my-recovery-story

RECOVERY - True Inspirational Stories

ANAD believes that full recovery is possible for each individual, but we also know how difficult it can be to imagine what life in recovery looks like.  Here are the stories of people from all walks of life who have found freedom, happiness, and renewal through their own paths to recovery!

If you have recovered from an eating disorder and would like to have your story shared here, please email us at ANADhelp@anad.org for more details!

The Weight of Trauma

By Courtney

It took me a long time to admit to myself that I had experienced trauma. It took even longer for me to admit that my trauma was related to my eating disorder. When I was a devout servant of my eating disorder, I was convinced that my behaviors were for myself, that they were of some benefit to me. I never wanted to admit that they could be a means of distraction for things I didn’t acknowledge. I’d heard the statistics before: that at least 30 percent of people with eating disorders have experienced significant trauma, and that eating disorders are unhealthy coping mechanisms. But of course, my eating disorder convinced me otherwise. When troubling thoughts about my experiences arose, my eating disorder told me to “suck it up,” that I had no reason to be upset, and that I was weak and a crybaby, but that I could prove all of that wrong by engaging fully in my eating disorder. After all, it told me, pride over starving would counteract the feelings of shame surrounding my trauma. It honestly never occurred to me to validate my experiences — to tell myself that it is okay to be upset sometimes, and to feel compassion toward myself rather than frustration and misplaced anger.

Once I began recovery, I was genuinely surprised to find that the feelings of shame, insecurity, and anger over my trauma were there whether or not I was engaging in behaviors. In a light bulb moment one morning in treatment, I realized that my eating disorder wasn’t distracting me from painful experiences at all, but in fact was amplifying all feelings of shame, insecurity, and anger, while muting all feelings of joy, happiness, and love. My eating disorder had simply channeled my negative feelings about my trauma into negative feelings about food and myself. “Bad dreams making you feel anxious?” it would say, “What you should feel anxious about is what you ate last night,” or, “Feeling ashamed by that memory? What you should feel ashamed of is how much you weigh today.” My eating disorder convinced me that it was shielding me from feelings that were just too scary. But in reality, it was keeping me locked in a cage with nothing but those feelings.

So as I worked on my recovery, I began breaking down the cage in which my eating disorder had me trapped. I began noticing joy, love, support and appreciation filtering back into my life. I still had the trauma itself to deal with, but with a full arsenal of tools and positivity behind me, I discovered a strength I didn’t know I had. As I chipped away at my eating disorder and freed myself from its cage, the world began to look less and less scary — and so did my past. The things that I was so afraid to confront didn’t seem so big after all. I told myself that if I had the strength and the bravery to embark on recovery, surely I had the strength to confront my trauma. As it turns out, I was right. Despite what my eating disorder told me, I was bigger and stronger than it, and I was bigger and stronger than my trauma.

 

All I Have is This Moment

By Jessica

Negative talk corrodes our mind. I look to those things outside of me to provide comfort, whatever form it may take. In most cases, for a while, it started out as OCD, then co-dependent relationships, and finally my eating disorder. So many facets play a role in addiction, but lately I’ve focused on my negativity pushing my thoughts into a downward spiral. My lifesaver is the comfort my OCD and eating disorder provide. I escape and go numb. My mind can’t hurt me there.

Once I was told that brains can’t process negatives. So if I think “I will not restrict today,” my brain processes, “I will restrict today.” It’s something I keep in mind on my journey to recovery. It’s a long journey, one that I couldn’t do without my weekly therapy sessions and a strong support group. But in those moments when I’m alone, and I can’t seem to push thoughts away, I need to face the negatives and be the one who stands up and pushes the negatives into positives. And sometimes it even means accepting the negatives. For example, the negative says, “I can’t run outside because it’s raining and that means I’m at risk of staying home and bingeing.” I need to hear that negative. It’s hard, but I need to recognize when my mind starts to go down a difficult path. I pick it up and I challenge that negative thought, that desire to do a behavior. I ask questions, try to understand where the urge is coming from. And if all else fails, I sit in front of a mirror (or you don’t have to) and I talk to myself, compliment myself, recognize what I might be subconsciously doing (aka body-checking).

