February 13, 2012 by Alex Hoekstra
Today’s project is heavy, but absolutely beautiful. Keep reading and you’ll understand that that was a pun. Before we get to that, though, prepare yourself because things in here are about to get very personal.
I used to be fat. Quite fat, really. I was lucky to have never really been given much grief about it while growing up, and I was lucky also that it never really affected by physical health. Being overweight, though, did weigh on me mentally. I wasn’t satisfied with my body and that dissatisfaction seeped into every corner of my life – I lacked energy, confidence and motivation. It’s nobody’s fault that I saw myself that way, it’s just how I felt. One day, I decided to change. I decided that for too long I had told myself that I could become healthy if I committed to it – that I was capable of anything I put my mind to and being fit and active and healthy was absolutely within my reach. And so I changed. I changed a lot. I changed too much.
I went blindly into the world of weight-loss – pursuing “good health” without understanding much about what “health” itself was. I “knew” that certain foods and habits were unhealthy, and so I avoided them. I “knew” that exercise was healthy, and so I worked out. Without regard for the importance of moderation, I took myself to the extreme – eliminating the foods and the activities I saw as “unhealthy.” I drove myself down a road that, in my mind, led to the ideal vision of health – the perfect diet, the perfect lifestyle and ultimately the perfect body. If only I had known that my quest for health – both the way in which I pursued that vision and perhaps even the vision itself – was one of the most unhealthy things I could have done for myself.
My extreme beliefs about health were really nothing more than beliefs – dogmas conceived out of “common knowledge”. Carbs were bad, fat was bad, protein was good, but calories were the enemy and exercise was my only friend. And indeed, that’s what my life came down to. I lost my friends, and I lost myself. I became isolated and ill and fearful and defiant. Even in the face of the cold, hard numbers indicating my declining health, I chose to only push harder, convinced that only I knew what was best for myself. I was blind. My senses were distorted by anxiety – afraid to lose the body that I had achieved – afraid to return to the former, overweight body that I had felt so trapped in for so much of my life. That anxiety seeped into my whole essence – it was twisted into every thought and every action and my life was no longer my own – I belonged to fear. This is what living with an eating disorder is like. This is the life shared by untold millions of people around the world who fear for their bodies and their health – perpetually immersed in fear, driven by a distorted image of health and a constant struggle to achieve something unachievable.
One day I came to realize this. I don’t know why or how, but I can tell you from whom. After being told by countless others that my behavior – my fear – was unhealthy and worrisome, I grew numb and tuned out the advice and warnings of friends, family and health professionals, dismissing it all as criticism. I’d be lying if I could say that any one of them made me look hard at the way I was living. It was me. It was me, waking up one morning and asking myself “how long is this struggle going to go on? How much longer are you going to live like this until you can begin to live the way you really want to live?” I couldn’t answer myself. It was only then that I looked over my life and where I’d brought myself – weighing my “achievements” with everything I had lost. I didn’t like what I saw, but it opened my eyes that for so long had been clamped shut. I began to think about a life unconstrained by fear and, believing in my own ability to overcome any obstacle, I set my sights on a new vision: to overcome the stranglehold of anxiety and live a free life.
I broke free. It wasn’t easy. My addiction to exercise and my anxiety towards becoming overweight had seized my life for years before I took a stand against them, and they didn’t go quietly, but I can stand up today and say that I’m freer from that fear than I have ever been, and that tomorrow I’ll be even freer.
So you see, eating disorders (which are, in my mind, fundamentally anxiety disorders directed at and around food), are something I can relate to. Likewise, recovery is an immense triumph to be celebrated and honored and remembered and retold. Today’s project has embarked on an amazing journey to tell the stories of recovering victims of eating disorders – each one unique, but all united by tremendous struggle, perseverance and triumph.
The Breaking Up With ED project was conceived in 2011, to benefit the National Eating Disorders Association (or NEDA.) Its purpose is to educate the public about the reality of eating disorders and the disordered thinking that goes along with them. How they can strike anyone. The forms ED can take. How far it has spread into the modern psyche without us even realizing it. And how to strike back.
Sharing the stories of women, men, girls and boys, victims and survivors of life-threatening fear, Breaking Up With Ed will be showcased live, on stage at the 2012 Capital Fringe Festival in Washington D.C. where an audience of thousands will hear journeys of fear and bravery, of life-threatening sickness in pursuit of health and beauty – stories that are too common and too untold. There are so many important things about this project to discuss, but one that I think stands out is the power it has as a voice for those who have suffered and recovered and are recovering and surviving and demonstrating that there is a life after anxiety. I didn’t listen to anybody else – I couldn’t, because I dismissed everything I heard because I figured that nobody could relate to my situation. This project, I think – I hope – might reach those still caught in the agony of the anxious mind and resonate in a way no doctor’s orders could.
I’ve come a long way, but emerging from a life ruled by fear, I can tell you how amazing the world looks without the chains I had forged for myself. Help these stories be told by backing Breaking Up with ED on Kickstarter before March 1. You never know who may be listening. Really listening.