Who struggles with self-worth and self-confidence? Who has survived abuse, neglect, bullying, gaslighting, being parentalized, having a narcissistic parent/spouse, experiencing domestic abuse, or anything else that causes us to question our own reality?
I used to look up to older kids and teens, and want to become who they wanted me to be, regardless of who I wanted to be. If they thought I was shy, I acted shy. If they wanted me to be wild, I acted wild.
I always tried to match what others expected of me, whether that was winning a ski race, or being an easy child. I wanted to be loved and protected, and I thought that being what others wanted me to be would keep me safe.
That was so far from the truth.
Trying to be whoever others wanted me to be didn’t leave room for me to know who I was; this included what I liked and what I wanted. I never allowed myself to experiment.
When my health declined, I went to every doctor to figure out what was wrong with my malfunctioning body. I answered their questions, I did their tests, I followed their advice on diet and exercise, and I took the pills they prescribed. Nothing got better.
Doctors blamed me, saying it was all in my head. They shamed me for wanting life-saving procedures, claiming I didn’t need them and that it was all for attention.
My declining health was my fault. I wasn’t eating enough. I was eating the wrong foods. I needed to take more laxatives. I wasn’t thin enough to need a feeding tube. It must be an eating disorder, they said, because tests seemed to be normal.
The doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me, so the gastroenterologists wrote me off as a psychiatric case. And the psychiatric doctors medicated me until I was living in a cloud of sedation.
I didn’t have an eating disorder until the Mayo Clinic doctors told me I wasn’t sick enough to need a feeding tube. I thought , “if I have to be even sicker in order to get my basic biological needs met, I might as well starve myself.” And soon, I couldn’t see my body as it was – instead I saw what the doctors pointed out – how my face wasn’t sunken, how the number on the scale wasn’t down significantly, and how I hadn’t fainted yet that week.
Over the years, I went to thirteen treatment centers for my eating disorder. The eating disorder that developed from my unknown medical conditions, as well as from an onslaught of sexual abuse that happened as a kid.
At each center, they diagnosed me with something else. It was “Gastroparesis,” then “Cyclical Vomiting Syndrome,” then it was “Rumination Syndrome,” then it was “Constipation,” … the list goes on. I did everything the treatment centers asked of me. From eating food that I later threw up, to then eating the throw up so I wouldn’t get in trouble for puking unintentionally. I was isolated in a room for three weeks while the treatment center tried to “break” me of the unintentional vomiting that they were convinced was in my control.
In 2020, ten years after I initially became sick, I was in my last treatment center, the Eating Recovery Center in Denver, CO. I was on their most intensive unit because I was NPO (nothing per oral), and I was on 24 hour tube feeds. I was still puking bile and acid and even tiny sips of water.
In my last team meeting there, the doctors told me they would force me to take my pills orally (something my body can’t do), and switch me to a tube feed formula I was allergic to.
I finally found my voice!
I let out a roar so loud and viscous that the treatment center threw up their hands, and decided to discharge me per my request. They didn’t make me sign an AMA form like they usually did. They didn’t certify me and keep me against my will. Instead, they told me I was being “administratively discharged.”I’m grateful that I got out alive. The tube feeding formula they wanted to put me on had caused me to vomit so much in the past, that I ripped my esophagus and almost needed a blood transfusion for blood loss. And going cold turkey off my 22 medications would have killed me.
I raged at the staff. I screamed at them. I threatened to call the cops on them. And when staff wouldn’t let me out of the building, I begged for my phone and called my parents, who immediately bought tickets to fly me home. They could hear in my voice that I was being mistreated.
It wasn’t until I was 29 years old that I started believing in myself. I stopped questioning my reasons; I stopped taking in everyone else’s assumptions and making them truths. I started asking myself what my intention was behind every behavior. I formed an alliance with myself. I trusted when I was in control of something, and when I wasn’t.
Now at 31 years old, I can say with my whole being that believing in myself has been the greatest lesson of my life. Not allowing or accepting abuse is powerful. I no longer collapse into myself when I feel pushback. Instead, I press equally hard back, if not harder, and I say, “STOP IT!” or I disengage completely.
I was taught to question my reality as a kid who was experiencing abuse, and at some of these treatment centers in my twenties..
There is nothing fake about me, and I feel that in my bones. And now it doesn’t matter what other people think of me, because I know the truth. I don’t entertain other people’s misinterpretations anymore. Instead I tell them they are wrong and explain why. I’ve found my voice finally.
Believing in my experience has allowed me to take back my power.
Photo by Marcos Paulo Prado on Unsplash
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