Since I was 12, I’ve struggled with an eating disorder. I don’t really remember a time when thoughts of food and my body image didn’t occupy my mind. The history of my eating disorder is complicated—like many fragmented pieces of a large intricate puzzle. I could fill a book with the origins and details of my struggle but that’s not what I’m writing about here.
Over the years, I’ve treated myself pretty badly and did a lot of harmful things. I want to share my story of life on the other side. There is light at the end of the tunnel—survival. The aftermath of the totally destructive storm that was my life turned into a gorgeous, sunny day. I’m so grateful that I had the chance to change my self-destructive ways and choose life.
It wasn’t until I met my husband in October 2005 that I really began to live recovery seriously. We connected so deeply, so fast that he knew all about my eating disorder and the secret self I hid from others. To my disbelief, he didn’t run. I never would have believed that there would be a man out there who would love me and want to spend his life with me, but there he was. We talked a lot about my eating disorder and made a pact that practicing my eating disorder was not an option. I’ll never forget those words.
As you can imagine, it wasn’t totally smooth sailing. I came with some huge emotional baggage that wasn’t going to just disappear. I remember telling Jake that despite my problems, I was a good investment. He proposed to me on our second dating anniversary and we were married the day after our third. I always said I wouldn’t get married until I could eat a bite of my wedding cake. We had a pumpkin cheesecake and the picture of Jake and I feeding each other a bite is definitely special to me.
On December 11, 2009, I took a pregnancy test and passed with flying colors. For the first time in my life, I was sharing my body with another life. It wasn’t just mine anymore; it was a vessel to grow and birth another human being. The choices I made each day about what I put into my body weren’t just for me. I had to take care of myself in order to take care of the precious life that was growing inside of me. I was thrilled and ecstatic to be pregnant; my lifelong dream was to become a mother.
I definitely had fears in the back of my head that I might not be able to become pregnant, that I had damaged my body too much—I had stopped having a period for about a year at a point when my body was absolutely starving. But those two pink lines were there—I took about 10 tests just to be extra sure.
Motherhood is physical—growing and protecting a baby for those beautiful, mysterious nine months, giving birth, breastfeeding. I gave my body to my child completely and it changed my life. I really was able to begin to see my body in a new light and to feel a new respect for it. Instead of allowing negative thoughts to take over my mind as my body grew and changed during pregnancy, I focused on my baby and how miraculous it was that my body could do such an astounding thing.
BIRTHING JACK AND WYATT
Giving birth to Jack—although it didn’t happen as I had hoped and planned—was a rebirth for me: when a baby is born, so is a mother. I shed my old skin and started completely fresh, right along with the brand new life of our baby. I began to grow into my new role and find my way, following my instincts and mothering by heart.
On September 2, 2013, I gave birth to my second son, Wyatt. He was born at home with a midwife in the most peaceful, gentle way. I had an awesome pregnancy and took great care of my body and soul, which made me feel confident and capable. After experiencing birth with zero interventions, I appreciate my body that much more.
I’ve been breastfeeding since 2010; it feels right to me to nurse my kids until they outgrow the need. To impress me even more, my amazing body began producing enough milk for both of my boys—tandem nursing is awesome!
Instead of feeling that my breasts were extra fat on my body that I didn’t want there, like I did when I was consumed with abusing my body, I have learned to appreciate and respect them because they provide complete and perfect nutrition and comfort for my boys.
Recovery doesn’t look like I imagined. I’d love to say that I have complete freedom from my eating disorder, but truthfully I don’t. An eating disorder is a tricky addiction to overcome; I can’t simply avoid food and I still feel cravings to practice my eating disorder sometimes. There are many times I’ve been doing well and suddenly fell off the wagon. It’s about getting back up and trying again.
Luckily, every day is a chance for a fresh start. I’ve had a lot of those. Recovery is a journey, not a destination. It’s waking up each day and making the choice for life, all day every day. It’s not perfect and it’s not a linear progression.
I’ve learned that I feel best about myself when I’m active; daily walks at the park and making time for yoga make a total difference in how I feel about my body. I’ve been a vegetarian for the past 19 years and eating organic, whole foods makes me feel good about eating. I’ve learned that no matter how critical I am about my body, my husband and sons will always see me as beautiful…and that’s really all that matters. I’ve learned that I am worthy of happiness and love.
NOT AN OPTION
Maya Angelou said “I do my best because I’m counting on you counting on me.” This really resonated with me in terms of my recovery journey. I want to choose life and health and be my best self because my husband and sons are counting on me. It’s not an option to get pulled into the whirlwind of self-destruction ever again.
I want to talk to myself with the respect I would expect others to treat me with. I want to set the best example possible for my sons. Motherhood is a mirror; I am trying to be what I want to see in my children. Taking care of myself matters in a different way now; practicing self-destructive behavior is simply not an option.
Sara lives in Pittsburgh, PA, with her husband Jake and their two sons. She believes in mothering by heart, enjoying the organic, natural lifestyle and choosing happiness every day. Sara is passionate about the inherent strength and beauty of womanhood which she seeks to develop within herself and share with others through her interests in fertility, pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, parenting and holistic living. Sara stays busy caring for her young children while she works toward her La Leche League leadership accreditation and her doula certification. She also writes on various topics and serves as a social media administrator for Holistic Parenting Magazine.