For a long time, I was a very angry person. Even two years out of rehab, that anger remained. I’ve been in therapy for over six months confronting the underlying issues that plague my mind. My therapist gives me so many ideas, including one that I acted on recently. She said my anger can come out in a controlled setting. She suggested I go home (where I lived alone) and take a pillow. Use that pillow to represent my eating disorder, OCD, codependency issues, and whatever else I relied on externally. Yell at that pillow, hit that pillow, take out all the aggression on that pillow. Needless to say, the task seemed intimidating. I didn’t go home and immediately accomplish this task. I wrote it down on my to-do list. It seems silly, but I didn’t want to forget the advice, and I also needed to work up to it. It felt so daunting to let go of everything I held onto, everything that held me up when I needed to fall down. How would I start out? What would I say to this pillow of representation? Do I need some type of background music to help emphasize or put me in the moment? And when I did finally make it around to the task I had put down on my to-do list I put on my iPod and tried a few songs. Then I decided that this needed to happen in silence.

And so I let go and I started yelling and taking the pillow, smacking it up against the wall, really taking out everything I had pent up on this pillow. I yelled and screamed. I focused all my negativity on this pillow, making it clear that the pillow took away the last two years of my life, the pillow helped and enforced these negative beliefs to keep me coming back. It made me think I couldn’t do it by myself, that I had to have the pillow to make it through. Toward the end, when I couldn’t feel any more anger but all I could feel was sadness, I let myself cry. Nothing held me up anymore as I lay on the ground and let the sadness envelop my entire body. I had to feel this. This is what recovery is all about, sitting with the feeling and letting it pass. I couldn’t numb out. I couldn’t turn back to everything that pillow stood for just to avoid the sadness. This exercise was just the beginning.

It’s so hard for me, and every day I need to practice. I need to try to tell myself that I can handle anything, that I am strong and everything will be OK. I can’t control anything in the future and I can’t change anything in the past. All I have is this moment. Take it in, love it, live it. All I have is this life, this body, this mind. Accept what is, what was, and what will be.

My Eating Disorder Story

By Alicia Nickelson

“Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.”   – Ralph Waldo Emerson

I remember the fascination I felt when food labels started being posted on many different items in grocery stores. It was the precipitating point of interest in a world that was soon to spiral out of control. As an only child who was extremely sheltered from the basic happenings of childhood and adolescence, looking back, it is no wonder that something larger-than-life would eventually consume me. Around age 12, I began limiting sugars and fatty foods. It was easy for me, made me feel like I had accomplished something out of the norm, and I received much attention from these behaviors and changes. At the private school I attended, I was considered odd by my peers’ standards so this newfound interest didn’t change that perception much. I was a late bloomer but by 15 I was starting to really hit puberty. My mom was not supportive of these natural changes. Again, I had no control, but I also had no support or basic understanding of what was going on with me. Very quickly self-loathing became a way of life. I quit wanting to take care of myself. Even basic hygiene was something I felt I could do without. In a matter of a few months, I had shaved off many more food groups and convinced myself and my family that this was the new planet we lived on. For a while, everyone basically buried their heads in the sand and my anorexia really took flight. I wasn’t officially diagnosed till age 15, but I can date the behaviors back to age 12.

Thus began the arduous, never-ending journey that went on for about 10 years. I lost all common sense during these times. My life was lost in a haze of doctor’s visits, counseling sessions, and lots of begging and pleading. All of this felt like an attack, and I retreated. I was adamant about not giving up the one thing I had mastered. It was a “high” for someone like me, who so obviously had grown to loathe herself and her appearance. I was one of the fortunate ones in that I had a family who was persistent and sought out the best treatment facilities for me. Looking back, I had every chance to take a proactive turn, but I was a master manipulator and a stunning actress and liar.

Before too long, though, I lost so much weight I couldn’t lie anymore. So I wore 2 and 3 layers of clothes to buy me time, started back eating certain foods just to impress people, and played the part for a while. Then the guilt and shame that comes from eating pushed me into my next phase…compulsive exercising. I would sneak out of the house to go run around the neighborhood and did situps and pushups in my room at night when I was supposed to be sleeping. I spent the summer of my 16th birthday in a residential treatment center on life support. This was followed by at least a dozen more hospitalizations and even court-ordered commitments to mental facilities. My disorder cost me the completion of my high school education. I was an excellent student. This was a tremendous blow. When I would get discharged from these places, I inevitably fell right back in to the same patterns. I felt like such a failure, which only compounded things. What I didn’t have was a reason to live, or a desire to live. To live meant I had to change, and I was terrified of what that meant. I feared I would be an awful person if I let go, and worse yet, I feared it would estrange my parents from me. To this day I have a strained relationship with them, and it isn’t because I didn’t finally get better. It’s because they have their own issues, and they tend to project their pain and blame it on me.

Like many stories, mine has no fairytale ending. It took a composite of many things coming together for me to decide to try to adopt a new way of life. Even when I did gain some weight, be it by tube feeding or on my own, nothing in my life seemed to change like people said it would. One of the things I heard which helped me out initially was “to act as if.” In other words, I learned that if your actions changed, your emotions would sometimes follow. Slowly but surely I came out of my shell. I reached out, cried a lot, and opened up. I gained a sense of humor and a sort of liveliness that was apparent to others. I got noticed, for all the “good” reasons. It was still a rocky road, but in 2003 I was discharged from my last facility and slowly but surely re-entered life. I went to college and had some love relationships, with the usual stories of success and disaster. I was able to work and gained confidence over time. I took control of my life in positive ways.

I had knocked at death’s door, fought perfectly good help, and found safety in a way of life I would wish on no one. I grew sick and tired of being sick and tired. Life is good now; not perfect, mind you…but I definitely want to share my story in the hopes it will touch someone. I know I wanted someone to “understand” me when I was going through my private hell, so I want to be that microphone to anyone who might need the same. I have even done a couple of public speaking arrangements on college campuses! Take one day at a time and do the next thing that lies before you. Be kind to yourself. There’s only one of you out there, and chances are good someone else wants to see the light you have inside!!

You Must Do the Thing You Think You Cannot Do

I will walk on the sun

when I have nowhere else to run

Nowhere to hide

these feelings inside

A sort of Spirit not of mankind

has got me in a bind

My mind wanders, soul falters

As I struggle to free myself

from its wrenching grip.

Telling me I am nothing

I find myself falling often

crashing and burning

Heart simply is yearning

for that last and most important of concerted efforts

A plunge, quite a leap of faith,

Towards the illumination

of hope and promise.

 

Goodbye ED

A Poem by Camellia Hayat

It took me 21 years.
It took me 21 years to realize what I thought was an endless cycle of confusion and tragedy
21 years to realize that my beauty was inside me. That my beauty was embraced with a beautiful body that carried me through the hell thatI walked.
21 years to realize I was enough, it was unbelievable how enough I was.
21 years to realize that this was out of my control, that my brain was unique and not my fault.
21 years to realize that the endless amounts of drugs I fed myself was my escape from the deathly thoughts that ruined my mind like a machine with recharged accessible batteries.
21 years to realize that my slow form of suicide was a cry to my family.
21 years to realize that I was not alone, that I was not crazy that my worthless thoughts of I’m not good enough was felt through all the different people around me.
21 years to realize that my delusional eyes were lying to me, that my hallucinations were stronger than a schizophrenic on its darkest evenings.
21 years to realize that my game of Russian roulette with my esophagus wasn’t something to lock myself in bathrooms
and feel shame about the gun that was attached to my wrist was just a mirror of what I wanted to happen to me.
21 years to realize that i can change that the hell that I created was not something I created but rather a uncontrollable gene that was given to me.
21 years to realize that the voice in my head wasn’t me that a monster lived inside me,
 that it was greater than any possible higher power could explain to me.
21 years to realize that my authentic self has been inside me all along, and she was crying to be free.
today I am standing tall with more self worth than the man in a business suit signing his check to his multi-million business he had built with his two hands and feet.
I decided for myself for my health that I deserve to be free,
 that this freedom has taught me to see the world with gentle eyes to go beyond what was shown to me.
that my hell has been my blessing in disguise that showed me a light so bright the sun would grab his shades to block what she was seeing.
 It took me 21 years to realize that my eating disorder does not define me.
 that I am a force to be wrecked with. Because I have seen the dark hallways leading to my hell around a toilet seat.
 that I have slowly tried to kill myself because I myself couldn’t deal with I…myself.
because I know whats it like to suffer in silence when you are screaming this isn’t me, this isn’t who I was supposed to be.
because I know whats its like to feel dead with walking feet.
because I have seen and  have been thankful for the experiences that lead up to this moment, to this discovery.
to the acceptance that I am who I am supposed to be, and my faults are only just a part of me.
that my beauty is defined by whats inside of me, that I can be my wildest dreams without this voice haunting me,
 that I am me, that I am beautiful and I love myself, and for the first time in 21 years… I am free.

My Battle Within Myself

By Carrie Johnson

Hello! My name is Carrie Johnson. I am a 29 year old woman from Michigan.  I am a 3rd grade teacher in an inner city charter school. My battle began about nine years ago. Throughout my battle I had ups and downs, but it seemed that there were more downs. I had a lot of family support, but at times some of them didn’t fully understand what I was going through. I had friends that I thought were friends, but when I told them about what was going they left me by myself.  About four years ago (2010) I landed a teaching job at a charter school teaching 6th and 7th grade math. That year was my ultimate low point. I was not only struggling with my battle, but, I was also trying to make it through my first year of teaching, but I also felt all alone. I told two people who I thought I could trust at work, I was seeing my therapist, nutritionist and medical doctor constantly, and I put a lot of my faith in God to help me get me through this. By June 2011, I finally felt like my life was going in an upward spiral. After the 2011 – 2012 school year, my life felt full again. My “Ms. Red Flow” was back, I was maintaining a normal weight, I felt loved by others, and most importantly I loved myself. After that year I moved with my boss and few co-workers to a new charter school, teaching 3rd Grade. I have been there for two years.

I said before, there had come a point in my life where I honestly didn’t know if I was going to make it. But, by the grace of God, family members, and my amazing friends at work, I have finally made it! I have to honestly thank God, for giving me the strength and power to get through these nine difficult yet, rewarding years of my life. I have to thank my family members and family friends that helped me fight through the battles and of becoming a stronger and more confident woman, and lastly have to thank the people I work with or have worked with, my “second family”, (You know who you are, but only two of which knew about my battle at the time) because honestly without their love and support they have all given me throughout the years I have known them I don’t know if I would have made it.  They truly are an amazing group of people; I am the one who is so lucky to be part of their lives. Anorexia is a scary thing, it can make you the most miserable person, but with help, and the love and support of others (whether they know you have the sickness or not) it can make you strong and confident. I can’t imagine my life without God and all the people God has put into my life. I am not sure what my next plan God has in store for me, but I know it will be something amazing! I can now FINALLY say that I have been diagnosed as “100% Recovered!” God made each and every one of us special in his own way. Love yourself for what God has made you to be, I know I finally have, and it feels absolutely AMAZING!

Reflecting on Recovery

By Lauren H.

Having carried that eating disorder voice and disease around with me for half of my life, it upsets me so much that people still think that anorexia is; ‘just a diet’, ‘just a phase’, ‘a disease for people who want attention’. Anorexia Nervosa is a very serious mental illness that carries with it dramatic physical effects and catastrophic mental and emotional distress. Many people experiencing anorexia are in denial that they even have a problem, let alone a serious illness, which can make compliance with treatment difficult.

I used to get very angry and upset about my eating disorder: what it did to me, what it took from me (friends, relationships, work and study, feelings of normality, enjoyment and freedom). It put so much strain on my body and brain and I lost so much time and freedom, having to spend so long in hospital. I put the anger I had towards my illness into doing everything I could to beat it.

