Have you ever kept a secret?
Do you still have a secret no one knows about?
For 20 years I lived a double life. For 20 years I kept a secret from all of those who knew and loved me. I referred to myself as ‘high-functioning’, someone who didn’t have a problem as serious as others, someone who was able to cope well with life and the things it threw at me. I was a teacher, a mother to 3, a loving wife and a smart, strong and capable woman. I was seen by others as out-going, confident, funny, self-assured, optimistic and all of those things were true, however I held something within that no one would’ve suspected.
I first discovered bulimia at 22. Having lived with a mother who struggled with food and weight, who had started and failed every diet imaginable, losing weight for periods of time before regaining it and then some, I was inevitably impacted by her ways. Her own issues resulting from her own childhood. Growing up with my mum, I witnessed her binges as she ate plate after plate of fresh white bread lathered in lemon butter. I became a master at discovering the hiding places for her treats, my binge eating taking on a life of its own, I was watching her and I was learning. When I was 10, mum was clinically in the obese weight range, my greatest fear in life became becoming fat like she was.
I distinctly remember the first time I dieted. I remember being body conscious from an incredibly early age, always feeling bigger than others, my chunky calves standing out next to the thin, slender legs of my friends. I felt immense body shame, covering up my body with over sized t-shirts at pool parties, avoiding school swimming by hoping my teacher believed I had my period each week! This continued well into my adult life, my initial food restrictions putting me at risk of developing the eating disorder I inevitably developed.
My decision to ‘come out’ had been brewing for some time. I had started thinking more and more about the fact that no one talks about middle aged women with eating disorders, instead it becoming primarily the domain of the adolescent girl. I also feared being caught mid-purge by one of my children, how would I explain it? One afternoon as I scrolled through Facebook, a post by Constance Hall caught my eye. Her post was about eating disorders and thousands and thousands of women responded, some having had eating disorders for 40+ years, a few having experienced recovery. I knew I wasn’t alone, if this was my story, there were going to be others just like me- here was my proof. It was a book recommendation from one of the women on that post that helped me to find my recovery, a book whose method provided me with new understandings, used collaboratively with therapy, I found my way out of the darkness.
It wasn’t until I started noticing the impact I was having on my eldest daughter who was six at the time, that I knew I needed to make a change and now. I had been following a Low Carb High Fat diet, when my daughter started refusing to eat pasta, because I wasn’t, and leaving the base of her pizza because I was. I reflected on my past, on where I had learnt my disordered ways and I made a decision that my family’s intergenerational food and body issue was going to stop with me.
The first thing I did was admit to my husband that 15 years earlier when I first told him I had an eating disorder, that I’d lied when I said I’d recovered. Next was an appointment with my GP where I disclosed my two-decade long battle with bulimia, and finally the following week, meeting my eating disorder therapist for help. I had always worried what people would think of me when they knew,what their faces would do as they processed the information as I spoke. One of the most surprising things was that people’s faces didn’t change.
Here is what I’ve learnt:
1. Enormous freedom comes with coming clean- whatever your story, with being honest, and admitting what you’ve been through.
2. The truth can replace feelings of shame with the love and support of those close to you. “Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”-Dr Seuss
3. Honesty, and being unashamed as you speak, reveals your inner strength and has the potential to inspire others.
What is something you wish others knew about you?
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