i was there, but not really

On January 6, 2018, I got to see one of my oldest friends get married to her best friend. We gathered in a place that was familiar and part of our childhood—a place where my friend would usher in the next chapter in her life with her beautiful family and surrounded by her loved ones, in Jasper, Alberta, where our friendship started nearly 30 years ago.

What should have been a whole day of celebration was wrought with anxiety and obsessive, judgmental thoughts.

Obsessive and judgmental thoughts… of myself.

***

Here is the perfect example of how disordered eating and obsession with the diet culture can take away the joy of living and the experience of being in the moment.

I did not realize how far I’d fallen until I started to crawl out from the pit.

***

Having failed to lose the proverbial “last five pounds” before the wedding, I shifted into my Desperate Measures gear. Simply put: starvation. I had originally planned to wear a long sleeved fitted black dress, but I was aghast at my lumpy stomach and how the fabric pulled across my lower back. “No way I’m gonna be seen like this,” I thought to myself. Besides, even if I had convinced myself I looked fine, I would have been conscious of my appearance all day—sucking in my stomach, making sure not to eat too much, sitting up straight ALWAYS to prevent stomach rolls from forming.

Thank goodness for jump suits. Slightly more forgiving, especially covered with a matching black jacket.

Still, I was conscious of just how quickly it could fall apart if I let myself eat too much. (Stomach rolls, amirite?)

***

We headed out the day before the wedding. I was careful that morning to have a light breakfast and forbid myself from snacking too much on the road. I skipped lunch and instead drank a lot of coffee—warmth to keep the hunger at bay. Dinner was a few pieces of roast chicken from the grocery store with a side salad, but I was careful not too eat too much then, being conscious of having to fit in my wedding attire the next day.

The morning of the wedding, I limited myself to coffee and a hard-boiled egg. Hunger gripped my insides and I let myself have a little bit of chicken a few hours later. I was checking myself in the mirror—okay, stomach is pretty flat, I think I’ll be fine.

***

My efforts paid off. I was satisfied with how I looked, although internally I kept repeating to myself, “back straight, stomach in, sit up properly,” like a mantra. This train of thought would be on loop all day, taking me out of enjoying myself, robbing me of catching up with old friends and celebrating together.

***

Looking back, what scares me most is just how normal I thought it was to starve, restrict, and obsess about every single morsel that passed through my lips. The negative self-talk, nitpicking at my appearance, and constantly putting myself on guard… this way of living had been my reality for so many years that I couldn’t objectively evaluate whether it was healthy or not.

I wish I had been fully present on that day instead of being trapped in my own thoughts of calories, macros, and stomach rolls. I wish my conversations with my friends hadn’t revolved around explaining my low-carb diet and why I couldn’t have a slice of wedding cake or any of the dessert table offerings. I wish I could go back and tell myself, “you are not well; please get help.”

***

On the other side, it’s easy enough to see days like the above and recognize how disordered my thinking was. But when I was fully immersed in that head space—even though on some deep, subconscious level I knew I had to change—it really was my reality. Day in, day out, obsessing about food and putting myself down for giving into a craving; bingeing on “forbidden food” because of my “eat this all now or never” attitude; purging because of the guilt and shame, and then going right back to starvation.

Too many years of my life were robbed by diet culture. Too many events where I wasn’t truly present. Too many lies and deceitful messages embedded deep inside, disguising themselves as wisdom. Too many tears cried over not feeling worthy or enough.

***

I still have a ways to go before I’m fully out of this pit. Seeing the circle of light above get bigger each day keeps me reaching. I have bad days—I’m only human, after all—but I tell myself that it’s okay to take a rest for a day, so long as I’m not going backwards. Each step up is an accomplishment worth celebrating.

Reversing nearly 25 years of disordered eating will not be an overnight miracle, as wonderful as that sounds. I’m choosing to let my journey unfold in my own time, all the while being kind to myself, being mindful, and being more present in the everyday.

I can’t go back and CTRL-Z my friend’s wedding day, hoping for a do-over. But what I can do is promise myself that the next time an event of this magnitude comes around, I’ll be ready; to enjoy, to live, to eat, and best of all, to celebrate.

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