Secrets, Forgiveness, and Freedom

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By Jenifer Dillow, Guest Contributor

Secrets slowly kill you. My eating disorder was my secret for 10 years, a secret that I didn’t even know I had for a long time. It was something that was always there with me, seemingly a part of my DNA, and something I didn’t know was a problem till its fingers wrapped around every aspect of my life forcing me to speak out or keep it bottled in till it suffocated me.   

It is hard to say when it all began, but I do vividly remember hating my body at 14 years old. It was the one thing keeping me from excelling in ballet as I was heavily training for a ballet company at the time. My body had just begun to change and teachers began telling me my talent wouldn’t be enough as my body wasn’t right for ballet. The intense need to be skinny in order to succeed planted itself in me and so began the manipulation of food, exercise, and thoughts about myself. 

This was my normal and seemingly the world’s normal, too, so I did not think twice about this being an issue. If this is what it took to succeed, I was 100% going to do it and prove everyone wrong. 

I became a PRO at restriction. Calculating each day’s calories, measuring out my cheerios, reading all the SHAPE and SELF magazines I could get my hands on, doing every diet under the sun became my norm. At first, it was so fun as it was all numbers and something I could easily control.  It worked for quite a while, too. Then the bingeing, compulsive eating, fasting, compulsive exercising, heavily starving myself, getting my stomach pumped, and purging came into effect. 

I can’t even really pinpoint when all that began. I believe my mind has blocked out some memories of this whole journey sometimes. Again, I kept all this to myself as I truly believed that this is what it took to be a professional athlete and dancer. 

As time went on, I began to slowly say things to friends and family that I thought there was something wrong with me. I was told countless times that every girl struggles with eating and their body, but I couldn’t seem to articulate why mine felt just slightly different. These conversations always ended with me more frustrated and hence more determined to “get it together” and get the next diet down better and harder. 

The self-hate really started creeping in at this point. I felt so trapped by myself and I couldn’t distinguish where Jen was anymore. I felt like an alien in my own skin and felt overwhelmed by confusion of what was happening. 

My breaking point came when I knew I needed help no matter what anyone else said. I googled and found an eating disorder treatment center that ONLY treated eating disorders. (I had spent a year prior trying to get this “thing” under control with people who supposedly had eating disorders in their umbrella but truly didn’t….). I decided to completely leave my career and go into treatment full time. Even at this point, I still was telling my best friend that I didn’t think I needed to be there.  But somehow, I still showed up to day #1. 

While there, I learned how to eat consistently no matter my hunger/fullness cues, and meal by meal my body started to heal itself, with my hunger returning and fullness being more reliable. I started to trust myself around food which I never thought would happen. I started to see my eating disorder more clearly as something separate from me. I started to learn how to fight back. 

I fought back by doing lots of food exposures to fear foods, l learned knowledge about the destructiveness of restricting and dieting to our bodies and metabolisms, I learned about set point weight, I worked through body image issues, I learned CBT and DBT skills, I did art therapy and drama therapy, yoga, meditation, and even karaoke.

Most importantly, I learned forgiveness. Forgiveness towards myself.  Forgiveness for all the years of trauma I put myself through. Forgiveness for not speaking out and getting help sooner. Forgiveness towards my body that I always had viewed as my enemy. For the first time, I started to experience the compassion and love I so ferociously gave to others.

Recovery has been the most vicious battle I have ever fought, but I honesty wouldn’t change a thing. It has grown me in so many ways. It made me “pause” in my fast paced life. It made me re-evaluate what I want in this one life I am given. It grew my faith with Jesus. It reconciled broken relationships and friendships. It gave me the courage to move to a different state. It gave me a voice again. It gave me passion for helping others who suffer in silence. It gave me the tools I need to fight off future trials whether they are eating disorder related or not. It gave me my power back, a power that I had only found in how small my body was. It helped me laugh again, truly laugh. It showed me that I am a warrior and that I am beloved. It taught me that you never know what someone is going through. It showed me that no one is immune to suffering. It showed me that it’s OK to be sad. It’s okay to not be perfect. It’s okay to be a mess. And it gave me the bravery to out all and any of my secrets. And let me tell you, on the other side of honesty is freedom. 

So I encourage for those reading, whatever your personal struggle is, whether that is an eating disorder or something else, you are not alone. You are not your struggle. You are allowed to get help. You’re allowed to be a mess. Ask for help, again and again and again till you find what you need. You are WORTH it. Freedom is there for the taking. 

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Jenifer Dillow is a professional actress, dancer, and singer in NYC and around the country.  Jenifer feels passionately about using her platform as an artist to help others who suffer in silence. Jenifer has spoken about her recovery journey at New York University as well as had material she has written read at eating disorder conventions in NYC. Jenifer hopes this is just the beginning for the future! Follow her recovery journey at @jen4recovery and career journey at @jen4broadway.  Proverbs 31:25.