March 7, 2016, 7:57 p.m.
It didn’t start out as an eating disorder. If you had asked me back then, I would have never admitted to having one. I was a collegiate athlete, studying health…there was no way I would allow something so terrible to ravage my body. I needed my body, and so did my teammates.
The anxiety developed a long time before I knew what it was. I suffered through two reconstructive knee surgeries in high school and by the time I was a sophomore in college, my fear of re-injuring myself had completely consumed me. I was unable to train as aggressively because I was too afraid to keep up with my teammates. Every practice was wrapped in so much fear I could barely make it through the day. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep at night, and I certainly couldn’t focus in class.
I felt as though my world was spinning out of control, and because I was unaware that I was actually struggling with anxiety, and not just fear in the gym; I found myself in a constant state of unrest. The tiny meals I could manage to keep down were not enough to fuel my training, and the anxiety kept my stomach in knots. Food made me sick. It made me hurt. But it was not about food. It was always about fear.
…Until it became about food. In a life clouded by fear, I found myself clinging to the only thing that I had absolute control over: calories. In this fear, I could decide to take a break from my homework and go run 3 miles. I could stop eating as soon as I felt uncomfortable. I could not eat if I wasn’t feeling up to it. Not to mention, I could burn every calorie I ate on the elliptical machine in the basement of my dorm.
It was all about control. I craved some kind of consistency in my life and I wasn’t finding it anywhere else. The eating disorder became my friend, my closest confidant. I trusted its consistency because deep down I knew that I couldn’t trust anyone else to support my unhealthy relationship with food. They wouldn’t understand, they wouldn’t approve. And I wasn’t ready to let go of it then.
As time wore on I became exhausted by the fight. The fight to maintain the outward appearance of happiness, the fight to lose, and the constant math that was associated with the input versus the output; my brain hurt and my body was tired. I knew I could not keep up with my new friend. She had befriended me, tempting me with the illusion of control, and when I wasn’t looking she ripped the rug right out from under me.
I began to fall into a deep depression. Nothing seemed right, and I didn’t know how to get back to the girl I used to be. She was lost somewhere, buried deep underneath all of the hurt. It took me a long time to figure that out. I wandered around through life confused, and unsure of where to go with the pain. A heavy fog seemed to cloud my life and I walked through it, unaware of when it would dissipate. Until one day, at my absolute lowest, I crumbled.
I was done. I didn’t want to feel like that anymore. I had been in a constant state of sadness, and I was tired. My weakened body was unable to sustain my training, and I was about to lose the one thing I had loved my entire life: my sport. So I asked for help. I reached out to someone I could trust, someone I knew would not allow me to fall through the cracks and I committed myself to recovery.
Of course I had no idea what recovery meant. There was no way I could have imagined the uphill battle that was laid out ahead of me. It was going to take years of hard work to get to the deeply rooted insecurities that led me down such a dangerous path. Sometimes, I still struggle with the residual effects of anorexia. There are days where it is still a challenge to remind myself that I am enough, that I am beautiful, that I am worthy of love… and then there are days where I have a hard time processing the fact that I struggled with this disease in the first place. Outwardly, I know that I am healthy and strong… but it’s the inner strength that I am most proud of. There are so many battle scars on my heart, but I know that in mending them I’ve become stronger, and my capacity for love has grown tremendously, particularly the love I have for myself.
So, for those of you traveling the long road of recovery, don’t lose sight of your goal. Your finish line may not be within eyesight, but it’s there. Trust the process and believe that every step forward is a victory! You can do this, you have to do this. I believe in you!
Allison is a collegiate and youth gymnastics coach at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater where she earned a Master's Degree in Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis in Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Coaching. She began writing for I AM THAT GIRL in September of 2014 in an effort to help inspire women to be proud of exactly who they are.
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