“If you listen carefully you will know exactly who I am.”
Compassion is a funny thing, it is forgiving, it is comforting, it is safety, and it is scary, but above all, it is strong, much stronger than one could imagine.
I never thought about telling this story. It didn’t even occur to me that it should be something discussed with the public… but I slowly started to realize, why not. This demon lives off of secrecy; grows and grows the more it is hidden. So why not expose it cold turkey. Tell the whole world, cause I know that I’m not the only one who struggles with this; who has had an ugly past with food, a destructive relationship with the gym, a disturbing relationship with the mirror, and shattering relationship with myself. So here goes nothing at trying to tell a very complicated piece of whom I am.
A few months ago I would never have thought I’d have the courage to share this part of my past. But to be honest, it’s not in the past, because it’s still going on, current, and will continue to for a very long time.
Last year, if you had asked me if I was content with myself, if I was at peace with myself, if I could look at myself in a mirror and smile; a true genuine smile, I would have lied and said yes, because that’s what I was supposed to say. They always say that the people who look like they’ve got their lives the most put together are either, 1. Actually put together, or 2. Rotting on the inside.
I would classify as number 2.
No one would think I’d be the person to have this kind of internal battle. It would never even cross their mind; I’m that kind of person that is very good, extremely good, at making my life seem incredible, almost perfect, with absolutely nothing wrong ……
Well, now, I’m paying the consequences for that lie, and I’m trying to make it right.
Before I stepped on campus, I thought I was confident in myself. I felt grounded. I thought I knew whom I was and what I wanted to do with my life. I thought I was content with myself, I thought I loved myself, loved my body. And if you asked anyone else they’d say that’s exactly how they saw me too. But what I didn’t know, was that I loved my body, because it got me attention from the opposite sex, not because it was something sacred for myself and only myself.
It’s December, my relationship is falling to shit and I’m standing in front of the mirror; it started like anything else would, very minor, a quick millisecond of a thought… hmm it couldn’t hurt to get rid of that extra layer on my thighs, I mean honestly, just cut down on what I eat for a few weeks.
And so, that’s what I did, I started cutting down on the portions, just an English muffin for breakfast, small salad for lunch, small salad for dinner, I’d be where I wanted in no time. But where was it I exactly wanted to be?
Like all things of this caliber, this wasn’t going to be enough. That little itch, the small initial thought, started to grow. It started to catch fire: things I had never considered suddenly became an issue. First it was my thighs, than it was my butt, my arms, my stomach, my shoulders, my neck, everything. The voice was taking over, it was making a home inside my head, and I was blind to see it.
It’s JanPlan. I decided carbs weren’t necessary anymore and why need lunch: that seems pretty arbitrary anyways. Fruit would suffice, and I’d be fine with just some dinner, maybe a little lettuce and carrots.
At first it did exactly what I wanted, my hips starting poking through, my thighs were shrinking, and my jeans felt a little looser, and it was like I suddenly had a fix, a high. The voice was thrilled, pleased, and it encouraged me to do more.
I was already in the gym for off-season training, but that wasn’t good enough anymore. The lifts were not what I needed. I didn’t want muscle. I wanted to burn. Burn it all. It’s an equation you see, very simple actually, just burn more than you take in and life is good. The voice took this like candy; add some running it said. And so I did. 6 miles a day would be a good place to start. I like running. Running is fun; haha, it’s funny the way the brain can trick itself into thinking it likes things it really hates…. Couple weeks after that, the runs weren’t giving me the fix I wanted anymore. And I was hungry. I was hungry all the time. and the mirror, the fucking mirror. It taunted me— “just get something little”, “oh no you don’t, don’t do it, you monster. Nobody needs to see those thick legs walking around Dana.” … so what did I do, I decided to join a new team, and keep the 6 miles a day along with my practices. And I didn’t dare take a day off. The calories needed to be burnt. The food needed to stay away. The voice needed to be happy.
It’s a Sunday and I’m sitting in a room filled with 40 women I’ve never met before at a retreat with Jen Pastiloff. One is opposite me, instructed to silently look into my eyes for two minutes. I can’t do it. I cry. I cannot let her see what is actually beneath this skin. I cannot let her see what I am doing to myself.
