Interview with Betsy:
Q: How long have/did you have an eating disorder?
A: Age 15-22, on and off (mostly on). Bad habits will still crop up from time to time, but not very often.
Q: Which one do/did you have, or has it been more than one (anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, EDNOS, compulsive exercising)?
A: Primarily bulimia, with bouts of anorexia
Q: Who in your life knows about it?
A: Most people I’m close to. My parents, my husband, my good friends. They know it’s something I’ve struggled with in the past.
Q: What person in your life was the most helpful and supportive during both sickness and recovery?
A: This is a tough one to answer. I wanted so much for somebody to be helpful and supportive to me in the way I wanted them to be, and it never really materialized. People tried – and they tried hard! My mother, especially. But in the end, the most helpful person was ME.
Q: What person that you might have wanted or expected more from was the least helpful and supportive?
A: My boyfriend/fiance. Looking back, my relationship with him contributed to my eating disorder. Not because he was a jerk, but because I was so extremely insecure and needy, and I used my eating disorder as a way to extract care/attention from him. My neediness ended up pushing him away, and the more distant he became, the more desperate I became for him to love me (“love” me in the way I wanted him to love me), and the sicker I got.
Q: Do you or have you ever sought professional help, such as a therapist, psychiatrist, nutritionist, doctor, support group or inpatient treatment? Specify which kind of help you had.
A: Therapist, nutritionist, psychiatrist, support group.
Q: What was most helpful to you about that help?
A: I liked connecting in my support group with others who could relate to me, and I found it comforting to spill my guts to my therapists, but I’m not sure that any of those things were particularly helpful to me in the end. The nutritionist visits were actually kind of triggering to me, as I knew I would be weighed at those appointments, and I wanted her to see a lower weight at each visit. (I was not told my weight.)
Q: What issue(s) do you feel affected or influenced developing an eating disorder?
A: I was raised in a home where beauty is of a high value. It’s very subtle, and I’m sure my mother never even realized it. I was praised often for being attractive, and I would hear my parents comment on others and their size/weight often. While I was never criticized for my appearance or weight, the constant praise carried with it some judgment, too. I suppose I felt like I had to be beautiful to be lovable, as that was the message I was internalizing at home. Objectively, I can see that is absolutely not the truth – my parents love me unconditionally – but as an adolescent, things weren’t as clear to me.
Q: Besides yourself, who in your life do you think is/was most affected by how your eating disorder hurt you?
A: My mother. Both my parents were very affected, but my mother probably took it the hardest. I know my eating disorder felt like an enormous failure to my parents. At the time, their guilt (which they kept to themselves, but it was present, and I knew it was there) felt like a burden to me, and I was angry about it. Looking back now, as a parent myself, I completely understand why it felt so personal to them. I know they felt like my eating disorder was because they had done something wrong, and if they could just parent me correctly, they could fix it.
Q: What was the first major breakthrough you had in recovery?
A: This is hard to answer. My recovery happened very, very slowly. Almost to where I didn’t even realize it was happening. I suppose when my fiance called off our large wedding just a month before it was to take place, that was the biggest shock to my system, and a huge catalyst in propelling me toward recovery. I realized that I had royally screwed things up, and that people were going to opt out of being around me if I didn’t get it together.
Q: What is/was the hardest truth to accept about what you have to do in order to recover?
A: That I have to be a responsible adult, and opting out of that by getting sick is pretty lame. For me (and only me – I am absolutely not generalizing), I used my eating disorder as a way of escaping responsibility. I also used it to elicit care and attention from the people around me. I was so insecure about how others felt about me, and by becoming sick and helpless and a source of worry, I forced them to care for me and essentially prove to me how much they loved me. It was a tough pill to swallow when people started pulling away from me, and I realized I would never get what I wanted through my eating disorder. It was hard to accept, but the truth is, people love me because of what I can offer them – be it companionship, laughter, entertainment, encouragement, a listening ear, whatever. And my friends/family will be there for me when times are tough, but if times are ALWAYS tough, and I am constantly needing needing needing and never giving anything back, I will eventually find myself with few gratifying relationships.
Q: If you could be eating disorder free for a day, what things would you do?/If you are recovered, what things do you do now that were very difficult when you were still sick?
A: I can wear a swimsuit at the beach. I’m still very self-conscious, but mostly I’ve realized nobody is looking at me all that much. They’re more concerned with how THEY look in THEIR swimsuits. This may be more a by-product of age than recovery, though.
Q: What one piece of advice would you give to someone new to admitting they have an eating disorder?
A: I don’t know. I’m not sure how typical my experience/recovery was. For me, I needed to be told to get over myself, to get out of my head, to quit focusing on me and start thinking about what I can do for other people. For whatever reason, I felt like I had no value and that I wasn’t truly loved, and I used my eating disorder to try to find those things – “If people worry about me, care for me, I will know they love me, and I have value.” But it failed, over and over again. I can see now that I actually do have value to this world and to the people around me, and I’ve discovered that by getting out of my head and focusing more on the outside world. Doing things to help others has been immensely helpful to me and has reshaped how I see the world, as has working and developing talents I have. Gaining independence and succeeding at things I’ve worked hard for, as well as knowing I can help others who need it – those things have given me confidence and a feeling of self-worth I was never, EVER going to find through my eating disorder.
Q: What one suggestion would you give to a loved one trying to support someone with an eating disorder?
A: I would suggest they try to avoid discussing food and appearance, even to express concern.
Q: Do/did you seek support online? If so, what kind of support and did it help you?
A: Yes, I was a member of an eating disorder message board. It was helpful to me, in that I was able to connect with others who “got it.” Sometimes I find it triggering, as I felt like a failure at my eating disorder when confronted with those who were sicker than I was. But mostly, I found it supportive and helpful.
Q: If you are sure you will not go back to your eating disorder, what gives you that confidence?/If you are scared you will relapse, what is your biggest trigger?
A: I guess I can never be sure, but I feel fairly confident that part of my life is behind me. I’m a mom now, with four kids, and I simply can’t devote that much time to obsessing over myself and my eating habits. I have to stay healthy and (relatively) sane, because there are four little lives depending on me.
Q: If you have children or plan to in the future, are you concerned about how your eating disorder may affect them? If you recovered before you had kids, do you think your experience with the eating disorder will help you to better guide your child away from developing one?
A: I think about this a lot. I recovered before I had my kids, and I’m hyper-aware of the things I believe encouraged the development of my eating disorder – namely, a focus on beauty and appearance. I try to avoid that sort of talk at home, and I rarely comment on “pretty.” We certainly never discuss weight in front of the kids. I’m sure my preoccupation with NOT being preoccupied with appearance will backfire in some way, and my daughter will end up in therapy because “my mom never told me I was pretty!” We all fail in some way.
Q: Did you read books or workbooks to help with your recovery? If so, are there any specific ones you recommend?
A: No, not really. I mostly read books to inspire myself to get sicker.
Q: What song, album or musical artist comes to mind when you think of good music to listen to while trying to make positive changes in your life?
A: I find when I need to center myself and get out of my head, Christian music helps get me to a good place. Obviously, that’s pretty personal to me, and somebody of a different faith – or no faith at all – might be unlikely to get the same sort of encouragement from that type of music. But it works for me.
Visit Grace on the Moon, a website for eating disorders information and recovery: http://www.graceonthemoon.com
Photo at top of blog is from the Flickr account of Doug Wheller licensed for use with attribution via Creative Commons.