Part 1 of My Journey
I am 21 years old today. At this point in my life, after over two years of therapy, I have had to revisit the early years of my life, time and time again to try and make sense of where I am now. I’ve spent so long being afraid to look to the past for answers about the present because I feared my parents feeling like I would ever blame them for the demons I’ve faced or continue to face. But I would never blame or resent them for my pain, I know wholeheartedly they have always done the best they could and I am grateful for the happy childhood I was given. However, that doesn’t change the reality that there were things from my childhood that still affect me now, and there is a sort of subtle, developmental trauma that occurred without any of us being consciously aware it was happening.
For as long as I can remember I have always felt there was something inherently wrong with who I was inside. Something that outcasted me, that made me awkward, wrong or broken in some way. I was constantly and relentlessly criticized by almost everyone in my life from a very young age. When I was 5, I remember not fitting in at school with the other kids. I remember being targeted and bullied and wondering, why me? What was it about me that made me so unlikeable and what could I do to fix it? At home, I’d receive criticism surrounding my eating habits, for never doing as I was told and especially for my weight. Now, I was always a very obedient and respectful child. But I did ask a lot of questions, I spoke when I should have stayed silent, and it seemed that no matter what I did, it was never right.
Don’t get me wrong, I was loved. I was very loved and well taken care of. I had a very strong attachment to my mom, but she was also my greatest bully. She had Borderline Personality Disorder and things were always very unstable in our relationship. One moment, I was being praised as the perfect and wildly intelligent child but the next, I was being told “I don’t know who’s child you are, but you’re not mine. You can’t be mine by the way you do xyz…”. Today, I understand my mother’s illness, I know that it’s a result of her own abuse and trauma. I love her, I am so very close to her, and her words do not hold the same effect when said now, but hearing those comments as young as 5 years old and throughout adolescence, that impact has cemented itself into some of my core beliefs. My brother
My brother used to tease me, he used to tell me that I could never do anything right. When we were young, we had little to no relationship and I truly believed he hated me. I remember being so envious of all of my friends around me who had such close relationships with their older brothers. They could hang out with them, play with them, go to them with pretty much anything. But my brother hated me, and I struggled to understand why. I remember being very young, maybe about 7 or 8 years old, and saying to my grandmother “all I want is for Sammy to love me”. Eventually, I did build a very strong and close relationship with my brother and he has been there for me since I was about 10 up until now. Maybe not in the way most brothers are, he always acted more like a dad than a brother, yet we were close nonetheless. That didn’t change the feeling of rejection from the early years though. The rejection I was dealing with at the same time I was struggling to be liked by my peers.
Throughout elementary school, I really struggled to make friends with kind people who liked me for me. I was always changing dependent upon the person I was trying to be friends with. I latched on to the most popular students in the hope that I too could one day draw people to me the way they did. But obviously the popular kid isn’t always the kindest, so in the end I did infiltrate the in-crowd, but at the cost of my self-respect. I was taken advantage of and treated like their bitch. I gave far too much and never received the same in return. I didn’t learn what true friendship was, or what it meant to be unapologetically me much later. Things were better in the friend department in middle school, I stopped trying so hard to fit in and as if by some sort of miracle, I started to do just that. I made friends organically, nice and decent friends who wanted to be around me. It was great.
Unfortunately, by that time I had a new focus, which was being the smartest. Ever since pre-school when I learned to read, write and do simple math before all the other kids, I excelled in school. I was moved from school to school and program to program. Which was how I ended up at my middle school to begin with. I was in the Gifted and Talented program and the MS I attended had the only completely immersive GT program in the county. All of my courses were honors courses, I was thrown into a mix of smart kids and I quickly learned I wasn’t the only bright fish in the new, much bigger pond. I took a math class in 7th grade that I struggled heavily to understand. My grade dropped and no amount of after-school tutoring seemed to be enough. My parents weren’t used to me getting bad grades and they saw it as a sign that I was slacking off. Their frustration pushed me further into shame and I eventually had my first episode of depression after the feelings of inadequacy became too much.
