By Atara Sragow
I entered into an abusive relationship when I was 14. Like many abusive relationships, it took me a while to recognize the abuse. My abuser’s name was Eating Disorder, ED.
When I met ED I didn’t even know how much I needed him. I wasn’t beaten down, I didn’t have any trauma to overcome, my life wasn’t falling apart. I was clueless. I was completely unaware of the void that I needed to fill. I ignored the tears in my life that desperately needed to be taped back together. Then, I met ED. ED couldn’t tape my life back together, but he could distract me from the pain that I didn’t even know that I was feeling.
For as long as I can remember, I craved validation. I wanted to be told that I was a good girl, that I did a good job, that I was enough. I never learned to create validation in myself, so I lived a life filled with seeking it from others. From a young age, I watched the people in my life rapidly lose and gain weight as they yo-yo dieted. The gained weight was met with disappointment. The lost weight earned you a gold medal, endless compliments, and the validation that I always wanted for myself. I believed losing weight made you a good girl, meant you did a good job and proved you were enough.
I wanted to be enough. I embarked on the journey of weight loss and, with every pound lost, I was met with more love and validation that I could have ever imagined. At the height of my happiness, ED walked into my life and took all of the credit.
In our honeymoon phase, I loved ED, I trusted ED. ED was my everything, and he made me a better me. Being with ED changed my life. Instantaneously, compliments started flowing in. Everyone wanted to know how I had so fabulously transformed myself. Everyone wanted to know my secret. That’s just what it was, a secret. I knew that people wouldn’t see ED’s true value, so I kept him hidden. When they asked how I got my thin figure, I pulled my diet plan out of my back pocket as a cover for ED. I would excitedly delve into the ins and outs of my dietary blueprint, well a slightly modified plan as to protect ED. I would just tack on a few hundred calories to whatever homemade fad diet I was on at the time.
With time, however, it became harder to be with ED. I knew he was only so hard on me because he loved me, wanting me to be the best version of myself. ED taught me about the dangers in the world to keep me safe. He taught me about carbs and calories, and when I slipped up, he taught me how to get rid of them. Getting rid of the calories made it like I had never eaten them, or at least that’s what ED taught me. ED consumed me, he was all that I could think about. I lived to please ED. Nothing made ED happier than watching the number on the scale drop, and nothing made me happier than making ED happy.
Our relationship progressed, and ED became harsher and more irritable. He would tell me that no one likes a fat girl, reminding me of the burden I laid on all of the people in my life. He would tell me that all of my friends hated me but were too kind to tell me and that he is the only one who loves me. ED told me that I was worthless without him, and I knew that he was right.
ED and I were in sync; we never disagreed. “You can’t go to your best friend’s birthday party,” he would say. “There is going to be cake.” So I tell my best friend that I am sick and can’t make it. ED tells me that I’m fat and need to spend hours on the treadmill–how did he know I love cardio? ED tells me that I am a waste of space, but I knew that already. For a while, ED was the only one who could make me happy. I was fat, ugly, a waste of space, and no one would ever love me, except ED. Or so he told me.
ED pulled me closer. He jumped down a rabbit hole of loneliness and I eagerly jumped after him. I fell further and further down the rabbit hole and as the last drop of light disappeared from my view, I crashed to the ground. The crash wasn’t a sudden epiphany–it didn’t cure me. The crash didn’t even give me the motivation to break up with ED, but it gave me just enough power to ask for help. Asking for help was a struggle in itself. I was so far down the rabbit hole that the people on the surface couldn’t even hear me. When I finally screamed loud enough to be heard, my struggles were dismissed and invalidated. My plastic smile had been plastered on my face for so long that the emptiness underneath was too shocking to accept. It took endless arguments and a therapist advocating on my behalf for me to get the support I needed to break up with ED. ED didn’t like that.
ED started turning mean. He pushed harder as he felt me pulling away. The smallest taste of life without him showed me how horrible my life was with him. ED made me tired, tired of only eating chicken broth and drinking diet coke. I hated the taste of the plain canned tuna he pushed me to eat. I was so tired, tired of the constant chest pain, the incessant late night crying on the bathroom from intense stomach cramps, always feeling on the verge of fainting, shivering even with my thermostat turned to 80, the cuts in my mouth and the facade of happiness that I only took off when I was alone. Most of all, I was tired of being tired. I was a shell of a person walking around in a constant state of exhaustion. Every “what’s wrong?” was instantly answered with “oh, I’m just tired.” My starving brain struggled to complete sentences. Yet, my starving, broken down, brain miraculously built up the courage to seek nourishment.
The road to recovery was long and hard. I had to explore the pain that brought ED into my life to kick him out of it. I tore open every wound that ED held together so that I could be the one to heal them myself. Every step forward was met with two steps back. I tried taking bigger steps, further distancing myself from ED. Despite following the rules laid out by my clinicians I couldn’t get ED out of my head. I ate the food, I did the work, but ED still tore me down with every calorie eaten. I hated the way ED talked to me, so after years of silence, I responded. ED called me ugly so, even though deep down I agreed with him, I called myself beautiful. Every insult was met with a compliment, and with time I started believing them. When ED yelled insults at me I confidently yelled back. As my voice grew louder and louder ED’s voice became quieter and softer, until it was barely a whisper. Now and then ED tries to weasel his way back into my life. When he does, I tell him to shut up and sit down because ED’s voice was strong but my voice is stronger.
You are not alone. If you or a loved one are struggling with an Eating Disorder please call the National Eating Disorder Association’s (NEDA) confidential helpline, 1-800-931-2237.