How social media helped me recover from an eating disorder
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.
One year ago, I made a statement on Facebook that would change my life. Tired of sneaking around my hometown, I was fed up. Status box open, fingers on the keyboard, I began deliberating how bad of an idea it was.
What am I doing? I asked myself. Did I forget my Prozac today?
I thought immediately of my parents; imagining them at a party with women staring at my mom wondering whether or not I “got” my eating disorder from her. Would my exes read this status and smirk to themselves thinking how glad they were that they got out while they could? Would my friends roll their eyes and think about how I always have to be the center of attention?
I thought of the prospect of being forthright about my eating disorder, and of all the years I’d spent building (and ultimately defacing) so much of who I wanted to be. Would I ever get a job if I did this? Would I be labeled only by an eating disorder? I didn’t really know anything that night except that lying by omission was keeping me sick, and I was exhausted.
For eight years, my life had revolved around a mosh-posh of sneakiness. Eight years of scanning, scoping, mutilating, and twisting in order to maintain an image. Two months into rehab, I was still struggling with letting go of the games of my eating disorder. Transitioning from inpatient to out, I’d been rapidly finding myself falling backwards instead of forwards.
The truth is, I was adjusting back to reality, and I was scared. Despite having gone through six weeks of 24-hour care with Nurse Betty telling me that I couldn’t leave the table till I licked the spoon, I was still extremely uncomfortable with the vulnerable parts of recovery.
It’s ridiculous how much they make us eat, I thought one day, hiding pieces of a bagel in my sweatshirt. Just lay off the carbs, I wanted to scream when the counselor passed by. Don’t you know the glycemic index of bread? Sulking until breakfast was over, I carefully disposed of the bagel before group therapy started. Feeling guilty, I took my place on the couch but when the counselor asked me how breakfast went, I smiled and said ”Great!”
I knew sitting there on that couch that day that I was free to carry on in the way that I’d always found comfortable. Manipulating, twisting, shamed; running into people at the store and telling them I was home “for a few days,” or telling my parents I was ”fine” every night they asked how rehab went that day.
Two months in, I was still struggling to understand that eating disorders crave an instant self-validation, and that allowing myself to be honest and vulnerable didn’t exactly mesh. Self-deprecation had always been my charming way of being honest about myself, because it meant that I was in control of my own “vulnerabilities.” It meant I got to draw a picture of what sucks about myself in whichever light I wished to paint.
I’d always equated honesty as something you fine-tune with every situation—bending and stretching the parts of you to fit into the situation at hand. Going on a date? Be the “alluring” you, self-aware and witty. My friends have joked for years that I have the ”girlfriend 8-week game,” and while we’re all a better ”version” of ourselves at times, I’ve regularly sought self-confidence through the validation of others.
Real honesty, however, equated to real vulnerability. It meant being forced to stay on a path of accountability and letting others help keep me accountable; neither of which appealed to my sickness.
Why be completely honest when I had the ability to keep pretending? I had social butterfly tattooed on my forehead. Admitting that I was “struggling” with something seemed like a one-way ticket out of the little web of protection I’d spun. I was so sure that the moment I admitted I was flawed—and not ha-he-ho flawed in that self-deprecating nonchalance I’ve always had, but really f–king flawed—I’d lose the bubble I’d shielded myself with for years.
Sitting there, writing out that status on a medium we think of as the ”news source” of our peers, I wondered how my life would change if I posted. Would all the cards suddenly fall?
“You’re fun,” my therapist said once. “You walk into a room and it lights up with your energy, but that’s not what you’re here to do.”
“You’re here because you’ve got to deal with you,” she said, “and you’re never going to be free of this until you allow yourself to exist as a real person—a flawed one. You have to work at being in touch with yourself. Allow yourself to be honest about what’s hard.”
“Your emotions?,” she paused, “They’re valid—you don’t have to hide them. You don’t have to feel bad for feeling bad.”
It’s hard for me to let go of that visage, I told her, admitting my bagel heist from the morning—but the truth is, I knew she was right. Two months into this stint, I had been slowly growing used to the idea of imperfection. Hell, I had to. Twenty-four hours a day under supervision will do it to a person. Not being able to shave your legs for six weeks—that’ll do it. Stripped of all dignities, I’d spent over two months standing naked in front of various nurses. Two months sitting in family therapy telling my parents about “that one time,” and two months in AA meetings working steps and making lists of things I’d done wrong.
I’d cried, snotted, and snapped at every fellow patient around me, thinking to myself, Well, this is it—I’ve lost that person as a friend, only to have them come around a few hours later and give me a hug. Two months in, my family was still my family, smiling when I walked in the door, and my best friends were still my best friends— unyielding.
Is it worth it? I’d been asking myself. Is living this way worth it? Here I was, 24 years old, still living some days bagel by bagel; still opening the door to deception, and guilt, and shame. Sitting there that night, the answer felt like no. If it’s out there, I thought, typing the next word, and the next—well, then it’s out there, and perhaps I won’t always feel like I have to put on a show. Perhaps if I just ”own” it honestly, then I really will OWN it.
In all honesty, I’ll never really know what drove me to write that Facebook status, but I posted it anyway to the open arms of nearly 2,500 “friends” and family; to people that had met me once at a bar, or on a seat in a plane. Having lived so long behind a smoke screen, exposing my struggle so publicly meant that I could finally walk around it. It was like all the walls I’d built suddenly caved—leaving me bare, yes, but able to fully start from scratch and reconstruct my life.
Messages poured in from every “phase” in my life. The outpouring of support was overwhelming, but more than that, a reality check. So often, we think we hide our demons in spaces that no one can find, but the truth is, that many people for many years knew I was struggling but lacked the words to tell me.
Before I knew it, I was receiving mail from people all over the world asking for my insight into eating disorder recovery. ME? I thought, baffled. They want to trust what I have to say after so many years of manipulating? It was then that I knew that I’d never again be able to go back to what was before; that I now had the eyes of many keeping me accountable.
But, was all of the feedback positive, you might be wondering? No. Since I started blogging and freelancing about my experience in rehab and recovery, I’ve heard everything from “she’s not big enough to write about recovery” to “she wasn’t that skinny in the first place.” People are people and the Internet is the Internet. We live in a world where we have to be weary over what is thrown on the web for our reading pleasure.
However, while I don’t love criticism (who does?), I know that everything I write is true to what I’m doing now. It’s true to who I want to be—no masks. When I struggle at times, someone knows. They’ve read, and I know I’m not alone. When I go out to dinner and only want to drink wine, I’ve got someone around me who can now lean over and say, “C’mon, Linds, order something.”
My life changed the day after that status published, and while social media is not always the modem of choice for disclosing your personal life (even if we all have a tendency to over-share), I’m thankful every day I pushed “post,” because it meant that I could finally be free.
A misplaced Texan living in NYC, Lindsey Hall is a Book Publicist by day and ED Activist by night. Currently on a quest to humanize and debunk the stereotypes of eating disorders and “body image culture”, she blogs about her experience at the aptly titled, I Haven’t Shaved in 6 Weeks: All The Truths About Eating Disorders.
(Image via Daniel Stolle.)