Trigger Warning: Purging, food restriction, treatment program, mothers with eating disorders. Read at your own discretion.
My Eating Disorder Recovery Story
I’m Audrey—a 29 year old mum of a primary school aged boy with borderline personality disorder and a long history of mental illness. My eating disorder, in particular, began around the time I was 13 years old. It started as EDNOS (eating disorder not otherwise specified) and later, developed into bulimia. This is my eating disorder recovery story.
The first time I tried to purge, I stopped as soon as I started gagging. I berated myself for days about it. I wasn’t strong enough. I was pathetic. Sometimes I wish I could visit my younger self, alone in my room thinking those distorted thoughts and feeling absolutely hopeless. If only I knew then what I know now.
Binging and Purging
Years later—in 2011 when I was a teen mum, I attempted to purge again after a mindless binge. This time I succeeded. When I was done, I stared back at my reflection. My stomach was in knots from anxiety, I couldn’t breathe through my nose, my throat felt as though I’d swallowed a flame. Tears had formed in my bloodshot eyes. In a sick way, I was proud. The more clear headed side of me felt ashamed and disgusted.
I hated everything about myself. I was never good enough. I would always fall short. I felt I had no control over my life, my happiness and (once I experienced pregnancy) my body. As a teen with a baby fresh out of the nest who’d been raised by a narcissist (an untreated, in denial emotionally abusive narcissist, mind you)—I don’t think it was too unreasonable for me to feel this way.
My son, Bobby, was no older than two months when I first purged. He was sound asleep in the next room, completely unaware of the self-inflicted mental abuse inside his young mother’s head. I imagined my eating disorder as both a lover and an enemy, pushing me to my limits and killing my spirit slowly but surely.
‘What kind of mum does this?’ I thought in disgust as I stared down the desperate girl staring back in the mirror.
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Eating Disorder Thoughts & ED Behavior
I remember spitting food into napkins during dinners at my boyfriend’s house. I’d count and severely limit calories or stop eating altogether. I remember one day—I think I was 16, I was out running during the summer and nearly collapsed in the street because I hadn’t eaten anything in days. The sun burned my back as I sat on the side of the road waiting for my boyfriend to pick me up when I couldn’t walk, much less run, back home.
I remember what I’d eaten each day with an old friend—online after school. I don’t remember how we found out about the other’s eating disorder, but we helped each other stay sick our entire freshman year. Once when she said she’d only eaten a cup of grapes, I worried I wasn’t “staying on track” and scorned myself for being the weaker one. I had my own list of safe foods and foods to avoid at all costs. I was member of different pro-ana and pro-mia communities and I saved thinspiration images on my computer. I regularly sought out music that had to do with eating disorders.
I remember being on a date with my boyfriend and staring down at the plate in front of me. We were at my favorite restaurant. I’d ordered my favorite entrée impulsively. I wanted to eat it but my anxiety and the eating disorder voice stopped me. I sat there watching the other groups of people sitting and eating around us at their tables. They were all going about their business without a second thought. I’d wished I could’ve been any one of them. I would’ve given anything to be anyone but me at that moment. On top of that, I was angry—at myself, for actually wanting the food and at my head, for telling me ‘no.’
My boyfriend was understanding; he knew about my eating disorder but there was nothing he could do to stop it. We left dinner early—my food whisked away by the server, almost completely untouched.
My Narcissistic Mother’s Reaction
My boyfriend was the one who told my mum what was going on. I was standing outside leaned up against his car when he’d went inside to talk to her. My mum characteristically came out screaming her head off for “pulling this shit again”, forced my boyfriend to leave and ignored me for the rest of the night as I cried pathetically in my room.
I had every intention of doing it on the drive there. Until I realized how intense the treatment schedule was after I’d gone into the small, stuffy office.
At the very least, the next day she scheduled an appointment for me with a treatment program nearby. She brought me in to the intake the next week but the treatment center needed my permission for me to start. I had every intention of doing it on the drive there. Until I realized how intense the treatment schedule was after I’d gone into the small, stuffy office. My borderline personality (BPD), unbeknownst to me (I hadn’t been diagnosed yet) didn’t like the sound of it. I’d be at the eating disorder program every night after school until almost 8pm. (When would I see my boyfriend? My friends? I’d miss out on so much!)
