By Stacey Huget
We are everywhere. The ones who had an eating disorder. Who clawed a way through and out of our respective nightmares. And who, more often than not, keep totally mum about it.
It was nearly 15 years after pulling myself free from a 20 year stranglehold with this disease before I could say the words, admit it, put it out there: I had an eating disorder.
Readiness is a personal thing. I wasn't ready to confront other people's judgments and misperceptions, their dismissal — in all the shades and shapes I imagined it might come. I didn't want to be forever taken out of context, shackled to that dark place I'd struggled so hard and long to escape. I wasn't ready to risk being misunderstood.
When I was ready, coming out about having had an eating disorder was one of the most liberating things I've ever done.
Shame is something we hold onto. Letting go isn't easy, but it's ours to do. And the act of letting go unleashes something powerful — not just within, but out into the world as well: a kind of freedom, or space, or opportunity that wasn't there before.
Imagine if more men and women who once had an eating disorder spoke up: I had an eating disorder. I understand now that it wasn't my fault. I am not ashamed.
If, instead of biting their tongues, they said: Yeah, I beat down a wicked, slippery disease few people really understand and I went on to make a life for myself — a life I love. I feel really good about that.
If they added: Of course, I am not the eating disorder I had, nor even the strength it took to get to the other side. My story, who I am, is way bigger than that.
Imagine the effect of all these people coming out — their voices rising gently up in casual conversations at the water fountains and change rooms and line-ups of everyday. Heads held high. Whispering no more.
This coming out, this willingness to give resonance to our experience, could actually change the world — in at least three ways.
First, it could breathe new life into how we help those who are at risk for, or already in the agonizing throes of, an eating disorder. With so many voices speaking out unashamedly, we could whack a good chunk off the whole shame dynamic that keeps sufferers from coming forward for help. Instead of telling those in treatment, "recovery is possible", we could just introduce them to the evidence. Better yet, we could bump it up a notch: "Life beyond recovery is possible", and let them take its many splendored pulse themselves. Let them see that the other side of eating disorders isn't recovery, it's living.
Second, it could shake up the way society sees, thinks, and talks about this disease. So many myths busted: Here we all are — thousands of "after" shots to blow apart those blurry, ill-conceived images people have of who gets an eating disorder. Here we all are — the entrepreneurs and artists and caregivers and journalists and members of parliament and ... Here we are, ready to surprise you. Here is what recovery looks like: real people living real lives, a lot like your own. It's hard to tell us apart, isn't it?
Third, and finally, it could flip the dialogue about mental illness onto its belly — and have us talking about mental health instead. Like we do about physical health. Natural human pursuits: equally universal, shameless, valued. Where we learn from one another. Accept each other's ups and downs as if they might be our own. What a far more inclusive and realistic conversation it would be.
When you're ready.
Coming out could be one of the most liberating things you ever do.
Oh, and call us. There's a movement brewing. More and more of us, coming out for change.
Stacey is The Looking Glass Foundation’s Executive Director. She lives in Vancouver, BC and is an avid jazz and opera buff, enjoys playing bridge and shooting pool, and looks forward to a day when eating disorders are something we sadly remember, as a thing of the past. You can reach Stacey at firstname.lastname@example.org.