This week is NEDA’s eating disorder awareness week. To learn more and learn how you can continue to expand the conversation and raise awareness, please visit NEDA.
One of the best re-reads I made this this year was Ruby, written by Cynthia Bond. In Ruby, there is a disjuncture, at least initially, between each character’s appearance and their character. Their struggles are reflected (or not reflected) in their appearance and behavior in extreme ways. And some, who have had unthinkable and horrible things done to them, are able to maintain a so-called “normal” facade while crumbling inside. As a result, what this book make me think about more than anything else was my ugly parts – or the parts of me that I thought were ugly. When I think about why I have an eating disorder, I can’t blame any overtly horrible things that have happened to me. I had, from all accounts, a wonderful childhood. My parents (who are still married) provided a safe and secure home. Despite moving one heck of a lot, I had a happy childhood. I probably thought a bit too much and started reading Grisham novels too young (I was 10), but nothing bad happened to me. And yes, sexual harassment and being stalked really sucked and was truly a bad thing and it exacerbated it for sure, but the eating disorder started before that. I can’t blame anyone.
But one thing that I have always wanted to be was perfect.
And the worse I feel on the inside, the more I want to appear perfect on the outside.
That’s one reason I lost weight. In my head, I thought that only thin people were successful in life, and since I wanted to be successful, I needed to be skinny. And then I got to “skinny,” and life wasn’t perfect. It was quite a shock. And while life happened to me like it does to everyone else, instead of talking about it, I kept it all inside. I controlled all of my feelings by controlling food, and kept the hurt of a bad breakup, jobs that I hated, and a fear of disappointing my parents all inside. I controlled food and focused all of my energy on school, work, and appearing perfect on the outside. I was so focused on my appearance, and despite being what some would same was the “perfect” size spent way more money than I should have on clothes to make me feel good about myself.
And on the inside, I felt like such a fraud. And so imperfect. And I definitely wasn’t a perfect friend or sister. I lost a lot of friends to the eating disorder (luckily my sister is family, so she had to stay with me) and I think I lost a boyfriend or two too. I’m not fully recovered, nor do I think that I’ll ever wake up normal, but one of things I’ve had to confront as I recover is my need for an illusion of perfect. The illusion of control.
It’s just an illusion. And I hope I never give that impression here.
It’s also why it has been so hard to admit to others that I have an eating disorder. I’ll admit it, but then qualify it with “but I was never diagnosed” or “I’m fine now” because I don’t want it to affect their opinions of me or my competence. I think that people will think that about me, because that’s what I think about me. More than anything else, I’m ashamed to have an eating disorder.
That is my ugliest part.
And I think that if people find out, it’s the only thing they’ll think is important about me.
And I don’t know for sure, but I think this shame and holding all of this inside is part of what perpetuates it and makes me feel, some days, like I need to quiet those feelings with food how I used to with restriction. It’s just two sides of the same struggle.
You should know that I’m not perfect. Inside, or outside. But I’m learning how to embrace that and love it. All of it.
Writing here is exposing my ugly parts to the world, and while it’s tough, I also think that putting it here, for everyone to read, is part of my recovery. My instinct right now is to say “but wait, there are all these other things that you should know about that are more important than knowing that I have an eating disorder” but I bet you already know that. You don’t need that reminder, but I do.
Reading Ruby gave me hope. It reminded me that the person I most to need me, ugly parts and all, is me.