Trauma looks different on everyone. My father left me and my mother when I was a little girl, and ever since I have found myself in a constant battle with the feeling of abandonment. After many years of self-exploration, I realized how connected this feeling of abandonment is with my own deep rooted fear of being unloved.
The feeling of being “unloved’ has always been a physical sensation for me. Sometimes my experience of being unloved expressed itself as a quiet murmur beneath my day to day activities, or sometimes it took shape as a raging emotion that controls my every move. The hardest part? No matter how surrounded by love I am in the moment, I always fear I be could be left again.
It turns out the fear of being unwanted isn’t something you can get a prescription for. I was left to figure out a way to battle these seemingly uncontrollable emotions on my own. Growing up, I chose food as my self-prescribed medication. Starting in middle school, any time I felt the fear of being unloved or unwanted creeping in, I would eat. I found myself binge eating 90’s style junk food while watching cartoons until I felt sick. In high school, I would go on these crazy-limiting “clean eating plans” and then break down and eat entire pizzas at sleepovers. With every passing year my self-medicating system became less effective, requiring me to continually increase my food intake when I binged to make the feeling of loneliness go away, even if just momentarily.
When I entered college I had yet to name my self-medicating process. One day toward the end of my freshman year, I ate so much I threw up. In my mind this was a breakthrough for me. After all, throwing up meant I could binge more! I could fill myself up with love all day long and then clear it out to start the process again. Binging and purging became my new normal; I’d do it up to 30 times a day, for weeks on end. I would throw up until I could barely open my eyes because my head hurt so badly. I could barely swallow because my throat was so burnt. It was amazing that I was functioning at all, let alone an active member of an academic scholar program, a player on the women’s rugby team, and a person who was surrounded by friends and family who deeply loved me.
After college I found an incredible job in a field I was passionate about and entered into my first real relationship. Around this time, I started to realize that my self-medicating was taking a toll on my body and I couldn’t keep up. It was creating patterns of pain that were starting to interfere with my life. Plus, my unhealed fear of being unloved was growing, not dissipating. I had also come to realize that my fancy self-medicating system was in reality an eating disorder called bulimia.
I slowly began to lose my grip on life. I found myself unable to be present in my body. I was overwhelmed and devastated by the amount of pain I was still feeling.
Just as it seemed I was about to fully lose control, another emotional trauma hit: My boyfriend had become ill and was slowly dying in front of my eyes. I completely lost control.
I was no longer functioning. I felt completely separate from my body, unable to perform day-to-day tasks or deal with any emotions without panicking. I finally found the courage within myself to seek help for my emotional and physical state. After months of therapy dealing with the trauma of losing someone (and, in a sense, myself) I came to a place of understanding around my eating disorder. My body didn’t need massive amounts of food; it needed me to stop seeking love outside of myself. I needed to love myself -- so hard, that no matter who loved or didn’t love me in the future, I would feel safe.
My story does not make me weak. I don’t have to feel silly for sharing it or shame for feeling my experience isn’t painful enough to warrant speaking out about it. My story is rich with deep self growth and wisdom. My journey was one of facing my past, confronting unresolved emotions and growing through them. It's a journey many humans have to take. My healing then and my continued healing now comes from sharing my story with my community whether it be a therapist, friends or family. The impact of being understood and supported by my community was profound for my journey to recovery.
I am one of 4.7 million females and 1.5 million males that have suffered from bulimia in the United States. Each one of us has an individual story that is different, powerful and important for our community to hear. Humans should be supported by their communities to heal these mental health issues, not isolated, shamed or left without support and resources to battle this disorder or any eating disorder.
The next step of my journey with this disorder has been to create a project that works to bridge the gap between individuals suffering from bulimia and the lack of understanding, support and resource from their communities. Humans that have overcome -- or are working to overcome -- this disorder are incredible individuals that can offer their communities lessons in resilience, self awareness and empathy.
The project Faces of Bulimia is a community health visual exhibition that works to tell the stories of individuals who struggle or have struggled with bulimia. The project, curated by me, can be viewed at sierravossphotography.com. In my experience, making a connection to a picture is far easier than connecting to words on a page, facts, or figures regarding a mental health topic. Connecting to another human’s story, visualizing their journey, what it looks like, and what it may feel like, opens the door for the deepest level of awareness, empathy, and understanding. The project Faces Of Bulimia asks the general public to witness these stories in order to foster deeper community connection, compassion, support and resources to help individuals overcome this eating disorder.
I AM CURRENTLY SEEKING PARTICIPANTS FOR THIS PROJECT. Whether you are a survivor, someone who is still fighting, or a family member/friend of someone who has suffered, I want to hear your story and tell you more about this project. I have provided a form below. Please only provide your contact information if you would like me to reach out and provide more details of the project with you.
IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN LEARNING MORE ABOUT THIS PROJECT PLEASE CLICK THIS LINK TO FILL OUT THE FORM
This project is sponsored and supported by Global Health Disrupted, an international grassroots nonprofit that believes in supporting local leaders, partnering with communities, and taking creative approaches to improve health around the world.