People often ask me, after years of being so sick, and so stuck – to the point where I wasn’t expected to survive and my treatment team only really kept me alive to legally cover themselves, admitting me only on death’s door – how did things change for me? Why did I suddenly go from hopeless to so full of hope?
In many ways it seems a very sudden development, but it’s not. I think all of us face turning points in our lives, points where we simply cannot continue on as we have been. Wiktionary defines turning point as ”A decisive point at which a significant change or historical event occurs, or at which a decision must be made.” Both are true for myself, in my journey.
When I look back at this seemingly ‘sudden’ turnaround, it’s not that sudden at all. I can see that I was growing and changing in ways that were not then visible – even to myself – that came together in the end to enable change to be made outwardly. During the times that much of this growth was occurring, I was depressed and felt hopeless, I felt that I had tried, and tried, and tried, and nothing had worked, that I had nothing left to give and would be better off dead. That I had been fighting endlessly and had gotten nowhere. I had no idea I was already on the road to improving. I wonder if I had known, I would have had more hope? I’ll never know. The important thing was that little things were changing.
I was learning how to cope better with the things that I didn’t cope with before – with flashbacks, nightmares, emotions. I was learning to be more accepting of myself – I was learning more ABOUT myself – and I was learning that it’s okay to fall down. I fell down big time, and many times, over those years and most of the time I needed a LOT of help to get back up again. My pride took a huge battering. I lost every shred of dignity, was completely humbled, and now that I look back at that, I see that although it was not a nice thing to go through at all, it helped me. When you have humbled yourself and being able to say, “Yes, I suck right now, I’m a failure, and I need your help” and reach out and accept the help offered – you truly cannot fall any lower. The only way from there can be up. And sometimes it’s important for us to reach this point so we can get over ourselves and be forced to see ourselves in all our brokenness – in order to get past the denial that can prevent us from ever otherwise accepting the help we need.
I am Christian. I will not pretend that I am not. I usually don’t talk much about it, because I feel very ‘new’ to it, and am scared of putting my foot in it big time by saying something that turns out to be the wrong thing. A lot of my Bible reading occurred during my sickest period and so a lot of the facts went through my cottage cheese brain and promptly vanished, so I also find myself stumbling when it comes to quoting, referring to the Scripture, to remembering important points… I also have been worried that sometimes people who do NOT believe are offended, and I don’t want to alienate anyone. I am a live and let live person. My beliefs are mine, and I have them because of things that have occurred in my life and how and what I feel. Other people come by their beliefs in a similar way. Also none of us has a right to say “My beliefs are right, and yours are not” because none of us can ever know that for sure, and it’s arrogant to assume our beliefs are right or better than someone else’s.
Where this is leading is that my faith did play a big part in my being here today – although I hate it when I’m reading a book where someone recovers, whether it’s from an eating disorder or something else, and they just say “God cured me”. I hate it. Because it doesn’t just happen like that. I do believe in miracles, yes, but miracles usually have a lot of work involved in making them happen – they are miracles because they should not have happened, should have been impossible, were against the odds. But they didn’t just happen. People have said that my own turning things around is a miracle, because I should be dead, there wasn’t hope for me and my body was on it’s last legs – but I know it’s not, I know how much hard work and time and tears and perseverance has gone into getting this far.
I have always been a very spiritual person. I did go through a very dark period where I lost all faith in there being any thing called God out there, and I lost all hope. I defined hope as being something that you can only have if you know for sure that what you hope for (life, feeling better, etc) CAN happen – and I did not. I couldn’t fathom that anything could get better for me, and therefore I had no hope. As for God, I felt totally alone. If He existed, I surmised, He had long turned His face from me in disgust.
