Jan. 10, 2017, 5:31 p.m.
My shield. My guard. My armor. It was always what I drew my strength from. It was something that made me feel respected. I thought it was what I could count on to get me through everything and anything that came my way in life. It was what I could trust to ensure I wouldn’t be hurt or disappointed. It especially helped me to hide the fraudulent person I felt I was. But in one conversation, one ‘a ha’ moment, that armor looked like a cheap Halloween costume made with foam and plastic. IT was the fraud!! It was strategically constructed by ED, my very own director in life; and a manipulative, vicious bully of one at that.
Like all costumes, I could wear it to become someone else; to hide what was underneath. But like a narcissistic, controlling partner, he prayed on my broken soul. He told me it was what I needed to be better; to play a ‘character’ that people would like because they were not interested in seeing me. But in that one moment I could finally hear my own voice and I could see that armor that I believed to make me strong for what it was. It was a carefully designed diversion – a character – constructed by ED to cover and calm the shame, the guilt and the hopelessness that ED himself had brainwashed me to believe. For years he told me I was weak, unworthy and should be ashamed of who I was. But just like a manipulative bully, he told me he could help and could take the pain away. I was convinced that nobody would like me, love me or respect me if they knew who I was. I was so ashamed and embarrassed of who I was, and had been since the time of early memories, so building the façade and wearing that armor was the perfect solution. Nobody would have to know how disgusting of a person I was and I would never have to open myself up to the chance of being hurt or feeling emotions that hurt. Seems like a no-brainer, right? WRONG! As easy as that all seemed, it was exhausting and so much harder to maintain than I thought. Not to mention it actually made me feel worse about myself. It took a long time but it started to get heavier and harder to hold together, and in that one moment it broke!
At first I thought it meant absolute failure. I was terrified and totally exposed. Now the shame, the guilt, and the embarrassment were out for everyone to see and to judge. But what initially felt like weakness and failure somehow left me feeling a little lighter; I might even say I slightly tasted freedom. As I continued to challenge the “boss” in my life, not only did start to feel stronger, but I didn’t want to wear the armor anymore. And that’s when it finally clicked!
My shield wasn’t protecting me. It was not just robbing me of the ability to truly embrace connections and enjoy experiences provided through being open and vulnerable, but it was what gave ED the ability and the power to have stronger control over more of my life; all of my life, at that point. What was supposed to be protecting me was actually the vehicle of the predator who was killing me; robbing me of many of the greatest gifts in life.
So here I stand today completely exposed, but empowered; vulnerable yet feeling stronger than I’ve ever felt. Am I still terrified? Absolutely! Do I still fear the judgement and have to fight back feelings of shame and embarrassment? Of course! But each day I fear less and my own voice grows louder to quite that of ED. I am taking control of my life back with an entirely new perspective on what strength is. It is being vulnerable and being able to ask for help when you are struggling. It reminds me that strength “doesn’t come from never being broken but in the courage required to grow stronger in broken places. And that ”it takes more bravery to find out who you are beyond the pain than to merely survive”.
I am 31 years old and in recovery from my 10 year battle with an eating disorder. This is the first piece of writing I have shared with regards to my struggles and some of the insights I have gained in my journey through recovery. Being open about my experiences is something I never thought I’d do or want people to know about, but through this process I have gained so much motivation, hope and courage from reading/listening to others share their stories and they have empowered me to take my life back. I would like to continue to gain more courage in hopes that I can become more involved in advocacy and help break the stigmas attached to eating disorders and mental health, and hopefully offer someone else the hope I gained through others sharing their stories.- Kristin Schmidt