Reporters love asking celebrities what they would go back and tell their younger self. They reply with some warm fuzzy blurb along the lines of “things get better” or “be more confident”. If I could go back to my younger self – probably around age 15 – I would say: grow some balls and scream for help, scream so loud that no-one can ignore you, to hell with the fear….it may just save your life”.
There is inevitably those fleeting moments in the eating disorder journey where the inner You is strong enough that you could probably ask for help. But these moments are so few and so far between, that the fear quickly envelops the soul and again sets you back down the path to Ana. I can still think of the few times during my decade with Ana – count them on one hand, actually – that I would have accepted help without too much of a fight. Those moments you remember, with clarity when it was just too hard to fight any more. Broken, at last. When I do think back on those few times, it still makes me feel physically violently ill to my stomach and sets my heart pounding, even all these years later. The extent of the fear of ratting Ana out is unlike anything else. To simply say the words “I need help”, comes with a plethora of assumed baggage weighing enough to drown anyone.
While eating disorders are rarely “silent” – those around you know there is something wrong – I would bet money on the fact that no one on this planet knows everything I did to myself during those years; the extent of the body abuse and the tricks that Ana played out. So while Ana may fool you into thinking “if it was that bad, someone would have intervened by now”; in reality, you and I both know that they have no idea what you are truly doing and what goes on in your mind. Looks can be incredibly deceiving.
But then the benefit of hindsight is that in all my wisdom, I can now look back with heartbreak, thinking “if only”. If only I had said to someone that I was unwell, and that I couldn’t stop myself. That I was so scared I wanted to vomit. That I thought I had control of this thing but that turns out to be the ultimate trickery. That I don’t want to fight anymore. I don’t want to “act” like Me anymore; I want to find Me. If only….
There were many people in my life that I could have asked for help. My immediate family were a huge part of my problem and chose to be incredibly ignorant about my condition, so even as a 12 year old, I knew that was not an option. But my Aunty, my best friends, my boyfriend, my coach, and later my resident mentor at college, or my doctor…..any of these people would have given heart and soul to help me – and God knows how much they all tried at various times – if only I’d let them in. It would have taken a huge amount of guts and four words to change my life: “help me, I’m ready”.
Instead, I let Ana rule the world for a decade, pretending I was in control, but knowing full well for the latter years of my illness that I was not. In a final bid for freedom – of myself, not Ana – I jumped on a plane to Canada and set myself free in the world. I was going to get better. Only just 2 weeks in, failing miserably, alone in a backpackers in Vancouver, I collapse on the stairs from a near-lethal combination of starvation and a vomiting bug. For the record, I don’t count medical help that was not given by choice but rather by dire circumstance as “asking” for help. Clearly, this was not going to be a one-woman effort. By that stage, Ana was so strong that it was going to take a lot more than that to break her down.
On returning to Australia, this time as an adult, I checked myself into help for the first time ever. It was my choice. I was scared shitless and felt so out of control of my life, but it was what it came to. It took years of mess and emotional rollercoasters and a lot of help from my friends following that to find health and most importantly, Me. But I got there.
And yet the mind wanders at times…..How would things be different, if I’d gotten help so much sooner?
“Maybe there’s a way out of the cage where you live
Maybe one of these days you can let the light in
Show me how big your brave is”
Help is scary, I know. But living alone with Ana is scarier. Just because it’s familiar, doesn’t mean it’s ok. Deep within every perfect little Anorexic is a voice that wants so desperately to stand up for You, for everything that should be yours and that you deserve just as much as everyone else in the world. Don’t let Ana fool you into thinking you don’t deserve it. Finding that inner voice and learning to use it is often the keystone to the mountain that is Recovery. It certainly was for me.
Be brave. Kick and Scream. Beg for help. I know You can do it.
“Nothing’s gonna hurt you the way that words do
And they settle ‘neath your skin
Kept on the inside and no sunlight
Sometimes a shadow wins
But I wonder what would happen if you
Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave….
Don’t run, stop holding your tongue
Maybe there’s a way out of the cage where you live
Maybe one of these days you can let the light in
Show me how big your brave is…
Honestly I wanna see you be brave”
– Sara Bareilles