But I did strongly feel, within myself, something bigger and more powerful out there. Some kind of energy, or spirit. Something great. Something benevolent, caring.. I could feel that. When my Dad was dying for example, I went up there to his city full of anger and despair, raging at the world – “how could you take my Dad? How could you give him cancer? How could you make him suffer so much, he’s a good man?” But when I got there and was by his side and he was dying, I felt deep down that this was as it was meant to be. I will never be able to describe what I felt in words really – but I could almost feel something like ‘gears’ grinding – could almost feel that all life goes in cycles, and that my Dad’s was grinding to an end – and then, after he died, I could feel him continue on a new cycle, where, I do not know. But I felt all that. It didn’t make it less painful, but it did feel like this was meant to happen and part of life, my Dad’s time was here to go. I’ve always been very connected to nature and I can’t not feel that there is something far greater under all we can see on the surface and that essentially it is filled with LIFE.
Back to God – one day, I just happened to come out of a session with a case manager and walk into the church across the road, into a mid week service that I’d passed by for years and never felt tempted to join. I still do not know why I walked in that day. But what I do know, is that it was one of the turning points in my life that I can definitely identify, even though nothing earth shattering happened that day. What was important was the people I met there.
I was greeted and welcomed by a lovely lady and a just as lovely girl closer to my age who became dear friends. They made me feel worthy of being there, and it did feel like I’d joined their ‘family’. I came to look forward to my wednesdays spent with the kindest people I know, that church group, and started spending more and more time with them – they did become my own family for a while. They accepted me, no questions asked. Totally unconditionally. There was no sense of ”When you have gotten better, gained weight, fixed up your problems, then we will accept you.” It was NOW. Despite all, despite the fact that I was an emaciated, bingeing, anxious, shy MESS – they loved me despite that. They loved me for ME. No matter where I was in my journey, they would meet me there and walk by my side during anything and everything it took to get through it all.
This was probably the most important thing of all for me, certainly at this stage of my life, but probably in my whole life. Who of us does not need to know they are okay? I struggled for a long time to understand how they could so easily like me, even love me as they came to. I could love them, because they were such lovely people. I came to be able to trust in God, that He existed, because I could see every quality that describes God in these people – shining from their eyes, their actions, their words, their hearts. They lived their faiths – and passed it on to me in a very real way I could no longer ignore or doubt.
Being unconditionally loved and accepted meant that I began to realise that there must be something in me, horrible little Fiona – that was loveable and acceptable. It was a huge enlightening for me. I have grown up always feeling completely inferior to the rest of the whole world – and had that pretty much beaten into me as a child – that I was not good enough, that I was even quite disgusting. So for the first time, I decided that it was time to give this girl a chance, to stop just hating for the sake of hating, and get to know her – get to know myself – really and truly. And I also came to realise how little I knew myself. I was a stranger to myself. No wonder I had been trying to kill myself for all these years – being trapped in a stranger’s hated body, what else would someone do?
And so things began to change. My hatred of myself and my self destruction started to lessen. I still found myself overwhelmed with self loathing, but I was kinder – I started seeing a Christian counsellor and learnt how to refute the lies that flew at me thick and fast with simple truths, and to believe those simple truths more and more. I learnt to arm myself with the truth -
“ Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. (11) Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. (12) For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. (13) Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. (14) Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; (15) And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; (16) Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. (17) And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: (18) Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints;”Ephesians 6: 10-18 NIV
And I learnt that God loved me – every hair of my head, He knew and loved me – despite my sins – and He had never turned from me – indeed He had found a way to reach me despite ME turning from Him. How arrogant was I, to hate someone who HE loved?
Slowly my behaviours started to lessen in their rigidity and I began to have the courage to change in tiny ways. I began eating tiny bits with my friends at the meal we all shared at Church (before this I had just sat with them). I graduated to taking frozen dinners to my counselling sessions, heating them in the microwave there, and eating them before my sessions. I started to trust people more, and learnt about having stronger boundaries – a really useful tool to discourage all those horrible jerks who seem to prey on the vulnerable. (My counsellor called my new attitude my ‘F*ck Off Body Language haha). I spent less time hiding in my home, and more time going to coffee and church and outings. I started making more friends outside of the church too. One thing always led to another in a very natural way. I blossomed.
