By: Maura Schauerman, Primary Therapist at The Renfrew Center of California
16 years old.
“You can’t keep doing this. You’re killing yourself.”
The voice in my head was screaming at me… again.
For a while it had been a distant thought, a whisper in my ear. But, honestly, I thought I knew what I was doing. It really did seem harmless at the time… at least I pretended it did.
That night, I was sitting cross-legged on my bedroom floor looking at myself in the mirror, tears streaming slowly, silently down my face. I was exhausted and had just thrown up my dinner… again. I was withering away, becoming smaller and smaller- not just in my body, but in my soul. I remember looking in the mirror that night and realizing that the light inside of me had been dimming for a long time. That night, looking in the mirror, I saw something terrifying – I saw no light at all. I didn’t know what to do.
The once tender whisper in my head had become a desperate, pleading, and petrifying scream. I was scared that I still wouldn’t listen. I was scared that it would take my life for me to hear it.
I knew I could no longer trust myself. I was trapped in a cage of my own making. Looking at this hollow stranger in the mirror, entirely depleted of energy and spirit, I made a deal with the universe. If my dad happened to get up that very moment from the couch and walk past my room, I would tell him everything.
I heard a creak in the floor and felt a shift in the universe, an electrifying chill pulsating through my body. He stood up.
And I was paralyzed.
My hands shaking, my heartbeat throbbing, a magnificent drum set pounding in my ear, I found the light inside of me again. With my voice barely audible, I heard my words penetrate my tears. “Dad, I have an eating disorder and I need help.” My dad, stunned, soaked with a river of tears, responded, “I love you. We will get through this together.”
Tears can catch you in their current. And tears can feel a lot like hope if you learn to ride the wave.
Everything changed after that moment. My days began to consist of therapy sessions, doctor appointments, blood tests, dietician sessions, meal checks and so on. I didn’t know this at the time but recovering from an eating disorder takes a long, long time. I had to do so much work on myself before I even wanted recovery. There were many days when I regretted telling anyone. The eating disorder felt safe, familiar, like a friend. Recovery seemed scary, unknown, not real, impossible, not worth it.
Many years later.
I am a therapist, sitting in my office across from a client, 16 years old. She speaks softly, as though her words hold the power to destroy her.
“I need help.”
Her face dampened with tears, she tells me, “I’m scared that it’s not possible, scared it’s not worth it. My eating disorder is killing me. It’s stealing my friends, my family, my spirit, my life… And I’m afraid I won’t be able to stop it. But it also feels like my truest friend, like the safest home I’ve ever known. If it was gone, I think the overwhelming loneliness would consume me.”
It’s like looking into a time-warped mirror.
I take a breath and join her in the darkness. Sometimes when we’re blinded to our spirit by our shadow weighted in fear, we need someone to shine a light for us, casting out the darkness and illuminating our soul.
I sit with her in silence for a moment, showing her that the screaming quiet of her mind is not a place that needs escaping, but instead a place to embrace, a place to envelop with curiosity, fearlessness, and, most of all, hope. Soon, she will look in the mirror and find the light that is deep within, waiting to burst through and blind with brightness. But for right now, in this moment, I will be her mirror.
I look into her eyes, glistening with desperation and fear and I feel my light shine through her, dispelling the darkness. I say, “We will get through this together. I cannot take the steps for you, but I can walk the path alongside you. I have walked it before and I know where it leads. I will light your path while you lead the way.”
A shift in the universe, an electrifying chill. I look into her eyes, glistening now with a seed of something new. Her tears sowing the soil that will be her garden- her journey of recovery.
I look into this time-warped mirror. And the light is blinding.