I went back down to my old treatment center as a guest speaker earlier this week and like every other time I have done so in the past, left on a complete high. There are very few things I love more than speaking about my past with an eating disorder because it helps other, which in turn, helps me.
During the evening group where a panel of four of us former patients spoke with parents, there was one question that really got me thinking: Did all of us (on the panel of recovered/recovering patients) suffer from social withdrawal and/or isolation during our eating disorder? Before the man asking the question even finished his sentence, all four of us were unanimously nodding a definite YES to answer his question.
For me, in order to keep my eating disorder alive, I needed that alone time. It was almost as if I had created this secret life of rigid routines and the deeper I fell into my disorder, the more uncomfortable I became in social situations. The primary focus in my life had become my eating disorder, which didn't leave any room for outside relationships. Year after year I continued to push more and more people out of my life because the eating disorder became more important.
To make matters worse, most social gatherings revolve around food. It didn't matter if it was a family gathering, a lunch date with a friend, or a quick cup of coffee to catch up, they all became overwhelming because additional calories were involved. If I, heaven forbid, ate a cookie or something, I often felt the need to burn off any excess calories consumed and forced myself to compulsively exercise in secrecy (hello culinary school years).
During this discussion, a light bulb went on in my head. My first two years of college were incredibly difficult for me and as a result, I failed out of school. Ever since then I have had a false belief that I am just not fit for college; I'm simply not smart enough. But I think I can finally see my inability to succeed academically in the past had nothing to do with my level of intelligence - it was all about social withdrawal due to my eating disorder.
At the time, I was heavy into the bulimia stage of my eating disorder and I often became so anxious that nothing else mattered except escaping my daily triggers at school. My escape method of choice was, of course, the binging and purging. Our college years are meant to be spent making life long friends, drinking on the weekends, and learning how to live with roommates, all of which are highly social. All I wanted during that time was to isolate and be alone with my eating disorder; so that's I did, regardless of the consequences.
One of the other girls on the panel of recovered/recovering patients said while she was in her eating disorder, it was as if she was living in a blurry, black and white world. Throughout her recovery journey, however, she began to see world in a crystal clear, vibrantly colorful way. Recovery has opened my eyes to an entire universe of new positive life experiences thanks to my new found social interactions. The relationships we build with others, without the eating disorder getting in the way, have the ability to change every aspect of life.
Unfortunately, in the past I did allow my eating disorder dictate and completely ruin my social life. During the past year of recovery, however, I have slowly begun rebuilding meaningful relationships. I have even proven to myself over the past two semesters that I can succeed in school. Those eating disorder thoughts can no longer convince me I am not smart enough to succeed.
Slowly, day by day, thanks to my new freedom to engage in life, I am beginning to see the world in beautiful, vivid color, too.