I was 14 when I began to curate an ever growing list of foods I banned myself from eating. There wasn’t a single moment or reason why, but with the benefit of nearly 30 years of hindsight, I can see I was just the right blend of perfectionist personality to fall victim to the all-consuming swamp of anorexia.
Over the course of 18 months or so an obsession with food and what I would and wouldn’t eat was my only diet, one based on self-loathing and fear and a desire for control. I am deeply ashamed of how deceitful it made me, and I am sad for how determined I was to prove I didn’t deserve to take up much space in the world – physically and metaphorically.
I remember going shopping with friends and being transfixed with an excruciatingly thin girl in the shop. She looked deathly pale and fragile. As we walked to that side of the shop I realised that girl was me, walking towards my reflection in a mirror. It is a surreal memory to recall and perhaps more shocking is how that realisation didn’t snap me out of my delusion, my broken brain merely re-assessed how it interpreted the reflection and once again zoomed in on perceived faults and flaws that needed to be further erased.
My own private misery
This was the mid 90’s and I was of the generation bombarded with jutting hip-bones, and the heroin chic look of the time. At my school there wasn’t a sweeping diet culture of comparison, this was my own private misery. My friends shared their concerns that I was discarding my lunch and losing weight and then my parents came back from a parent’s evening looking ashen with the shock that this had all gone unnoticed at home.
The guilt and inconvenience of my mental state landed heavy and I was taken for regular weigh ins with the family GP, pockets full of hidden coins wrapped up with tape so they wouldn’t jingle as I stepped on the dreaded scales, buying me a few extra pounds and perhaps a little less scrutiny.
I didn’t have regular therapy or specialist help – I think perhaps those referral pathways and clinics were not yet as established as they are now (though I am aware demand is high and still more needs to be done). I think I got weary of a life half-lived. Tired of observing existence from the periphery.
I got through University nibbling toast while everyone tucked into take aways, I ordered the dressing on the side and the taste of guilt was still strong with anything I enjoyed eating. The open wound of self destruction was largely healed, but the resultant bruise was still an angry purple of disgust.
I accepted being treated poorly
Inevitably the self-esteem issues that spiralled into a full-blown eating disorder came out sideways in my relationships with others, as well as with myself. Never feeling good enough meant I accepted being treated poorly. It was what I thought I deserved – which of course perpetuated a very unhealthy and unhappy cycle. When people did treat me well I felt unworthy of it, numb to compliments but somehow still hungry for words and actions that reinforced how I really saw myself.
Having shut myself down in my teens I made up for some of those reckless windows of self-discovery in my twenties, seeking external validation and lacking the self-respect to walk away from tangled toxic relationships. I had twin boys and, when they were a few months old, found my lioness roar for us all and raised them as a single mum for the next five years. A friend observed that though motherhood, I learnt to stand up for myself.
My body became a safe haven
Perhaps unlikely for someone who once starved herself, I had nothing but admiration for my swelling pregnant form. Despite the challenging dynamics that surrounded my first pregnancy my body grew two baby boys. Maybe it was because I had always felt somewhat separate to my body, never finding it a safe haven or comfortable place to be – seeing it become the safest of havens and homes for my unborn children was very humbling.
When those twins were six years old, we were on the brink of being moved into a council flat with the help of Women’s Aid. As I was packing up our lives a kind and handsome man moved in a few doors down and, six weeks after we first spoke, we booked our wedding. We will have been married eight years in November and our twin boys are now seven.
I was already saggy baggy in the middle when we met, and pregnant on our wedding day (so no thoughts of squeezing into an ever smaller dress). My body was far from the ‘perfect’ ideal I grew up believing I needed to have to be worthy of love, yet, of course, true love is more than that.
Motherhood and marriage have shown me what it feels like to truly love, and feel loved by others. The third in the trilogy of life-love-lessons is self-love. For me, the hardest one.
For a woman whose body has inflated and deflated dramatically I know that self-acceptance cannot be measured in inches. It may not be the conventional therapy route, but where I learnt one of the most powerful lessons of accepting who I am and how I look, was bare foot around a fire with indigenous Amazonian tribes.
On my quest to learn to love who I am, I had an utterly transformative barefoot evening around a starlit fire in Glastonbury, with a Brazilian tribe who had earlier that day opened a tent at the festival. My sense of self was reignited and I was reminded of who I was on a soul level, way beneath and above the physical body I have had such a complicated relationship with.
Shoes were left to the side, and with them the life walked. The feeling of dry earth beneath warm toes, the sound of singing and the sight of people filled with joy and listening, really listening, to the words of others. It was un-branded, un-marketed mindfulness. It was community and compassion and a sense of acceptance so immediate it was palpable and powerful.
An evening of meditation and ceremony, the smell of sage and fire and a way of life based on nourishment not punishment. The feathers and drums and snuff and sacred eye drops were a far cry from my Christian Sunday School roots, yet I had never felt so at home. So at peace.
New choices and directions
I drove home the next day feeling re-born. I had moved from my head to my heart; a space where the chatter of ego and insecurity had been burnt out by acceptance, the resultant embers fertile ground for new choices and new directions. I made the choice to be still. To be more present. It’s not a place I always manage to stay in long, but having experienced the soothing balm of sitting with who I am rather than who I think I should be, I don’t stray as far in to the chaotic self-destructive waters as I once did.
During those ceremonies, it wasn’t so much learning as remembering, being bought back to myself, aware of a life-force energy that is so much more profound than how we look, it is how we feel and what we truly are. I have been working with that energy to help other women find a sense of peace and safety in their bodies. I am offering the energy healing free of charge to women who are or have been supported by Women’s Aid, and hope that, like me, it helps them find their way back to themselves.
Find out more about Katy and how you can help support her energy healing sessions by visiting her Instagram page
by Katy Walton