December 27th 2016. A date I’ll always remember as the beginning of a new life. I approached my mother trembling and I dared, against what every cell was shouting me, to read to her everything I had written in an Iphone note. I was putting an end to 11 years of destruction and lies. Although I hadn’t always seen them that way. This is the story of how I was saved from anorexia nervosa.
Life in slavery
It all started approximately when I was 9 years old. I can’t tell a specific moment o the exact causes. Although up to today it’s hard for me to look at pictures previous to that age because of how I see myself, I wasn’t an overweight child at all, and neither had anyone bullied me for my physique. But the thing is that from then on desperate screams appear in my journals because they’re trying to “make me to eat a snack” to “make me fat”.
From the beginning, I assumed this desire for thinness had to be something secret and that no one would understand it. That if I said it they’d believe I had a problem and instead of helping me they’ll just force me to become fat. Secrecy and lack of understanding soon led me to think that this was something special, a privilege that put me above the average people. Unlike them, I had self control and discipline. In addition, maybe I wasn’t the prettiest, most popular o talented, but I could always be the thinnest and no one was going to take that away from me.
My physical change between 8 and 9 years old… I don’t know what was first: the change or anorexia.
The pro-ana world
When I was about 12 years old, I entered the pro-ana community, this is, blogs of people who consider anorexia not as an illness but as a lifestyle and call themselves “princesses”. They share rules and tips to be “perfect”, which means extremely skinny. Their slogans got fixed on my mind and I repeated them constantly as if they were mantras: being skinny is more important than being healthy; I’d rather be dead and skinny than alive and fat; nothing tastes as good as skinny feels; once on the lips, forever on the hips. Along with that there were the pictures of thinspirations: models, celebrities and ordinary girls with bony bodies we admired.
I set my ideal weight at 38 kg/84 lbs(with a height of 1’61 m/5’ 3” that has stayed the same) and I wouldn’t allow the scale to go up a gram above. Sometimes it did go down, because that way I felt like I had a “margin” to be able to go up if there was some unexpected circumstance. I saw that, unlike most of pro-anas, I was able to maintain my weight in a bmi that was even lower than the ones a lot of them set for themselves. That filled me with pride, although I didn’t really see myself that thin. In fact, I have always believed that other girls in my classroom were thinner than me.
My routine of torture
Regarding my food, I established a strict regime in which every week was the same as the previous one, there was no variation, and in addition all the meals were absolutely insipid. I tried to throw away the food whenever I had the chance —when I wasn’t eating with my mother— or to reduce it. The second thing was the more common one, because I usually ate with her, so every meal was a non-stop argument and a fight where I tried to left the biggest amount possible on the plate, hide the food or make my mother take it away, and she tried to make me eat as much as possible. I would add to that an exercise routine of 3 hours daily, most of them hidden. I stuck with all of that almost until the end.
From 15 years old on there was a change, because at that time I started to take more seriously my Catholic faith, that had been developing in me little by little during the previous years. I left the pro-ana community because its pseudo-religious component (prayers to the “goddess Ana”, commandments, etc.) wasn’t compatible with the faith in the only God. But everything else remained exactly the same, only with a new meaning: mortification and penance. In my mind, anorexia was a special gift from God and I was called to offer a life of sacrifice and atonement.
This determined my interpretation of everything else: throwing my food away was a holy fast, my arguments with my mother were persecutions, wearing a super tight belt that barely left me breathe in order to reduce my waistline was as wearing a cilice, and being skinny was being perfect “just as your Heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:38-48). Biblical quotes completely twisted replaced the pro-ana mantras. The rest of my ideas were equally absurd and fucked up: for example, that if I was so intelligent (I have always got very good marks) it was due to the fact that I was thin and therefore fat didn’t obstruct my brain.
Hitting rock bottom
Obviously, my mother was very worried about me and took me to the doctors, who warned me again and again about the deathly consequences of my thinness, which then my mother would repeat to me again and again at home. But I didn’t listen. Or rather, I didn’t care, because I was convinced that what I did was for a higher purpose than all of that. When I was told I had osteoporosis, I didn’t bat an eyelash. My only obsession was to find soon a husband, leave my home and be able to live with him a life as Catholics and anorexics, adopting children who we would raise the same way. A perfect life.
I was only worried about the threat of being hospitalized, but eventually I ended up accepting it as if it was martyrdom. Finally, my mother forced me to go to a psychologist. I took advantage of that to say that the problem was that I couldn’t eat more because I was trapped in a very rigid meal plan and what I needed was more variety to begin to like food again. That way, with the excuse that I was going to experiment with food little by little, in fact I got to eat less and therefore got what I wanted but pretending I was making an effort to get better. That’s how I reached rock bottom at the end of summer 2016, going down to a weight of 33’5 kg / 74 lbs.
