by Laura Dellicker
I hesitate as I begin to write this, wondering “Why the heck would anyone ever want to read about my life? I do not have anything to say that is worth reading.” These all too familiar lies run through my head constantly. I remind myself of the truth: my story has power, and it is worth telling. I am living a life that I never thought possible. My experiences have been hard, yet my pain has not been wasted. I have been consumed by shame and self-loathing for so long. But the tides have changed. I do not have it all figured out, and I do not pretend to. But I share my story today, and each day, with confidence. I share it with the hope that something I say or do, as small or as insignificant as it may seem, may resonate with even just one person. I refuse to let shame win.
I have not always had this perspective. Rewind to exactly three years ago, and you’d find me laying in a ball on the floor, crying, yelling, and wanting nothing more than die. Exactly one year later, I was pretty close to fulfilling that desire. My life was out of control. I hated every aspect of it, and my body was suffering the consequences. My way of coping became obsessing about food, weight and exercise. I was malnourished and dangerously dehydrated. But what started out as a way to control things in my life ended up controlling me, spiraling me further into a depression than I ever would have dreamed possible.
I remember my first day in residential treatment. I sat on a soft, tan couch, my body so tense that my muscles ached for days afterwards. My eyes were fixated on the intricate patterns of the rug.
“Do you think that you have an eating disorder?” I heard these words come from a chair across from me, yet my eyes stayed fixated on the rug. My mind raced…“What does she want me to say? What is the right answer?” It did not matter what I actually thought or how I was really feeling. I had lived my whole life thus far trying to please those around me, doing whatever I could to gain their approval. This was no different.
I don’t know if I came up with the “right” answer that day. I do know, however, that I wanted out of treatment. I was determined to do whatever necessary to make that happen — to convince people that I was fine, that my diagnosis of anorexia nervosa was bullshit, and that I was fully capable of going on my way without the assistance of anyone. The staff did not buy it. I was forced to face the realities of my eating disorder, and things got much harder before they ever started getting easier. When my coping mechanism of restriction was taken away from me, I developed new self-destructive behaviors to take its place. My world came crashing down around me more times than I could count. Every time I thought that I had hit rock bottom, the bottom fell through and I kept falling deeper and deeper.
I left treatment three months later, sure that I had faced my all of demons and was ready to live my life. But I still carried around the same burdens. I had the same secrets that I was far too ashamed to even think about bringing up in treatment. I made some incredible strides during those three months, but what I thought was the end of the journey was really only the beginning. It was not long before I was, once again, consumed by my eating disorder. One by one, people began to drop out of my life. I had a pattern of becoming extremely emotionally dependent on others, and each one of them made the wise decision of removing themselves from the situation in order to take care of themselves. To me, however, it felt like complete abandonment in my greatest time of need. I was worse off than ever, and needed help. Two people decided that they cared about me enough to be completely blunt and honest with me. They confronted me, exposing everything I had spent my whole life trying to hide, all of the secrets that I thought no one knew about. It was done in love, but it was harsh. And it hurt. A lot. It was a long time before I even considered the possibility that they might be right.
Slowly, I began to face these demons, one by one. It took a lot of therapy, and it required me to be much more vulnerable than I was comfortable with. My therapist pointed out that I had a choice to make. I want to make it clear, however, that eating disorders themselves are not choices. An eating disorder is as real of a disease as cancer. It’s not about the pressures of the media or a superficial desire to be thin. Genetics play a large role in the development of eating disorders. I did not choose to have an eating disorder. But I did have a choice to make. I could choose to pursue recovery; to pursue life apart from my disorder. Or, I could choose to remain in darkness and misery, using self-destructive behaviors to cope. Lastly, I could choose not to choose…which is, in fact, a choice. I could continue to stay in limbo, teetering back and forth between recovery and disaster. As a young child, I would straddle the line that separated the town I lived in from the neighboring town. I was so excited to announce to my dad that I was in two places at the same time. That is exactly what I was doing by not choosing. I had one foot in recovery, the other in my disorder. I was able to function normally, and the average person would not have been able to tell all that I was suffering from. I was happy, but not joyful. I could have stayed in that place for the rest of my life. I have seen many people go through life like that…living seemingly normal lives, but constantly being pulled toward their disorders and never experiencing true freedom from it. But that, my friends, is not a kick ass life. It is a life of compromise and mediocrity. And I wanted more.
When I look back on my journey as a whole, I oftentimes shake my head in disbelief. It is nothing short of a miracle — the complete grace of God — that I have made it this far. There was no magical moment where I decided to choose recovery without looking back. I cannot pinpoint a day when everything changed. My recovery is a culmination of small, seemingly insignificant choices that I continually make. This does not mean that I do not still struggle. I am tempted to go back to the comfort of those self-destructive patterns every day. But I am learning to recognize those longings and urges as mere indicators that there’s something else going on. Usually, these things are signs of stress, anxiety or a lack of self-confidence. Once I recognize this, I can address it and move on with my life. It is not as simple as it sounds — it is some of the hardest work I have ever done. But it is worth it. I am living my life the way that it was meant to be. I no longer have to live in shame or self-loathing. I make decisions daily that bring me closer and closer to full recovery. I may not be there yet, but I refuse to settle for mediocrity. I have a newly found passion for life and freedom. I still have hard days, but I have not given up yet, and I don’t plan to anytime soon.
Laura Dellicker is a 22 year old young woman who spends her time loving children, advocating for domestic violence survivors and raising awareness of the prevalence and realities of eating disorders. Most recently, Laura spoke at Raleigh’s 2nd Annual NEDA [National Eating Disorders Association] Walk, shared her story with graduate students of UNC Chapel Hill, was interviewed for a radio segment regarding eating disorders, and had her story published on the NEDA website. No longer enslaved to her eating disorder, she does her best each day to live life the way that it was meant to be: full of freedom, joy, peace and laughter. She loves connecting with others, so feel free to email her at email@example.com. You can follow her blog at wayitwasmeanttobe.wordpress.com or on twitter at @wayitwasmeant2b.