This cycle went on for a few months. It’s suddenly mid April, and my knees are having a fuss and I’m avoiding mirrors, I’m avoiding pictures, I’m darting my eyes. I didn’t want anyone to see me. I didn’t want anyone to see what I was doing. Keep it a secret; they don’t need to know.
It’s a Thursday night. I don’t go out on Thursday nights, I’m “in season”, but yet here I am on his bed. We had just hooked up a few times. Strictly made out, on my terms of course. I didn’t want him to see my fat body, but he wanted more. A lot more. I’m on my back. He’s breathing down my neck saying he’d waited too long for this. That I didn’t have a choice anymore. That he deserved it. He needed it. He deserved to fuck me. My throat is tight and I want out, I want to be gone, I don’t want this. I had always thought I knew how to say no. I always thought I could. But now, he’s in my face telling me to take my thong off, and I’m screaming in my head why the fuck did I wear this thong, but the Voice. Oh the Voice starts saying, you deserve this.
He’s annoyed with me, he takes it off and says I’m in for it. Everything hits me at once. Never again will trust be a word in my vocabulary.
It took that point. I had to be broken by another to realize that I was actually broken. That I was addicted to pushing myself too far.
The gym was my drug. My game was fooling others. Food was danger. My body was an enemy. But somewhere, that night drew a line for me. The Voice had taken over and I didn’t want this anymore. I didn’t want to go run every day and row every day and skip this meal and that. I wanted quiet. I wanted peace. I wanted to be able to sleep.
It’s May, I’m home. Year one is over. My brother’s try and hug me and I flinch, they stare but don’t ask. It’s the first night; I’m tossing and turning in my bed. I can’t sleep. Why hadn’t anyone noticed; why hadn’t my mom said anything. All she said was oh you look tiny. It echoed in my head. But that wasn’t what I wanted to hear. I was scared. I wanted out of this. I wanted the Voice gone. It was a demon taking over too much. I wanted me back. I wanted the me back that loved me. I wanted the Voice back that let me take a day off, that let me eat normally, that let me be happy, that let me be ME.
But, no I couldn’t tell anyone, what was I thinking; to be so selfish. And my parents. They wouldn’t believe me. I’m the angel in the family, the goody-too-shoes. I do what I’m supposed to do, I’m the happy one, the one at peace, the perfect one.
I’m at the doctors, routine check up. Dr. Cohen asks me how’s Colby? I stare at her. I’m speechless. I had gotten so good at lying: oh I love it. Freshman year was great! But I froze, I couldn’t say it this time. My throat was tight. I was drowning, the tears, they start to fall, and next thing I know I’m hysterical, heaving, and crying like I’ve never cried before. “ I hate it, I hate it, I hate me. I can’t do this anymore, and I can’t tell them, I’m done, I want this Voice gone, I don’t want to hate myself anymore.”
It’s November, thanksgiving, five months of therapy and now the Voice is smaller, a sound in my head, and I can fight back. The gym is now my friend, there to help me get stronger, not weaker. I can eat a meal and feel no guilt. I can take a rest day and have no panic. I’ve gotten rid of the mirrors, but who needs those anyways? I’m learning to love myself again. I’m finding myself again, a stronger self. One who sees the beauty of loving myself because it’s me, just me.
It’s February, week one of second semester. There is a lot left that I need to work through, a lot of healing that still needs to be done, but I am strong now. Stronger now than I have ever been before, I have fought, and continue to fight the greatest evil of my life, but now I know: I can face anything, anyone, and know that I am strong enough to find my way out on top.
We all have our battles. We all have our secrets, our fears; those things that we are ashamed of. But these things: these demons, they love secrecy, they love hiding: don’t fuel the fire any longer, speak up, say no more. There is always someone there to listen, to offer compassion, whether we see them or not.
And remember, vulnerability and the imperfections are what make us human, they are what make us unique, divine, and beautiful.
Bio: Karolina is a 19 year old student varsity athlete at Colby College in Maine. On a pre-med track with an independent major in Native American studies. Main goal in life : to heal and accept and make a positive difference in the lives of others:)
Thank you Jen, you are amazing and if this wasn’t obvious, I would never have done something like this if I hadn’t gone to your retreat and heard you and all the other women women speak at your retreat.