Even before my eating disorder made its first official “debut” with symptoms in my senior year of high school, I had thoughts and behaviors that started much earlier than I even realized. Looking back, I could see signs of ED wanting to creep into my life long before high school. He was a careful observer…a lurker in the shadows waiting for those perfect moments to pounce on a new victim when they were most vulnerable.
Early in puberty when my body began changing, I didn’t like it. I didn’t understand it. I would look in the mirror at my changing body, and negative thoughts would come flooding in. My sister and best friend didn’t experience changes in their body like that, why was I? I would obsess over specific parts of my body. And the sad reality at the time was that I could do NOTHING about it.
I would not learn until later in life that I was developing generalized anxiety, as well as obsessive-compulsive tendencies, throughout my adolescence before ED really reared his ugly head in my life. I was a worrier as a child: I would project my worries onto my loved ones, including my sister. She used to say in a teasing manner, “I don’t need a second mother.” My anxiety began manifesting itself in physical forms as well: pinching the skin on my arms and biting my nails. For those who deal with nervous habits like these, you often don’t even realize you are doing them at the time; they become automatic and seemingly out of your control.
My high school years were spent heavily defined by the sports I played, the activities I was involved in, and the good grades I maintained. The busier I stayed and the more accepting smiles I could gather from others, the happier I was. Or, so I thought… Things began shifting toward the end of high school. I was tired. I was tired of being involved in everything, I was tired of trying to be the best at everything, I was tired of trying to prove something to myself and other people. And then my world as I knew it at the time came crashing down when I tore my ACL at the end of my senior year basketball season. What was I going to do now? Sports were my life, and not only could I not finish my basketball season, I was out for track as well. I was maybe even going to try out for the basketball or cross-country team at the small college I was planning to attend the following year.
So, here we had a people-pleasing perfectionist with a tendency for anxiety, teetering on the brink of something, who just lost what was a major part of her world: sports. In came the eating disorder big time. ED promised to save the day! I withdrew from friends. I stopped doing the things I liked to do. My grades began slipping. I didn’t know what I was looking for, but ED helped me not deal with the emotions I was feeling. It also brought me a sense of control after feeling like things were slipping between my fingers.
I struggled with ED coming in and out of my life for close to 20 years—throughout my teens, 20s, and 30s. Some days, weeks, even years were better than others. I sought treatment after encouragement from loving family and friends. I got better. Then I’d have a setback. I would seek treatment again. Get better. And something would trigger me, and I would relapse again. I learned that setbacks are a part of the journey, and I also learned to celebrate each and every victory. I learned to celebrate each and every hour of positive recovery. What might seem like a small win to some might be a major milestone to another.
Eating disorder recovery is hard. It is really hard. I love how Glennon Doyle put it in her recent book, Untamed, “The truest, most beautiful life never promises to be an easy one.” It is opening up yourself in ways you never thought you could or never thought you wanted to. It is about learning to sit in what I like to call the “icky,” those moments that are uncomfortable when uneasy feelings and emotions come up. Even though it is hard, it is completely worth it. Having a life free from an eating disorder is so much more than what an eating disorder appears to bring to you.
The idea that sharing my story might help just one other person is motivation enough for me to stop worrying about what others think and truly get real. It’s taken me a long time to get to this point, but I know that by opening up, I am stronger in my recovery. I am not a medical doctor, scientist, or professional researcher, but I am an expert in my own experience, which I am only now truly embracing. If you are dealing with an eating disorder, please know that there is help out there. You do not need to go about this alone. I have been there. So many of us have. Have faith. Have hope. It will get better.
Carie Wille is a wife, mother, Christian, small business owner, runner, outdoors lover, and newfound eating disorder advocate. She looks forward to helping those in their own struggles and moving the needle on eating disorder awareness.