As the end of the year approached, suddenly, for the first time, I started to have doubts about if what I was doing was actually good. I consider this to be a direct intervention from Divine Mercy in my life, a huge light God wanted to send to me to save me from the darkness that possessed me. I began to look up in the internet things like “Catholicism and anorexia” or “mortification and anorexia”. Something crucial was finding blogs of recovered girls, whose testimony opened my eyes. Finally, I gathered courage to write a note admitting what for 11 years I had denied, confessing all the lies, and I read it point by point to my mother. That was abefore-and-after moment. From then on, I was choosing recovery.
This wasn’t just about starting to eat more. It meant a total life paradigm shift. Admitting that my most fundamental beliefs about myself, the world and God were false. That what gave meaning to my life and was at the root of everything I did was a lie. That’s why it wouldn’t be correct to say that from then on all the bad stuff ended. On the contrary, the real struggle began now and the most difficult things were yet to come. Recovery has been a process of deep suffering and authentic torment.
The best decision
Two heavy stones prevented me from getting off the ground. On the one hand, there was a powerful physical fear of becoming fat, reinforced by a body image distortion that made me believe all the time that I was on the verge of it. On the other hand, and more importantly, spiritual fear: despite everything, I felt like I was failing God with recovery, that I was a coward, that I had been too weak to fulfill my mission of anorexia and I was backing out to surrender myself to the pleasure of food.
I felt very lost, and firstly I wrote to a priest I had seen in Youtube, who insisted I should look for a spiritual director. At the beginning, I had no idea who I could trust. After a process of discernment to ask for light on that issue, I made what has turned out to be the best decision of my life: go to my faculty’s priest. I hadn’t talked to him ever before, but when I went to Mass I loved his homilies and, above all, I was fascinated by the love with which he treated the Eucharist.
We started meeting at the end of January and it was him who convinced me that it was through recovery that I was called to give glory to God in my life, and that I needed to trust and go forward in that way, knowing that in each moment I would be given enough grace to take the next step that I was so terrified about.
For months and months I’ve cried every day and suffered several panic or anxiety attacks weekly. I’ve hated every inch of my body and I’ve thought that this whole recovery thing was a huge mistake. Guilt about “losing control” and “deserting from my sacrifice” (even if recovery has doubtlessly been much more of a sacrifice) has consumed me and made me feel repulsed of myself so many times.
But by telling this, I want by no means discourage anyone. On the contrary, I want to show that none of that is a reason to give up. It’s normal to have all those thoughts, to be tortured by that evil illness that wants to enslave you, but despite everything, it’s possible to get out of it, and it’s so incredibly worth it. Indeed, little by little I’ve been able to see the countless fruits that recovery has brought to me, before which every past suffering is small.
Physically, even if I still have fears and distortion, I’m able to see that I’ve never been better, despite weighing more than ever, weighing a number I firmly swore I’d never weigh (44’5 kg/98 pounds), even when I was already in recovery. I still have to gain more weight to be healthy. I was hoping I’d get to it before starting this blog, but I must humbly accept I’m no example and I’ll have to walk this last part of the way together with you.
My hair, face and eyes are brighter, mi acne has improved a lot, my back pains have disappeared, I’ve got a thousand times more energy to be present and live in the moment, and my muscles allow me to be stronger each day. Finding out my passion about fitness (very different from the sick relationship I used to have with it), along with the help from my personal trainer, has been other of the great pillars of my recovery. And each time I look at myself on pictures from when I weighed less, I see a positive evolution.
Internally, the transformation has been even greater. Now I’m able to experience the true love of God, not that shadow of a custom-made god I had before. Now I see that authentic Beauty of a life in grace, that one of which I used to talk only saying what I theoretically believed it should be.
If you’d asked me before if I was happy, I’d have said yes, but now I realize that my concept of happiness was very limited. New happiness horizons that used to be vetoed even for my imagination have now been opened for me. Before, I had, or naively considered I had, control; now I’m free, or at least I struggle every day to achieve freedom. I’m a new person, or rather, I’ve discovered who I really am. And this is only the beginning. “What we shall be has not yet been revealed” (1 Jn 3:2).
Now it’s your turn
The message I want to convey to you by telling my story is that it’s always possible to choose recovery. No matter for how long you’ve been trapped in anorexia. No matter how low you’ve sank with yourself or others. It doesn’t matter that up until now you’ve believed it was the only thing that provided meaning to your life and you don’t even now where to start the changes. It doesn’t matter that you think the way will be too hard for you. It doesn’t matter that you’re afraid. It doesn’t matter that you think you don’t deserve to recover. Recovery is always worth it and you deserve it, and this statement admits no exceptions. God believes in you and loves you infinitely. I believe in you and if you need me I’ll do whatever is in my power to help you.
In the 2nd anniversary of the beginning of my recovery, I wrote a series of 3 posts where I go deeper into some topics I touch here:
- 2 years of anorexia recovery (I): God, happiness and the brain
- 2 years of anorexia recovery (II): lessons learned and controversies
- 2 years of anorexia recovery (III): blooming and discovering
In February 2019 I finally reached a healthy weight!! I share how that felt here: The messy feelings when you reach weight restoration.