Updated: Jun 25, 2020
| This is the 439th story of Our Life Logs |
If I close my eyes right now, I can still recall my worst suffering. If I sit there long enough, I begin to almost tremble. I know I would never be that person again—that person that put her own self through that suffering—but I can so easily flashback to how it felt, in those days, to be bulimic.
I was born in 1999 and grew up in a small town in New Jersey, with a great-grandmother that valued weight. It was everywhere. Whenever I ate, whenever I shopped for clothes, whenever I was seen for the first time in months, I was always made sure I knew she thought I was too big. I’ll never forget the midnight inner voices that told me I was never going to be beautiful enough or worse, worthy enough to feel beautiful. It was in the little moments, in the little snide comments, that I found that insecure monster in me grow and grow. I look at my childhood and I know I was so loved by my parents who truly gave me so much support in my life, but somehow, in this one department, I felt I was left standing alone, while the comments kept coming at me.
My great-grandmother always compared her weight with mine. She would tell me no man would ever marry me if I continued looking the way I did. I was 10 years old. Before the comments started, I never looked at my body as anything but a vessel through which to run, or to grab my stuffed animals, or to hold a pencil in my hand. I just was a kid who didn’t care about what she ate or how she looked like.
One year, she bought me maternity pants for a birthday present and told me to put them on in front of the family. No one stood up for me or told her that I was much too young, and way under the weight of maternity pants. I stood there, feeling so small, but being called so big. I didn’t know how to feel. When I forgot my lunch at home one day, I was told that I could afford to skip a few lunches. I felt those words slice my stomach. I would look in the mirror for hours, wondering what exactly I looked like to other people I remember the girl in the mirror becoming more of a blurry blob that had one message written all over her: shed the weight. She took a method I wish she never did.
I spent days and days thinking of the best way to make myself thin, to make the comments go away, to make myself feel confident. I wrote pages and pages of poems and songs that yearned for self-love and the overcoming of insecurity. I wrote out diets and resolutions to be skinny. I wrote out lengthy, pleading letters to the world, asking it why I was ugly and fat.
My uncle was getting married and I was honored when his fiancée asked me to be a bridesmaid. I thought I’d feel so beautiful in a turquoise dress, flowers in hand, like all the girls do in the David’s Bridal commercials. Instead, I spent two hours crying in the dressing room, mouthing terrible words to myself that said how silly was I to ever think I could fit seamlessly into a dress, much less look beautiful in one.
Days like that passed by incessantly, and nights spent in the bathroom only increased. I would go shopping with friends but spend the entire time afraid of the dressing room, because I never wanted anyone to see me. I didn’t want anyone seeing what size I was. I would be in the gym locker room at school and change in the stall, afraid of my body being exposed. It’s a limiting life, when you live it sheltered. I never knew I was abusing myself.
I was never aware that it was love for my body I was lacking. And when you don’t love your body, you won’t treat it right. You foster a toxic relationship. And that’s exactly what I did, starting in 2011, the year I entered sixth grade.
I’ll never forget the tears over the toilet, as I stuck my hand down my throat. I’ll never forget the random weeks I spent eating so little, I would feel faint in half of my classes. I fed, instead, on the compliments of my family that would say, “You’re losing weight!” or “You look so great!” No one ever suspected how I got to looking how I did, the methods behind my newfound beauty. I somehow hid it so well.
I continued writing in my journal, but not about anything pertaining to anything but my weight, my body and my pain. My throat hurt. My heart hurt. My mind hurt. And I remember feeling so terrible, because I didn’t talk to anybody about it all for three years. I just let it consume me. I remember being constantly aware of how I felt in my skin and what I felt was uncomfortable.
One day, my freshman year of high school, in 2013, my health class talked about what eating disorders were. I felt the tears on my face and the shaking of my hands under my thighs, touching the seat, before I even registered that I was putting myself through one—all because I had this pursuit to be pretty.
