When I was 18, I entered an eating disorder unit for women eight days before Christmas. I was the youngest of a group of women that ranged from my age to 50. I was scared, mad, and tired. I had the “perfect girl addiction” because everyone wants to be skinny. Some friends told me they were jealous because they wished they could be that skinny. Yet, nobody understood the horrible and deadly thought processes behind the disorder. “Just eat!”….if only it was that easy.
The women on our unit were the most eclectic group of women that I ever met. The women were high achievers with type A personalities and a variety of backgrounds and stories. For the first time in a long time, I felt like I belonged. I did not have to explain. I did not have to be anything I wasn’t. I didn’t have to meet everyone’s expectation. Our stories were different, but with a common thread of hurt, perfectionism, and self-destruction. We laughed. We cried. We danced. We yelled. We felt safe.
I spent a couple of months there as an in-patient and a day patient. The thing about eating disorders is that the drug that can kill you also saves you. Food was the drug, but you needed it to live. When I re-entered life back at home I discovered all of the dysfunction was still there, the rumor mill that surrounded our small town was alive and well, too. And once again, I was completely alone.
“Did you hear that Nikki was a drug dealer?” Yeah….okay.
“They had to take her away in an ambulance.” Really?
“She had to be put in a straight jacket!” Well, I wasn’t happy, but sorry, no straight jacket.
It seems that when people do not know the entire story (or even when they do), they like to fill in the gaps. I decided then that I would live my life differently. I decided:
- I would always be completely honest about my struggle so that if someone else could not feel alone or crazy, my struggle would be worth it.
- I refused to allow any woman to suffer in silence. You do not just get better. The process is messy, full of failure, and the most important part. I would be open and honest about that as well.
You see, I have found that all women struggle with very similar thoughts. We are conditioned to “pick up your lip before you step on it.” (a common phrase I grew up with) or “Suffer alone”. I have tried all of these and I must say that those thoughts and feelings eventually destroy you. They make you bitter and hard. I still have that side as well.
In the hospital, I loved those women, but I didn’t want to be them. Many of them were there for their third or fourth time. There is a sense of safety there. But, I wanted my life to be different. I didn’t want it to be about hospital stays and relapses. I wanted more.
I began talking about it when people did not want to hear it. I began finding people that said to me, “Really? You, too?” And I would whisper, “Me, too.”
I am cynical and hard. Life has made me that way. I am also hopeful, kind, and have a tremendous amount of empathy for people that feel that they are broken beyond repair. I have that because I am STILL in the process of putting my pieces back together.
God’s patience and love is amazing that way. Sometimes we put our pieces together quickly and other times we have to sit and stare at the pieces for a while. We have to examine those pieces and see if they can even fit back together. We also have to realize that the pieces will never quite fit together like they did. We are allowed to mourn that brokenness. We are allowed to feel. With tears streaming down our faces, we put one piece with another. And when that happens we need people beside us authentically celebrating that journey of growth and healing.
That is why I share. You do not have to do it alone. We were not made to do it alone.