Recovery Story – Andrea Roe
Finding My True Self and Inner Beauty…. By Andrea Roe
My name is Andrea. I am twenty-seven years old and a recovered anorexic and bulimic. I am Austrian, married to a wonderful Canadian and currently living in beautiful British Columbia, Canada. I struggled with eating disorders for six long years and have finally overcome these deadly diseases-and this is my story…While I was growing up, food and weight were not a problem for me. I came from a very active and health-oriented family and never had to worry about my weight. Almost every weekend my parents would take my siblings and me walking, hiking, biking, or skiing or on a sightseeing trip to a gorgeous place somewhere in Austria. I like thinking about my childhood; it was a wonderful time, and thinking about it creates a warm feeling inside of me. Even now, while I am writing this, I have a smile on my face and a tear of joy in my eyes.When I was about thirteen-years old, someone said to me that my face looked weird when I smiled, and then she started to laugh. She said this in front of other people. I was very confused; I did not know what to say, and I blushed. I had never paid much attention to my smile until that day. When I came home from school, I looked at myself in the mirror. I smiled. I used two mirrors and looked at my smile from different angles. I stared at myself for hours, and, came to the conclusion that the girl was right: my smile was ugly! And I looked ugly when I smiled. I decided not to smile anymore.It took almost ten years before I learned to love my smile again. In photographs taken during those years, I hardly ever smiled. (By the way, this comment did not cause my eating disorder; it is an example of the power of words, and how one simple innocent comment can spiral out of control). That happened about two or three years before my eating disorder developed. It was the first step towards disliking and hating my face, and eventually my body.Around that time, I also developed acne. I already did not like my face because of my “ugly” smile, and having blemished skin made me hate my face even more. I tried everything that was on the market to get rid of my skin problems, but nothing helped. I became depressed and cried a lot. I started wearing makeup to cover the red spots. I would not leave the house without putting it on, so ashamed was I of my face. There were times I did not go to school because of my skin; I did not want anyone to look at it. I did not like people looking at me, at my skin. I did not want them to look at what was “wrong” with me.My parents did everything in their power to help, support, and comfort me. They were always there for me. I had times when I cried almost every day and locked myself in my room. I just wanted to be alone. I would lie on my bed, look at my face in a mirror and cry. Not many people knew about those struggles, or how big a problem my skin really was for me. I was a very sad teenage girl on the inside, but did not show this to other people. I pretended to be strong.When I was fifteen, I had the thought that I had to lose some weight. There was no reason for me to go on a diet, but I felt so badly about myself and I thought maybe losing some weight would make me feel better about myself. I wanted to feel pretty and was desperate to do anything to feel that way, and I thought losing weight might be a way to get there. I felt like I had nothing to lose; I already hated myself and what I looked liked so much… things just could not get any worse for me, but they did…
My dieting got out of control, and I slipped into having an eating disorder€”I had developed anorexia. I do not know exactly when my eating disorder started and my dieting ended, I just slipped into it.
I read a lot of women’s magazines and adored the female models in those magazines: their beautiful smiles, their clear skin, and their flawless bodies. Back then I did not know that what I looked at, what I admired and wanted to look like, was not real but digitally airbrushed and drastically altered by computers. At that point, I did not know that I had a problem. I was in denial, and I thought that what I was doing was normal. Now, when I look back, I can see how much I was already into my eating disorder world. I just did not notice it back then.
Sometimes when lying in bed at night, I imagined how life would be if I liked my face, smile, and body. How “easy” life would be because I would not have to hide anymore. I would not have to be afraid of people looking at me anymore. I could be free of all my worries! I would be happy.
After graduating at eighteen, I went to university. The idea of me not being beautiful was still stuck in my head. It was at this point that my eating disorder started to take complete control of my life.
I started binging in order to try to fill the emptiness inside of me, although I never threw up. I wanted to so much, but for some reason I was not able to make myself vomit. Instead, I would use other methods to get rid of the food and the calories quickly, like over-exercising and diet pill and laxative abuse. I would eat until my stomach started to ache. I felt disgusted with myself and what I was doing. I was very ashamed and embarrassed about my behaviour. For the longest time I did not tell anyone about my problem and struggled on my own, secretly and in silence.
