How Grief Triggered My Eating Disorder
**Content warning: This is one person’s story; everyone will have unique experiences in recovery and beyond. 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 Roisin Doyle
At 16 years old, I lost my best friend, my grandmother. She lived with me throughout my entire life. She was an angel on earth who was kind and caring. She loved me and wanted nothing but the best for me. Once she passed away, I gained what I thought was a new best friend. My eating disorder.
During this time, I developed bulimia and anorexia. This was after years of suffering from obesity and difficulties with compulsive overeating. The loss of my Nana aided in the development of my eating disorder.
Within a year, I swung from one extreme to another. After my Nana’s death, I began to hear an inner voice promising me the world but with cruel demands. A voice that promised me control, yet very quickly had full control over me.
The time of grief in my home felt like such a blur. I was so disconnected but so fixated on numbing the pain with starvation. Coming from a life of obesity, it was incredibly difficult for people to see what was truly going on because my weight loss was praised and glorified. I couldn’t help but chase the next high or the next form of validation. The feeling of the number dropping was all I could think about. The fixation numbed the grief. My cognition simply could not comprehend anything past food, numbers, calories, and exercise. I couldn’t see that what I was doing was wrong because it felt right.
The weight loss masked the pain and gave me a temporary high that distracted me from the unfathomable: the fact that my Nana was gone. My grief triggered a five-year-long battle with both anorexia and bulimia. Five years full of destroying my body for the peace of mind that I was never going to get. Five years of ruined relationships and missed opportunities, as well as lack of presence, cognition, and connection.
Yes, I may have lost weight, but I also lost my smile. The dental damage I suffered from bulimia was the loneliest, most isolating experience to go through at 21 years old. My teeth started to break; some fell out. My once-perfect smile was destroyed by years of purging. My once-healthy hair was now coming out in clumps. I lost my period and the warmth in my body. The hottest days felt cold and miserable. I lost my entire identity to the disease; I had no idea who I was without it.
My mind had become accustomed to glorifying sickness, but I was just never sick enough for the disease. Through hospital admissions and my time in treatment centers, the voice screamed even louder every time I tried to fight it. My recovery wasn’t linear and, don’t get me wrong, it still isn’t.
For those five years, I had no hopes, no dreams, no aspirations that weren’t weight/sickness-related. My eating disorder was what I clung to for dear life, as I felt I was nothing without the validation that weight loss brought me. Eventually, I realized there was so much more inside me that my sickness was suppressing. I learned that the power was in me, but I had to choose it every day. I must choose; I must make the decision. If you are not recovering, you are dying. Somewhere inside me wanted to know who I was without the disease. That was my push, my hope.
My changes were small. Inpatient care was there when I needed it, but I realized I had to find a way to navigate my way through recovery whilst finding structure, routine, a reason to live, and a purpose. I went back to college and started working. I wanted to find who I was and what I could do without this disease. I had to train my mind to stop atrophying every meal. That took time and is certainly an ongoing battle, but one that I want to fight.
Once I untangled myself from the cold, harsh grip of the disease, I found who I was and all I could do, which was so much more than losing weight. I don’t define myself as “the anorexic” or “the bulimic” because I’m recovering from both. Who I am now is so much more to myself and to others around me. When I began to treat myself differently and change my inner dialogue, my mind, body, and relationships with the people around me healed.
Every day we have a choice to evolve or repeat. We can evolve, especially with an eating disorder. Appreciate each evolvement in recovery because you are healing. Every day I tell myself, you have two things depending on you to feed them today: one is your eating disorder and the other is your body. Choose wisely.