I once heard someone say that they envied the will power of the anorexic. I’m here to tell you that it is not will power that motivates the anorexic. It is fear. Fear of a lot of things. Fear of being overweight, sure, but also fear of being lonely, fear of being judged, fear of never feeling the happiness you see in others.
It starts as just a little thought. “I wonder if I would feel better if I were thinner?” Then it becomes a nagging thought. We have all felt it at some point of another. I started to feel it at seventeen. I thought, If I can just lose five pounds, then I’ll be happy. But after the high of the five pound loss comes, the nagging thoughts return.
“Hmm … maybe five more pounds, then I’ll be happy!” But once again, the happiness faded. The only thing I can think to compare it to is the high shoppers get from a big purchase. A new television, a new purse, those expensive shoes. At first you gush about how much you love them, but soon you are flipping through catalogs and window shopping.
It is an addiction. If you have felt what I have felt then you know it is. It is an addiction motivated by fear.
The pounds came off, but the happiness was still just out of reach. The harder I tried the less I was satisfied with what I felt and what I saw. I used to read books about overcoming eating disorders, not to overcome mine, but to glean from them how they lost weight. For months and years I felt like I was falling just short of the happiness so craved. What I didn’t see was the damage I was doing. Not just to my body, which was deteriorating rapidly, but also to my spirit.
Who was this sad woman who refused to do anything outside of her set schedule? What happened to the carefree girl who used to change her mind at the drop of a hat? I could not break from my routine or something bad might happen. If I wasn’t home at 7:00 to eat my bowl of grapes, then I might accidentally slip and eat something else and then where would I be? What would happen if I exceeded my limit of 500 calories a day? Who would love me then? Who could love me then?
The breaking point came about a year later, my joints and stomach were wracked with pain. Every move hurt. I remember exercising while crying from the pain it caused, but there was no way I could stop. Bad things would happen to me if I stopped. My mother finally took it upon herself to set up an appointment with my doctor. I guess I could have said no, but I hurt so bad. And I hated so much about myself. I still refused to admit that I was anorexic. I told the doctor that I was just fine, she told me that I was not.
Not getting your period for seven months isn’t healthy, she said. I told her I was just an athlete. Some athlete’s don’t get their periods. Ninety-eight pounds is not a healthy weight for a woman that is 5’8” so she said. I still denied that there was anything wrong, because I was afraid of what would happen.
It has taken me five years to get to the point where I can look back on that day and feel grateful. Thank God my mother had the courage to confront me. Thank God my doctor had the knowledge to help me. Thank God he gave me the strength to get through it, because there were a lot of times I didn’t want to try anymore.
So, what is the secret to happiness? It’s not in your things, or in your weight, or in your looks, it’s hidden somewhere in you.
Don’t succumb to the fear. It will drive you to the brink of disaster, and if you are lucky someone will be there to pull you back. I got lucky. I am not proud of the decisions I made, or the horrible things I did to my body, but if telling my story helps keep someone else from succumbing to the fear that way I did, I will tell it gladly.