Written by: Alyssa Guiterrez, mental health advocate and blogger at www.feeding-happiness.com.
I still recall the first day I decided I was exhausted from living in the terrible, damaging depths of my disorder. It was the day my nurse at the eating disorder clinic told me, “Alyssa, you are getting tube-fed because your weight is continuing to decrease.” I stared at her as tears formed. As my stomach began churning. As my first began to clench so hard my nails left deep indents in my palms. I have never felt a rush of emotions that occurred when I was told such a simple yet complex sentence. Fear. Worry. Terror. Panic. Stress. Accomplished. Why accomplished? Because the disorder won this time – anorexia took control of my life and transformed me into a living corpse. But I was also scared. I was scared of how far anorexia would take me, how much it would exhaust me. I was scared of the further damage it would do to my body. I was scared of completely losing myself. It was at this moment that I decided to take control of my life. I could not continue to have the disorder drag me and abuse me in a way that drained both my mind and my body. In a way that caused so many wounds internally and externally. But above all, in a way that made me feel as if I had no worth or value. The disorder truly made me feel as if I did not deserve to have a place in the world – that I was not loved; however, I pursued recovery to regain an everlasting feeling of love.
Ever since I chose this beautiful yet rigorous journey called recovery, happiness has become my companion again. Along this journey, I have gathered healthy coping mechanisms, smiles, and laughter. I have smiled to the point where my face hurts and the corners of my smile are touching the end of my eyes. I have laughed to the point where my stomach has felt such pain yet delight. But most of all, I have gained the happiness needed to discover confidence in myself and abilities. However, I have also experienced a flood of tears, a series of panic attacks, and a chain of distortions. I remember crying in front of my mom while eating two eggs because I just could not deal with the guilt anymore. I could not nourish myself without the distortions taking place. But now I thank these obstacles. Because as I pushed through them, I found the life I was able to regain. Not only was I able to regain life, but I was able to regain the magnificence of trust and intuition.
One thing that is extremely hard to regain in eating disorder recovery is trusting in yourself and your body. That is, trusting when your body is tired and when it needs to rest. When you need to take a break from the world because of increasing stress. When you need to add more food to your plate because your stomach is not completely satisfied. And lastly, when you need to trust the system, the professionals when they tell you a change needs to occur. To this day, I still suffer from trusting that my body needs more food. That my body needs more nourishment to give me energy. To trigger more life, more laughter, more smiles within myself. I still struggle at the end of dinner when my mom asks, “anyone want more food?” I battle the constant “yes” and “no” that emerge when I am asked such a straightforward question. The feelings of guilt that trigger my anxiety if I say “yes.” The feelings of dejection if I say “no.” But above all, the feelings of sadness knowing that such a simple question still sparks such conflict in my mind.
So how do I trust myself? Most of the time, I listen to the disorder and go against what it says. I listen to its lies, its negative comments, its harsh criticism and replace it with positivity and affirmations. Simply put, I act in a way that I know will anger the disorder. Why? Because everything the disorder says is false. It says things that will only damage the mind and body. It makes an individual do things that will cause extreme pain and tremendous suffering. And deep down, I know I do not want to continue putting my body and mind through torture. I am tired of listening to the lies the disorder feeds me.
When the disorder tells me that if I say “yes” to the question my mom asks that I’ll instantly gain 20 more pounds, I remind myself this is an irrational thought. I constantly have to remind myself that food is not meant to harm the body but nourish it. Food is essential to the physical and mental growth of an individual. When restricting, one loses joy, intuition, and motivation. More simply, one loses their life. That is something I do not want to happen again. I do not want to deprive my body of the nutrients it needs in order to thrive. So whenever my mom asks, “anyone want more?” I listen to MY body. I listen to what it truly wants – nourishment, love, and respect. I have treated my body poorly for too much of my life. Recovery is not meant to gift me back the time, but rather gift me the trust of listening to my body and becoming friends with it once more.
Not only do these thoughts of self-doubt occur during dinner time, but when I decide to exercise as well. I enjoy running and each time I go for a run, the thoughts of “push yourself, Alyssa”, “burn more calories”, “cleanse yourself of that cookie you ate” occur. What do I do with these thoughts? I step back and reframe them. I tell myself instead, “you are doing the best you can,” “you are not exercising to burn calories but rather to feel good mentally,” “stop yourself if the eating disorder thoughts get too loud.” People may ask, “why would you stop?” Well, the truth is, exercise should not be based on appearance, calories, or guilt. It is not healthy nor will it benefit you in the long run. Just as a flower cannot flourish without water, food, and sun, humans cannot thrive if we only take from our body and do not give.
I encourage everyone battling with an eating disorder and on the path to recovery to put trust in their body. Listen to your body when it asks for more food. Listen to your body when it tells you it needs a rest. But most of all, listen to it when it asks for love. You will not succeed nor progress in recovery if you put trust in the eating disorder thoughts rather than the signs your body is sending you. I know recovery is hard. I know some days it absorbs you in a pool of pain and works you until you’re exhausted.
Recovery pushes you to the point where you continually ask yourself, “Is It worth it?” The answer is yes. It is worth it. It is worth the increasing anxiety that arises when you come into contact with a mirror and you contemplate picking at your body or body checking. It is worth the guilt after eating a slice of cake for the first time in years. It is worth the flood of tears that occur when you begin shopping for new clothes. Why is it worth it? Because once you get past all of these difficult moments early on in your recovery journey, you will be met with the endless laughs, the hardcore smiles, the beauty of life, and the self-love.
Yes, it may cause an extreme amount of pain and effort, but how beautiful is it to regain love in yourself and in life? How wonderful is it to know you’re free from being trapped in the cage with the eating disorder? But most of all, how exquisite is it to undergo the feelings of confidence and happiness rather than taking into consideration the opinions of others and the rigged standards of society?
You are truly free. Free from the disorder. Free from the lies. Free from the harm that the disorder provoked. You are free.
Featured image: Alyssa Gutierrez.