So I refused, claimed I could stop on my own, thoroughly pissed off my mum some more (“Why’d you even waste my time?!”) and became better at hiding my behavior and thoughts. I was fine. I didn’t need help! I wasn’t even that sick.
Two years later, my boyfriend became my husband. Long story. I was 18. Eight months after the wedding, I was pregnant. For the length of my pregnancy, I “controlled” my disordered thoughts and ate 3 meals a day knowing I’d need to be healthy for the baby. But I never changed my mindset or followed through on any kind of treatment. So my eating disorder lingered on the back burner until I had Bobby.
Which brings us back to the beginning of this story.
Eating Disorder Recovery Take Two
Within two months of Bobby being alive, I lost all control again. Learning how to purge was just the start of it. Pregnancy had brought on new feelings of self hate. I couldn’t stand to see my pregnancy progress. And don’t get me started on my post-pregnancy body! In my head, it was a disgraceful war zone.
When Bobby was about 8 months old, I finally confessed to my husband what I’d been up to. He called the same treatment center I refused to go to years before. He drove me to the intake appointment and waited in the waiting room for an hour to show his support.
They promptly admitted me into their intensive outpatient program. I didn’t fight them this time. The program consisted of 4 hours of group and individual therapy with dinner every night. I did it for three days and then bailed, against everyone’s wishes, because of the same reasons I’d had years before (“I’m never around anymore!” “I don’t like being there for dinner, I want to be with my husband and son!”). The treatment staff wanted me to start their inpatient program but I wouldn’t hear of it.
Instead, I found a therapist and made a vow to take my eating disorder recovery seriously this time. My fear of being in treatment and those odd feelings of abandonment (damn you, BPD) when I was at the treatment program drove me to take the same approach to every goal I’d ever had up to that point: fierce, overly self-critical, hyper organized, all or nothing focus and determination.
Life After Bulimia & Eating Disorder Hell
It was a long road to finally get to the point where I not only wanted to get better for Bobby, but for myself. And that’s what I’d needed all along to really begin the lifelong journey of eating disorder recovery. You can’t recover for anyone else, recovery is all about you.
When I discharged myself from that program ten years ago, I was ashamed. I was scared. I was afraid of the unknown. During that time, I thought I’d never be free from my eating disorder. I thought I would never be a good mum; I thought I’d always be sick.
It’s been six years since I last purged and it’s been over four years since I’ve even been tempted to. In the beginning of my eating disorder recovery, it felt like a never ending journey. But winning the war was so worth going through all those daily battles. I’ve come so far. I’ve come out with a resilience I never knew I was capable of having. Now I know nothing can stand in my way because I am in control.
The 29 year old woman I see in the mirror today looks older, a little softer and a bit more worn. But there’s a knowing gleam in her eye that reflects back strength, bravery and wisdom. Knowing what I know and getting through what I’ve gone through—I can’t help but have admiration, love and respect for myself. I have more patience with my body and the effects pregnancy, motherhood and aging has had on it. I appreciate what my body’s given me (the ultimate gift, my son) and what it’s capable of. Even if it’s not perfect.
I’m strong. I’m beautiful. I feel free. I am free.
From One Recovery Warrior to Another
If you’re struggling with an eating disorder and have Type A standards for yourself like I always have, my (unsolicited) advice is to stop letting daily set backs stand in the way of your goals. That won’t be a mindset you can adopt overnight but keeping it in mind regularly can help make it a natural thought.
You do not need to do everything perfectly to succeed.
So, repeat after me: You do not need to do everything perfectly to succeed. Instead, view mess ups as opportunities to grow, learn and do even better. What you need is to be loved and to be given patience and validation. So give yourself an abundance of patience, kindness and self-compassion. You’ll be more equipped to get where you want to go if you possess those three things for yourself.
You may fall, slip up or regress but get up and keep going. This is so typical and cliche, but stay strong. Eating disorder recovery will be a bumpy road. You’ll have to face certain unknowns that might scare you into paralysis. Allow yourself time to process your emotions as you navigate eating disorder recovery, but don’t wait around to feel ready forever because you’ll never feel fully ready.
Recommended Book: “Life Without ED” by Jenni Schaefer – Buy at Amazon
Baby steps. There’s nothing wrong with small wins. In fact, small wins lead to big wins. So take that leap of faith and brace yourself for a tough road ahead. Trust me, it’s worth it in the end. Recovery is possible. You’re capable. You’re strong. You got this.
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