I came home that night, and felt a stillness wash over my body. I didn’t want to tell anyone and I didn’t want anyone to ever know. I was ashamed of myself and I felt the empty hole I covered with a lame band-aid over the years suddenly swallow me whole. I had to confront my misery and that throwing up on purpose was making me the unhappiest I ever remember being.
Throughout the course of several weeks, I felt as weak as I felt strong. I had no energy in me to go to the bathroom and perform the ceremonious hand-down-the-throat, and that was the greatest thing. I had no energy to care anymore about what I looked like. By 10th grade, I found that I grew so much in trying to reverse my self-loathing, in learning to just be a teenager. I never wanted to go down that black hole again, but as I stopped abusing my body, some of my weight came back…and so did the comments. They hit me like I was that middle-schooler in maternity pants all over again. But this time, I decided not to let it defeat me.
As months went by, I firmly fought the urges to get rid of the food I ate. In doing so, I found myself fighting for myself, too. I realized how my eating disorder was destroying my body over the years as I went through the development stages of adolescence. Dealing with suffering, dealing with struggles and hardships, was my journey of learning to love myself.
High school turned out to be a pivotal time of me battling myself and persevering. I dyed my hair different colors all throughout, to remind myself that I had the power over my body and how I felt about it. It was an ode to self-confidence and I felt myself release the pain more and more, focusing on getting into college and joining clubs like Teens Need Teens and student council to make me happy. I found myself finding confidence in how I conducted myself, and in my ability to be passionate about the projects I took on. I came to see that I had this whole wonderful personality that I was proud of, and I let myself focus on my inner beauty, forgetting about the outer.
Some nights, I randomly felt the urge to go back to what I used to do to myself, but then I’d write a poem, or a song or make a collage, journal—anything that let those thoughts find rest in another outlet. It was healing and empowering. I learned that I am not someone who gives up easily. I made a Kindness Board in our high school cafeteria and I helped fundraise for our prom. I was a go-getter and I was growing in my love for “me.”
Today, I go to college at Pennsylvania State University, majoring in Public Relations. I have friends who I know love me for who I am, for my humor. I started seeing a guy who I love and learned that self-confidence is so important in relationships. Sometimes, when he calls me beautiful, I don’t know what he sees or why he feels that way—it almost surprises me. It’s sad that wounds from youth can affect my adult relationships, but I learn to push through them, time to time, by reminding myself that I am beautiful. Everyone is, because we are all so special. These mean thoughts are weak compared to my strength, because I always remind myself that I was the one who fought myself. And I won. I got several internships throughout the years, including one in New York, and each interview required a self-confidence I finally possessed.
There are people out there who do get outside help for eating disorders and issues and they are so strong for doing that, too. But in my journey, I truly found that fighting my own battle made me the woman I am today. I don’t always look in the mirror and feel a confidence for myself. But I have glimmers, now. I look and I see me and I am proud of that “me.” I even have moments where I think I’m beautiful, something I never thought possible when I was younger. Sometimes, when it comes to pain, it’s not about the fastest route of getting over it, or about loving yourself despite the pain. It’s about loving yourself every step of the way while you’re feeling that pain, and loving the strength you possess and display as you turn that pain into personal self-growth.
This is the story of Laura Zaks
Laura Zaks is currently a senior student at Pennsylvania State University pursing her Bachelor’s Degree in Public Relations. After getting negative comments about her weight when she was just 10 years old, Laura internalized those words and developed a dependency to purge in order to stay skinny. Her story is a journey of self-growth, after dealing with weight issues and a lack of self-confidence. It wasn’t until she learned about eating disorders in health class that she realized the severity of what she was doing and got the strength to stop. In her free time, Laura loves to read and write poetry and songs. She has written for many outlets at her university, including the newspaper and magazine. She hopes to write a book one day.
This story first touched our hearts on October 2, 2019.
| Writer: Laura Zaks | Editor: Kristen Petronio |