This is inspired by a brave young woman I met recently called Emily. Emily is battling to overcome anorexia and yet she is working hard to inspire and help others with mental health issues and publically being open and honest about her journey with this awful disease.
Many with this disease call it Ana: she represents the voice in their heads telling them they need to be thinner and thinner; to weigh themselves a hundred times a day; to put all their worth in to how they look; to have more control. Ana even runs online communities where other Ana’s encourage and share tips on how to continue in this slow suicide. So I wanted to write about Ana because I used to know her.
My disordered eating started when I was 10 or 11 and by the time I was 12 I was starving myself, controlling what I ate. They say many people with anorexia come from families where they are over-protected, but that wasn’t my reason and not for many. My childhood was unpredictable and many times unsafe: a house built on sand that regularly crumbled. The person I loved the most and needed love the most from sent many conflicting and painful messages and my sense of self was in many pieces. I didn’t know it at the time, but I can see I wanted control over something and the only thing I had any power over was what went in my mouth. So at first I ate nothing or very little, I got thinner and no one noticed. I had other symptoms – I started my periods late into my 14th year and then only had one or two periods a year for 7 years. My teenage years and early 20s turned into cycles of heavy binging and starvation. I was always unsuccessful in trying to make myself vomit so I took laxatives and then would starve myself for a week or two, get the high of that until emotions rose and then I would binge again. It is a deeply painful way to live.
It took years to recover. Food was my heroin, a way to numb out of the emotional pain, sometimes feel in control and sometimes a rebellion: but a sad playing out of deeply not feeling good enough and trying to be perfect enough to be loved. I had my Ana – the voices who kept telling me to try harder, to be better and better and better and demanded more and more. It’s exhausting because you are never really yourself, you are just trying to be someone else; someone you think can be loved.
But this is what I found out.
Ana is a LIAR. She may tell you she is helping you, but she is not. She lies and manipulates and controls you. You are not freer with her; you are imprisoned and bullied by her. She is not your friend and is willing to destroy you. If you had any form of abuse as a child: physical, sexual, emotional or psychological she is the echo of the voice of those who didn’t love you and treated you badly, of those that abused you. On some level they made you feel not enough to be loved, or not enough to survive without them and Ana continues that story. She tells you, you are not enough, not thin enough, not pretty enough, not strong enough. She pushes you to take extreme measures against yourself and your body, ones that can kill you and takes you deeper in to self hatred.
Ana literally pulls you down into hell and tells you it’s heaven. She makes it look pretty and she gives you a pair of glasses to wear so that you can’t see the real beauty of your body as it is. The glasses mess up your vision of yourself and you see fat where there is none, lumps that don’t exist and ugliness that isn’t there. She convinces you, you need her while she destroys you.
Ana is not your friend. You can find better friends, true friends and you can find help and put on the glasses of truth; to understand compassionately what has happened to you, that things that happen when you are a child are not your fault and that you don’t have to bottle everything up.
The road to recovery isn’t a smooth one and silencing the voice of Ana or whatever you call her, isn’t easy. She becomes such a normal part of your life and she doesn’t let go easily. She is a an extreme narcissist, bully and like you, very afraid underneath, but she needs to go and you need to find your own voice and knowing that she is lying to you is a start.
This is the truth: You are worthy, you are enough, you are a Child of a deeply loving God: a beautiful, unique human soul with gifts and talents you have yet to discover that can only be done in the way you will do them. Don’t deprive the world of you. Whatever your size, weight or look you are enough and you are so much more than those physical things. I’ve learnt that when our light starts to shine internally, we shine externally too. I’ve had to see it in others first – the beauty of them being themselves to start to understand that being myself is beautiful too. We just have to dare to do that – to be us.
So, say good bye to Ana. Write her a letter if you want. She is a lost soul, but one that has been hurting you. In fact write to her and then write about you and what’s in your heart and let yourself scream and cry and shake with fear until it’s all left you. Ana can’t stay if you start to do that, it will loosen her grip on you if you start to feel again. It takes time, it takes love, compassion and courage but you have worth and value that is dependent on nothing, but the fact you are here.
with love, Maxine.
Resources that have helped me:
Fat is a Feminist Issue by Susie Orbach
Toxic Parents by Susan Forward
Mothers Who Can’t Love by Susan Forward
Will I Ever Be Good Enough? By Karyl McBride
Silently Seduced by Kenneth M Adams
Home Coming: reclaiming and championing your inner child by John Bradshaw
The Drama of Being a Child by Alice Miller
The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk
The Emotional Incest Syndrome: What to do When a Parent’s Love Rules Your Life by Patricia Love
Mother, Mother by Koren Zailickas
Dibs in Search of Self by Virginia M Axline
My Story: A Child Called It, A Lost Boy and A Man Named Dave by Dave Petzler
Thirty Years Among the Dead by Carl Wickland (this will help you understand Ana more)
**And all the material on Divine Truth website www.divinetruth.com: this has been the most life changing, beautiful truth I have discovered.
My friend Courtney has healed from food addictions and now helps others and has a lot of truth on this topic. She has a YouTube Channel and a website: www.courtneypool.com
There is an organisation here in the UK with resources and information http://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk