My Path to Warriorhood

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By Tara Moon Christopher, Guest Contributor

My journey started at age 12, when I stepped on to a scale at my grandmother’s house and decided that the number was too big. Until this point, I had no memory of ever feeling insecure about my weight. Something that day changed. I became aware, as though every person I passed knew that number, and my self-worth dropped further based upon it.

Growing up in an unconventional family with an unconventional background, I had to realize early on, I wasn’t going to immediately meet people like me, or at least people who would accept me at face value. I was bullied, heavily. I spoke openly and honestly, which set me up for disaster. No matter how hard I tried, there was no way to hide who I was, what I was. And in grade school, this was a curse.

At age 10 I had walked into the theater while looking for a safe environment to eat my usual lunch alone, away from the girls and boys who taunted me mercilessly. Instead, I inadvertently came across the “Tara Hate Club,” a group of 5 to 7 of my peers who met to discuss how much they disliked me. I was devastated. And with that devastation came an acceptance of my reality.

I was wrong. Every fiber of my being didn’t match what I needed to be. The only problem I saw then was that I didn’t know how to fix myself to match what would make them leave me be. In the years following, both before and after the day at my grandmother’s, I found hiding my truth was near impossible. I spoke and acted long before my brain could realize what I’d done. I dyed my hair pink and became more noticeable, despite hoping desperately to fade away. I was called poser on the days I felt most like myself, and found ways to punish myself for this with self-harm.

Throughout the years the depression and the internal war I was waging grew. My self-harm consumed me, and I started skipping meals. It was easy to cover this up once I got to school, and no one seemed to notice I wasn’t eating as I sat in the art room, or hid in the bathrooms during break times. I stopped going out with people from my school, finding solace in friends from other communities. One morning at age 14, after a particularly interesting house party, I realized I was trembling. I hadn’t eaten in days, and there was nothing “safe” in the strange house I found myself in. I called a friend, and only hours later, when he picked me up, did I realize how sick I had become. Something needed to change, but I was hooked.

10 years after that house party, I had only gotten worse. I was trapped in a mentally abusive relationship, both with myself and the people around me, going to a university in a city I hated, and doing everything in my power to disappear. Then, one day, I just sat down. In the middle of campus, on my way to a class, I just stopped. And I didn’t move for 3 hours. That evening, I checked myself into an inpatient facility. During the check in process, they put me on the scale, and when I saw the number I burst into tears. “It’s too much” I said, just before the panic attack came and sedatives were provided.

Shortly thereafter I was diagnosed with anorexia, among a myriad of other mental health diagnoses. I entered group therapy, which I regularly stormed out of, and continued seeing a private therapist, who told me each and every week she was closer to having me admitted. Still, I was convinced it was fine. I was still rational after all. I was still working multiple jobs, attending school full time, so it was fine.

But eventually, it wasn’t. It hadn’t been for a long time, I just couldn’t see it. I lost nearly every person in my life, and more and more people came to me in tears, telling me they just didn’t know what to do anymore, that they were fearful each time they saw me could be the last. Then, my doctor told me if I didn’t get better, my heart would fail within the year. In fact, for any of you who have ever been that ill, you will know that the doctor couldn’t even address me - they had to tell the person I came with, something most people had taken to doing when talking about my health, as I just couldn’t, or wouldn’t hear them.

I’d like to say that was the moment of change, as it was the moment I was referred to the Charis Center, an eating disorder clinic in Indiana, but it wasn’t. While I did the motions, getting an appointment with the clinic, attempting to follow a meal plan, it wasn’t until 2 weeks before my admission to a partial hospitalization program that I saw clearly what I had become. I had just had the stomach flu and the first thing I did when I could stand, was weigh myself. I had finally hit my goal weight, a weight that was less than what I weighed at age 12, when I decided the number I saw, and any number thereafter, was simply too much.

Instead of feeling happy, I cried. I could barely stand, I would sit in the shower, I was loosing hair, I had been banned from exercise of any sort, and I finally understood. This was wrong. I was sick. And my life had value. I needed to take the help I was being offered, and really try.

Entering PHP at the Charis Center was one of the most terrifying and challenging experiences I have ever had. Anyone who has attempted recovery will know this. Your disorder is comforting, it’s safe, predictable, and - due to the lack of nutrition in my case - actually had done well in shutting down parts of my brain. I was protected from all the pain that I didn’t want to process. Unfortunately, to heal - to recover, you have to wake up. The refeeding process is … well, it’s hard, to say the least. Spending 3 months day in, day out at a treatment facility, eating food that’s not within your control, having to open up the deepest wounds, is exhausting.

After 12-hour days, I would come home and sleep another 10 and still not feel rested. After being discharged, I had to learn how to cope in the real world. I got a job. I ended my engagement, I continued to go to therapy, both individual and group, 5x a week. I struggled. But I finally felt again. I made new friends, both in and out of the recovery world. I started to go on adventures too, but I still struggled. I was weight restored, but still found myself in urgent care from time to time for self harm. I needed something more. So I spoke to my treatment team and realized I needed to go home. I needed to leave the city I hated, the country I didn’t identify with, and go home.

I’d like to say that from that point on I was instantly better, but I wasn’t. It took another 6 months to stop self harming and a relapse of my eating disorder to finally figure it out. But I did. And because of that, I wouldn’t have changed a thing.

By January of 2017, I had launched and was running a sustainable business in film. I knew that to be successful, I needed to be nourished, I needed to be strong. And so that’s what I did. I made myself a meal plan, I incorporated yoga into my daily routine, and I had learned to be okay with my feelings, accepting both the good and the bad.

I fell in love. First with myself, then with someone else. I realized that everything I fought to hide from the world for so many years was actually what made me, well, me. And the best thing about that? I was actually proud.

Fierce. A warrior.

Since these realizations I have spent an incredible amount of time on myself. On listening to what I need to be and feel healthy. I embrace the weird, strange things I used to be bullied for, as those are the things that have made me thrive. I do my best to avoid shame in taking time for self-care, in looking different, or in being different. I’ve (mostly) accepted that not everyone needs to like me, as long as I accept myself. I’ve stood up for injustices, I’ve advocated for recovery, and I’ve become successful.

Now, a full time producer in film and commercials, confident in myself, I want to share my journey to be an advocate for recovery. Had anyone told me that it could get this much better, back when I found myself on my grandmother’s scale, at that house party, or sitting on the cement of a campus sidewalk, I probably would have not believed them. But it’s true. Every single person struggling with an eating disorder is worth recovery. To be your best self, to find success, you need to be nourished and you need to find self compassion.

I’m a firm believer that I will never be fully recovered, that I will still have moments that I struggle, or even moments when I need to dust off my old meal plans, but that doesn’t mean I’ve failed. It simply means I am human. Just like everyone else.

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Tara Moon Christopher currently resides in the Netherlands and works as a full time producer in both commercial campaigns and film through her company Tara Moon Productions. She is also trained as an online crisis hotline specialist, focusing on individuals struggling with eating disorders, anxiety disorders, and self harm. In her spare time she enjoys festivals, bouldering, reading, and of course, practicing yoga.