Sarah Gavin

I Have to be Perfect: My Struggle with Bulimia

I never thought I’d be able to admit this out loud… let alone on the internet… but after talking with some friends and praying with 2 Corinthians 12:9, I’m finally ready to say it.

I have struggled with an eating disorder.

I was pretty athletic when I was growing up. I wasn’t a superstar or anything, but I did okay. When I was a kid I dabbled in all kinds of sports and I was always outside running around. I hated wearing dresses and I always had skinned knees. I was a tomboy. I also was a dancer. As I got into high school my focus was on dancing and softball. Oh, and the weight room. This girl loved lifting weights. I was confident and quite honestly, did not have any body image issues that so many girls seemed to have.

I have to be perfect

Then, I went to college. I had to make new friends and it wasn’t as easy for me as it was in high school. I desired acceptance from what I thought were the “perfect” people. In order to be accepted like them, I too had to be perfect.

I had straight teeth but I got braces anyway so I could have perfect teeth ($4000 later, my teeth look pretty much the same as they did before). I didn’t want to be athletic anymore because guys didn’t like girls who were tomboys. I quit softball and I started losing weight (and I was not even close to overweight).

I also started wearing more make-up than ever and bought expensive clothes. Oh, I even went ahead and got fake nails to look perfect.

People started noticing me. I was told that I was “hot.” I thrived on that kind of attention. My identity started becoming all about what I looked like.

But, I wasn’t happy. In fact, I was miserable.

Never good enough

I developed a full blown eating disorder (bulimia) in 2004. My sister was diagnosed with brain cancer that year and soon after my nephew died at 10 days old. My friends from high school were graduating from college but I changed my major so many times that I was no where near graduation. I even dropped out of college for a while. I felt like a loser.

The guy I was dating wasn’t into me anymore and I was crushed. I wasn’t good enough for anything or anybody. It seemed like the only thing I could control was my weight.

I puked, took laxatives, and became obsessed with exercising. No matter how much weight I lost, when I looked in the mirror I was disgusted by the reflection. People who have bulimia don’t always lose a lot of weight and they fluctuate often. This made things more difficult for me. I felt like even though I was doing these drastic things, I was still failing at controlling my weight.

I hid this from most people in my life. I did not want to show my hurt. I had to be perfect.

Admitting the Problem

One summer, one of my best friends (one of the few who knew that I was bulimic) followed me to the bathroom on a youth conference so I wouldn’t puke. It was an all time low for me. It was in that moment that I realized how sick I was.

I really did have an eating disorder and it terrified me. I just didn’t know how to get help.

That following winter I went to Life Teen’s Camp Covecrest in Georgia for a retreat. I finally spilled to a friend. She told me that she was bulimic in the past and that her brother died from a brain tumor. I was shocked because she got through it all and was healthy and happy. I finally felt like I wasn’t alone and that there was hope.

The road to recovery

I started seeing a psychiatrist and a counselor. I decided I that I was going to get healthy.

Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t an overnight fix. In fact, I relapsed a few times. It was a long and painful road. I was forced to face my weaknesses and deal with the hurt in my life. I had to relearn how to let people help me and see my ugly.

Things got better. I went back to college and finished my degree. I played college soccer and found the confidence in who I was like I had in high school. I laughed again. I felt joy again. I learned how to be grateful for the many gifts in my life. I learned how to live with a sister that will be chronically ill for the rest of her life.

I no longer denied the pain, I united it with the Cross. I became a full time youth minister because I truly believed in God’s ability to change lives and I wanted the young Church to find their identity in Jesus.

I am so thankful for a loving and healing God. I ignored Him for years (but pretended to have the greatest relationship with Him). When I finally sought my worth and identity in Jesus, He accepted me with open arms. Surrendering all of my garbage to the foot of the Cross was the smartest thing I’ve ever done. I can’t even begin to explain to you the peace and grace I received.

Unfortunately, there is not a cure for eating disorders and often times they are a life-long struggle. I am happy to say that I am healthy today, but it doesn’t mean I don’t still struggle. I have to be careful not to calorie count or hop onto some new trendy diet. I need to make sure I don’t become obsessive with exercise again. It’s all about making healthy and balanced decisions.
Honestly, healing is a long and continuous process.

The Comparison Trap

One of the worst hindrances to healing is comparing myself with other women.

Sometimes when I look at my friends and how beautiful, accomplished, and happy they are, I think I could be the same if I only lost weight.

If only I lost 30 pounds, then I’d be happy…

Then, I guys would notice me…

If only I lost weight, then I would be in a wonderful relationship…

If only I lost weight…

Have you ever felt this way? Guess what? You aren’t alone and these thoughts and feelings are LIES.

I am 5 foot nothing. I have always had an athletic body type, which means I won’t be super skinny. My body is not meant to look like someone else’s. My body was created by God uniquely and beautifully. I think the Creator of the world knows what He’s doing. Just saying.

I am constantly telling myself to stop comparing myself with other women. Comparison is awful and I believe it’s the pit of a lot of problems that we as women face.

Let’s celebrate each our beauty

I have learned the the best way to stop comparison is to compliment and celebrate my girlfriends. Instead of being jealous, I tell my friends how wonderful they are. Seriously, we have plenty of negative voices telling us we aren’t skinny enough or pretty enough or good enough… we don’t need to be doing that to each other (or ourselves).

I get so saddened when I hear a high school girl talk about how ugly they are or how fat they are. My heart sinks because I want these girls to see themselves the way our Father does. I want them to see how I see them: funny, intelligent, caring, loving and beautiful even if they have a few extra pounds, or acne, or a big nose (or whatever they think is not perfect).

I’m involved with youth ministry because I do not want any young lady to ever feel the way I did. I want them to know there is hope, healing, and recovery. I want every middle school and high school student to know that they have a God that is in love with them. A God that wants to take away the pain and replace it with mercy, peace, and joy.

You are a beauty and good enough.

“We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of His Son.” Blessed Pope John Paul II

Categories: Body ImageFoodHealthy BodyMy Life

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Sarah Gavin

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