It all starts with love.
It took every ounce of self loathing, punishment, starvation, self harm and self directed mental abuse to keep me in hospital for two years, knocking on death’s door.
I fully believed that being emaciated was the biggest achievement of my life. And if I died of starvation then I had succeeded … I held onto this dream for many years even with the imminent threat of death, the loss of an international sports career and a modelling contract
Of course I was miserable.
After six years of being in the grips of this mental illness, I’d failed in life and failed as an anorexic. I was still alive to spread misery and toxic energy. I’d lost my battle to die. I just thank my lucky stars that others didn’t give up on me the way I’d given up on myself.
Seeds of Change
A day release from hospital to attend a wedding was enough to reconnect with my soul that had been buried by misery for years. I realised I wanted the chance at a happier future.
The only way I was going to get out of hospital was to start ‘acting’ like a person without a mental health condition. I had to hand over complete trust and control to others. After all I was wise enough to know that my way wasn’t working. I also quickly realised that in order to overcome my physical issues I had to change my mentality. Simply piling on the pounds wouldn’t be enough.
I was living a lie, going through the motions of ‘normal’ eating, socialising, pretending to take an interest in everyday activities. I was succeeding in fooling everyone that I was better as I maintained a healthy weight. In reality I was just as mentally unwell as all those years spent in a hospital bed. I felt guilt and shame at having let go of my control.
Anorexia had become my only friend, my only comfort. All that I knew. My friends, society and strangers had turned their backs a long time ago, and left only judgement and misunderstanding behind. Luckily the guilt I felt for hurting my family members, meant I could keep working on getting better for them if not for myself.
Feelings of shame engulfed me. In my mind I was a hindrance, an embarrassment, a complete outcast. I thought the world would be better off without me in it. I thought about taking my own life many times.
Changing deeply held patterns
One comment from my mum was a life changer: “Liv, you do know you can you use all of your determination, Will power and strength in a positive way.”
That was the start of my shift in focus. I’ve dedicated the last ten years to finding, improving, listening to and loving myself. And now – working as a fitness trainer, artist and life coach in Perth, Australia – I’m passionate about taking what I’ve learned from own recovery, to empower and educate others.
It hasn’t been easy. First, I had to learn to completely rewrite my beliefs. As soon as I realised I could undo a phobia around food. I understood that the mind is malleable. We are all born as a blank canvas, without any beliefs. We inherit other people’s thoughts and opinions and interpret them, before convincing ourselves that these opinions are facts and beliefs that we call our own.
Imagine for a minute that you were born in a different culture to different parents, with a different society and upbringing. You would hold completely different beliefs. With this understanding, we can all practice changing our beliefs and habits if the existing ones no longer serve us.
The day I realised I could rewrite my beliefs was the day I could leave anorexia behind, and embark on the journey to self development, empowerment and the rest of my life.
Long road to acceptance
Over the years I have begun to believe that all failures are opportunities to learn. We each have our own stories that lead us to problems with mental health. And we each have the potential to create new stories for ourselves, and stop being defined by our history and “diagnosis”.
Sometimes when we’ve experienced a lot of suffering, it’s easy to feel undeserving of happiness. But I believe putting others before our own wellbeing is doing them a disservice. If we focus on ourselves first, we can be in a better position to spread love and positive energy to others.
It took me years of practice, before I could look into my own eyes in the mirror and say that I loved myself. Only after 500 days of repeating the exercise, did I finally one day believe it.
For me, all addiction is the same self loathing just manifested differently. If you truly loved yourself you would never choose to harm your physical body or make choices that do not improve your existence ( e.g., drink excessive alcohol, over eat and don’t exercise).
Feeding the self
Imagine it we could define ourselves, not by what we do for work, our hobbies or daily activities but by our human traits. If we stopped identifying ourselves with what we do, would we then know who we are?
I believe, a super food has three components. It tastes good, it has nutrients and it provides energy. If it’s lacking in two or three of these areas it’s not food. Likewise with the nutrients we put inside ourselves in terms of our beliefs. Surround yourself with people engaging in unhealthy behaviours, then it’s likely you’re going to continue repeating the same patterns. Personally I think if people spent more time loving themselves and less time trying to love others, then the world would be a better place.
It takes strength and courage to look within. But the external world will be a damn sight less scary if you can look at it through a cleansed internal filter. Remove the smelly curtains from inside and the room can be filled up from the light coming in from the outside
If my journey to recovery has taught me anything, it’s that you only see in others what you see in yourself. It’s impossible to recognise a trait – good or bad – in someone if you haven’t experienced it yourself. The world I encounter today and the people who I choose to be in my life are a world away from when I was in the depths of anorexia, living out my teenage years on a psychiatric unit. Then everything looked pretty bleak. I may have swapped the fields of South West England for the sun, sand and sea of Perth, Australia. But it’s my inner landscape that’s changed the most.
Some days are more challenging than others, but I now have the tools to be able to do something about them. I practise self love, and listen to what my body and mind really need. Sometimes it’s just as simple as doing nothing: resting, sitting with pain and learning not to run away from it. The more I acknowledge and invite my pain out into the open, the less it consumes me. All those years of anorexia I starved myself not only of food, but also of self compassion. It was like being eaten alive by my own suffering. Now I can sit with the challenge, and know it’s a chance to grow.
Reading up on the mind and its power, and getting armed with knowledge was one of the most empowering gifts I gave myself. And choosing to nurture my body with healthy food, fresh air, nature and creativity cost me nothing.
Steps on the path to happiness
Learning to take enjoyment from life and prioritising doing the things that bring me joy, even if it means going against societies norms. Being happy to go it alone. I thought anorexia was my friend, but I was lonely for years. Now I’m not scared to be alone. I do things that make me happier, trusting that the right, like-minded people will walk along my path.
Trusting my instinct. Taking risks. Knowing I didn’t have all the answers. The key for me was realising that if I carried on doing the same thing, I would always get the same results. Years of misery, heart ache, pain and depression had become mundane and tedious.
The promise to myself was that I knew I could always return to anorexia and depression if trying to be happy and healthy was a worse option. Luckily once I reached a healthier me, I knew that trusting in change was worth it.
We always have a choice.
And I chose love.
Join us on November 18th in Cardiff at Compassionate Approaches to Mental Heath – a one day experiential event designed to inform, inspire and empower people living and working with mental distress.
Please book now to join us in Cardiff. Limited £35 tickets – sponsored by Welsh mental health and wellbeing charity Gofal – are available for people with personal experience of mental health issues, and their supporters.