For the entire 6 years of my blogging career, I’ve kept a huge part of my life secret. I don’t necessarily regret it but this secret has come along with layers and layers of shame and exhaustion. Today I want to share my truth.
The truth is that I’ve been battling a pretty intense eating disorder for the last 20 years of my life. I thought I’d wait to share my story once I was fully recovered but the reality is that I haven’t yet come close to achieving recovery at all. I’m in treatment for the second time this year because the only way I’ve known how to feel safe is by starving and purging.
Does that make me a huge hypocrite? I know some of you are thinking that. I know I felt that way for a long, long time. How can I preach body acceptance and share anti-diet messages while starving myself because I cannot tolerate being in my body?
I’m starting to recognize that I am not a hypocrite. I, Shira, truly believe in the messages I share with every part of my being. I also am simultaneously battling a mental illness, a monster of an eating disorder, that has taken me away from acting according to my values. I KNOW that worth doesn’t come from body size but knowing does not erase lifelong trauma. There is not a body positive quote in the world that can fix me.
I don’t know how to describe the torment of how it’s felt to live with my eating disorder for two decades. What I do know is that turning 30 this October was a huge slap in the face. It was like I was living underwater for a decade or… like I was sleeping all this time and suddenly I woke up with the realization that I’ve lost ten years to this disorder and I don’t remember how that even happened.
It was easy to pretend that my disordered behaviors were not that big a deal. I mean, I managed to get my bachelors and masters, maintain jobs, and build up my blog all while living with my eating disorder. Sure, I had some weird food quirks, but so do most women. So it can’t be that bad, right?
Wrong. I’ve been reflecting on what my life really has been like behind the scenes and honestly, it almost takes my breath away to think of all I’ve lost and couldn’t do because of this disorder.
I stopped going out with friends completely because I didn’t want them to notice I wasn’t eating. I mean, I had to protect the eating disorder and I didn’t want to argue about food. I skipped going to holiday meals, Shabbat dinner, and restaurants because being around food felt paralyzing. I turned down once in a lifetime vacations because I was worried about not being around my few safe foods I’d eat. I was a slave to my scale. I couldn’t ever truly be present and engaged in my life and around the people I loved because I was constantly at war with my brain and my body.
It looks like I do a lot of cool things on my blog. I’m living it up in NYC, going to cool events, and eating all the yummy food. But that is not even close to my reality. I spend every single night home alone, counting and calculating calories, exercising, or purging. I haven’t touched 95% of the food I posted (I like to feed my photographers) and I rarely go out. It’s hard to be invested in relationships when I’ve been so invested in only one relationship- the relationship with my eating disorder.
And let me tell you- it’s a strange feeling to be praised by the world for my shrinking body when the actions I’ve been taking to attain this smaller body have been devastatingly destructive both physically and mentally. I thought my wake up call was waking up at the bottom of my staircase with a broken nose and concussion but two days later I was back to starving and purging. Then I thought the tear in my esophagus would be enough to scare me into stopping the destructive cycle I was in but I found myself purging the very next day.
I’m learning that the only way to achieve freedom from my eating disorder is working through the trauma – which comes along with agonizing discomfort and pain that I’ve been desperately trying to run from. I didn’t choose to suffer with this eating disorder and I am currently doing everything I can to recover from it.
My personal battle with an eating disorder might help you understand where some of the passion behind my posts come from. Being that I spent my teens in and out of hospitals, I’ve seen way too many people die from their eating disorders. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness and we cannot ignore the role that our culture plays in it.
Obviously, eating disorders are complex illnesses that are caused by a combination of biology and environment, but we cannot ignore the impact of living in a world that is so oppressive towards fat people. Where children as young as three years old are afraid of being fat. Until people in ALL bodies can exist in this world without stigma and abuse, eating disorders will remain a huge fucking problem.
For a while I thought I might become another statistic. And before I went into treatment this past December, I had accepted that death from my eating disorder would be my fate.
There were points when I honestly welcomed death because I was exhausted from living with a monster in my head day after day with no relief in sight. And then we add the secrecy and shame; I’m so visible online but struggling oh-so silently. My pancreas and kidneys were shutting down and my doctor told me that without treatment I’d likely die. Instead of feeling fear, I felt nothing but relief. I was exhausted and defeated from 20 years of living with this eating disorder, tormenting me every second of every day.
But my incredible dietitian, Erica Leon, helped get me into treatment at Center For Discovery. I attempted to turn it down at first because I was so damn tired of fighting. Eventually I agreed to go into residential treatment and I am glad I did. While this has been an excruciating last few months, I’m working to surrender more every single day. At this point, my recovery is a minute to minute battle but I am doing the best I can. I wish I could tell you that I’ve seen the light and am fully recovered but that’s not how recovery works.
Recovery is messy and anything but linear -which can feel frustrating and hard to tolerate when you’re a perfectionist. But in my experience, there really isn’t any major “aha moment” and instead, just a whole lot of excruciating discomfort along with picking yourself up again and again, with compassion and patience. This is where I am. It’s messy and I have ways to go, but I am done keeping secrets.