Updated: Mar 3, 2022
This week is Eating Disorder Week. I would like to acknowledge this week by sharing a little about my story and what’s made me who I am today..
Why? A few reasons..
Following the pandemic there has been a global rise in eating disorders. The mortality rate (that is people dying from their struggle) is rising daily. And I struggle to exist alongside this painful truth. Especially when I firmly believe every person is capable of healing. So perhaps sharing my story of healing can encourage or bring hope to those who feel lost, in denial or suffocated by their darkness.
For some reason, there is shame wrapped around the idea of being vocal about having experienced an eating disorder. It’s taken me 14 years to get to a place where I am ready to share my story, publicly. Shame of what people will think, how they will judge me and perhaps a degree of embarrassment towards a part of my life I wished for years I could erase. There are always voices inside me that would come up with reasons why sharing my experience is silly or self-absorbed. But I have come to know that voice is fear. And to that I say let’s dive in!
There is a picture I have of me at 16 or 17 years old. I am unrecognisable. Ghostly and disappearing. From time to time I would look at this photo and when I did the hairs on the back of my neck immediately stood up. My heart rate would begin to speed and my palms become sweaty. My body would be flooded with the sensations of shame and distress. My body would remember. She remembers a time she was fighting for survival. She remembers a time she would use every bodily sensation to gently ask me ‘why are you doing this to me?’
There is also power in looking back at this photo, I can see how far I have come and how profoundly I have grown. There is a deep sadness towards the girl I was in this picture. A girl so desperately trying to avoid pain through the addictive self-abusive behaviours of punishment and starvation. I still remember that strong urge I had to punish myself and my heart shudders every time I remember; or every time I hear it in another woman's voice, or feel it when there is no voice. Every time I see it in the media and news through statistics of mental health struggles, the rise in labiaplasty surgery in young women or the expectation of women to look and behave a certain way. The toxic narratives that were manifesting in me in a very physical way still flood through society in very subtle but potent ways. And so long as they feel normal, we never stop to question how they are shaping us.
I was a deep thinker, a philosopher queen as I now like to say. I was sensitive to every voice and message around me and I was being eaten up. The REAL problem was never about what I was or wasn’t eating, it was about what was eating me! I still think it’s strange that when people approach someone with an eating disorder they think ‘food’, when it most obviously should be ‘soul’.
But now, as a 30 year old woman, I don’t want to erase it. I don’t want to erase any part of me. My wounds have taught me so much. My wounds carved a dark but deep path to self-discovery, healing and truth. I wouldn’t be who I am today without them. My suffering has become my gift. Someone said to me the other day: ‘Katy I am envious of all your great posts on social media. You totally have your shit together'. There are mixed emotions to comments like this. I am humbled but maybe what they sometimes do not see is the battlefield I have risen from.
In the words of Rupi Kaur, ‘what I went through pulled a warrior out of me and it is my greatest honour to be her’.
Self-hate is powerful and can seep very deep into bones and stick like poison to our veins. It pumped endlessly around my body leading to complete eradication of myself through the disappearance of my body. Both my inner and vocal voice was vanishing, along with my ability to want or desire anything. Through a cry to gain control, I was losing my freedom and descending daily into a dark place. I was so angry, confused and ashamed.
Then there were the years of healing.
The cognitive approach over my behaviour brought me out of a clinically concerning state. But my disconnect to self and inner discontent manifested instead in drugs, boys, inner abuse, crippling anxiety and daily panic attacks. The punishment was still there, it just looked different. There is a certain kind of healing that needs to take place within those who have been to these kinds of destructive places. But for a long time I couldn’t bring myself to acknowledge what I had done to myself, to my lovely body.
The healing I required had to go a lot deeper, and it did. And it was painful to pull apart all my parts and slowly piece by piece bring myself back together again. It’s taken years and I’m still doing it. I sense I will always be doing it; every challenge brings an invitation to become more, again. Parts of it are uncomfortable and scary, other parts are liberating, joy enriching and life enhancing. Parts of the work have taken place unintentionally, like growing and birthing my babies, studying the human body and helping women listen to, interpret and work with their changing bodies. I work daily with women who are confronted with shame, pain, change and disconnection. Helping them has been a huge part of my story. Slowly, I am learning to trust myself again. Practising the goodness of being a body and expanding into spaces I never knew existed is my daily prayer. I am expressive and expansive love in motion, and I am dismantling every wall that separates me from that truth and my authentic self. My pain itself was not a wall but a portal, an opportunity. I couldn’t fully love myself until I fully owned my pain. My suffering was my invitation; confronting it was finding out what it wanted me to learn.
The journey to self-love and acceptance is not easy but it’s possible. And it’s NOT about looks, numbers, likes or validations. It’s an eternal story that takes place within. The journey to feeling fully alive and connected to my body has been incredible, I have awoken parts of myself I didn’t know existed. I am learning to express my feelings (of shame, guilt, fear and anger) through movement, dance, writing, speaking and creating. I just wish not only those who struggle with eating disorders, but that the 90% of the population who loathe their bodies could realise that we don't have to live under the mindset of ‘accepting’ or ‘putting up’ with our bodies. We ARE our bodies, therefore body image work is work with the self. The objectification and focus on the physical detail is just the superficial symptom. The problem runs a lot deeper than that; a collective thinking we have about the body from a biological, philosophical and sociopolitical perspective. The forces that drive how we feel about our bodies are so broad - existentialism, feminism, colonization, the sociopolitical framework and more. I remember when I first started to do the work of real healing in my early 20’s I began to realise the whole world has an eating disorder. It's everywhere. Society is soaked with a distorted relationship with food and the body.
The journey to self-love and acceptance is not easy but it’s possible...it’s an eternal story that takes place within
Today I am someone people would consider healthy, but I certainly don’t have all the answers. There are many things that have been fundamental to my healing, to me showing up to myself, remembering myself and discovering my miles of unexplored wilderness! Learning and discovering what it means to be human now fascinates me. My own story has created so much curiosity towards our experiences of pain and suffering and a sense of disembodiment that it spills into everything I do.
I have a relentless passion for the possible, a vision of people who feel at home in their body; their diverse body, their im-perfectly perfect body. But this will take system change as well as inner change. The two are symbiotic. We are not just individual bodies, but one collective body. The body is a thread that weaves all of humanity together.
Can we begin to recognise that the global rise in eating disorders is perhaps a collective cry for change? And that we are all responsible for the healing of this cooperative disembodiment. It will take a village effort to write new and true stories, embodied stories that give us more space to live within. Deep and spacious stories that include every single being on this earth.
Are you in?
All photo credits: Cody Kettner @justlikeyou