I imagine the path is similar for many and different for others. For me, my eating disorder was a seed I planted during puberty. It was a realization that I have a body that is not slender and beautiful like other girls, which somehow makes me different and less than other girls.
That seed was then nurtured by the stress of moving across country to live on my own for the first time, with no friends or acquaintances on campus, to begin college and start learning how to cope with all the demands of life as an independent adult. And as I was doing that, I found myself surrounded by throngs of gorgeous hourglass-shaped southern belles. This only continued the unraveling of my self-esteem, a pervasive waning of my confidence.
Then I suffered the most horrendous heartbreak of my young adult life, still one of the most painful things I have experienced in all of my years, a rejection by my first love. Then the earth beneath my feet was blown upward in a scattering of dirt by a big, crushing bomb.
For years this black growth would continue to tighten its hold on me, wrapping a new root and gnarly vine around a part of my insides each time I thought about quitting.
Once unearthed, my body laying weak and exposed on top of it, I imagine my seed then sprouting eight sinister roots that jutted upward and wrapped around my brain, my cerebrum, all the way down to my heart and stomach. The plant that emerged from the earth was black and sinewy, knotted, gnarly, and dense, bearing no fruit or leaves or anything of beauty, just thick black branches that filled my frontal lobe and gripped the backs of my eyeballs, making me see only my flaws and no one else’s.
For years this black growth would continue to tighten its hold on me, wrapping a new root and gnarly vine around a part of my insides each time I thought about quitting. Thought maybe my abusive approach to food was the real problem. Thought maybe all the torture I was forcing upon my body might be the reason it never looked the way I wanted it to. Thought maybe, just maybe, I should stop treating my body so horrifically and just see what might happen if I tried eating and exercising like a normal, healthy person.
I had warped and re-programmed my mind and I couldn’t see the reality of what I was doing.
Each time one of those thoughts would creep in, like a tiny piece of fresh fruit growing in my mind, the wicked black bush inside that I had planted and nurtured would hunt it out, wrap its crackling vines around the lifeblood of the new plant, and squeeze until it turned black and shriveled, and eventually withered away.
Why did I do that for so long?
The only answer I can come up with is because I was sick. I had warped and re-programmed my mind and I couldn’t see the reality of what I was doing. That black gnarly vine that was my eating disorder was twisted so tight around my psyche that I did not see any other option. Food became both the luscious carrot at the end of the stick and the stick itself, slapped at me like a whip when I thought about just eating a normal meal.
Why did I do that for so long?
Sometimes I tell myself, perhaps I was meant to endure it to become this voice and help others. Whether or not that’s true, it at least helps me forgive myself for the repulsive and horrible things I did to my amazing body for so, so long.
Some days I feel like Sasha Fierce on the catwalk; other days I feel like old, blubbery, refrigerator Callie, with a lampshade on her head.
When I honestly try to dissect it all and figure out what the hell happened—why I became so abnormal by choice—I believe it was an accumulation of life stressors. First there was the immense stress of starting an independent adult life alone. When you don’t know what lies ahead, how difficult or costly it might be, and whether it will even afford you the life you really want to live if you are able to attain it, needless to say your confidence is shaken. This is amplified when you’re thrown into a vat of people you feel are more privileged, prettier, or capable than you. And they all seem so fragile and feminine, sculpted by a steady hand into the demure, elegant, voluptuous frame that women are supposed to have. For me, fitting none of those descriptors (in my mind) was unnerving. “If I am competing alongside these perfect creatures for the same things—recognition, success, love, happiness—surely I will lose, because I don’t seem as deserving as they do.”
I know these thoughts sound very silly, now. Now that I am a grown woman, fully confident in my own abilities and attributes, but I was not that woman then. And, to this day, my self-confidence changes as frequently as the weather. Some days I feel like Sasha Fierce on the catwalk; other days I feel like old, blubbery, refrigerator Callie, with a lampshade on her head. I just simply know now how to better cope with my refrigerator days and how to kick myself out of my own funk; and food has nothing to do with that process. Food is no longer a punishment tool. Food is no longer the enemy.
Disorders like these are entirely mental. They are deep-seeded and pervasive in our minds.
Looking back, I believe that can be the formula for many to plant the seed and begin nurturing their own eating disorder: stress, fear, uncertainty, and a lack of confidence. That might be all it takes for your own black vine to grow, whatever form of mental malaise it may take. But, I hope images like this can help us all.
You cannot just tell a person who is depressed, “You have so much to be happy for,” and they are instantly healed. Just like you cannot tell a person with an eating disorder, “You don’t have to diet at all, you look great,” and they’re immediately cured.
Disorders like these are entirely mental. They are deep-seeded and pervasive in our minds. Even after we decide to seek help and get better, it will likely take months or years to finally uncover the entirety of the vine that grows within and fully eradicate it. But, it can be done. And, the space left in its dark hollows can be fertile ground for new seeds, new thoughts, a new, healthy chapter.