As I write, at least 30 million people of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder in the United States and every 62 minutes at least one person dies as a direct result. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, and 1 in every 5 people who suffer from anorexia nervosa commit suicide… I could have very realistically been one of them. It was a journey through hell and back and my heart breaks for those who suffer.
While genetics may have predisposed me, looking back, I can clearly see that my eating disorder happened as a result of growing up in an emotionally unstable, neglectful environment and never truly healing from the wounds I experienced throughout my childhood. The earliest memories I have of my parents were of my dad spending hours alone in the basement or never coming home and my mom coming home late at night when she was supposed to be working. My parents started the process of getting divorced when I was 7 but it was an ugly battle that lasted years, and after that, I usually only saw my father on the holidays.
My mother was severely depressed, to the point she barely talked to anyone, including me. I do not have a single memory of my parents hugging me or showing me any kind of affection as a child. As a result, I never learned how to cope with painful experiences in a constructive way or how to love myself. I do not blame my parents, as I understand now that their behaviors were a result of how they were raised and the wounds that they too had never healed from. And so I lived with feeling like I was never good enough. And I made bad decisions because I didn’t love myself.
I started binge eating in high school, where I would go days without eating much of anything and then eat everything in sight. This behavior continued for about 2 years until I finally began to gain control of my eating habits. I lost some weight over the summer of 11th grade through running and eating really healthy and was feeling good about myself, but it was soon after that, around the fall of 1999 in 12th grade when my eating behaviors began to worsen. I remember very clearly standing in my kitchen, wanting to eat bread with butter, but feeling like I didn’t deserve it. After I put it in my mouth, I quickly spit it out. And so it began…
As I read some of my old journal entries, it brought back a flood of emotions of how scared and alone I felt at the time. One of them said “I’m learning that today is all I have and I can only take one step at a time. Anything more than today is too much.” “Will I ever be free or will I forever be held captive and slave to this disease? Will I really have to live like this forever? I feel abandoned and alone and so afraid to live… I’m so scared… someone, please help me so I can breathe.”
There is this misconception that eating disorders are about appearance, but mine had nothing to do with that. The disease manifested itself not because of how I saw myself on the outside, but because of how I felt about myself on the inside. For years I tried to recover on my own but failed over and over again. My sister tried putting me in therapy after she found out what was going on, but that didn’t help much either. Finally, one day I realized I really wanted to get better and I could not do it on my own… I needed help and I needed to be honest as ashamed and embarrassed as I was. In college at the time, I walked up to my pastor after a service and told him everything.
From there, God brought a 12 step program into my life that helped me understand that an eating disorder is actually an addiction. The program also helped me to be honest with myself and others. I’d fail and I’d pick myself up again, saying “Today is a new day… With God all things are possible.” And this year, I celebrate 12 years of freedom where I can eat anything I want without dieting, overeating, or restricting myself from particular foods.
It took a long time after I stopped my behaviors to be free of all of the obsessive thoughts, but as time passed I discovered that faith really can “move mountains.” My journey also prepared me to become a mother. I had healthy pregnancies and I was blessed with 2 beautiful, healthy children. As as we raise them, I have hope in my heart that they will never struggle as I did.
Now every day is a gift.
I am a mother of two, sister, and follower of God.