What My Eating Disorder Taught Me About Who I Am (not)

Thank you to guest blogger Galia Barkol for sharing her personal experience and journey of recovery. Please view her full story at ‘Then What Happens.

I had been hospitalized for three months at the best eating disorder treatment center in Israel, and I was finally out. I had a meal plan and my weight had reached what was defined as an ideal number. I was asked to come back every Wednesday to be weighed and to go over my eating journal. So here I am, sitting in front of the dietician, who reviews this week’s data. Apparently, I gained. “You can go down now,” she says. “Let’s put you on less calories a day and see how that stabilizes you.”

That day something cracked. I lost my belief in answers, in solutions.

I was heartbroken. How can this be? I sacrificed the body I was comfortable with, the eating habits I was used to, and for what? For another set of restrictions? For having to always watch it and call it “normal” and “recovered”?!

I left the center and never came back. I rushed back to Paris, where I lived at the time, to catch up with the last days of my film studies and even made it to the final exams. At the same time, I worked equally as hard on getting rid of the weight I’d gained in treatment and on resuming my familiar routine. I was so ashamed to be seen the way I was… this body didn’t belong to me; it wasn’t me. I was equally as miserable as I was before, only heavier. I couldn’t accept it.

It has been ten years since then. During the period that followed, I found a way to maintain the disorder – being slightly underweight, slightly obsessed with and intimidated by food, slightly limited in my ability to be with others and be spontaneous, and slightly unhealthy. But it seemed like the ideal compromise. I was functioning after all, and I liked my body, which was a pre-requisite for me to be able to live in this world.

People thought I’d figured it out, and others who didn’t know about my issues would just compliment me for my slim figure. But I remember hearing myself say at a support group meeting: “I can feel I’m at the most dangerous place. It doesn’t hurt as much anymore; I could go on forever. And I suspect the price I’m paying is life itself.”

But life has its way of nudging us out of those comforting danger zones. So, a couple of years later, I started getting injured frequently. My orthopedist suggested it was related to my low weight. Right around the same time, my physician explained to me I couldn’t go on without getting my period; that it affected my bones. I was terrified. It suddenly dawned on me that I wasn’t a kid anymore and I realized no one else would take care of me. I had to make a decision. That day something shifted and I started feeding myself better.

My plan or my hope was to reach a healthy weight and stop there, at the minimum of my BMI range, but my body had other plans. After a few months of feeding myself properly, I was back at the point where I had been at the treatment center ten years before: my body told me once again that it wanted to be at a higher weight than the bare healthy minimum, and that I had no business controlling it. This time I had to listen because I understood there was no sustainable alternative, that the only way to be free was to let go and see what happens.

Being in that space is a spiritual practice. I had to bring myself to focus on the intention while letting go of the results. I had to dis-identify from the image of who I thought I was, and to believe that who I was in my core could never be affected or destroyed by anything conditional. This wasn’t a smooth ride. In the past two years, I have died a little every day. I have cried almost every day and was reintroduced to life again little by little – to the wonder, the mystery, the pleasures, the human connection, the humor, the transience, the complexity and simplicity of being alive and belonging to life.

For 18 years of battling with my body image and eating disorder, I have always wondered if I would reach the point where I get to the other side and write a book such as “Here’s How I Beat This!” I don’t know if there will indeed be a day where I feel completely free inside my body as I used to be before it all started. Thinking about this makes me sad and even angry. But at the same time, I recognize the sacredness of being “in between” – in that state of prayer, of openness to how things play out. In a world that offers so many finite answers, I feel peace remaining in the infinite domain of the questions, as a more truthful reflection of life, which honors my individual path.

I recently wrote and am currently crowd funding for a feature film about that place. The film – THEN WHAT HAPPENS – is not specifically about recovery from body image and eating disorders in the same way that it’s not about its protagonist being a dancer who lost her ability to dance. My disorder taught me something about what’s underneath, about what we all share as human beings, which is what I’m looking to zoom into with this piece.

Whenever we face a challenge or a loss, we feel the impulse to push ourselves to skip the confusion and find a new sense of meaning and identity to cling to (such as “recovered from an eating disorder”). We call it “healing” or “overcoming,” and we associate it with strength and even sanity. But we are given very little time to dwell in uncertainty, which is just the place from which true insight and healing emerge.

To me, this is one of the hidden blessings of living through and recovering from this painful disorder – the ability to live in and contain what comes up in the spaces between, where life is most vivid.

Lastly, I’ll add that I was both unlucky and lucky in the sense that no treatment has ever worked for me. I tried them all and failed them all until I found my way (with the help of magic mentors, of course). I think something inside of me rebelled all those years because it knew freedom meant something else. Freedom doesn’t have a system and cannot be applied to everyone in the same way. Freedom already belongs to us and is for each of us to uncover in our own unique way.

As Joseph Campbell said:

“You enter the forest at the darkest point, where there is no path. Where there is a way or path, it is someone else’s path. You are not on your own path. If you follow someone else’s way, you are not going to realize your potential.”


Galia Barkol is an actress, writer and director living and working in Brooklyn, NY. Visit her website hereThis post originally published on Eating Disorders Blogs

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