, and even though I kept in shape and played sports my entire life, what I looked like always seemed to be a topic of discussion. These insults came relentlessly throughout puberty, and by the time I was 17, I had a severe addiction to exercise coupled with a feverish commitment to starving myself.
Developing bulimia in college, no one would have guessed from the outside what I was battling. I have always been athletic and looked perfectly healthy; although thinner, I still had muscle and looked well enough. But in class, I would stare at the nearly transparent skin on my hands, watching the blue blood travel through my veins while contemplating how I had fooled anyone. Over the next four years, I worked out religiously and did various fad diets, all under the guise of the label “healthy.” Not once during this time did I look emaciated or, conversely, overweight.
Throughout my life, I always had an outlet to throw myself into. Whether it was school or practice or hanging out with my friends, I always found a distraction from what was going on underneath. Once I got to college, with no prevalent and time-consuming diversions, the emotions I had been running from for years caught up to me quickly. I was at a large public university with no family, no basketball practice to run off to, and no buffer to the feelings I had been avoiding. Spending my time vacillating between starving myself and throwing up, I did what I needed to get by.
“I know that the person who came to my rescue was me.”
After years of picking terrible relationships, battling disordered eating, running my body into the ground, and drinking profusely, the time to join the workforce arrived. I started in commercial real estate with no clue as to the transformation I was about to endure. Even with a tumultuous beginning, my career slowly started to take center stage. Between the hour-long commute from my parents’ home, the torment that the women in my department put me through, and the dash to coach girls’ basketball in the evenings, it was clear that I needed to dig deep if I was going to succeed. Despite the number of tears that I cried during those first few months, they were much different from the tears I shed at 19.
As dark as it sounds, I was growing. My new life demanded me to focus on something other than what I looked like, and I had no choice but to put my energy into a new, constructive endeavor: making something of myself. I had less time to work out and eventually, I found that I actually was losing weight when working out less. No longer taxing my body, I began to understand that in order for me to be successful, I needed to learn the difference between strength and suffering.
I took my role as a middle school girls’ basketball coach extremely seriously and worked hard to set an example I wished someone had created for me. I talked about how important it was for them to believe in themselves and always be their own biggest supporter. I preached to these young girls about loving who they were and not taking themselves too seriously.
There was no room for self-doubt anymore because I was chasing something much more important than my hatred for myself. Slowly, I started proving to myself and the people that I worked with that I was a dependable, determined woman. As these notions started to sink in, I found that the person who I belittled and endlessly criticized was actually my best advocate, as well as my strongest ally. The hours that I had put into hating myself naturally morphed into the time I spent pushing to show people what I was made of. I got a promotion within six months and worked hard to show what I could do. I persevered and my drive helped me get over an eating disorder I had been battling for years. Something magical had come out of the darkest of situations: I remembered who I was.
I still have days where I come down on myself too hard, but the difference is that now I make an effort to channel my energy into something constructive. The hard knocks I took throughout my life make sense now; I look back on all of those times I laid sobbing, begging for someone to help, and I know that the person who came to my rescue was me. It took every ounce of strength I had, but I was the one who peeled myself off the bathroom floor. I was the one who understood that fulfilling my dreams was more important than the size of my waist. I was the one who used my suffering as fuel to become the best I could.
No eating disorder or addiction looks the same. As the conversation around body image continues to grow, we must emphasize the converse power of pain. We may have been downtrodden before, but we are no longer. Our hearts may have been broken, but our souls are not. By no means does everyone have to go through something quite as dramatic, but it speaks to the broader picture that no matter who you are or what you look like, there is always a way out. I am happy to say that now, after picking myself up, I have the strength to help others, and I am confident that they will do the same once their time arrives.