When I had anorexia I was like a robot, obsessed with time, efficiency and activity. During this period anything enjoyable was a ‘waste of time’ – I could never waste precious hours watching a movie or sitting and having a meal with a friend, I was a machine and was always busy with something I deemed as productive. I always had something scheduled as I didn’t want anyone to think that I was lazy or boring. It was a truly miserable and exhausting existence, which not only wore me out but exhausted those around me.

A journey of recovery

I was fortunate enough, having private health insurance and a psychiatrist who cared about my outcomes, to receive treatment in a quality setting with fantastic support. I attended a wonderful program which, while restoring my weight, enabled me to participate in group therapies including ‘psychology groups’, art therapy, physiotherapy and even yoga at stages. Not everyone is lucky enough to have all that support – and even with support, getting well is hard work. Group therapy, although confronting, is highly effective because it allows you to be around others who understand what you do and how you think without raising their eyebrows and thinking you’re crazy.

Many people struggle with anorexia for years and years and so recovery is a long and bumpy process, with many people (myself included) experiencing multiple relapses before finally getting better.

It’s not all doom and gloom

I am probably the most psychologically, mentally and emotionally happy that I have ever been in my life. I actually feel connected to myself, my mind, my dreams and the world around me – and the only voice in my head is my own. After suffering from Anorexia Nervosa for a terrible 15 years I can finally and honestly say that I am 100% free from it.

The journey to recovery was not an easy one and I had many stumbles along the way – some quite horrific, public and embarrassing – but I kept at it and kept my dreams in mind every time I challenged myself. I also never accepted the fate of having that illness with me forever, I hated what it took from me and resolved to beat it!

Last year was so fantastic for me as, without anorexia’s voice and demands dictating my life, I was able to fully engage with and participate in my teaching course and I loved it! I had so much fun on my placements and those kids couldn’t care less what size I was; as long as I was engaged and enthusiastic and showed an interest in them, they were happy.

For me, finding the resolve to beat this illness was about learning to engage in life and finding happiness and pleasure in the simple things in life. I think that one of the most important aspects of recovering from anorexia, which is often overlooked, is creating a life for yourself that you want to live in (not just changing all of your behaviours and having nothing to replace them with).

I love taking my dog for a walk in the fresh air every day, getting a fantastic soy cappuccino, feeding the ducks, catching up with friends and actually having the ability to have meaningful conversations – things that I would’ve found to be a waste of time when I was sick. My sense of humour has even returned and I love annoying my Dad and sisters with my silly jokes. I love family occasions and trying new foods at different restaurants. Last year I even started singing lessons and got back into pottery which I love! I really enjoy artistic activities now and enjoy the process of creating things rather than judging the success of the outcome.

What I’ve learnt from the process of recovery

I’m someone who often allows myself to get caught up on regrets and ‘what ifs?’ Recently one of my cousins made sense of this for me by saying ‘sometimes you have to go through the same experience or situation multiple times until you really tune into it and learn all of the lessons from it that you need to’. This is exactly how I feel about my treatment and recovery. I am a much stronger person for having gone through this experience. I am far more resilient and am able to remove myself from situations and people that make me feel bad about myself, rather than blaming myself for anything that is wrong, which is what I would have done in the past.

Exploring ways to reframe negatives into opportunities to learn and grow is crucial. As is teaching people how to value and respect themselves and consider the impacts that their words and actions have on each other. Meditation helped me greatly as did yoga and journaling during my treatment phase, as all of these activities involve engaging in the present with yourself. It is very important that we learn to make time for ourselves and for self-reflection.

My advice – for everyone, not just those suffering from anorexia – don’t wait for someone to rescue you and don’t put your life on hold until you’re 100% better. Remember, recovery is possible – so don’t give up.

Recovery and The New Year

By Jenny Rogers

The New Year is upon us. People will make resolutions, plan to be better people, vow to eat less junk food and exercise more. They will plan to become better versions of themselves. The end of one year and the beginning of a new one is a good time for reflection and for clearing out physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual clutter. It’s a time to focus on priorities and connect to what you truly value.

For over 25 years, I started the New Year with the same resolutions. I was going to exercise more and eat less. I was going to lose weight. I was going to use the New Year to start over and become a better, thinner version of myself. I started every January 1st with restriction and an exercise plan. I thought I would finally lose all the excess weight I believed I needed to lose and then I’d feel comfortable in my skin. I was successful. Kind of. I did eat less. I did exercise more. I did lose weight. But I still didn’t feel comfortable in my skin.