This whole time, I never really gave much thought to my body. I was constantly receiving lengthy lectures on the dangers of childhood obesity and what being overweight would mean for the future of my health. To me, these conversations didn’t make much sense and they didn’t much other than make me feel embarrassed, guilty, and wrong. I remember the night before my 9th birthday I began panicking over a headline on some online article that said if children were not ‘expert dieters’ by 9 years old, they were at serious risk of never knowing how to eat properly or control their weight. I confided in my mom the fear that the article created for me and her response was, “well, you have one more year”.
When I think about my body before high school, nothing comes to mind. I can’t picture what I looked like because I never knew even back then. I was never aware of the space I took up and I always viewed my body as separate from myself. My body was this foreign thing and all I knew about it was what others would tell me. It was big, it was fat, it was small, it was unhealthy. These were some of the ways my body was described to me, but as I think of it now I am angry because I’ve seen pictures of myself at those ages. The 5, 9, 12, etc. I’ve seen the photos of a younger me and I was perfect. I was always a healthy and happy kid who, more than anything, just wished she could make her body into whatever would make everyone else satisfied and shut them up forever. I always felt slightly disgusted with myself. I was a messy kid, I was loud, rambunctious, energetic. I was not soft or delicate. My mother saw me as unfeminine, she would always say “girls don’t behave that way, girls know how to dress, girls are thin”. I wondered what had to be wrong with me, why wasn’t I the right type of little girl? I remember getting dressed before elementary school in the mornings and standing in front the mirror in my mom’s bedroom while she critiqued my outfit and how it made my body look. “That’s too tight between your legs, that gives you a chubby stomach, that doesn’t match and everyone will laugh at you”. My mom always used other children and their judgment to scare me into wearing or doing what she wanted. “They won’t say it to your face, but they’ll all talk about you behind your back”. That was the message I received, that if I didn’t behave in a way that was considered acceptable to others, they would never like me. So I tried my best to make sure everyone liked me. But it always seemed that my true nature would shine through. I would make the wrong comment or do the wrong thing, act too quirky, and out myself as, unlike the rest. No matter how hard I tried, I could never perfectly play the role others wanted me to. That was, until high school.
My freshmen year of high school, I started experimenting with drugs. I had tried marijuana for the first time at 12 years old, and I was always the kid who was willingly to try anything that would alter my state of mind. At 14, I began experimenting with painkillers. I felt the high they gave me was the only way to numb the pain and rejection I was feeling from a silly puppy-love sort of heartbreak. But what broke my heart wasn’t so much about the guy himself and how I felt about him, it was more about the fact that I wasn’t good enough. If he no longer liked me, than it had to be because there was something wrong with me. So to not have to be consumed by those kinds of thoughts, I numbed myself. I never became addicted, and I would use for short binges and take very lengthy breaks. At 15 I added DXM to the mix, as well as Adderall. High school was also the point at which I suddenly became very aware of, and self-conscious of my body. I always felt like the odd one out, the biggest one in the room even when I wasn’t, and I felt like everyone around me could only see my weight. So at 15, the summer before sophomore year, I decided I was going to take control of the foreign entity that was my physical body.
That summer my mom bought me a personal trainer. We’d tried a few things at this point to control my weight, but I was always fluctuating and couldn’t seem to stick to one diet. I remember my mom buying portion control plates and having to eat from them while my brothers had unlimited amounts of food. I remember the frustration and disappointment on my parent faces when I gained and the sheer joy and pride whenever I would lose. I was so sick of letting everyone down, especially my mom. So after she had shelled out so much money for the trainer, I was determined not to gain the weight back. She went on vacation for a month when I went back to school at the end of the summer around the same time my sessions with the trainer were ending. I was so incredibly terrified of her coming back to the states and seeing that I had gained weight instead of continuing to lose, because with the trainer’ help I had lost 15lbs in about two months. I tried everything from restricting and purging to binging and purging just to keep it down. I used more Adderall to suppress my appetite, I tried every fad diet google had to offer, I even found pro-ana and mia sites that gave me disordered tips. I became consumed with losing weight, counting calories, and my fear of food.
