I put a lot of pressure on myself growing up. I grew up in a small conservative town, with a tight knit religious community. My family is a large, loving group of people who also share conservative Christian views. I went to a small private Christian school for my education from K-10. I am also gay. This made my life at home and school, with family and friends, with everyone in my town, the people at church, stressful and complicated. I felt so ashamed. I was so angry with God, with myself, with the Church, with my family. Basically I became angry with everyone, and I internalised it. I hated myself. I hated myself, because I was taught that I wasn’t going to be in heaven if I abandoned the precepts of the Bible and turned to this hedonistic way of life of being gay. I felt that I was being abandoned. I felt so lonely. Because I was told from day one that heaven is this special, celebratory space where everyone you loved would get to be together again. But at the same time, if I didn’t act in a certain way, I couldn’t be a part of that group. All the people that I loved would be in this incredible space full of all the grace of God and the love and joy to be found there. And I would be in Hell?
I am a very caring and generous person. And so is my family. I don’t want anyone to think that they didn’t or don’t love me. It isn’t always the easiest and we are working out our differing views. But they truly are wonderful, caring people! This idea about the afterlife or God’s judgement just couldn’t sit well with me. The idea that the love of God could forgive every sin, but not some, didn’t make any sense. And to me, there is no hope in that line of thinking. The love of God isn’t conditional. There is no way, as a human to even understand what that could come close to meaning. This is what I realise today, but as a child I wasn’t developmentally ready to understand that for myself, when it isn’t what I was taught.
Instead, I tried to become this “perfect” person in order to be loved, despite my “flaws”. Because I felt so much shame about my sexuality, this root source of self-hatred and sadness spurred more self-hatred, sadness and anger. The cancer of being told that I wasn’t worthy of this afterlife destination or the love of God if I were acting on my homosexual identity, took over my life. It became metastatic. I hated my voice, the way I acted, my appearance. I tore myself down to nothing. I self-harmed, feeling so sad and afraid. I didn’t want to do it, but I didn’t know what else to do with how I was feeling. I was so suicidal constantly. It became a mantra for me. I don’t want to be alive. I didn’t know what to do with this and it became an eating disorder. I would over exercise and under eat. And this would swing into binges that I would purge. I treated myself so incredibly terrible, because I was so depressed from the lack of love and empathy in my life, mainly from myself.
I looked for this love in a sense of sexuality. I wanted to be attractive and as perfect as I could. Trying to do my best in school, getting involved with student government and clubs, working part time during the week and all weekend. Starving myself because I thought that would make me love myself more and have more people think I was attractive and worthy of being loved. I thought that if I could attain this place of achievement and attractiveness that people would love me despite my flaws, despite my sexuality, despite the way I hated myself. And it is a rational conclusion to come to, obviously the wrong conclusion to come to, but certainly it makes sense. It is a lot easier to love people you respect. But I was trying to gain respect in the wrong way. It is hard to respect someone that doesn’t respect his or her self.
What I do respect is honesty, vulnerability, compassion, empathy and love. This is what I am writing about. I want to focus on recovery. I feel like there are a lot of stories that highlight the tragedy of mental illness. And it is so sad and heart wrenching. But I want some hope. Being in recovery from my eating disorder, it can honestly be really hard to connect to people who are still so in the eating disorder and so wrapped up in mental illness. I sincerely empathise with them, but this is something that is a challenge for me. I have friends who are so incredible with this and are such a wonderful support and resource for people who are really struggling. And I am struggling too still. But in a different way. I am not attempting to survive anymore. I am trying to figure out how to thrive. I have learned how to love myself and expand that love to other people. I am trying to be a better friend and family member in this way. Who understands how to set up boundaries in order to care for myself, and not just give of myself because I don’t understand how to value myself.
I used to think that taking care of myself was being selfish. But now I realise that is only because I didn’t value myself. I didn’t care about my wellbeing, or happiness, I didn’t think my life was worth living. I believed that suicide was the easiest way out. And it really can seem like it is. That in order to not deal with this self-hatred anymore I could just end it. Instead of facing backlash, criticism and confronting my family, the church and their beliefs, of my friends, of myself – I could just kill myself. I am really glad that I didn’t, and yeah it is hard to live more openly and show the world that I am worth it because I love myself. To find validation in myself instead of from other people or religion. What kept me alive in the darkest days was the love of my family, and not wanting to increase any kind of sadness upon them. I understood what it meant to live with mental illness and I would do anything in order to not have other people experience what that is like. How it feels to hate yourself, to abuse yourself, to fall into addiction, to hurt other people because of it. How it feels to be sad all day for what feels like no reason, to be anxious when I am sitting on a couch talking to a best friend, to be so uncomfortable and self-hating all the time.
I put the burden of that on my self, and thank god, because I would have felt devastated to have my family deal with that burden. I know people who have committed suicide, and how it has affected their families. I didn’t want that to become what my family had to deal with. I want to be here with them. I didn’t want to be stuck in rehab. I wanted to be with them for Christmas, my favourite holiday. But I couldn’t and that hurt, and I knew I needed to be there for other Christmases. I wanted to be able to teach other people how to love themselves. But I needed to learn how to love myself first.
This is what I am trying to do each and every day right now – to get back to wanting to talk about recovery. I still have to deal with being nice to myself and loving myself. I still have to deal with my eating disorder. Pushing myself to feed myself, every day. Five or six times a day. To eat when I am not hungry. To not binge and purge when I feel those same hunger queues I used to have those behaviours with. And I am still having behaviours occasionally. But this year has been the best year I have had with my eating disorder in six years. A big reason of this is that I am becoming more open and honest about how I struggle. I write how many days I am without behaviours on my hand every day. Today that number reads 23. Which is a big deal. I try my best, and try even harder when I make a mistake. I don’t want to feel bad about myself anymore. I want to love myself, and work on proving it to myself and the world on a daily basis.
It has now been three years since I have come out of residential treatment for Major Depressive Disorder, Generalised Anxiety Disorder, Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa. I have been hospitalised twice for suicidal ideation. I have had some real struggles in those three years. Times when I was drinking too much, or having a lot of suicidal ideation, starving myself and binging and purging. But I am still here. My friends and family have been such a love and support. I have let go of so much of that internalised anger and chosen love. This changed my life so radically. I have shed that anger I used to hold and it has opened up my life to far deeper relationship with the people in my life.