18 Inches is the Longest Stretch - Jessicas story of bulimia and recovery
I've heard stories about people taking the challenge of trying to run the journey across the country. Starting in the west coast, these runners will cross mountains, get caught in unpredictable weather, and suffer soreness and exhaustion. As they reach the east coastline, weeks later, about to finish their long amazing journey, 18 inches before the finish line, they suddenly stop, and give up the race.
Now you may say, "What? Seriously? Go the 18 inches and finish!" What significance is 18 inches? It is the distance from your head to your heart. Let me explain why those 18 inches are critical to recovery.
I have been a bulimic for 7 years, though I had the mind set of one for much longer, I'm sure. I was teased and persecuted by school mates, friends, and relatives. The constant humiliation of being "fat" reduced me to dieting by age 7. Looking back at pictures, I really wasn't at all, maybe a little baby weight, but people were cruel regardless. The worst ridicule came from relatives, my own grandmother, being heavy herself, told me I was going to hell because I was fat at 7 years old. My aunts all put me on diets, woke me up at ridiculous hours to have me work out, and announced publicly at family dinners to watch what I ate because I could not get off my diets. Early on, my cousin told me about a friend of hers who threw up her food to keep skinny. That thought stayed with me for years, even today I still think about it.
In school, there wasn't much escape. Kids would call me names, put signs on my back like, "Caution! Wide Load!!", and throw rocks and rubber bands at me. I felt accepted no where but at home. Even at home though, my parents were constantly busy working and moving. They are wonderful parents, but life is the grand distraction of our day, and they certainly weren't the exception.
In 7th grade things got so bad I tried to kill myself, though the same night I prayed hard for a sign, and was given one. God saved my life that night, but the negative thoughts of worthlessness because I was fat never dissipated. I wanted to be accepted by my peers, and have friends. I finally dropped out of school and started homeschooling. I volunteered a lot for my religion, and for a long time, I felt better about myself. However, whenever I would go visit my aunt's house, she would convince me that there was something extremely wrong with me because I was overweight. By the time I would go home, I wanted nothing more than to diet and exercise and take a knife to saw off all the fat.
By 15, my parents announced a move so big it would change everything. We would be moving across the country. That summer before we moved, I used all my savings to hire a personal trainer 3 times a week, and dieted so restrictively I'm not sure how I managed so long. I lost about 30 pounds in a month, and was proud. I was allowed one meal a week where I could veer off my diet and eat whatever I wanted. That was my light at the end of the tunnel.
When I moved to Colorado, there was a guy that I instantly "fell in love with". He even told me he liked me, but my parents weren't too keen on me dating him since I was only 16 at the time. A week later, he dropped me for another girl, and I pretended not to be crushed and continued being friends with him. She was pretty and skinny and seemed to be perfect. I spiraled downward into negative thinking, telling myself that had I just been skinnier, I could have kept his interest. It never occurred to me that he was just a jerk. I exercised harder, cried more, and dieted into the extreme. On my one cheat meal, I ate everything in sight. My dad had made the comment about being a pig. That didn't sit with me too well. I watched him eat junk food all the time, and here I was working so hard all week to be perfect, and for one meal, no one should bother me. But now I felt like a pig. A whole week of dieting was ruined in one night, I thought. And then my cousin's words came back to me, "She kept herself skinny by throwing up." The rest is history, as they say.
When we moved to California, everyone around me was skinny, tanned, and beautiful. I felt white, fat, and ugly, and no one around me made me feel differently. Every time I lost weight, people would tell me I looked great, and I loved the praise, the attention. Needless to say, my bulimia got worse. I went from purging binge food, to purging everything. I lost X pounds in two weeks, and at one point I stopped eating for a week, and landed myself a near death experience in the hospital. After that I was ok for awhile, but the issues were never addressed, and I went right back to bulimia. I finally got caught, and my loving parents put me in a intensive rehab program. The doctors put me on a lot of medication that made me lose myself entirely, and I quit after 6 months, not any closer to recovery, and feeling miserable.
At that point, I really didn't want to get better. I just wanted to be skinny, be accepted, be liked by the guys that I liked. Was it so much to ask for?
Things got much worse before they got better. My family was packing our bags for Georgia, and I was miserable, again. I was angry, and my parents and I butted heads a lot, especially about my bulimia. They wondered why I couldn't just stop, I was having a hard time understanding why I couldn't either. I also wanted my independence, so after about a month in GA, I moved to FL and lived with my aunt in FL. That was probably the worst and best decision of my life.
FL proved to be the hardest and most difficult time of my life. I was purging about 10 times a day, and I was broke from spending so much money on food. But I liked the attention I was finally getting at work, and every time my relatives would say I was losing weight, it was like I gained value in their eyes, though I held no self-value of my own. I took it where I could get it, and got it in all the wrong places. After about 9 months I finally needed to go home to GA.
Being home finally made me feel safe. And for the first time in my life, I wanted to change who I had become. The last few years I had forgotten myself, my family, what love was, even God, and I was the most unhappy person I could possibly imagine. I had to change.
About a year ago, at age 22, I really started to see a difference in my life. I had good friends, I met a wonderful guy who loved me for me, and I was always trying to recover from bulimia. I had my good days and bad ones. My good meals, and my bad ones that resulted with my head in the toilet. But I kept trying. All the while I gained the support of more and more people, because I reached out for help. My parents' wonderful love and help, and my boyfriend's constant pleadings for me to love myself finally got through. I finally wanted to really get better, because I realized the bulimia was in control, and not me.
I deserved to be loved, and to love the person I was becoming. I no longer was the girl in FL who would do anything for praise, but I was me, a woman who liked to help people, have good friends, and try my best to live by Bible principles. I still battle occasionally with bulimia. But for the first time in my life, I can go weeks at a time without purging, sometimes not even suffering the food thoughts.
So back to the runner. I am the runner. You are the runner. Just like you know that you have 18 inches to win the race, you know you must stop bulimia before it kills you. But knowing is not enough. Your heart must want to stop. So let the knowledge finish the race at your heart, and transform into wisdom. For wisdom is what will save you.