“You don’t need to worry,” said the kind voice deep inside me, as I studied obsessively for the medical school admissions test.
Trying to soothe my unrelenting anxiety and painful perfectionism, this reassuring voice added, “You’re never actually going to become a doctor.”
I didn’t listen.
Or, rather, I couldn’t listen, because another voice in my head was much louder. This one was negative and self-critical with a message of “You’re not good enough.” This voice said that I not only needed to excel at grades, perform flawlessly in choir, but I also needed to have the perfect diet, shape, and weight.
Controlling food and my body was an attempt to cope with the high anxiety and drive for perfection that were robbing all joy from my life. Of course, these unhealthy control efforts backfired: I began binging, purging, and restricting. I couldn’t stop.
In spite of a 4.0 GPA and, ultimately, being accepted to medical school, I was miserable. By the end of my last semester in college, something inside of me said that staying on my path of perfection was going to kill me. I had to change course.
So, guided by an inner compass that somehow got my attention amidst the storm, I did something that surprised a lot of people.
I put down my textbooks, grabbed my dusty guitar, and moved to Nashville. Instead of going to medical school, I headed to Music City to pursue singing and songwriting, something I had always wanted to try. Without each semester’s report card hanging over my head, begging to be perfect, I began to see things in my life more clearly. Most significantly, beyond the tunnel vision of school, I came to realize that I struggled with a real, life-threatening illness.
I never chose to have an eating disorder, but I did choose to get better.
The first step to healing was opening up about my struggles with friends and family. To recover, I needed to move out of a place of isolation and reform connections. I also needed professional help. I found a therapist, dietitian, psychiatrist, and therapy group. At age 22, I saw a doctor who diagnosed me with osteoporosis due to the effects of anorexia nervosa.
Throughout the treatment process with eating disorders experts, I learned that in addition to addressing my problems with food head-on, I also needed to better manage my anxiety and the desire to be perfect. The problem with perfection is that it doesn’t exist—not with our bodies, not with food, and surely not in the rest of our lives.
Recovery itself is a perfectly imperfect journey. As I forged ahead, falling and standing back up countless times along the way, that self-critical, negative voice—the voice of my eating disorder—grew quiet over time. With continued therapy and support, I fully recovered. And, in the process, I recovered my life—one that I never could have dreamed of.
As an author and speaker, I am able to uniquely combine my two passions—singing and helping people. (The latter is why I had wanted to become a doctor.) In my role as a National Recovery Advocate with Eating Recovery Center’s Family Institute, I frequently play my guitar and sing with patients. I also perform at almost all of my speaking engagements.
“You don’t need to worry,” I often hear when I stumble on my guitar.
Today, I listen to that old, familiar voice inside. I now know that this voice is my intuition—my connection to hope and healing—but I believe it is even more than that.
I believe this voice is God, as that was the only power great enough to get my attention in the middle of the eating disorder nightmare.
Looking back, it is surreal to me that I got derailed from my very focused path to medical school and ended up in Nashville with a guitar that I couldn’t even play at the time. It is as if God plucked me out of Texas and dropped me there.
I now believe that the voice of God kept me motivated in recovery, in spite of the fact that I kept falling flat on my face. While a large part of me believed that I would never heal, I learned to tune into that wiser part—although it felt much smaller at the time—that said recovery is possible.
When life gets rough—and it does—I do my best to connect with that deep inner wisdom. Although I am still far from perfect at this, my life is so much better for trying. Even when I simply attempt to tune in, I feel stronger and more fulfilled.
For so long, I just wasn’t listening. Are you?
Originally published September 28, 2016.