Photo provided by Jennifer Melton.
When I first received this assignment, I was really excited. Being a recovering Anorexic, I jump at any opportunity to tell my story to try and help others that may be struggling. Together, we have to find a way to break free from the shame and stigma around eating disorders.
Positive body image is something that is so incredibly important to me, especially in today’s diet-obsessed world. As a culture, we’re constantly trying to “improve” ourselves – and it’s not always for the better. We’re always on the hunt for the next best thing. Better skin, better hair, better clothes, a better body, a better fitness routine, a better diet, etc. For example, the next time you’re at the grocery store, look at one of the magazine covers. You’ll see something like, “get a better beach body in 10 days” and then right under that you’ll see something along the lines of “learn how to love yourself just the way you are.” What kind of message is that sending? I can tell you, it’s not a good one! I should know. I’ve tried to change myself and my image a million times.
There are so many misconceptions about Anorexia. It’s not a choice, it’s not a diet, there’s no quick fix, and it has the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses. Anorexia is a mental illness. Recovery isn’t linear. It can take a very long time, but, it IS possible.
When I sat down to write, feelings of self-doubt came rushing in. As I tried to push them out of my head, I heard a familiar voice start to whisper. You all know the one I’m talking about. Her voice, the voice of my ED, or as I call her, Ana. She began to tell me that I wasn’t good enough to tell my story, that I was a failure, and that nobody would want to read or listen to anything I had to say. I immediately shut my laptop and gave in to her. Every time I would try again, her voice would come creeping back. She would tell me the same things over and over. She had me believing her lies. I was talking with a good friend and told him the reason I thought I was having so much trouble writing was because I was doubting my recovery and I didn’t want to be a liar. After all, I had started to believe her lies again. His response was so simple yet so powerful. He said, “Then don’t lie. Write what you’re feeling. Stop trying and just write something. Anything.” So, that’s what I did – and here is my story.
Growing up my weight was a constant struggle. Throughout my childhood and most of my adult life, I’ve been on countless number of diets. When I was in the 8th grade, I was put on a new medication for my ADD and it suppressed my appetite. It seemed like I lost weight overnight. I loved the fact that I was no longer being made fun of and the reactions I got from people were awesome. However, I soon became fanatical about my weight, food, and anything that had to do with eating. I would throw my lunch away at school. I would make noise with the dishes in the morning to make my parents think I had eaten breakfast. My friends became concerned and went to the principal. In turn, my principal called my parents and told them how I had been throwing my lunches away and how my friends and teachers thought I had a problem. I’ll never forget the look on my mom’s face when she picked me up from school that day. She had been crying and as soon as I saw her, I knew my “secret” was out. When she told me what my principal had said, I immediately burst into tears. I told her I didn’t have a problem and I begged her to take me to McDonald’s for fries and a milkshake. I told her I would prove to her and my dad that I didn’t have a problem and I didn’t need help. When I think back to that day, I can still taste that vanilla milkshake and smell those French fries.
We immediately drove over to the counselor’s office where my dad was waiting for us. After what seemed like hours of questioning, she got up and went out to talk with my parents. I could hear her muffled voice as she told my parents I was Anorexic. I heard my mom start to cry and my dad let out a worried sigh. I broke down and started sobbing.
Back then, there was only one treatment facility in the country and it was in Arizona. Nobody talked about eating disorders. There were no websites and hardly any books available. Needless to say, I didn’t go to that treatment facility. I went to counseling, and my counselor ended up saving my life. She gave me the tools I needed to quiet Ana’s voice and she helped me regain something Ana took from me – my voice.
Someone once told me, “Jenn, just keep moving. Keep doing. Keep fighting. You are a lot stronger than you think you are. You just have to believe it.” Don’t get me wrong, I know it’s a lot easier said than done. However, he was right. I AM a lot stronger than I think I am. It’s taken over two decades for me to even begin to believe that. But, I have to keep moving, keep doing, and keep fighting. All of us do. So, when I get the question, “Do you consider yourself in recovery?” I answer with a simple, “yes.” Like I said before, recovery isn
’t linear. My recovery is going to be completely different than someone else’s, and that’s okay.
Is it always easy? Absolutely not! Do I still have days when her voice creeps in my head? Definitely. However, I have the tools to tell her to shut up. I’m able to push her out of my head and quiet her. When I wake up every day, I make the conscience choice to keep moving, keep doing, and keep fighting – and that’s one more victory I can claim. – JM
Jennifer Melton grew up in Charleston, SC. She earned her B.A. in English from Coastal Carolina University in 2009. She currently resides in Wilmington, NC with her husband. You can find her on Instagram, @mrsmelton1020.