Author: Chloe Kierszh
As this drive for perfection grew, I also became very aware of my mom’s total dislike for her body. Everything at home was usually sugar free, diet, low-calorie, fat-free–in addition to whatever the fad diet of the moment required. Even my friends noticed this and would joke about it. I was constantly hearing about how my mom did not like their body, how she needed to lose weight, how she was not ready for swimsuit season. As I neared the end of middle school and the start of high school, I became extremely self-conscious of my own body. I was at the stage in puberty when I felt like a brace-faced-awkward-uncomfortable-blob-person. Somewhere around that time I remember shopping with my mom and sister. I was trying jeans on and nothing seemed to fit. I remember hearing my mom jokingly say, “you have your mamma’s thighs”. Logically I realize that she was joking around. However, based on how low my body-image already was, the comment hit home—hit home hard. If she did not like her own body, but said that I had her thighs, did that mean mine were also not good enough? Should I dislike mine too?
High school went alright, I was on varsity teams, I was an A/B student, I had a lot of friends, but I also struggled with body-image and low self-confidence. One of my best friends in high school struggled with restriction, and I would always try to be there for her and help her, encourage her to eat lunch with me, make sure she was getting out of the house. Nearing the end of high school, I wanted to “be an adult” and lose weight. I remember deciding my diet would start the day after basketball season ended. When that day came, I excessively working out before and after school, was playing varsity soccer, and severely restricting. Suddenly I started to worry about things that had never even crossed my mind. I began counting calories, do mathematical equations with them, document everything, and try to out-do myself—if I was going to do something I wanted to be the best. No one questioned my behaviors, no one found it strange. In fact, people were praising me, admiring my dedication, telling me I looked great. I did not feel great, I was exhausted, anxious, and just numb. I hated everything, including myself. Time passed, behaviors continued, my obsession grew. Did my body change? Yes. Was it a healthy transformation in any way, shape, or form? ABSOLUTELY NOT. Graduation came, which meant graduation parties, cookouts, cake, and everything else I found terrifying.
In four short months, it was already time for my collegiate soccer career to begin. For my entire life soccer was my passion, the one thing that made perfect sense to me. When I stepped on the field, nothing else mattered. When I was recruited during my junior year of high school, I was healthy, happy, and a dominating “beast” on the field (as my team called me). However, by the time August came and I showed up on the field for the first day of college practice I was about 50 lbs lighter, 10 times dizzier, had 10 times less strength, was about 10 times not as good as I used to be. I tried harder, I hid it well, kept my starting position, still played the entire game…to start. My coach started to see that I was not the same player; but turned her head, just told me to do better, told me to keep my head in the game.
Little did I know that I was about to spiral out of control. I had experienced anxiety and depression for most of my life, but those words took on a whole new meaning during that point. I began the vicious cycle of unhealthy restriction paired with binging and purging behaviors. Those behaviors worsened with time. I began lying to people, stealing money for food, isolating myself, obsessing, not doing homework, pushing everyone away, losing friendships, not going to class. I was completely obsessed with food, it consumed my life. As a result, my soccer career started slipping away; I lost my starting position, I started getting less playing time, I started to hate the one thing that I loved more than anything.
I always thought I had control and could get better on my own, but also knew that I did not have control and I could not do it on my own. I did not know how it would be possible. I started to panic and wonder if this would last for my whole life. Would someone marry me if I did this? Would I get a job? Would I ever be happy? I had chest pain, I started wearing a heart monitor. That cycle of behaviors and distorted obsessive thoughts lasted for three more agonizing years. I considered getting help, but got discouraged when I tried to find places online. If I looked on a website and my insurance was not listed I instantly became discouraged (I did not realize that sometimes you have to call a facility and ask). I did not think my insurance would be accepted anywhere. On top of that, I did not know what level of care I even needed. I googled the terms: inpatient, residential, partial hospitalization, and intensive outpatient hospitalization, because they were all foreign words to me. I still did not know. Would I be “sick” enough to qualify for treatment? Would they laugh at me and tell me they could not help? I started to panic. My behaviors worsened.
