Stories of Recovery
THE POWER OF FORGIVENESS
by Holly Alastra, RD, MSC
I used to hate myself. Even so, I desperately wanted to be loved. I lived my teen and young adult years trying to show others that I wasn’t the worthless person I believed myself to be. Yet nothing I ever achieved was enough—not straight “A’s,” not gold medals in sports, not cute boyfriends, not a thinner weight. No accomplishment ever made me feel fulfilled. I was lacking inside, and this lack led me to constantly strive for more.
Rather than turning outside of myself to fill me up, I needed to turn inside—to come to know the person that was good enough just as she was. I needed to learn to love myself before I could fully accept the love of others. This was a mighty big task given that I had so little self-worth.
You see, I was abused as a child, and when I was whipped with a belt or touched inappropriately, I thought it was my fault. I thought there was something wrong with me. Young children don’t understand that it is their abuser who is out of control and in the wrong. Rather, abused children come to think that they are terrible, deserving of the pain inflicted upon them.
In order to grow into healthy young people, children need to believe that they are worthwhile and brilliant in their own way. Because I was abused, I thought I had to go to drastic measures to be good enough. And my drastic approach to getting skinny resulted in years of eating disorders, from anorexia, to bulimia, to binge eating.
I’m only one of many people with a history of abuse and eating disorders. Out of over 2,000 people with eating disorders who responded to a Something Fishy poll (www.something-fishy.org), more than 50 percent said they suffered from some type of physical or sexual abuse. If you’ve been abused, either physically, sexually, or verbally, how do you think it has affected your sense of worth? My guess is that it has made you feel just like it made me feel—like you are a terrible person underneath your looks or talent or achievements.
Once I realized how the abuse had shattered my sense of self, I naturally became very angry with my abuser. I thought he had ruined my life. I spent a few years enraged at him. But part of me also loved him. He was my dad, and I knew that he loved me and meant the best for me despite what he had done. I knew that he never meant to hurt me. He just wasn’t able to control his impulses.
I didn’t forgive him right away. I didn’t see why I needed to forgive him. I didn’t realize that my resentment toward him was keeping me stuck. I would think, “I was abused, and so I need my eating disorder. I’m permanently marred, and I can’t help but cling to my food. It’s the only way I can cope with my sad life. My dad did this to me.”
In other words, I defined myself as a person who would always be damaged, and would never overcome my eating problems. I was hanging on to my childhood, as if I was frantically clinging to a rope swing over a pond. I was afraid to let go, to drop in the water and swim to the other side. I thought if I let go I might sink.
Then I realized that staying angry and resentful of the events that happened in my past kept me from being happy in the present moment. By refusing to forgive my dad, I was subconsciously telling myself that he was still hurting me. I was giving him all of my power.
If somebody hurts you, you can hold onto it and stay angry. Or you can let it go and move on with life. When you hold onto it, the person who hurt you wins over and over again. They don’t just hurt you once, but hurt you hundreds or thousands of times through your thoughts about the situation.
I didn’t want to be hurt anymore. So I started to believe that nothing could prevent me from becoming totally healthy and “normal” as a grown woman. I made up my mind to no longer define myself based on my past.
Finally, I was able to let go of the rope that was keeping me trapped in misery. I dropped into the water and felt the shock of life without food to numb it. I found out that I could survive without an eating disorder to cope. I didn’t sink, but slowly swam out of the water, where I could begin a new life of freedom.
Today, I view my abuser with compassion. My dad had a terrible life himself, filled with hardship. I can now see how his experiences hurt him, and how he hurt me as a result. I also know that he has many great qualities. I can appreciate him for the good times growing up, and for his intelligence and ambition. I don’t have much of a relationship with him, but I still send him love when I think of him.
As far as my own life, I focus on what is going right for me. I am only as damaged as I believe myself to be. And I don’t believe I’m damaged at all. I’m not a victim.
Because of my ability to forgive and move beyond my past, I am free to create myself into the person I want to be. I am someone without a need to prove herself by becoming too thin. I am able to eat whatever I want, yet I don’t overeat. I feed my body in loving ways, with just enough healthy food and some treats.
My eating disorder recovery didn’t happen overnight. It was a process that took years. But now I can say I am fully recovered. And a great blessing has come out of my experiences—I get to help others recover from their eating problems. I get to help others see that they, too, deserve the best in life!
If you’ve been abused, maybe it’s hard for you to believe that you are truly a good person and that your life is invaluable. So I’m here to tell you that no matter what you’ve been through, at your core you are wonderful, important, loving…GOOD. You are worthy just as you are.
I wouldn’t wish abuse on anyone, but the fact is many of you dear readers have been abused. You have survived, and I know that you are stronger for it. In my view, the measure of a person isn’t dependent on his or her achievements, but on what he or she has overcome. You can choose to see every experience in your life as making you into the unique, multifaceted person you are. Begin to notice your good qualities, and what’s right in your life. Find your brilliance and let it shine!
About the Author
Holly Alastra is a registered dietitian with a master’s in counseling and over ten years of experience helping people heal from eating disorders. She has been working in the nutrition field since 1996. She also has a personal blog about finding joy in life and loving your body at www.joy4bodyandsoul.blogspot.com and a website, www.eatingdisordersnomore.com.