Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Sara Sites, Pittsburgh, PA, USA
This is my journey recovering from an eating disorder. From about the age of 12, I’ve struggled with food. I don’t remember a time before food and body image-centered thoughts didn’t occupy my brain.
For years, I treated myself badly and wanted my life to be over. But I found light at the end of the tunnel. I know women who lost the battle, leaving holes in the hearts of their friends and families. I bonded with several amazing women by sharing the knowledge of what it’s really like to go through such a difficult experience. These ladies inspire me to keep on the path of recovery.
Eating disorders, like most psychiatric illnesses, aren’t easily defined problems. Sufferers have different fears, behaviors, desires, or no desires. It’s not a matter of checking boxes on a symptom list to diagnose this deceitful, deadly disease. For me, bulimia and anorexia are intertwined into one nightmare, yin and yang.
I want to give courage to those who feel there’s no hope. If I inspire one person to tell someone they are struggling, then I’ve accomplished my goal. You don’t have to live the rest of your life consumed by an eating disorder.
My attempts at recovery included months at an inpatient treatment center. Now that I’m a mother, I can see how painful it must have been for my mom to see me struggle and not be able to fix things. It wasn’t until I met my husband that I began to recover. When I met Jake, dating was the furthest thing from my mind. I had recently moved back to Pennsylvania after a couple of years in San Diego for yet another “fresh start” to my life. I had begun well in California, but gradually everything went downhill.
I took great care of my body and soul, which made me feel confident and capable.
Shortly after returning to Pittsburgh, I met Jake, ”the cutest guy in town.” A few days later, we went on a date and have been together ever since. He soon knew all about the secret self I kept hidden. To my surprise, he didn’t run. I never believed a man could love me. We made a pact that practicing my eating disorder was “not an option.” He was going to be there for me, but he wanted a commitment that I would work toward recovery. I came with huge emotional baggage that wasn’t going to just disappear. He proposed to me on our second dating anniversary and we were married the day after our third. I said I wouldn’t get married until I could eat a bite of my wedding cake.
We had a pumpkin cheesecake and the picture of us feeding each other a bite is definitely special to me. I couldn’t have dreamed of a more loving, caring, dependable life partner. It wasn’t until I saw myself through his eyes that I could begin to like myself. I put Jake through a lot over the years and he’s been stronger than he probably ever knew he could be.
I was thrilled to became pregnant for the first time. In California, I’d stopped menstruating for about a year, at a point when my body was absolutely starving. I feared I might have damaged my body too much to get pregnant. But those two pink lines were there. I took about ten tests to be sure. My body wasn’t just mine any more: it was a vessel to grow and birth another human being. The choices I made now about what I put into my body didn’t just concern me. I had to take care of myself in order to take care of the life growing inside me.
I began to feel respect for my body. Instead of allowing negative thoughts to take over, as my body grew and changed, I focused on how miraculous it was. Giving birth to Jack, although it didn’t happen as I had hoped and planned, was a rebirth for me: when a baby is born, so is a mother. I started afresh with the brand new life. I began to grow into my new role and find my way, following my heart.
Instead of feeling that my breasts are extra fat I don’t want, like I did when I abused my body, I have learned to appreciate them as they provide perfect nutrition and comfort.
The birth of my second son, Wyatt, took place at home with a midwife in the most peaceful, gentle way. I took great care of my body and soul, which made me feel confident and capable. After experiencing birth without interventions, I appreciate my body even more.
My body produces enough milk for both my boys to tandem nurse! Instead of feeling that my breasts are extra fat I don’t want, like I did when I abused my body, I have learned to appreciate them as they provide perfect nutrition and comfort. It feels right to me to nurse my children until they outgrow the need.
It is important to me to raise my children to be confident, both inside and out. I want to teach them how to make healthy choices about food and treat their bodies well. Black and white thinking has always been a struggle for me. It is all or nothing. I want my boys to experience balance and moderation. Eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full. I bite my tongue when I want to complain about feeling fat or ugly. I want to set the best example possible. Motherhood is a mirror: I am trying to be what I want to see in my children.
Recovery doesn’t look how I’d imagined. I’d love to say that I have complete freedom from my eating disorder, but truthfully I don’t. You can’t remove food in the way an addict can refrain from taking drugs. I have to eat. I have to live with food every day and need to keep reminding myself that it is not my enemy. There are still many “food rules” in my head, certain foods I will never eat, and scarily real fears about weight gain. Sometimes I’m aware of the irrationality of the negative thoughts but in disordered thinking, the line between reality and the imaginary is blurred. I am lucky to have a patient man to tell me over and over again what is real.
I still feel cravings to practice my eating disorder sometimes. Recovery is continuing to make healthy choices and combating the voice in my head with truth. I don’t know that I will ever see myself without the veil of distortion, but I want to love myself.
Recovery from an eating disorder. Well, recovery is a journey, not a destination. It’s waking up each day and making the choice for life. It’s not a linear progression. Every day is a chance for a fresh start. I’ve had a lot of those. A therapist once told me to “do the next right thing” when I feel lost.
I feel best about myself when I’m active. Daily walks and yoga make a difference in how I feel about my body. I’m a vegetarian and my diet of organic, whole foods makes me feel better about eating. No matter how critical I am about my body, my husband and sons see me as beautiful. I am worthy of happiness and love. I don’t wish away the struggles of my life, they’ve made me who I am, and have given me strength.
I want to be my best self. It’s not an option to get pulled into the whirlwind of self-destruction. Taking care of myself matters. Taking care of me IS taking care of my family. Like Maya Angelou said, “I do my best because I’m counting on you counting on me.”