Unfortunately, my eating disorder did not stop there. It not only changed my relationship with food and weight, it started taking control over my social life as well. I did not go out for a coffee, lunch, or dinner with my friends anymore. I felt uncomfortable eating in front of other people. I did not want anyone to force me to eat. I was terrified by the thought of gaining weight. I also feared that they would notice what was going on with me. I was afraid of them asking questions. I did not want anyone to find out what I was doing, and lied a lot to my friends in order to keep my eating disorder a secret. I did not like lying to them but I felt I had no other choice. I thought that if they knew they would not like me anymore and would not want to be friends with me.
During the first couple of years of my struggles, I was not very educated about eating disorders, mainly because I was in denial for so long. I knew only a bit of basic information and had no idea about where to get useful information about eating disorders, where to turn for help€”I was too shy to ask. I thought that one had to be either extremely skinny or extremely heavy in order to be taken seriously, but I was neither. My weight was always somewhere in the normal healthy weight range. And people with eating disorders have to be one of those extremes, do they not?
I eventually hit a point where I could not deny my problem any longer and was finally able to admit to myself that what I was doing was not healthy and that I needed to stop this behaviour. But I did not know what to do or where to start. I felt lost and confused, and thought I was the only one who had this problem.
I did not know how to get out of my eating disorder cycle. I was ruining not only my mind and health, but also my life. I was hurting not only myself but also the people around me. Many nights I would cry myself to sleep, wondering if I was ever going to recover€“or if there even was such a thing as “recovery.”
I had always had a very close relationship with my parents, but my eating disorder forced me to move away from them. I became very reserved and quiet. They knew what was going on and hoped I would talk to them so they could support and help me. Sometimes I wanted to tell them about my struggles, I wanted to be taken in their arms; I wanted to feel that I was loved no matter what. I thought about talking to them for months but was never sure what to say. I was afraid of disappointing them. I wanted them to be proud of me. But how could they be proud of me when I had an eating disorder?
I eventually opened up to my mum. I gave her a book about how to deal with someone who struggles with an eating disorder, and wrote a letter to her as well. I could see how relieved she was that I finally opened up to her, and she took me in her arms and comforted me. I was crying a lot on that day but I was glad I told her.
My eating disorder did not get better after my conversation with my mum, but at least I knew now that I had someone to talk to when I needed help, comfort, and support.
So I continued my self-destructive path of bulimia. But no matter how much food I ate, I was not able to fill the emptiness inside me. I wasted so much money on food; I do not even want to think about the amount I spent on my binges. I withdrew socially, even more than I had before; I had spent most of my time alone, either eating, over-exercising, or starving myself. I led a lonely and sad life and had little hope about ever getting better. I spent so much time in my room alone, escaping into the virtual world of my computer. Here I was safe; nobody was able to see me, to judge me or hurt me. I know my parents were very worried about me, but they had no idea how to get close to me. When they tried, they were not successful. I did not let anyone get close. I completely shut them out. I cried almost every day, sometimes even a couple of times a day.
What had happened to me? How could I have let it come that far? I felt completely hopeless. I wanted to get better and be happy and healthy again…but I did not even know where to start my journey towards recovery. Besides, I was not even sure if there was such a thing as “recovery.”
Just looking at myself in the mirror made me cry. I hated my face, my body, everything. There was nothing pretty about me. Even though my skin had improved and became really nice over time, and I had stopped wearing makeup to cover up my face, I did not recognize that nor was I grateful for it. Even though my acne was gone, it still did not change the fact that I hated my face€”and my smile.
My turning point came when I met a wonderful man from Canada who is now my husband. We met in London, England, and it was love at first sight. We immediately felt a special bond, and it seemed as if we had known one another for a long time already. It almost felt like “coming home.” It felt wonderful to be close to him. I felt safe. He was also my first boyfriend. I finally had what I had desired for so long-a loving, caring, and understanding man by my side who truly and deeply loved me.
In the beginning, I did not tell him about my eating disorder. I was afraid that if he found out he would leave me, and I did not want him to. I was afraid of being alone again. When I was around him, I would eat normally, and it felt good. For the first time in years I felt “normal.” I decided to move to Canada with him, and we moved together, very quickly, which, in the long run, really helped me with my eating disorder.