After more than 25 years, I finally stopped making this resolution. Two years ago, I made a list of what I wanted to embrace – adequate sleep, creativity, healthy attitudes about food and weight, regular movement (Nia, walking, yoga), and organization. I posted my list on my bedroom wall and read it every day. For the most part, I embraced all the things on my list. I made a similar list in 2013 and was successful in embracing those intentions as well.

I found that when I stopped focusing on weight loss, I created time for myself to explore other things. In the past two years, I stopped trying to lose weight and I gained the following:

I went to Nia training and got certified to teach Nia classes.

I started my very own Nia class.

I substitute teach for other Nia teachers.

I co-led a workshop.

I made a recovery quilt out of my old, sick jeans.

I gave a Recovery speech.

I started a group to work through the book, The Artist’s Way.

I created more space in my life when I dropped some toxic “friends.”

I started an art journal.

I learned to make new recipes.

I started a group to explore art journaling.

I registered for a graduate class at NIU.

I read more books.

I started to dream about what I wanted to be “when I grow up” and started working towards that.

I deepened my Nia practice and learned how to listen to my body.

I drove to Michigan by myself to attend a weekend retreat.

I bought clothes that I liked even though they were slightly outside of my comfort zone.

I stopped messing with my hair and let it be naturally fabulous.

I stood in my truth and used my voice.

I took time to explore creativity and fostered a sense of community.

I donated blood.

I allowed my body to move towards the weight it wants to be – naturally and incrementally.

My life got bigger.

None of these things would have been possible if I was still stuck in the dieting mentality. I would not have had the time or energy to accomplish all of these things if I were still focused on getting smaller. While my body has not quite settled where it would like to be, it is slowly moving in that direction. I feed myself, move my body, sleep, rest, and let my body figure stuff out on its own. And it works.

I can’t remember a time when I was this physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy. I was always afraid of how much I would gain if I stopped dieting and kicked my eating disorder to the curb. I gained so many wonderful things and I will never again try to lose.

Finally Reaching No Man’s Land

By Cody Barnes

Growing up was difficult. My family always tried dieting. One week it was this diet, another week it was another. I grew up on the assumption that I’m not supposed to be happy with my body. From then on, I had an unhealthy relationship with food since my grandmaw made a comment about my weight when I was little.

I always used food as a way of comforting me, because although I didn’t have friends, food was always there for me. I wasn’t the “skinniest” guy in the class. I was average, but somehow weight comments always followed me. When I hit puberty, I got taller and thinner and people noticed. Once I hit high school, I began restricting and even tried to get myself to purge whatever I did eat. Bulimia took over and I became sickly. I ruined my relationships with friends and families. I almost got high off of the comments of my weight loss. Guys flocked over me. I became promiscuous.

My grandmaw even noticed. She said I looked great.

It wasn’t until I hit rock-bottom when I knew I needed help. I realized that I wasn’t happy with where I was. I wanted to actually have relationships that were functional. Bulimia scares, STD scares, and suicide attempts. I was miserable and not happy. Bulimia had taken over my whole life and “it” became so abusive and controlling that I wasn’t allowed to have friends or family or relationships. I was in a constant battle and I was losing. I became so thin, clothes were falling off me and my face was so sunken in I looked like death. I was so underweight for my age and height, I almost needed hospitalization.

Finally, almost a year ago, I was struggling with recovery. My relationship with this guy fell through and my sister called me a name while I was eating sushi. I tried killing myself at Disney World. For the happiest place on earth, I wasn’t happy. I spent three days under suicide watch while they tried to protect all my organs I tried so hard to destroy. The look on my mother’s face said it all. I needed to beat this. I didn’t want her son to lose his life to this disorder.

It was a wakeup call. I kicked my butt in gear and I was ready to fight this. I was no longer going to let this destroy me. I began standing up for myself. I began talking. I said something that happened to me as a kid. Finally, I knew what my problem was; I was carrying everyone else’s weight. I kept all their problems and secrets that was pushed onto me. It felt so good to let it go.

