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    From the Darkness Into the Light – Life With An Eating Disorder

    Written by: Kelly Maughan

    I’ve struggled with my weight and eating disorders for over 15 years. I’ve experienced them all. It wasn’t until recently that I felt compelled to be more open about it. A year ago, if you would have told me that I would end up in a residential treatment center, struggling to keep myself going, I would have not believed you. But that was my reality this year. I don’t have the insight into my eating disorder quite the way that someone who’s recovered does, because I am still getting there. I am still struggling to figure out the purpose of my eating disorder, how it’s served me, and how I can use healthier coping mechanisms in life. When Talia asked me to be a guest writer for The Sister Files, I was immediately excited, and then 2 seconds later, terrified. I have so much to say, yet nothing at all. What should I even write about, and will people even want to read it? Eating disorders unfortunately come with a lot of guilt, shame, and negativity, and while that’s not what I want to focus on, it’s all part of the story. In the spirit of this blog, and my attempt to keep things headed in the direction of positivity, I wanted to talk about the positive things that have come to me as a result of having to face this eating disorder. Before I talk about that,  I wanted to share something that can maybe shed some light on this topic. Earlier this year, I read Portia De Rossi’s book Unbearable Lightness. She lets you into the mind of her eating disorder, and it made it so easy for me to explain what was going on in my head, when I couldn’t begin to put it in words. After all, eating disorders are mental disorders- they don’t always make sense when you’re looking at it from the outside. My hope is that as I make my way through the mess that is “recovery”, I am able to talk about my experience, and help someone, the same way that book helped me, and many people I know, understand eating disorders a little more.

    By the time I entered a treatment center in May of this year, I had lost 140 pounds in about 9 months, lost a lot of my hair, had a very slow heart, wonky blood pressure that made me faint frequently, was cold all the time from my slow metabolism, and was constantly exhausted. Those are just some of the physical symptoms. I was a complete shell of myself- I was depressed and didn’t care what happened to me. That’s how this illness works- it takes over your mind, and before you know it, you just don’t care. You don’t care if you have to lie to people you love. You don’t care that it is hurting your friendships. You don’t care if you let people down. You’re not the person you were before. I wanted people to see the dark side of this disorder, and when I was in treatment, we were asked to write “a typical day in our eating disorder”. So below I’ve included a snippet from my “typical day” assignment.

    “I open my eyes. I’m pissed that I woke up. I’m not even sick enough to die. All I can think about is weighing myself. I get up to use the bathroom before I weigh myself, so I can determine the fate of my day. As I get out of bed and make my way to the bathroom, I wait for the lightheaded-dizzy head-rush I get that reminds me I’m sick. The first time standing up in the morning is always rough. I brace myself with my hand on the door frame just in case I feel myself going down. I use the restroom despite the fact that I’m horribly dehydrated. Every little bit helps on the scale. I’m freezing cold but I take off my layers so they don’t distort the number on the scale. I step on and close my eyes while the numbers calculate. Shit. I maintained my weight from yesterday. I begin to plan my day based around the number I see. It needs to go down. I’m doing everything right, I need it to go down. I have emails to answer and sessions to edit, but that’s not important. After all, it’s only my business. How I pay my bills. What keeps me going. What I used to be passionate about. Screw that; I need to lose weight. I wish I had the energy to go for a run or go to a yoga class, but I’m too weak and tired. I can hardly take a hot shower without having to sit down. I feel like absolute shit. I go to the bathroom to brush my teeth and wash my face and try to give myself some kind of energy to do something, anything, today. I look in the mirror and my eyes are lifeless. There are dark circles under my eyes even though I slept last night. This is the kind of exhaustion that can’t be fixed by sleep. I curled my hair the previous day, so now it’s tangled and I need to brush it. I rarely curl my hair anymore because brushing it has become traumatic to my dry, thinning hair. It falls out in scary amounts. It feels like a kick in the stomach each time I see it fall out. But it doesn’t stop me. In effort to cheer myself up, I sometimes try on my clothes. Having a plethora of sizes to choose from has made this process all the more rewarding. I grab a pair of jeans from a couple months ago. I remember not being able to get them past my thighs. They now slide on without even unbuttoning them. They’re way too big to wear; awesome. I take them off and grab a dress I wore to a friends wedding last year. I put it on last week- I know what it’s going to look like. But I do it anyways. Still too big; great. I take it off and catch a glimpse of my body in my mirror- something I desperately try to avoid. My body is smaller. But no matter how much weight I lose, I’m stuck with this gross loose skin on my stomach, my arms, and my legs. I lost 140lbs and I can’t even enjoy the accomplishment because my body is still disgusting. I plan to go for a run, and come back and take a shower, and will weight myself again after that”.

    When I read this now, it makes me really sad. Sad because I know that this is the reality of life for so many people that are struggling. On days when I feel like I am exactly where I started, I read this and it makes me realize that I HAVE made progress. I have a desire to live, I am fighting to keep my friendships, my business, my passion, and most importantly, my health. I am no expert on eating disorders, however, I’ve lived it and I know that my experience is valuable. Since I want to keep this positive, I want to talk about the power of communication and connection in all of this. Once I started talking about it openly- outing my eating disorder, it started to lose its power. Slowly but surely, words of encouragement from people I haven’t talked to in years started to pour in. What I found was that people want to help- they want to connect, and they are not judgmental. On my worst days, I go back through my Facebook posts, and I read the comments, and the incredible things people have said to me, and it gets me through the day. And every time I step outside of my comfort zone, I am not only helping others understand eating disorders, but I am helping myself by silencing the eating disorder in my brain a little more each time. If there is anything I’ve learned in the last 6 months, it’s that we need to be talking about this. I’ve found that in my decision to speak up has encouraged other women to reach out to me that have struggled. Maybe not with a full blown eating disorder, but some sort of disordered eating habits. It’s so much more common than we think, especially among women. We hold all of the power, and by talking about it and shining light on it, we are silencing the monster, AND educating people. So while it’s absolutely terrifying for me to keep putting this out there, I am going to keep doing it, because it’s my truth right now, and it has power.

    They always tell you that recovery isn’t a straight line- it’s a lot of ups and downs, that are all slowly moving in the right direction. Some days I don’t know exactly where I am along the path of recovery, because I still find myself struggling a lot. But something that I’ve found great comfort in is watching the sunrises and sunsets. There is something incredibly humbling about watching a breathtaking sunset, getting to experience it, and knowing that it’ll happen again tomorrow. It makes me feel lucky to be alive. Sometimes they’re so incredible, I can’t even believe it. I think the reason I’m so drawn to them is that they make me feel something. A beautiful sunset has the power to stop me in my tracks, wipe out the negative thoughts, and flood my mind with gratitude and love. As I’m sure most of you know, photos hardly do justice, but I wanted to share a few of my favorites that have really moved me. I hope there is someone out there who needed to hear something that I said, and that it helps someone. We have the power to keep helping each other- not just when it comes to eating disorders, but everything. The things that feel uncomfortable or strange to talk about- those are the things we NEED to talk about. We are all in this together, and when we spend more time lifting each other up, we create a safe, liberating place for everyone to be themselves and help each other, and it’s beautiful.

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    Photo by: Kelly Maughan

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