Six years ago I was at war with myself. Eighteen years old, getting ready to leave home for college, and totally lost. My journal entries were full of confusion as I realized something was terribly wrong in my life but could not put my finger on what it was.
Six years ago I still did not know I had an eating disorder. Anorexia nervosa, the most deadly of all mental illnesses, had stealthily taken over my life. Strongly blinded by denial I remember spending long minutes ordering at restaurants as I tried to figure out what item had the least calories. I remember lying to friends about stomachaches and food intolerances to avoid eating. I recall spending hours reading recipes and baking cheesecakes I would never eat. I wanted to be near food to feel the strength of denying myself sustenance. I was numb: constantly cold from lack of nutrients and emotionally numb from avoiding all feelings. I longed for emotional intimacy even as I isolated from the people I loved most. I constantly strived for perfection, grasped for false control, and wore a mask of vivacity to hide my emptiness and fear. I desperately wanted to be happy, knew that I was not, and had no idea how to get there.
Now, six years later, I almost find it hard to remember what it felt like to be anorexic. Yes, pieces of the disorder still burgeon when I am under stress and I must clip them away from the joy and authenticity in my life. And, yes, recovery is a continual process of becoming my most authentic self. However, I now deeply know happiness every day.
Six years later I find myself standing on a grand stage in front of four hundred elegant people. Despite the low cut of my evening gown I am warmed by the energy of the crowd. I have just finished playing my favorite piano piece by Johannes Brahms and stepped up to the podium in bare-feet, smiling.
I thought I would feel nervous, that heady heart-racing and stomach-tumbling buzz of excitement and terror. Instead, it feels natural. This is where I am supposed to be. This is who I am.
“I am a woman in recovery from anorexia nervosa,” my voice blooms under the crystal chandeliers as I begin my speech. It is no longer scary to say these words. I shed the shame of my eating disorder a long time ago, yet I am still surprised by how comfortable I feel in my own skin and standing in so much vulnerability.
Perhaps it is because I have always wanted to share my story: to let others know that eating disorders do happen and often in the least expected places, to let others know that they might not know they have an eating disorder, to let others know that silence and isolation are not the only answers, to let others know that recovery is possible and life is so much better without the disorder, to let others know that you do not need to only survive but that you can thrive!
When the notes of my second piece fade and I rise from the piano bench to bow in front of a standing ovation, reality hits me. Six years ago I could never have imagined this! I did not even know I was in the middle of a disease that I could move this far away from. I did not know I was about to embark upon a journey that would teach me invaluable lessons, make me who I am, and bring me to this moment on this stage. Now, I defy my eating disorder by finding power in breaking the silence. I can feel fully. I can live fully. And just by being me—not the false perfection my eating disorder wanted me to be—I have found myself standing tall in my own truth, deeply seen by 400 semi-strangers, fulfilling a dream I did not know I would have!
My face on a huge projector screen
Here is the speech I gave at the Eating Disorder Foundation’s Annual Gala. For me it was a huge step of success and affirmation in my recovery!
ZOE VLASTOS’S PERFORMANCE & SPEECH
INTERMEZZO IN A MAJOR, OP. 18, NO. 2 – BRAHMS (APPROX. 8MIN)
Thank you. While you may assume I am only a performer, I am also a volunteer at the eating disorder foundation and a woman who has recovered from anorexia nervosa. I am here to share my story and to talk about the role EDF has played in my journey.
I developed anorexia nervosa when I was seventeen. For more than a year, I dug myself deeper into the disorder without knowing it. I learned the power of denial. To avoid feelings I did not want to face, I engaged in typical eating disorder behaviors: restricted eating, over exercising, and obsessing about body image.
I developed a false sense of control in my life. I began to isolate myself from friends and family. This disease had taken over my life.
When I realized I was more worried about eating, body image and exercise than I was about my other passions—including playing the piano—I knew something was terribly wrong. That’s the point at which I was able to accept that I had an eating disorder, and begin the process of recovery.
The piece by Johannes Brahms which you just heard was with me throughout my both my disorder and recovery. Brahms’ music helped me to feel during a time when I had numbed all feelings. In recovery this piece has become a safe haven for expressing feelings of hurt, anger, frustration, longing, pain, and love.
2011 was a big year for me. I realized I had an eating disorder and started recovery. There were other changes, as well. I moved to a state and a new city where I knew no one. I started college – and, I found EDF.
I clearly remember my first support group at EDF. My stomach felt full of feathers, and my heart had turned to jello. But I also remember being surrounded by people who understood, really understood what I was going through.
When I reached my car after that first session, I began to cry. It was the first time in a long time that I had cried for joy. I was learning to feel again. I was learning to live again.
From that point on, EDF became a family and a home. Volunteering at EDF gave more purpose to my recovery— being there for others through mentoring, helping to organize EDF’s annual candlelight vigil, and working at previous galas.
I don’t know what I would have done without EDF. There is no other space like a place of our own, EDF’s permanent home. To put it another way: EDF helped me to save my own life. I want to remind you that you, too, can save lives, help families, and educate generations by supporting the Eating Disorder Foundation. I hope you will.
Please visit the Eating Disorder Foundation’s Website for more information!
I only have a few photos but hopefully more to come!