Yesterday, I was sharing part of my life story with a coworker and she looked at me and said, “If you grew up that way, how did you ever become… you?”
I grew up in a rigid, highly religious, and conservative community. I did not interact with the outside world. I never had a TV, never read magazines, never listened to music on the radio, and never browsed the internet. Everything I read was filtered and approved by my parents or teachers. My friends and neighbors were exactly like me, and since I didn’t know any better, I never questioned the way things were. I went to school from 8 in the morning until 5 in the evening. There was no time for extracurricular activities, and no opportunities to mingle with the opposite sex. My behavior was guided by my religion, from the moment I woke up in the morning until the moment I went to sleep.
But I was deeply unhappy. What I was being told didn’t match up with the world I saw around me. I was being told that everything was good and a gift from God, but all I saw was pain and suffering. When the incongruence became too much to bear, I lost myself in anorexia, starving away every part of me that made me human. I reduced my world to skin and bones and numbers and my shrinking reflection in the mirror. I kept starving even when my body started to fail and my brain wasn’t functioning correctly anymore. I didn’t stop even when I would lie in bed at night and feel my heart skipping beats, wishing that it would just stop completely and release me from this misery.
At 16, I was hospitalized for the first time. Over the next 8-9 years, I would endure 4 hospitalizations, dozens of pounds lost and regained, and an endless flow of tears. Throughout it all, I somehow graduated high school, studied abroad for a year, and got my master’s degree in social work at the age of 21. I discovered rock climbing and fell in love, but ended up destroying my body even further by not giving myself adequate nutrition while pushing my muscles to their limit. I even got married – although luckily I realized within the year that I had made a colossal mistake. Still, to outsiders, I looked like a picture of success. I was young, thin, athletic, employed, the author of two novels, and a social butterfly. And I was miserable.
Throughout that time I pretended that I still believed in the religion in which I’d been raised. To leave religion was to leave everything I’d ever know, and face condemnation and rejection from my family and community. So while I questioned and raged inside, I maintained a picture perfect imagine on the outside. But several years ago, I realized that the charade was killing me. I couldn’t shake my eating disorder while I was still living a lie.
In the past few years, I left my religion and embraced my sexuality, something that would have never been accepted in my community. I began to blog about my experiences and started to become a voice for the marginalized group of people who have left my religion and are treated with disrespect and pity. I moved away from my community and found my own community – one that would embrace me unconditionally – all of me. I began to speak truths that I had kept quiet for so long, not backing down when former friends requested that I stay quite, so as not to “embarrass my family”. I kicked anorexia’s bony ass and embraced recovery. I began to truly love my body and stopped trying to manipulate it in the hopes that it would somehow make me feel better.
I fell in love. Not only with myself, but with a beautiful girl who looks at me like I’m the most amazing thing in the whole world. I am living a life of internal and external congruence, for the first time in my life. I use my voice to say the things that need to be said, no matter what others will say about me. I joined a lovely group of Humans who inspire me every day.
I am finally living the life I always wanted.
Story Submitted By Shoshana