The hardest part of recovery was gaining the weight. I still have problems with it. I had to buy more clothes one week and then two weeks later they didn’t fit. It sucked. Some days were worse than others, but I’m still here! I’m not giving up!

I gained some great friends, and even recovered my relationships with my family. I put the man who impacted my life so much on the shelf and I left him there. Those who now make comments about my weight, I stand up for myself. My weight is none of their business. I am healthy and that is a lot better than where I used to be.

For those who are just getting into recovery: yeah it sucks! It’s not fun! It’s hard work. But it is worth it. I once saw an old photo of me as a kid, before any of this happened. I was so happy. Round face and bright eyes and dimples that made you want to pinch them. That’s my goal. I want to be able to smile like that again and I’m getting there!

For those of you who are struggling with this disorder: You can beat this! Life is so beautiful, you are so beautiful and you should be able to see that. Envision the best possible version of yourself and get rid of anyone who doesn’t see it!

No One Tells You That Eating Disorders Are Ugly And…

By Robyn Cruze

“No one tells you that eating disorders are ugly. When I was enmeshed in my eating disorder, I felt the opposite. I believed it would keep me safe and in control, and make me desirable. I thought it was there to protect me from myself.”I was wrong.

I suffered from a crippling eating disorder from the age of eleven to twenty nine. It robbed me of any life outside of it.  The moment I woke, my thoughts were dictated by it:  Did I eat too much the day before? What would I have to do to compensate for it? Would I show myself to people today or would I hide from the world until I was thin enough? The eating disorder demanded and I followed, never questioning it.  With each demand my life became narrower- opposite to what the eating disorder had promised me.  I missed out on work and social opportunities because the eating disorder would tell me I was not good enough… I missed out on experiencing my surroundings wherever I went – I travelled the world in my twenties and I can’t tell you what I saw because everywhere I went the eating disorder followed. I missed out on relationships because the eating disorder told me I wasn’t worthy.  I missed out on living because I was too busy dying by listening to my eating disorder. Again, the eating disorder promised me a better life all while taking it away.

My recovery started when I realized that I couldn’t go on doing what the eating disorder was asking of me. Slowly, I began to question what it was telling me. With ever question (although at first it was very hard to do), I began to discover that the eating disorder was not only ugly, but it was a liar too. Here’s an example:

“Working in a corporate office as a temp, I got a much-awaited call from my [acting] agent. I lived for those calls. There was an audition that day in North Sydney for a telephone commercial. Immediately I checked in with my body, and the eating disorder shut me down. You look fat and unsophisticated. Say no to the audition and don’t waste your time. You won’t get it anyway. For a while now, I had been growing sick and tired of being dictated to by this feeling of unworthiness. I had begun to recognize what was happening in my relationship with the eating disorder, as I had during my relationship with Dylan [an abusive relationship]. I knew that just because both of them provided a ton of noise when I went against their directions, I still had the choice to change things and say no. That day, as I sat at the reception desk filtering calls for a bunch of fun-loving, money-hungry traders, I began to question myself:

Is it true that the casting agency wants only wafer-thin glamour girls for the role they are casting? No.

Is it true that they will immediately judge me for what I look like and not for how I act? No.

Is it indeed true that I am fat? No.

The eating disorder wanted to jump in, but with every question I asked myself, I abruptly cut its voice off. I had become willing to wait and let the facts reveal themselves instead of beating myself up with lies. I decided to go to the audition and own all that I was. Even if it was just for the duration of the audition, I promised myself to have confidence and not allow the eating disorder to come into the audition room with me. It would stay in the waiting room with all the other gorgeous young ladies, comparing my thighs with theirs. But I walked into the audition room alone, unapologetic, and was hired later that day.”

