How motherhood inspired this dancer to heal from her eating disorder
“I HAD an eating disorder.”
This sentence has left my mouth frequently over the past two decades.
I was 19-years-old when diagnosed with an eating disorder (ED). At the time, I had no idea that cutting out refined sugar and carbohydrates as a method to get in shape would spiral into the painful and all-consuming journey I ultimately embarked on.
Perhaps my story is different to other people’s experiences. The term ‘full recovery’ has never been something I’ve been able to express or believe in. I know, deep down, that although the typical anorexia traits were not present, the manipulative thought processes, the destructive behaviour and the all or nothing attitude has continued to haunt me and my relationships for most of my adult life.
I have danced for as long as I can remember and have vivid memories, as a 10-year-old, of laying my dancing uniform out in preparation for a big Saturday of dance classes. Morning would arrive and I’d swiftly change my choice of attire, knowing that it wasn’t a skinny enough day to justify that choice, a thought process that remained prevalent, again, for as long as I can remember. This early childhood memory, accompanied by many others, confirms that my lack of self-worth, my distorted body image and my altered perception of self was present long before I received a formal diagnosis.
As the kilograms dropped and the compliments grew, I realized that my choices and actions were effective.
I felt bloody fabulous!
- When I shopped for clothes, there was never an adult size small enough to fit my body – WIN
- When I was assigned my costume whilst performing professionally, I always received the smallest possible size – WIN
- I was receiving positive compliments from men, women and the dance industry as a whole – WIN
- I was managing to work, exercise and dance all day, party all night and essentially consume air, alcohol and cigarettes and still function (on the outside) – WIN
When I read over these statements I can observe and accept that a lot of ego was attached to these interpretations — what I call euphoric delusion.
I was so unaware of, and unconscious to, the damage that was occurring inside my body and the thought processes attached to my actions. When I was eventually forced by my family to get help and was administered into an outpatient clinic to commence treatment, I was in absolute denial.
I was about to enter the process of healing…
Through the help of the Melbourne-based eating disorder treatment facility, The Oak House, which sadly closed its doors in 2010, I was exposed to professional support and clinicians who cared about Fiona; the person, not the sufferer; and opened my eyes to my reality.
This three year recovery process was hard and painful.
If you have experienced an ED, you can appreciate that the voice inside your head, that continuous validation, puts up an almighty fight when it is challenged. My most painful memory of destructive behaviour towards myself was not when I stopped eating, but when I was told to start eating again.
I was in a constant war — with myself, my family, my friends and my career.
I wished the days away.
The thoughts associated with my ED and the healing process were so strong, so all-consuming that I had nothing left to give anything or anyone else. The only time I felt alive was when I was drunk and partying. So, I drank a lot and continued to attract men that didn’t respect me or my body, which only heightened the power of my ED and my lack of self-worth.
My relationship with my family was compromised. They were so fearful, confused, and couldn’t understand why I was making the choices I was making. Every conversation would turn into a raging argument, leaving me to feel incredible guilt and shame for hurting the people who loved me the most. They too were hurting and suffering.
A poignant moment soon followed. Whilst preparing for a night out with my friends in front of a mirror, I saw the reflection of my reality.
I was tiny, gaunt and terrified and my eyes were so very sad.
“I’m not well am I?” I asked one of my dearest friends.
“No, you’re not Fiona, no you’re not,” she replied.
I would love to follow this powerful moment with a rendition of how my life changed from that point. However, the truth is, on the outskirts there had been progress, but on the inside, nothing had changed, in fact, my ED became worse.
Sure, I followed my dietician’s guidelines and responded appropriately to my counsellor every other day, but my intelligence, my ED, was simply playing the game, doing what it was told for a period of time, whilst swiftly planning its next course of action to continue to distort my sense of self and make me suffer.
The Oak House treatment team gave me clearance two years later, in 2003, to fulfil my dream to travel abroad. What was supposed to be a six month venture, turned into three years of travelling and pursuing my performing arts career throughout the United Kingdom and Europe.
The healing process apparently stepped up a notch…
Creating a new identity and removing the association of having an ED in my new life, played an integral role in building a renewed sense of self. I was beginning to learn who I was and what I was capable of… and more so, what I wanted!
All of the recognizable emotions and thoughts associated with my ED remained, but were becoming less consistent. I continued to make poor choices regarding drinking and men, but these were married with other wonderful choices.
I had found a balance between suffering and happiness. I was okay with that. I could take the bad as long as there was also some good. I could make this work for the rest of my life.
On my return home, to the joy of my community, I presented much differently to how I had left three years prior. The decade that followed is a blur really.
I built a successful business, got married and was pregnant with my first child.
Friction continued with my family, and in many of my relationships, to be honest. I continued to find it challenging to be in my family home and environments of abundant love and joy as this triggered many familiar emotions that were too painful to explore and deal with. At this point, I believe I still lacked self-love. Seeing, feeling and receiving love and support triggered feelings of resistance and unworthiness.
The tumultuous birth of my first child, led to the moment that DID change the course of my life. While lying in bed, bruised and battered, I turned my head to take another look at the miracle I had given birth to three hours prior, only to have her stare back at me with the most intentional focus and warmth in her eyes.
“Have you got me, Mom?” is what I heard.
No longer was my world about me. The insecurities, limiting beliefs, pain and suffering I was so accustomed to feeling weren’t so relevant anymore. My life had taken on a whole new level of responsibility. I had to take charge of my life, not only for myself, but for my child.
I now realized that the healing process was only beginning…
I write this story five and a half years after this life changing experience, now as a single mother of two beautiful girls.
Through my absolute commitment to growth, to establishing my sense of self and to exploring and challenging the thoughts, feelings and stories that dominated me for so long, I have been able to make BIG and often painful decisions and milestones to take back control of my life.
If I’d had the tools, guidance and support to rebuild my foundations, to empower me to realize who I was and what I was capable of, without my ED, perhaps my story would be different.
Perhaps I DID have access to all of those things, but I wasn’t ready to hear or accept them.
Instead I have this beautiful story, the one that doesn’t define me, the one I hold no regrets towards — the one that has attributed to the person I am today.
Am I fully recovered? Who knows?
Regardless of what the theories suggest, how can one quantify a full recovery, as every individual is different?
What I can say, with unwavering confidence and pride is that …
I am Fiona Luca and I am whole and worthy.