For me personally, the voice ED was not just the voice of anorexia. It was also the voice of self-doubt. The voice of perfectionism. The voice of defeatism. The voice of pride. This voice told me I was worthless – unless I was thin. Unless I was perfect, accomplished, successful. Unless I was adored by others.
The voices of ED took many forms, and began to seep into my brain inconspicuously at age three in my first ballet class. They became more prevalent, and I staked my life on those lies at age 12 when I started my first “diet,” and began the slow descent into despair and illness. The voices of self-destruction all shared a desire to see the authentic Kirsten die in the identity of anorexia. They feared the emergence of a whole woman, who did not need to rely on pleasing others, remaining thin, beautiful or successful for peace and happiness.
Through my two-year recovery from an eating disorder, I learned to think about what I think about. I learned to listen to the internal voices – what were they saying – why? Did I truly believe such awful things about myself? Truly, I did not. Raised in a bible-believing Christian family, I knew that my true identity was as a child of God, created perfect in my mother’s womb, loved by God before time began. I knew, in truth, I was fearfully and wonderfully made. I knew, deep down, that the voices of ED, the voices of self-destruction, were carefully crafted constructs in my mind that would only lead to failure and death – and never to the elusive goal, the salvation that they promised.
The question, then, is why do we believe the lies of the eating disorder?
1 – We believe the lie will bring us joy and happiness
2 – We believe the lie will give us value and worth that cannot be taken away
3 – We believe the lie will satisfy every need, and never leave us longing for anything
For those of us that have struggled and recovered from an eating disorder, we know that the lie promises what it cannot deliver. It is an imposter, a bully, and a fake. After running after the lie for five years of my life, I finally learned that the lies were just that – false accusations. Chasing them, even if I could attain them, could not give me peace or happiness. They would not give me value. They gave me despair and loneliness. They put me on a treadmill that had not “off” button, on a wild goose chase with no goose. After two years of therapy I stepped off that treadmill – for good.
Now, at age 24, I have been recovered for seven years. I had the great joy and honor of serving as Miss America in 2008, and traveled around the country, sharing my story of recovery and educating on the dangers of eating disorders, helping young women to understand that they are worth so much more than what they look like. The voices of ED emerged many times during my year as Miss America – lying to try to convince me that I was not beautiful enough, thin enough, smart enough, to deserve that crown and responsibility. But by then, I knew that those accusations were false – I knew that each gift life gives us, whether joy or heart ache, is given to us for a reason and a purpose. I knew I was given the job of Miss America, not for my own glory, but in order to share my own story of brokenness with others. It was the incredible opportunity to show others that perfection is unrealistic, and even celebrities and “perfect” women are far from that ideal, with flaws and struggles of their own.
The voices of ED, whatever form they take, may continue their effort to ensnare me into believing their lies. But my own voice now, after much practice, is stronger. It is louder. It can recognize the voices of accusation and force them to retreat. The voices of ED grow quieter, and emerge much less frequently now than ever before, and inside me, the confidence has grown that one day, they will be completely gone. I will not rush that process – it is valuable and continues to teach me that I rely on a strength outside of myself to grow, to change, and to become more than a “pretty, skinny girl.” I know who I am and Whose I am. The voices of ED are doomed to defeat, in light of the grace and strength of recovery.