Todays post is from the co-leader of the Central New Jersey chapter. She recently graduated from Monmouth University with a Master’s degree in mental health counseling and is embarking on her professional journey. Beginning the NJ chapter has offered her a chance to give back to the community and raise awareness about the importance of treatment, eating disorders, and a healthy body image. Working with Project HEAL has offered more than a chance to give back; it has offered healing for personal experiences with eating disorders.
I was 14 years old when the eating disorder knocked, or better yet, barged through our front door. My sister had transformed from a bright-eyed smiling girl to a hollow, sullen teen. My mind could not comprehend what just happened; it just did not make sense. Eventually, our family became consumed with the eating disorder- dark, foul ooze that permeated all nooks and crannies of our house. The kitchen was a war zone. In fact, rooms began to darken from lack of use. The dining room and living rooms were dusty; barely anyone came over anymore and our family turned inward. Rage boiled within me. Why didn’t things return to normal? Why weren’t my parents happy? Why wasn’t my sister eating? And why am I so angry? These questions roiled around my mind during those early years.
As I entered young adulthood and started to develop my own identity, the rage began to subside. I saw myself as more than a sister and a daughter who lived in chaos. I was a student, a friend, and a young woman. And I was human- complete with strengths and weaknesses; I was and still am fallible. Additionally, I saw my family as human; they are not perfect and that is their strength. However, this was (and still is) a challenge to see!
It took (and still takes some) time and energy to get to this place of acceptance. There were many tears, clenched fists, and deep breaths along the way. They did not change because I wanted it; that is something beyond my control. This attitude has offered me an incredible gift of peace. While changing my attitude helped, it was also valuable to see my family outside of the eating disorder. My sister and I would spend time doing things that did not involve food, clothing, etc.; we would find ourselves talking about life or painting pottery. My parents, sister, and I would go out, perhaps to walk around a garden, a farm, or a small town. These experiences helped me to see each family member, including myself, without the eating disorder.
It has been years since the eating disorder came into our house. I can say proudly that my sister has been in recovery for about 3 years. One of the most important things I have learned from it is that there is beauty in the darkest and bleakest situations for they can grant us an opportunity to develop incredible strength.