From Self-Loathing To Self-Love:
My Road To Recovery
I know what it’s like to hate yourself so much that you wish you could just disappear.
I used to wake up every morning, stand naked in front of the mirror, and cry with disgust as I pinched and pulled at every bit of skin I could find, wishing the “fat” away. Standing in the shower, under water as warm as I could take it without burning my skin, I would shiver inside, cold to my core.
During those days, I lived for the dopamine boost of seeing that number on the scale go down day by day. On days that it didn’t or, heaven forbid, it went up, I would vow not to eat again until it did.
I know what it’s like to count numbers, over and over and over again, all day, every single day. Each calorie consumed or burned, each gram of food, each pound of weight: life was a numbers game. I once cried and punished myself with 50 sit ups for eating a single red grape when I was supposed to be starving myself.
I know what it’s like when, after days of endless starvation, the innate urge to feed overtakes you and you find yourself shovelling anything and everything in sight into your mouth. The bizarre combinations of food are barely discernible by your taste buds, so quickly do you wolf it all down. Afterwards, you look up at yourself in the mirror with red raw, bloodshot eyes, and the stench of vomit in your nostrils: “never again”, you vow, until the next time.
I used to go to bed at night and lie awake all night, desperately tired but unable to sleep because of the physical pain caused by my body consuming itself. Shivering under a winter duvet in summer, sometimes I would wish to fall asleep and never wake up.
One day, my body shut down and I collapsed at a train station. My mum, in desperation, tried to feed me a bowl of bran flakes before she could get me to an emergency appointment with my care team at the hospital. I redecorated the living room wall with smashed china and milky cereal.
But now, more than ten years later, I can also tell you a very different story; a story not of loathing, but of love.
Because now I know what it is like to wake up in the morning and be grateful to be alive. To stand in front of the mirror and marvel at the miracles my body can perform. To watch a cut heal, and to feel the tenderness of my breasts as my menstrual cycle, absent for so many years, slowly returns to a more regular rhythm.
All those years of denying my hunger have left me with permanent physical consequences. A couple of years ago, when training for a half marathon, a stress fracture in my shin highlighted my low bone density and resulting osteopenia. I am not supposed to do impact sports until my bone density increases, which will take many years and consistent nutrition.
I might never fulfil my lifelong dream of becoming a mother because of what I did to my body. But if I eat, I have a chance, and it is not one I am prepared to lose.
Every single day that I nourish my body with nutrients and love, I help it to heal from the harm I caused it during all of those years.
Now, I fill my life and social media feeds with people who remind me that eating is allowed, and that normal bodies look nothing like the ones we grew up seeing in the media. I embrace my curves, my stretch marks, my cellulite, and my scars, and I love them simply because they are me.
I have learned that if diets actually worked, there would not be so many diets. I have learned that restricting my diet only restricts my quality of life. Not eating lost me friends, opportunities, and almost everything I enjoyed. Not eating almost cost me my life.
Now, as I listen to my body and feed myself intuitively, I am teaching my body that it can trust me again, the way it once did when I was a little girl. Every single day that I nourish my body with nutrients and love, I help it to heal from the harm I caused it during all of those years.
I am no longer cold, aching, and tired all the time. I am strong, ambitious, and, more than anything, grateful for this beautiful, messy life of mine.
If you are reading this and feeling remotely hopeless about the possibility of recovery, let me leave you with this: the doctors told my family that I would never get better, but I did. And if I can, anyone can.
Finally, I know what it’s like to love myself.
Caitlin is a lawyer at a top city firm, currently seconded to a mental health charity. She is a passionate advocate for mental health, both within and outside of the workplace. By drawing on and sharing her own personal experiences, she hopes to help others through recovery and prevention of mental ill-health. You can find her on Instagram @caitlin.mcfee.