How I Recovered from Eating Disorder to Embrace My True Self
by Lissa Gatling Barnett
I was raised with the belief that the most important thing in life is to be accepted and loved by everyone—to be everyone's favorite, to have the perfect reputation, and not only succeed at everything, but be the best at everything I put my mind to.
I trained myself that I could win everyone's love by being exactly who they wanted me to be. I set perfectionist, unrealistic expectations for myself, and if I "failed" it crushed me. This pattern of perfectionism was ingrained in me and it drove every decision I made.
I LIVED IN FEAR DAILY
I learned to stuff down these "negative" emotions (sadness, frustration, anger, etc.) deep inside, because I believed that if I expressed any of these feelings, I would lose the love and acceptance from everyone I cared about. The unhealthy patterns soon laid the foundation for my eating disorder.
As an adult I realized I had no idea who I was, what made me happy, or any confidence in my own abilities. My confidence had always come from the love, attention and acceptance I got from others. I felt empty, insecure and lost.
I soon got married and once again miserably failed my own expectations. I seemed to be a failure and I was hurting. I subconsciously started obsessing about calories, weight loss and food and I found I could be successful at losing weight. This numbed my pain. It grew into a FIERCE and aggressive addiction and it snowballed fast. I didn't even know how to function if I didn't feel the pain of starvation and if I didn't feel hungry, I felt out of control.
HOW TO BREAK FREE?
So, how to escape? I was 62 lbs and smelt like decaying flesh, because I was actively dying. My eating disorder had brainwashed me to be horrified of food and to hate most all food. I was terrified. I could not eat! I needed help.
After inpatient treatment, I learned to deal with the demons beneath the eating disorder. It's ok to disappoint people and it's ok to "fail." Those negative emotions are legitimate human emotions and need to be felt. Confidence comes from within my soul.
Today, I am living in recovery. My hardest days in recovery are far better than my best days as an addict. I am much stronger than I ever would have been.
A Tattoo to mark my change
I wanted to get something permanent on my body to show that I refused to let my addiction take me down or sink me. The phrase “Refuse to Sink” really set the mood to prove that I had power over my addiction. I got it on my left rib area, because that was where I had fractured my ribs while playing with my toddler. (My ED had caused me to go into early menopause and osteoporosis. This was the reason my ribs fractured so easily.)
My tattoo is in my own handwriting. The “S” is the national eating disorder awareness symbol which represents the curves of a human body and resembles a heart shape. This tattoo promotes #addictionrecovery, #eatingdisorderrecovery and #anxietyrecovery. I chose to get it on the back of my neck to symbolize that this addiction is behind me. I have changed.
My second tattoo has a different meaning: the arrows are for anxiety. Inhale, exhale. The semi colon says my story is not finished yet, keep going. Stay in recovery!
I am a new person, but I am changed by my story. It is in a place that is visible so that I can connect to others' suffering. My hope is to reach people who are struggling with the bondage of addiction, see my tattoo and realize I am a safe place to come. I hope that someone will see my tat and reach out.
Now that I am in recovery and a mother of an adopted three-year-old, I am trying to relearn and reintroduce the different foods, flavors, spices, textures and variety back into my life that my eating disorder previously forbid. I finally allow myself to taste, enjoy, and nourish my body with food. My primary motivation is to offer help to the millions of victims of eating disorders and show them that food is a privilege, not a punishment—to show them that recovery is possible and it is possible to have a positive experience eating.
NEW, RESTORED LIFE – EXPERIENCING the DELICIOUSness of life AGAIN
I am slowly introducing foods that I had deleted from my life, tasting and experiencing, really learning what I enjoy and what I love. I am extremely open and willing to any all, to shine light into the dark pits of my past, places that my eating disorder took me.
Lissa Gatling Barnett is a Registered Nurse, mother of an adopted 3 year old, and a blogger documenting her struggle to find personal change and live daily in recovery. You can visit her blog at Finding Lissa.