**Content warning: Some stories may mention eating disorder thoughts, behaviors, and symptoms. Please use your discretion when reading and speak with your support system as needed.
By Carrie Hammer
For most of my life, I felt like I was drowning. Suffocating under the weight of every bad thing that had ever happened. Sometimes, still, I feel like someone else is leading my life.
The most profound relationship I’ve had is the one with my eating disorder. This relationship has made me feel guilty for putting any kind of food in my body. It has tried to draw me in every time something stressful happens. There is some comfort in the pain of it, a comfort in thinking I had control over something in my life. The somber truth is that you do not have control when you have an eating disorder.
The summer before I turned sixteen, I went to Italy with my grandma for the third time. I remember sitting in the car the day before leaving, thinking about how surreal it was that I was going there. Although I had been there twice before already, I somehow knew this time would be different. But I had no idea how much that summer would change every aspect of my life.
When I tell people that I went to Italy when I was younger, they think I was lucky. But they don’t know what happened to me there.
I needed to lose weight before school started. I needed to look good.
I looked in the mirror and yelled at myself to lose weight. Why did I let everything get out of control? How did I let it get so far? I wish I could chop off my love handles. I hate my thighs. I hate my round face more than anything. I thought about everything that I had eaten over the summer: Nutella, crepes, gelato, pizza, and pasta.
I replayed every negative thing my grandmother told me. Her voice became my eating disorder’s voice: “You are a failure.” “You are just like your father.” “Don’t eat that. You will get fat.”
I don’t know where I got the idea, but I do know what I did next changed my life forever. Every aspect of my life changed the moment I threw up the Nutella and crackers I had for breakfast.
Tears fell from my eyes and my face lost color, but I felt better for a moment. Every negative thing that had been said to me, every bad thing that had happened in my life seemed to flush away. They seemed to be erased from my mind.
People think having an eating disorder is a choice. It is an addiction. Living with an eating disorder throughout most of your life makes adulthood exceptionally more difficult. I spent years of my adolescence planning my future. I planned my life, year by year. I was going to finish college, get a job that involves helping people, get married, travel, and have kids.
My eating disorder took over.
When we are young, we think we are invincible. Rationalizing bad habits over and over again. I never believed my actions would affect me as I got older. The more challenges you face, the more you realize how strong you are. The more you think about how much time you wasted hating your body, the more you will learn to love it.
If I were to give advice to anyone on how to deal with anything difficult, I would say: Do not run away. Do not let it control you. Talk to someone and do not be ashamed to ask for help. You are more than what you are going through. Do not get lost in the tragedy.
Life isn’t a series of bullet points on a piece of paper. I cannot rationalize my thought patterns and behaviors to you, but they aren’t meant to be justified. Mental illness doesn’t always make sense, but it can be managed, and recovery is possible. It’s messy and chaotic, but it can also be beautiful and magical. Sometimes things are thrown at you that you cannot control. The only thing you can control is how you deal with them.