I was a very sensitive, anxious and curious child, which meant that life felt overwhelming a lot of the time. I was also a bit more of a dreamer and had a spontaneous spirit. I was not very academic so I felt I was not a clever girl and this mattered in my family.

The fee-paying school I was at from the age of 9 was all about the results and I had lots of pressure from my parents and the school to do well. I endured this until I was around 15 years old, and passing through the messy, confusing phase of puberty, when I felt like my body represented everything that wasn’t working. I’d been called ‘fat’ a couple of times, perhaps to be expected during the 80s when ‘keep fit’ and diets were all the rage. Looking back at photos, I realise now that I was not fat at all, more softly rounded like young people can be.

I had a lot of anger back then, understandably, but I had no voice within my family or my school; I felt shamed by them, so I rebelled by not eating – such a basic way to protest and regain a sense of control. Additionally, the unrepeatable ‘high’ I got from the first couple of weeks of not eating was incredible; I discovered that refusing food and exercising whenever I could somehow helped me strongly focus on achieving the academic targets and I suddenly got a lot of As. However, after the initial ‘high’, the price I paid was I lost my joy and deep belly laughter of ridiculousness of humour that I used to enjoy so much.

After a year of losing weight, dropping to 6-stone, I began to get worried because I couldn’t get out of it and my parents were really worried. The trouble was that now they were being really sensitive to me, which was a side benefit and I felt I had a bit more power over them. But then after a few of my friends told me I looked ugly and skinny, I tipped to the other side, started bingeing. I gained all the weight I had lost and when school finished, I had a university place, but had become like an automaton.

At this point, aged 18, I was blessed find my way to be an au pair in Germany and France, because I had always loved speaking and hearing other languages. I learnt how to speak French and German like the locals and looking after the kids stirred my fantasy and creativity again. I was not abusing food, I drank moderately and had a new social life with other au pairs – I felt valued. I could find my way to have some independence and realised that maybe I had lost my eating disorder!

A year later, when I returned to the UK and went to university, I slipped again into a bingeing and vomiting pattern – secretively and then in the confidence of my then boyfriend and a housemate. I was also drinking a lot of alcohol at that point, everyone did, and I needed to numb out. Academia was NOT my home, that was so clear. I became caught up in consuming, so I didn’t have to feel any of the awful void and shame of not belonging.

I graduated, just, and due to having a friend already working in publishing in London, I got a junior position and I worked my way up whilst bingeing my way into oblivion. It was the only way I could lighten up and let go of my confusion, shame and feeling of being a fraud. I was 23, getting drunk a lot and losing the plot; after 2 years, my work friends were expressing annoyance and concern about me and I decided to see a counsellor. She pointed me to a rehab, where I spent my life savings and admitted myself. I told my parents at that point, as I knew I had to do it and it was the scariest thing I ever did. They were shocked, as I’d hidden how bad things had become but they supported me in getting there and I remember them visiting but it felt like they didn’t really understand rehab, other than that I was going to become free of my eating and drinking problem.

My peers at the rehab became my community. We were all from different walks of life and we were all looking out for each other. I didn’t need to drink to bear my soul anymore. I didn’t need to be a body shape for anyone. I was being fed with the right amount of food which was essential because I didn’t even know what the right amount of food was anymore! In that moment I surrendered and was there for a couple of months. I spent a lot of time in the garden, smelling the roses, sharing with my peers. Here I think the seeds were sown for the rest of my life, but they didn’t all flower at once.

There were a lot of reasons I felt shame about who I was but gradually I was restoring a sense of value in myself and eventually I left rehab, and was living and working in London again. As a young girl I had lost my soul and joy connection, and eventually by working the 12 steps of AA, I found my spirit with others; instead of trying to fill this void inside of me with food/alcohol, I was dreaming again, learning how to enrich and nourish my soul and my joy. I had a moment I remember as clearly as the moment I felt high on starvation: I had an embryonic sense inside of me of a bright warm light and I allowed myself to grow trust in this.

At the time, I was going between two opposing worlds: from work where I had friendly, but highly business-motivated and alcohol-fuelled colleagues to sharing with my sober, sensitive and somewhat protected heart in the AA support groups. I felt really out of place in the corporate world but it took for a relapse into drinking to settle that score, because I couldn’t find a soul there; you weren’t allowed to be vulnerable and had to keep everything under wraps.

I found a counsellor and eventually let go of AA and Overeaters Anonymous meetings, which I owed a lot of my initial recovery to, but now seemed to only offer a certain story about addiction, which was fitting me less well as I grew within myself and my soul journey.

I realised that I wanted to and could work for something more meaningful: I cared about people and wellbeing. I applied for work in addiction charities and trained up to be a counsellor over the next 3 years, volunteering at Samaritans and other voluntary sector and university counselling services. I awoke to a broader sense of my sexuality in therapy, met a woman who became my partner, moved out of London to Lancaster, and began to feel the world was becoming my oyster. I was taking responsibility for my life and discovered some great mentors.

The next major awakening I had was in 2008, literally on Morecombe bay, with a guide leading us into the mud flats and around the tidal river flow, whilst we were engaging in a creative dance workshop! I did not consider myself a dancer, but it was the most beautiful 3 days where I found my way into ‘somatic’ dance, where you use the body senses to guide your movement and shape experiences and your imagination.

I fell love with somatic movement practices, and soon after, a new MA course in Dance and Somatic Wellbeing was launched in the neighbouring town, which I did part time. This all opened me again! I was being invited into this room full of different body sizes, and the main message was that our bodies are wise, intelligent, guiding us towards truth, balance, health…

My partner was pushing for us to have a baby and I felt in my whole body and being that I couldn’t manage parenthood now. Sadly, we separated and I moved on, opening into an adventurous trajectory that took me south to Gloucestershire in 2011, where I met my current partner of 7 years. I’m a somatic body and movement therapist, loving my work, which offers clients the opportunity to rediscover and connect with the sensate wisdom in their own body, no matter what they are challenged with.

I can honestly say that I am really grateful to my eating disorder and this journey towards healing and empowerment, discovering and nurturing my truer self. It is my context for working therapeutically with myself and with others. I feel my body is my barometer and when I slip into overeating, I recognise I’m neglecting something important so I have to stay awake! But generally, there are no taboo foods/drinks and I enjoy a glass of wine now and then and eat as much organic and raw food as I can. I try to buy local seasonal food and be connected to its source. In my local community we are blessed to have a lot of small, organic farms for which I feel blessed.

20 years later, I now know my connection to the ‘feminine’ in relation to Earth, nature and ultimately, balance. I am focusing on my wellbeing as a source of support for others as clients, friends and family. It’s testing and fulfilling and it’s my true way.