I remember all of the positive feedback, every “you look so good”. My brother was asking me what my secret was, and for once, my perfectly fit and healthy brother that my parents so desperately wanted me to resemble, was asking me for advice. I felt amazing and it was absolutely addicting. Eventually, I became more and more entrenched in my eating disorders. My brother began noticing, my mom and grandma were noticing the skipped meals and my aversion to eating. I remember shaking when my mother ordered me to eat an apple, I remember crying because I broke my diet and had an extra piece of broccoli, I was so sick that I even remember secretly wishing for some god-awful illness to strike me just so I could finally lose all of the excess weight on my body. Yet, no matter how much weight I lost, I always looked in the mirror and found the same fat girl staring back at me.
When I was 16, I tried MDMA for the first time. At that point, I had been using different pills, weed, and anything I could get my hands on that would give me some sort of high or happiness. Molly was everything I hoped for and more, it was exactly what I had been looking for and the euphoria was dangerously enticing. I was scared by how much I enjoyed it, so I decided I couldn’t continue using it. The last thing I ever wanted was to be addicted to a substance, so instead, I would rotate various substances and convinced myself I was just experimenting like all teens do. To me, it didn’t matter what drug I took or how I got high or even how frequent I was using, because sometimes my use was daily, as long as I wasn’t physically dependent on a drug I believed there was no problem. I held on to this belief even as the years went on, as I started using cocaine, barbiturates, codeine, and at the very end of my use I had begun snorting heroin. By that time I was 19 years old and it was the summer before I would be transferring to my dream university. I was trying to self-recover from my ED at the time, but later that summer I fell into relapse. I was so angry at myself, and the fact that I would be going to a school where everyone was so thin and beautiful only intensified my anxieties.
Although high school was the best 4 years of my life, a place where I flourished, and a time in which I made lasting and true friendships, it was also 4 years worth of waging a massive and invisible war inside myself. I absolutely hated myself. During that time I starved myself, forced myself to vomit multiple times a day, binged until I physical could not handle more food, and cut myself when I reached points when I couldn’t feel a thing. I bottled everything up and hid it extremely well, on the outside I was getting good grades, I was school president, I excelled so everyone believed I must have been fine. It is no one’s fault for ‘missing’ my eating disorder, or drug use, or depression at the time because I lied, cheated, and manipulated everyone around me just to keep my secrets and keep myself ill. I remember writing in my journal, “I would rather die thin than live fat”.
After falling into a very strong depression and the worsening of my eating disorder during my first semester at my new school, I had to withdraw myself from the university and take medical leave or I would have failed out. My life was ruled by my bulimia, my schedule consisted of when am I going to binge/purge next and where? When can I fill my next Klonopin prescription? I hated being alone with myself, being inside of my own head. For years I woke up every single day wishing I was anybody but myself, and getting high was the only way I knew how to make that happen, even if it was only temporary.
After I left school I opened up to my family about my eating disorder. I was extremely angry because being the ‘smart one’ was all I had ever had. It was MY thing, the one thing that made me feel even remotely good about who I was, and Bulimia had stolen that from me. So with being able to go back to school as my main motivation, I checked myself into a partial day hospitalization treatment program. Treatment saved my life and it changed everything. It was like I was feeling and showing my emotions instead of repressing them for the first time ever and being told that it was healthy and acceptable to do so. Treatment is a whole other post, which I will do someday, but not today. It’s a crucial turning point in my life, and although it was only the beginning of many transformations I’ve undergone since leaving January of 2015, I believe that it is the only reason I am still in school and on the path to a bright future today. Treatment and therapy over the past two years have allowed me to become the person I am today. I still struggle, and I’ve relapsed and been back to treatment once more, but I am still fighting and I am still far better off than I was before I sought help. I no longer use drugs harder than marijuana, and although I struggle with even that at times, I have long said goodbye to the desire to be anyone but me.