Eating disorders are an evil disease. I don’t think you can ever really “cure” them. There will always be Mia or Ana whispering at you from the back of your mind when life feels out of control. You just learn how to tell them to shut up.
I started purging when I was 10 after my mom and stepdad were charged with child abuse. I think it’s because I felt guilty for making them so angry, and for ruining their lives and careers by speaking up. My father and stepmother didn’t understand when they found out, they just assumed it was because I was a chubby kid and I wanted to lose some weight. I purged off and on for years. I didn’t really start losing weight from purging until my junior year of high school when I lost 25 lbs. I didn’t think I had a problem. I was losing weight, everyone told me I looked great and I was almost proud of myself. I could control my weight loss better than my friends, better than my family even.
I stopped purging regularly my senior year of high school because I was auditioning for music schools and traveling for National Opera competitions. Life was good. I was happy. When I purged it affected my voice, and I really wanted to make it into a good school. I was accepted into the University of Utah’s Opera department on a half tuition scholarship for merit.
I graduated high school and a month into the summer I was sexually assaulted on a blind date. I didn’t tell my parents and I took a morning after pill the next day. My parents found the packaging and kicked me out the next day, because I wasn’t allowed to live with them if I was going to make those kinds of decisions with my life. I moved in with my biological mom until I made the last minute decision to move into the dorms. I started purging again, but I didn’t think it was that bad. I was 130 lbs when I moved into the dorms.
I quickly got into the frat scene. I was taken advantage of multiple times. I met a boy at one of the parties and we started dating. He was a bodybuilder, we went to the school gym pretty often together. He pushed me to lose more weight. He pushed for a lot of things. He grabbed the little belly I had and told me I’d be so much sexier if I just lost 15 more lbs. So I did. I stopped eating so much, I was doing a lot of cardio, and I was still purging. At my worst I was doing 3-4 hours of cardio a day, and I was eating 500 calories a day, all of which I purged. I made it to 115, but that wasn’t enough and I kept losing. When I was at my lowest I was 93 lbs.
The “You’re so tiny” comments I lived for quickly turned into “You don’t look healthy” and “You look sick, you need to gain some weight.” They didn’t understand. I was doing what they couldn’t. I had control, I could gain or lose as I wished. I was skipping classes to spend all day at the gym. When I thought about eating at night I would jog through the dorms or do exercises in my room. I eventually didn’t have the money for dorms anymore. I spent most nights sleeping in the music building and showering at the gym.
My vocal chords started to take a turn during spring semester. My vocal coach had me learn easier songs because I couldn’t sing the difficult ones anymore. I think that’s when I started to realize I had a problem, but I couldn’t stop. I tried to stop purging so often, and I just dropped my calories. I was sick all the time. Then I started to lose muscle function. I would stand up from bed or class and my legs didn’t work so I fell over. I was passing out multiple times a day. When I was running my heart would hurt so badly that I had to lay on the ground until I could breathe again.
My choir teacher pulled me aside after class one day. He told me he wouldn’t let me leave his office until I told him what was going on. We sat in silence for half an hour until I broke down and told him everything. He called the Women’s center and the school therapists. I got into therapy and the school paid to put me back into the dorms on the condition that I used my meal plan every day.
When I was working with my therapist and nutritionist, I was banned from ever doing cardio. They told me it would be okay to lift weights, because I needed to put on some muscle. So I started lifting. As I was eating more, I noticed that I could lift more weight. And that was exciting for me, so I ate because I wanted to see how strong I could get. I gained back up to 115, and despite how mentally difficult that was for me, I was getting stronger so I was okay. That boy left me as I was gaining weight and that sucked but I wasn’t devastated. Soon after, I discovered powerlifting. I found a powerlifting gym in Murray UT, and I started training with the team there. They got me into competing and I found a passion that replaced the need to control my weight. I can say without a doubt, powerlifting saved my life.
The voices telling me I need to lose are still always there, especially when I feel like life is out of control. It’s something I struggle with on a daily basis. I lost so much to my eating disorder—I developed osteopenia and lost a lot of bone density, I lost Opera, I lost my scholarships, but mostly I lost love for myself. I will never give anything to her again. And that’s because through my recovery and through powerlifting I found a little bit of that love for myself again. It is possible. You can recover. You can fall in love with every inch of yourself. You just have to fight for it and be stronger than you were the day before.
*Bethany’s story is published on the Body Temple Aesthetics Blog to bring awareness to body dysphoria and unhealthy habits related to it. Bethany is currently still competing in powerlifting and often writes about her journey on her Instagram page @little.warrior56