I still binged, but I was not able to do it as often because I only binged when I was alone, and, since Brandon and I lived together, we spent a lot of time together. He never noticed my binges, but he did notice that I had stomachaches on a regular basis, and he worried about me. I always told him I had problems adjusting to the food in Canada and that was where my stomachaches came from. He never doubted what I said and never acted suspicious. He saw no reason to; why would I lie to him? But I did lie to him, and I lied a lot. I felt like I had to, as if I had no other choice. I did not want him to find out what was really going on with me. I was afraid of losing him, of being left alone.
It took me a couple of months until I was ready to tell him about what was going on with me. He had not even noticed and seemed quite surprised. Brandon took me in his arms, gave me a kiss and said that we would get through this together, and that he would always be there for me and do whatever it took to get me healthy again. I started crying. It felt as if a heavy weight had been lifted off my shoulders. He believed in me, in us, and he believed that together we would be able to beat this disorder. For the first time in years, I felt, just maybe, recovery was possible for me.
Today, I am healthy. I am grateful for my body, and I love myself and my life. I am thankful that my body has not given up on me after many years of abuse. My journey to recovery was difficult at times. I had to take it one day after the other. I had setbacks; I had a lot of them. Every time I fell, I got up again and continued on my journey. I did my best not to look back, but forward.
Brandon was always there for me and with me, every step of the way. We talked a lot and I told him everything, and I mean EVERYTHING. There were a lot of things I told him that were not pretty, but, no matter what I said, his feelings for me did not get any less. He never judged me or my behaviour, no matter what I did. The only thing he did not want me to do was to lie to him and cover up things. It was important for him that I always told him the truth, no matter how “bad” it was. That was one of the hardest patterns for me to break: to stop lying. I had been lying about my eating behaviour for so many years that I did not even notice it anymore when I did… lying just happened automatically.
My husband also taught me to smile again. He always told me that I looked pretty when I smiled and that I was a beautiful girl. I did not believe him at first, but over time I was able to see that I really was beautiful girl, inside and out, with a beautiful smile. Now, I actually love my smile. I did not smile for pictures in almost ten years, and these days, whenever pictures are taken, I am the first one to smile!
I am so thankful for having Brandon in my life. He has always been there for me; he has always believed in me and never gave up on me. His love and support are what I needed to find the strength in me to beat this disorder.
I have reached the point where I am able to openly and honestly talk about my eating disorder struggles and everything connected with it. I am not ashamed anymore of my past and no longer feel the need to hide it. I always saw my eating disorder as something negative, as “lost years.” Now, I can see it in a positive way. If not for my past, I know I would not be who I am today and would not be where I am today€”and I like the person I am, and I love my life.
I believe that everything happens for a reason, even though often we are unable to see the reason right away. While I was struggling, I often asked myself what good reason all this pain, all these tears, could possibly have, and I never found an answer. Now, things have started to fall into place and make sense. All of it was a big learning experience for me, one that was necessary to make me the person I am now. It was a painful and difficult experience, that is for sure, but it was necessary. I have learned so much over the past few years, about life and about myself, that I would not have otherwise. I now know who I am. I have found my place in life. I have found personal meaning in my life.
My life is not about me anymore. For years I was a lonely and depressed girl who lived a small, sad life. Now I have the desire to make a difference in other people’s lives and want to give back to society. It is my passion to show others who are struggling with eating disorders that there is a way out, and that these disorders can be beaten.
I want you to know that it IS possible to recover. Please do not give up on yourself. You CAN get through this! I know-I did it, and so can you! Your eating disorder did not just happen overnight, it started a long time ago, before you first binged, purged or starved yourself. It will take time to get better, one step at a time.
Eating disorders are not simply about food and weight. They are an attempt to use food and weight to deal with emotional problems. An eating disorder is just a symptom of something deeper going on inside of you. Food and your body are not the enemy, even though it sometimes feels like it. You can learn to enjoy your life again. Please keep on believing in yourself and continue to be strong.
You are a beautiful human being; one day, I know, you will be able to see it!