Choosing to recover from my eating disorder is where my life began
In recognition of Eating Disorders Awareness Week, we’ll be running personal essays from our readers throughout the week about their real-life struggles of disordered eating.
It’s been almost eight years since I began suffering from bulimia. I turned twenty in July, and this past August, I made the decision to recover. There have been many recovery attempts and treatment programs that I assured others would be the real deal, but I could never see the point in recovery when I wasn’t doing it for myself. This time was different. As a singer, I’ve struggled day after day with the choice of recovering or letting my bulimia control my life and take the only thing I truly felt passion for: music. Needless to say, after spending almost eight years in this internal hell, it was hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. There were glimpses over the years, but the decision to fully take control was the scariest thing I could imagine. Eating disorders are often a hushed topic, but it’s for that very reason I felt the need to write this and to remind those dealing with an eating disorder that there is a light, even if it’s dim at the moment.
When I was at my most ill a few years ago, I was throwing up 30 times a day after literally everything I would eat. This turned into eating only so I could throw up, and then I began to limit my food intake. During middle school and high school I was barely present, and I ended up leaving high school after my junior year to get my GED and to begin college early. I felt I was ready to pursue education again, and maybe I just needed a different environment in order to thrive. The choice to recover wasn’t on the forefront of my mind at the time, so my eating disorder continued.
As time went on, I began throwing up less. When I think about what shifted in myself, I honestly feel like it’s because I was so tired. I was weak, and the thought of even eating wore me out. Some days were good, some days I truly felt like dying. I was seeking happiness and stability in myself by controlling certain aspects of my mind, only to continue the cycle of instability.
When I made the decision to truly recover, my family and friends hadn’t even known I was still dealing with bulimia. But I knew that in order for this to be my own choice, I had to do it on my own. In the past, I had always been open about where I was with myself, so I’m sure they would have supported me had I been open about it, but something was different this time around. With where my music is heading, I was having very strong internal debates about making a final choice: music or bulimia.
It’s astonishing to me that I have spent almost half my life dealing with bulimia, because it feels as though it’s always been this way. The routine is so embedded in my brain that I don’t remember what it was like before. I’m trying to look at this journey of recovery as beginning my life again. My entire late childhood and teenage years were engulfed by this disorder. I still have a very long way to go on my road to recovery, but I finally feel proud of myself for taking a step toward health.
Adjusting to my changing body has been one of the hardest and more uncomfortable things in this journey. I was much thinner during the worst years of my bulimia, so as time went on and I began throwing up less, the critical body image I had worsened. Eventually, a very small spark of relief appeared in myself, and this tiny idea that I could be OK with how I looked was incredibly precious to me. Maybe I could recover. Maybe I could heal my throat and be more confident with my voice. I held onto this idea, and over time, became more comfortable with it.
With how many years I wasted being stuck in bulimia, I can’t explain the joy I feel when I look in the mirror now. This joy has been slowly growing as my eating disorder became less frequent, to now, where I’m not engaging in bulimia at all. Honestly, I’m heavier than I want to be and I’m still quite critical of my appearance. But my weight does not define who I am as a human, and if seven and a half years of bulimia wasn’t enough to show me that weight is not the key to happiness, I don’t know what could be.
To those who are dealing with an eating disorder or considering taking the first step to recovery, this is no easy journey. But has our illness ever been? It’s my experience that the choice to recover can only come from yourself, but that doesn’t mean you are alone. It’s so overwhelming thinking about changing your life, even if it’s for the better. Breaking the routine is the hardest part, but I promise that with each day you will grow and become stronger because you made the choice to recover—for you.
I’m now enrolled back in college for music and about to release my debut album filled with all original songs. It’s only been a few months, but I’m already able to hit certain notes in my range, and my breath support has drastically improved. It is such an emotional and fulfilling experience. These are two things I wasn’t sure would be ever possible for me, but it shows that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Even though it may be invisible at times, it is absolutely worth the journey to find the light within ourselves and accept that we deserve happiness.
This will likely be something I will deal with for the rest of my life, but by making the choice to recover for myself, I know this new found strength will only continue to grow.
Kathleen Parrish is a singer and songwriter from Seattle. While she specializes in lyrics, she enjoys writing short stories, poetry, and writes for the music blog Sonicbids. You can find her on www.kathleenparrish.com or @kathleenparrish on Instagram.