How Recovery Helped Me Rediscover My Truth - Eric Dorsa
I started dressing up as young as I can remember. Even at the tender age of two, I had a curiosity for girls’ shoes. I was always stealing them and trying them on at day care. While the other children were napping, I paraded down the kitchen tile in my nanny’s high heels just to hear the click-clack, click-clack.
I was constantly getting into trouble for doing things that boys were not supposed to do. I remember feeling embarrassed and ashamed often. Why couldn’t I be like other boys? Why did I like princesses? Why did I like pink? Why did I have to be so different?
This was the beginning of my painful journey of trying to be like the other boys. This was the beginning of feeling like I was not enough, that I was a mistake, that I was unacceptable.
I had no idea then that my ability to pretend would become a path towards my healing and liberation — rather than a means of survival.
The day my eating disorder stopped working
As a senior in high school at age 17, I saw my peers laughing, smiling, and talking with each other in the halls. I desperately wanted to feel like I belonged but I couldn’t pretend anymore. I couldn’t pretend to understand what they were feeling. I had spent so many years pretending and hiding that I had no idea who I was — and I was terrified of the very same future they were so excited to start.
I felt empty, alone, and isolated in my eating disorder.
My fellow students were applying to colleges and picking majors while I was confronting the biggest secrets of my life.
I had to come to terms with being gay in a family where being gay was not allowed.
What’s more, I had to admit that I had a serious eating disorder. Hiding it was no longer an option. I wanted to live but I had no idea how to do that.
Around that time, I broke down completely. I could not wear the masks of my eating disorder anymore and I finally asked for the help that I had needed for so long.
A week before graduation, I turned down my college athletic and academic scholarships and entered a treatment center. Accepting that I would need help or I was going to die was a hard truth to swallow — along with all the food that now came with recovery. Whether I went to college or not, at that point in my life I really had no idea who I was or what path I wanted to take in life.
I always dreamed I would go to college and now I was having to put that dream aside to save my life. I was heartbroken, embarrassed, and angry.
How I knew treatment was the right decision
I was the only male in my treatment center and yet I felt like we were all speaking the same language. In treatment, I learned that I was not alone and that recovery was possible — though it would be a few more years before I fully started to embrace recovery.
Over the next several years, I attempted to go to college only to be paralyzed by perfectionism and a number of relapses into eating disorder behaviors. I felt like a failure. I gave up on school and I knew it was time to fully focus on my recovery. I started (finally) coming to terms with being — and accepting that I was — a gay man.
Somewhere in that process, I discovered that I had a special talent for being a drag queen. Yes, I was even awarded best drag queen in the city of San Antonio two years in a row.
And every time that I put on my wigs and makeup, I reconnected with my childhood innocence; I felt real again. As a drag queen, I experienced acceptance and admiration as a gay man; this greatly helped me to accept my identity!
It was not long after this time that my peers in recovery started hinting to me that I should return to school. I remembered a valuable lesson that I learned in my early recovery: a life worth living only happens when I put my recovery first — no matter what.
I took my recovery with me into my classes. Unfortunately, my other issue showed up — perfectionism — but this time, I knew better. I asked for help. I stayed connected to others and, most importantly, I discovered another powerful truth about myself. In my Intro to Theater class, I realized that I wanted to be an actor.
When I trusted in my recovery, I discovered drag and found my way back to school. In school, when I trusted in my recovery, I discovered my passion for acting and for being an advocate for my community! If it was not for my recovery, I would not be graduating with a degree in Theater with top honors.
As I picked up my cap and gown from the student center, I was overwhelmed with feelings of sadness and joy. This accomplishment of mine was not a result of perfectionism, though perfectionism is something I still struggle with at times. This accomplishment is happening because I took my recovery with me into each and every class and performance.
It is a lie when I tell myself that I missed out on so much of my life because of my eating disorder. Even though it was not pretty, my experiences in my mental illness are part of what make me who I am today!
I was desperately trying to live up to an impossible identity because I believed I wasn’t enough. I believed that I needed to be somebody else in order to be loved and accepted.
Today, I can stand in my truth and know that I never missed out on anything. I am right where I belong and it took my past to get me here. I am right where I need to be.
Today is Eating Recovery Day and this is a day that I definitely feel blessed to celebrate and be a part of!
My name is Eric Dorsa and I am currently a student and LGBTQ advocate and entertainer in San Antonio, Texas. I speak about recovery because the ability to use my voice and speak my truth is the most powerful tool I have in any part of my life. Speaking about recovery keeps me in the middle of so many miracles and keeps me connected to a life worth living.