I started long after I knew better, past the age when my decisions could be chalked up to that invincible feeling that fades away as we get older.
Already a mother, I should have been setting a good example and following the very rules I was setting for my own child. I was embarrassed by my weakness.
Life was too much. Single parenting and autism and a whirlwind of experience I couldn't seem to grasp left me feeling undeserving of the most basic necessities and looking for something I might actually be able to control.
Food and I have never had a loving relationship. You would never find me drooling over cake or fumbling for enough adjectives to describe last night's dinner. I had always eaten because that is just what you do, until I didn't.
In my early twenties I was put on a steroid regimen for an allergic reaction. Reading the label a little too closely, I fixated on the side effect of "weight gain" and planned what turned out to be the first of many meals I would skip. What started out as a way for me to avoid gaining weight turned into a way for me to feel a sense of control over my life.
From there I began to plan my days by how little I could consume, proud of myself for mothering and working and standing up without getting too light-headed after rationing my meals down to a handful of pretzels. I was often complimented on how well I handled life as a young mom and asked how I managed everything. As tempting as it was to admit I was hanging on by letting myself go, I never did.
I skillfully avoided meals with family and dinner dates and busied myself while I fed my daughter so I wouldn't have to eat a thing. My work clothes began to droop and I could feel my hipbones through the pockets of my jeans but I barely noticed the difference in my appearance. I was too busy trying to perfect starvation as well as everything else in my life.
Several months later, I got ready for work, dropped my daughter off at school and drove right past the exit for our corporate headquarters to an outpatient program for people with eating disorders. I spent weeks going there daily while everyone else thought I was at work. A woman, probably younger than I, counted my calories, encouraging me to drink juice instead of water while someone else reminded me why I was worth taking care of. All the while I tried not to collapse in complete embarrassment of the fact that I was an adult yet couldn't manage to do the most basic of tasks for myself.
I have never relapsed to the low points of those days but I'm not sure I will ever be fully better. Just as some people turn to a carton of ice cream under stress, I conveniently skip lunch but pep talk myself into eating dinner. The slippery slope of using food (or lack of) as a coping mechanism will always be one wrong step away.
This week is National Eating Disorder Awareness week and today is the first time I have ever shared my story. To be honest, I am scared to publish this post. There is a certain shame associated with being an adult and not taking care of myself the way I should. I have read other women's stories and always commented anonymously on how strong they are and how I hope to one day be able to share mine too. I'm not sure I feel confident and strong, I just feel ready. Maybe there is another "anonymous" out there who needs to hear my story just as much as I have needed to read others in the past. We all have our weaknesses and our coping strategies and our vices. The fact that I've struggled with an eating disorder does not make me a bad mother or wife.
I'm pretty sure it just makes me human.