None of this was enough to save me – I had several more hospital admissions and was the sickest I had been – several admissions involved receiving TPN to save my life. But the seed had been planted, and under the surface, things were growing. In hospital, I was more open to talking with the staff, and had some amazing discussions with nurses that I’d previously not gotten on with, even feared, when they discovered I was Christian. For the first time I wanted to live. I was also prepared to reach out and accept the help. I didn’t close my mind off to it and scream and fight them, I tried my best to accept it and do what I needed to do – to cooperate – and that was hard, because the ED in me still fought like the demon I likened it to. I did not feel in control of myself when I turned into a ‘girl from exorcist’ like creature, hissing and screaming and throwing things, worse a lot of the time as it was cornered. Because I was actively fighting it more than I ever had. I was no longer content to just lie there and let it win.
Out of hospital, I was more honest with my treatment team, and I talked more with them. I engaged more in therapy. Learnt more about how to change my mindset, learnt mindfulness techniques, and started to be able to have my own brand of acceptance – accepting that I hurt, that I hated my body, that horrible things had been done to me, and so much more. Accepting all this – and then moving on. Not letting it hold me frozen like it did before. Feeling the hurt and shame and grief and fear – but not letting it kill me any more.
The hardest thing to accept was that my family hated me. The basic thing most of us human beings crave is to be loved and accepted and you would think that your own family who have known you from birth would be the most likely people to love you – but admitting to myself that they were not capable of loving me, and had never even really bothered to get to know me in all the years I lived with them – was an important step for me. I had to stop trying to foster a relationship with them, in particular my mother, and so stop putting myself constantly in harm’s way to get hurt again and again by them. I did more than this – I walked away. Cut them off totally – No Contact, as it’s called in many circles of survivors of narcissistic and sociopathic abusers.
I finally reached a point where I had enough belief that there was a lot worth living for to ask my treatment team to help me gain weight. I’m sure this was a complete shock to them – as before this, I had spent years fighting their attempts to force weight on me and losing it almost as soon as discharged, meaning they had to go through the forcing process all over again. (I racked up more than 150 hospital admissions in nearly 15 years, mostly for weight gain or medical admissions due to being so sick from the anorexia and bulimia). Not only did I this time ask for the weight gain, I asked to go further. They had for years had a discharge weight for me set at BMI 13.9-14, and I was asking them to go a whole 5 kg above that to BMI 15. Still nowhere near enough, but for me that was a huge fear that I was willingly facing. At first they did not believe me – and refused. But I convinced them, and it happened. It was NOT easy. I had to ‘eat’ the weight on and for years I’d put it on through nasogastric and/or TPN – so it was awful. My body was in very poor health and it seemed like everything that could go wrong, went wrong. I felt constantly humiliated there in the hospital, and had to face up to that and keep on despite knowing that being ‘voluntary’ this time around I could leave any time I wanted to. I pushed on. It took two admissions, but I did it, and I’ve maintained that weight gain ever since. The first time in years that I didn’t immediately drop a huge amount in the first week of being home.
I still have a long way to go. I have much more weight I need to put on. I still struggle with both restricting and bingeing and purging. I still have a tendency to over exercise despite the pain my body gives me. I’m slowly changing and making small gains in these behaviours over time. I’ve also had more positive changes in my life in recent times than in years and years altogether. I’ve moved to a lovely new place. I have a garden, and actively garden it. My cat Shalimar is happier, because I’m not as sick and I play with her more. I go out with friends more, now, to restaurants, for coffee, to the beach, the pool, other outings. I have done an art workshop and am about to start another one that goes a few months ending in an exhibition. I’ve completed a course of hydrotherapy and am halfway through the back pain group course. I’ve been doing well at physiotherapy and have much better posture, less pain, more strength, and am soon to start ballet again after never believing it could be possible again. I’ve faced my fear of transport, public places, and now I go out all the time on my own. I’ve put strategies in place that have helped me stay shoplifting free for this entire period in 2012 so far. And I’ve been working with an agency and am close to having my first paid job, as a library assistant. How cool is that!
I also have faith that there is much more to come, and that despite struggling constantly with bouts of depression, fatigue and pain, and the CPTSD, I’m learning to live despite that – and realising that life can be quite liveable for me, despite everything. It’s worth it, and I’m finally, slowly, coming to believe that I’m worth it, too.
Have you had any turning points in your life? How did they help or hinder you?