Ballet and My Recovery from an Eating Disorder
By Margie Achee | Guest Blogger
Photo credit | Donna Irene Photography
I was 18 when I decided to count calories. Of course this wasn’t my first foray into dieting; as a child I constantly came up with new ways to slim down, creating reward schedules, and binge days if I had been ‘good’ all week. At the time though they were just ideas; fantasies that were eventually replaced with a new thought. My adolescent mind was not capable of the laser focus required to truly starve oneself, however I always knew I wanted to change my body. It felt too big; it took up too much space. I continued with my weight loss games, using my body for experimentation until one day something stuck.
I was home from my first year at college, and I decided I was not going to eat more than 1,000 calories a day. Unlike all the previously failed trials, this time it was working, I was losing weight. My clothes were loose, people made comments like, ‘hey you are looking thin, what’s your secret?’ or ‘Hey, you look amazing, I’m so jealous!’ or my personal favorite, ‘You’re supposed to gain 15 pounds at college not lose it!’ My weight loss was viewed as a positive, as a sign that I was a successful person, and I liked it. Being thin garners such an intoxicating feeling of success it’s hard to accept the boundaries of health.
I returned to college in August, where I was studying ballet and modern dance. Teachers and students alike took notice of my new body. At the end of my freshmen year I was an average dancer, in the average level classes, and never getting cast for any work. Now, 20 pounds lighter, I was bumped up to the advanced classes, cast in faculty, student and guest choreographer’s work. Everything I ever wanted was finally happening and it all hinged on 20 pounds of body mass; if I gained it back I would once again be average, if I kept it off, or even better, lost more weight, I would continue to be special. I thought if a little was good, more must be better; I chopped my daily calorie allowance in half and increased my exercise. I discovered purging and how to do it without making a sound. If I ate, it was in secret. I felt like eating was a sign of weakness, of being average, of needing things like everyone else needs things. Sometimes I binged. Binging felt the most shameful of all so it was always done in the middle of the night, in my car, or my dorm room with the door locked. I weighed myself every time I looked in the mirror, and counted the bones I could see to make sure a layer of fat hadn’t snuck up on me in the night. My ribs were my favorite thing to count, if I could see a new one it was exhilarating, if I saw one less it was devastating. I was spiraling out of control but I didn’t care, I was possessed by my drive to be great.
Somewhere along the line I had confused being extraordinary with being thin. I decided if I was thin then I had achieved something that set me apart from the rest. What I didn’t see was everything that I was losing in my quest for body perfection. I was failing in school, I pushed my friends away and my body began to break down. I was a shell of a person, I was not great, I was dying. This is where so many of us get stuck, in the confusion between what the reality is and what we think the reality is. We think our eating disorder is our ticket to success – however that may be defined, when in reality an untreated eating disorder will always only result in death.
Part of recovery for me meant leaving school and dance. I never performed any of the works for which I was cast, and it took years for me to be able to step back into a ballet studio again. My eating disorder robbed me of fulfilling my childhood dream; it took years from my life. It was an awful experience but it forced me to cultivate a healthy adult identity and for that I am grateful.
P.S. You are enough.
Margie is 25 and currently resides in Connecticut. She hold a B.S. in General Psychology and is furthering her studies to become a psychologist and a nutritionist. In addition to dancing she enjoys yoga, hiking, cooking, and laughing.