I can vividly remember the last time I stuck my fingers down my throat to make myself vomit. Hunched over the toilet seat of the high school restroom, I was so distraught with guilt and feelings of my life slipping away that I decided, then and there, not to ever do it again.
The thing is, I had decided that same thing many times before. What made this time different?
13 years later…
Now the mother of two, I have been reflecting a lot lately about why I’m not doing a better job at taking care of my personal health. I feed my kids good food. I make sure they have time to run around and exercise. I get them to drink water and make sure they wear hats in the sun.
But some days I survive on a piece of bread and five cookies. I rarely use sun protection and I am constantly in a state of dehydration… contributing to headaches and physical exhaustion. I regularly go to bed later than I know I should, and several times I have started an exercise routine that lasts for about three weeks before inevitably giving up and waiting another six months before I try again.
(It’s pretty scary to admit this not only to myself but to the whole world… but in conversing with many other mothers, I know I am not the only one… and I hope by sharing my experience I can potentially help someone else struggling.)
I keep asking: Why don’t I just take better care of myself? I know what I need to do… why don’t I just do it?
Up until recently, I have blamed the lack of attention to these issues mostly on being “too busy” with all my motherhood duties. I have two young children to care for full time, plus do my part-time work blogging, after all.
But what I have realized is that the same character traits I decided to use over a decade ago – as a high schooler overcoming my eating disorder – are what I need to employ now to get control over my personal health.
I hope that recognizing what virtues I need to strengthen, instead of just giving myself a material goal to achieve, will help me take the next steps with my self-care goals. This way I can focus on a new way of *being* versus giving myself yet another item on my to-do list.
I need a change of heart. I need to find ways to cope with the legacy of an eating disorder, that can help me move forward instead of keep me in the same self-destructive, self-neglecting place.
Here are the qualities I am working to strengthen:
A couple weeks before I made that final decision never to make myself throw up again after years of not keeping a bite of food down, my counselor asked me to think about how this habit would affect my future. How would it feel to be struggling with this same issue as a grown up? As a wife? As a mother?
Somehow I mustered the mental power to say NO that final time… and even though I wanted to, I never threw up again (on purpose, that is – yes I had awful morning sickness with both pregnancies!). This was after time and time again of “stopping” for brief periods.
I think what helped me push myself over the edge to truly change my habit was to become aware of what I was actually doing to my body and my life.
First and foremost, I was depleting my body of nourishment which would affect my quality of life as well as my life expectancy. And that is what I am doing now. I am not giving myself the food, water, sleep, or exercise that I need so that I have the energy for the life I want to live.
Just becoming aware of this fact, in all its sadness, is an important step to moving forward. I need to stop brushing the “little things” under the carpet and really recognize what I am doing to myself by not making my physical health a priority.
Though I “recovered” from bulimia 13 years ago, I still struggle with controlling portion size and cravings. Many days I eat very little “real” food, and then fill up on junk. Sadly, I think one of the physical affects of my years of binging and purging has been creating a lack of true compatibility between my stomach and my brain. I can ignore the true hunger pangs, actually, as it became nearly second nature. I don’t really get “hungry.” I just want to eat (or I don’t want to eat) and it’s such a huge mental barrier to get beyond that.
Just as I mustered the will power to never purge again, I need to now muster the self-control to eat regular meals, even if I don’t feel like it. I need to be disciplined to do all those healthy things I know in my head, but I ignore because I’m surviving without them. But I don’t want to just survive any more. I want to thrive.
I want to develop more self-control to get a handle on my own actions, and do what I know I need to do to take care of myself…. even if I really don’t want to in the moment.
As a teen, envisioning myself as a 30 year old trying to get pregnant and still vomiting all my meals caused me to step back and change my behavior. I believe I was showing compassion towards myself – realizing that I was young and that I truly had a chance to better my future by making one life-changing choice.
When I was pregnant or nursing, I mustered up the energy to eat regular healthy meals. I knew other lives were depending on my physical health. But it seems as soon as those stages passed, however, I have gone back to my “old” ways. I just see *myself* as less worthy of care. Especially after my miscarriage, I have been in a very dark place as far as caring for my body. I basically felt it had let me down, so why should I take care of it.
So what I need now is to practice compassion towards myself. I don’t have a baby to grow inside but I still have two kids to take care of… and furthermore, maybe even I deserve a better “me” as well.
How would my life change if I ate better, slept more, exercised, and truly respected the body that allows me to live in this world? Let me count the ways…
So what does all this mean…
Although I stopped actively purging so long ago, I am only realizing now that I have not actually recovered from those attitudes and behaviors that took over my world as a teenager. But looking back at how strong I was to stop a harmful habit, I am now going to use that strength to kick start a new healthy lifestyle.
I am going to focus on developing awareness, self-control, and compassion to help me overcome this challenge.
It will not be easy. Things will not change tomorrow. But I know now that I do not have to be a victim of my eating disorder, no matter how much its legacy has affected my life. I am going to move forward and claim my health again, using the strength I once showed to remind me that I can do this.
My kids, my family, my community, and even I will benefit from it. We all deserve better.
Just a note: I chose the picture for this post to show that people may look very happy on the outside, but may be really struggling on the inside. Let us remember to be gentle with each other, because we really never know what is going on under the surface for someone else.
Disclaimer: Everyone experiences eating disorders differently. I am not belittling the strength and support one needs to overcome an eating disorder, nor judging anyone who still struggles. I have not actively had an eating disorder for over a decade, so in this post I am simply discussing the aftermath from my experience. If you are currently affected by an eating disorder, I urge you to get professional help immediately. It can really help.
This post is part of the Growing from Motherhood Series in which moms discuss various life circumstances and how they have grown from them. To read more of the series click here.