By: Eliza Gray
I used to be ashamed of myself. Living with an unpleasant secret that felt like poison in my mouth. I’m sick, I would think judgingly to myself, but not flu-like sickness or anything a trip to the doctor would fix. There was no bandage to place over my wounds or medicine from the drug store that would make me feel whole again. I had a mental illness and a crippling eating disorder… and it felt like time stopped the first time I heard my diagnosis. I became suddenly aware of the fact that an eating disorder was serious, maybe even life-threatening, and I was overwhelmingly afraid of how little control I had over any of it.
The first time I ever heard “anorexia” and “disordered eating” was in my therapist’s office. My mother had found her practice and she was gentle and caring upon inviting me into her warmly lit office. If the disorder was the devil on my left shoulder, the weekly hour-long sessions were held in place by the angel on my right shoulder. At this time I was 16 and experiencing a year of so many “firsts”—first time driving by myself, first time scoring a goal in lacrosse, first high school boyfriend—and the first time hearing about a mental-meets-physical struggle that was wreaking havoc on my quality of life.
A lot of individuals battling with eating disorders will refer to their illness as if it’s another person entirely—the separation of self from struggle was key—and I was no different. My disorder was named Ed, sometimes The Monster, and untangling the life I had built for us proved the most challenging endeavor of my young-adult life. I had this notion that restriction and counting my calories gave me an unfathomable amount of control; however, the outcome was quite the opposite. The Monster controlled me and made me submissive to its malicious intentions. I know that reading those words may sound a bit silly but truly I was a different person when I let Ed drive: I was angry, defiant, and starving for support.
One day I called my grandmother after months of subsisting on a measly caloric intake and deceitful feelings of being in control. My mind won’t let my body eat, I told her, and I heard her struggle to stay composed. This was foreign to us, this invader who had taken over part of my livelihood and stolen every ounce of confidence from me. Our family had always been centered on food and coming together meant eating together. Every birthday, graduation, death of a loved one, and holiday you could find us standing around a grill or kitchen table. Our Southern roots meant food was at the center of all our traditions, trials, and triumphs.
In the clutches of my eating disorder I was reclusive and moody; pulling away from anyone who tried to get close like an animal that had been kicked one too many times. I lost friendships, I lost the ability to play sports, I lost countless hours of sleep and moments of laughter. I was slow to grasp that losing an unhealthy amount of weight—for all the wrong reasons—was not worth the countless losses that came along with the weight loss. During my first few months at Carolina House in Raleigh, I came to the realization that my eating disorder was a personal prison. Without the motivation or support from a group of extraordinary women, a team that had my best intentions at heart, and my incredible therapist who encouraged me to fully finish recovery and continues to keep me accountable, I would still be behind those bars.
Five years into my recovery, there are moments where I stumble and find myself craving old habits out of discomfort or lack of willingness. But my life is no longer about falling down and allowing negative thoughts to completely deteriorate me. Each day I choose to pick myself up and pursue a life that is more than just “control” or counting; this life worth living is one that has continuously taught me to be more flexible, more vulnerable, and more understanding of others. My family and friends who have grown closest to me know my triggers and are often ready to offer their hand before I even realize I’m slipping... an incredibly important part of recovery: allowing others in and accepting their support.
Tell your story, talk about your fears, re-tell your story, and celebrate your triumphs. Your life belongs to YOU, not Ed or The Monster, or anyone else! Life is way more than just a number on a scale, I promise.
Eliza Gray is a twenty-something living in Raleigh with her boyfriend and their two fur babies. She enjoys hiking in Umstead, curling up with a good book—currently A Game of Thrones—and time spent laughing with sweet friends. Eliza is a firm believer that your disorder does not define who you are or what you are capable of accomplishing. In spring of 2015, Eliza smashed her first scale on the Brickyard of North Carolina State University, now her alma mater.