It wasn’t until I found myself sitting on the bathroom floor one night sobbing, wishing the pain would stop, that I knew I was at my absolute rock bottom. It was at my rock bottom that I opened my eyes and realized what I was doing, realized how dangerous my behaviors were, realized that I did not want to die, and I realized how much I hated everything about the way I was living my life at that moment in time. Although I always wanted to “perfect” my eating disorder, I realized that it was impossible. I was chasing something that was not real and could instead kill me. I wondered if I could apply that “perfection” to recovery. I am the kind of person that if I say I am going to do something, I follow through with it regardless of the situation. Sitting in that same spot I cried. I cried out of fear, sadness, and anger; but I also cried out of optimism and hope that I could do this.
That next morning, I called multiple places and treatment facility in Milwaukee that was willing to let me come in for an intake to see if I qualified for any of the services they provided. That same morning on my way to class, I stopped and I turned back around. I got in my car and drove to Milwaukee. Although the idea of treatment and recovery was the scariest thing I could think of, I decided that I valued my life and who I used to be as a person, and who I wanted to be as a person; way more than I valued my eating disorder. I did not want my eating disorder, I absolutely hated it, but I was scared and did not know anything else. I forgot how to live. I knew that I had no other choice at that point. Getting treatment was hands down the best choice I have made in my life, and I don’t think that will change. Was it difficult? Yes. Was the process of recovery fast? No. It was more like a terrifying rollercoaster that seemed to go on and on. However, as each day went by I gained more and more strength, more courage, more insight as to who I was as a person underneath the layers of ED. As each day passed I started to believe in myself and believe in the journey….and being competitive, I wanted to out-recover myself, I wanted to be proud of myself, I wanted to be the best version of me possible. So that’s exactly what I did.
I realized that you absolutely cannot have both; that you cannot keep parts of an eating disorder and live a full life – it is not possible. I learned that you have to make the choice to do recovery, and it has to be for yourself. I know now that unless you let go of the control you think you have, nothing will change and you will continue to be miserable. I will not lie, recovery is an up and down journey, but just remember that it is a learning process. When you learned how to walk you fell a lot, but the falls occurred less and less as you kept trying. Recovery is the same way. Recovery is a lifelong process, it is something you choose each day, something that gets easier each day. People always ask: “Do you still worry about food?”, and I can honestly say no. My meal plan helped me learn what meals were, what components made up the meals to give my body what it needed. Food gives us energy and energy gives us life. People also ask if I still struggle with body image. I would say now and then, yes—but those thoughts are quickly dismissed because I have learned to love myself and my own body. I refuse to spend time thinking or worrying about something that already took away so much of my time. I learned that perfection is impossible, it’s not real, it’s an illusion. I learned how to love myself for who I am, for what I can do, for the life I can now live.
Many people that I have worked with (who have no idea that I was once in their shoes) ask me, “Do you think I will always feel like this”, or “I don’t know if I could ever recover”, or “I am scared/afraid of what COULD happen”, or “I don’t know if I am ready”. My answer to those questions is always along the lines of: Yes- recovery is possible, if you want it. I say that anyone can do it, regardless of age, struggle, thoughts, behaviors, etc. I say that if you wait until you think you are ready, you will be waiting for forever. Waiting means missing more of the amazing life you should be experiencing. Lastly, worrying about what COULD happen only builds anxiety and makes you question yourself. You will never know if you do not try. I can say that choosing recovery will likely feel ten times better than what you are going through now.
My response is usually followed with that same person asking me how could I possibly know.
No journey is the same, and I can’t change the past. I am thankful for my journey because it taught me what it means to love yourself, to believe in yourself, and to cherish your life. My experiences taught me that anything is possible when you want it. Most importantly, I finally realized that I was enough—and always had been, I had just refused to see it. In exactly one month, I will be graduating with my master’s degree in counseling. I will go on to help others in their journey, because I’ve been there.
Choose recovery, be gentle to yourself. You are learning how to live again.