My Battle With Bulimia: How Yoga Gives Me Strength To Survive

By Victoria Gibbs

I can talk about it now.  Yes, I had a severe eating disorder. It started out as anorexia and over time worsened into bulimia. It was lonely, dark, and all consuming.  I desperately wanted to get better but bulimia became my security blanket and I used it to cope with everything.

“It was easier to stick my fingers down my throat than it was to reach out and talk to someone. I didn’t know how to speak up and bulimia was how I expressed my feelings.”

I didn’t want to be labeled the girl with the eating disorder or stared at every time I went to the bathroom. I didn’t want to talk about it, didn’t want anyone to know that I was struggling and, more than that, I didn’t want to be a disappointment or continue to hurt those who I loved and loved me.

But let’s back up to the beginning. I spent my entire childhood, teenage years, and young adult life in the ballet studio. Training seven days a week, multiple hours a day, competing with, and training alongside some of the best dancers in the country. Through my intensive ballet training I developed a high level of discipline, dedication, motivation, and strove for perfection. That desire to be perfect was all consuming and affected every aspect of my life, both for good and bad. I was a shy quiet person and like so many young dancers and young women, I wanted to be thin. I resorted first to not eating and then causing myself to vomit the food I did eat.

My family eventually discovered my alarming condition and insisted on therapy for both anorexia and bulimia. I tried to do the work that I was supposed to do in order to “recover”, going to individual and group therapy sessions, and I was given all of the tools to change my habits. It was a slow process. It’s one thing to know what to do, but it’s another to actually have the strength to do it. I often experienced a period of time where I felt good and it seemed like things were progressing in the right direction and I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. Then something disappointing would happen and I would go back to what was a familiar coping mechanism, bulimia. It was a way for me to numb myself and completely check out. This vicious cycle continued and I knew I had to make a change. I wanted to change; I was ready to leave this demon in my past, once and for all.

When I found yoga is when my ongoing recovery really began. Being in the studio, staring at my reflection forced me to look deep into my soul. The postures brought up new and different emotions that I had never felt before. I was both student and teacher in the yoga studio and when different emotions came up, I would ask myself why I was feeling this way and try to get to the root of the issue. I finally began to do the work that I had been afraid to do all along, look deep into myself and connect with my feelings, mind and body.

“I honestly believe that yoga has transformed my life.”

In the beginning, I didn’t understand the deeper mind and body connection that everyone claimed yoga had to offer. Despite that, after completing my first class, I knew that I had finally found a form of physical activity that was fulfilling and challenging. After every class I felt cleansed and renewed. I began this meditative journey three and a half years ago and I believe it helped save my life.  Over time, I have realized that the more I acknowledged my feelings in the studio and thought about their deeper meaning, the better I felt both in and outside of the studio. I have been gaining strength, depth, and perspective. Yoga is a daily dose of positive therapy for me. My practice became and still is a priority and I make sure to go to class as often as I can and for the first time in years, I feel like I am really living.

Below is a list with some of the things that have helped me on my journey to healing and health. I am sharing my thoughts in hopes they might help you. If my story sounds familiar or you think you might have an eating disorder, then please reach out and get help. Do not be afraid to talk to a friend, your family and a doctor. Also, there are many organizations out there online to reach out to. Get the help you need. I did and it has saved my life.
  • MAKE YOURSELF A PRIORITY: The thought of continuously making myself a priority and putting my needs first was scary. For years I had swept everything under the rug and for the first time when I started speaking up, going after what I wanted, and feeling comfortable managing my recovery, I finally felt and understood what it meant to be happy. I used that great feeling as a benchmark going forward.
  • NO ONE IS PERFECT:  I finally understand that you can’t be perfect, no one is. Yoga humbled me. The work for personal growth is never over, it’s ongoing just like my recovery, and I’m committed to being the best version of myself. Yoga has not become my security blanket but rather it has helped me develop and utilize the necessary tools to handle my life and do what’s best for me and my survival and well being.
  • SPEAK YOUR TRUTH: Don’t be afraid to speak up. Eating disorders have such a negative stigma attached to them and for me, that was the hardest part, not feeling comfortable talking about what I was going through with anyone. That silence ate away at me literally and figuratively. Once I started sharing my feelings in small doses, it made things more manageable. Please reach out and talk to someone you love and trust. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
  • YOU MUST BE READY FOR CHANGE: I spent years in and out of therapy during various points in my life but it wasn’t until I decided that I was genuinely ready, committed, and wanted to make permanent changes, that things started looking up. I wish someone had told me from the very beginning, you have to want and be ready to change, anything else is just wishful thinking or will manifest into another addiction.
  • DON’T SHAME OR DEMEAN YOURSELF:  You are a creature of God and just as you are meant to be. You don’t know what your life’s purpose is or what you need to learn. The sooner you are healthy and whole, the sooner you can move on with all the great things the universe has planned for you.
  • BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF: You have to ask yourself questions, be honest, and hold yourself accountable. I have realized the importance of staying connected to my mind and body.  For example, ask yourself how do certain things or people make me feel?  And why do they make you feel that way? As uncomfortable as it might be to address those issues, you have to dig deep and really hone in on the root of the problem and stop denying there is one.
  • SURROUND YOURSELF WITH LOVE, POSITIVITY AND FORGIVENESS:  At the end of the day, eating disorders are  not about food, but something so much greater that needs to be addressed. Surround yourself with positive energy, good people and love to help yourself address things that may be hard. Some of the most important aspects of my recovery were breaking patterns, staying positive, and removing all expectations and allowing myself to just struggle sometimes minute to minute to be healthy. It’s ok to make mistakes or have setbacks, in fact, it’s expected. Forgive yourself and move on. Take it one day at a time and be patient with yourself, it’s a long journey, but it’s totally worth it.
  • CELEBRATE YOUR TALENT AND PASSIONS:  Yoga has truly transformed my life but for someone else it might be painting, running, music or science. Give yourself permission to celebrate your passions. With the help of yoga and the courage to accept my disease and commit to therapy, my relationships changed, my demeanor changed, my outlook on life changed and I became stronger and healthier.
Crisis Call Center
800-273-8255 or text ANSWER to 839863
Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week
http://crisiscallcenter.org/crisisservices.html

National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Eating Disorders
630-577-1330
10 a.m. to 6 p.m. EST, Monday to Friday
http://www.anad.org

National Eating Disorders Association
800-931-2237
9 a.m. to 5 p.m. EST, Monday to Friday
http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org

GLAM4GOOD is honored to share Victoria’s personal essay.  To illustrate this powerful story of hope we asked talented photographer Kate T. Parker to shoot Victoria.  You can learn more about Kate’s stunning photography on her website.
PHOTOGRAPHS BY: Kate T. Parker
CREATIVE DIRECTION: Mary Alice Stephenson
YOGI: Victoria Gibbs

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