The truth is: it took patience and time in order to catch the lies of the eating disorder. It also took willingness to feel uncomfortable during those times of challenging it. I have found that change is both painful and worth it. I worked with specialists in the eating disorder field and got support by like-minded people who also desperately wanted to recover. Sometimes I fell in my recovery, but I got back up and wiped myself off. I began to refuse to listen to the noise of the eating disorder and each time I did this I gained a little bit of myself back.  My biggest tool was reminding myself that the eating disorder asked me to be perfect while it robbed me of dignity, self and well…everything. Why? Because it’s a liar and a thief. Once I discovered this about the eating disorder it became very difficult to trust it in the way I once had.

Today, I have ten years of full recovery. I want you to know that I am grateful to be perfectly imperfect and full of human frailties. I want you to also know that I now think about my dreams, hopes, passions and purpose instead of the eating disorders demands.  I want you to know, that even if you don’t believe it, that eating disorder recovery is doable and possible… and your life is waiting.

Excerpts taken from Chapter 6: Northern Shore Beauty and Casted Spells of Ugliness. Making Peace with Your Plate: Eating Disorder Recovery. Robyn Cruze and Espra Andrus, LCSW, CRP, October 15, 2013.

In the Mirror

By Tushita Gupta

You stare in a mirror
And what do you see?
You agonize,
Over little insecurities.

It’s hard to feel pretty,
Amongst those models in magazines.
Who always look pretty,
Even when they’re half asleep!

When will we realize,
That beauty’s found inside?
When will we stop the judging
and come to terms with ourselves?

Chorus:

Cause you can feel fat or flat.
You can feel lanky or puny.
You can say you’ve got a big nose,
Or a flat nose, hairy eyebrows-got none!
Oh the list goes on and on.

You stare in the mirror
And what should you see?
Don’t agonize,
Over minor insecurities

It’s hard to feel pretty,
Amongst those models in magazines
Who always look pretty,
Even when they’re half asleep!

You gotta spread those wings.
Forget the haters!
Looks are superficial
And boring..in contrast to what lies inside.

Repeat Chorus (1x)

Or you can feel truly good.
Just open up your eyes and you will see.
You’ve been given life and a heart,
and a brain to achieve!

Life is a gift and you’ve been given it!
So follow your dreams yeah yeah.

Check out these links to listen to the song!
Tushita’s youtube: http://www.youtube.com/channel/UC6pfozUOuP3cYmoDXd7OO6g
Sound cloud: https://soundcloud.com/tushita-gupta

The Chains That Bind Me

Letting Go of E.D.
By Kira Olson

Chains, so heavy. Binding every body part.
A cell: its cold metal bars blocking out light.
A wall, originally meant to protect, now a barricade nothing penetrates.
A net, once safety, now entangling, strangling.
A trap, caught with no one to rescue, screaming yet unheard, misunderstood.
A thick fog stifling my breath, clouding my mind.
A prison of mirrors, taunting, criticizing, hating.
A barbed club, beating my flesh raw.
An inescapable grading system consisting only of the letter “F.”
A harsh judge, always condemning “guilty.”

What happened to the Friend, the Protector?
Have I lost control? To this monster that possesses mind and soul?
How did I get so lost?  Even my voice can’t find its way.
Where is freedom, light, joy?  …In this meaningless existence.

Fears suffocate me.  Trapped in mind and body.
If I’m living, it’s a nightmare.
I can’t move, can’t scream, can’t breathe, can’t feel.
I’m crippled, though not physically.
Worshipping an idol that leaves me empty.
God, where are you?
Where did I go wrong?
I only meant to be perfect.
Meant to shut out pain, to stop feeling.
To please You and the world.

I rejected my true identity, didn’t I?
Didn’t trust in Your love and power.
I played God, Decided I knew best.
I hated Your Creation, attempting to change the cracks that make me beautiful.
Rather than allow You to mold them.
I shut out Your plan by choosing mine.
My control led to chaos, to self-destruction. The opposite of Love.
I chose bondage to self and fear, not Freedom.
Judgment instead of Grace.

The dangers of perfection, of self-idolatry, of control.
Not just an eating disorder, but so much more.
Why cling to sickness and defeat when You offer safety, Triumph?
Why deprive myself of True Life?
Why choose chains when meant to run in Freedom?

I let go, surrender, give my life to God.
Chains break; my body crumbles.
I rise, facing the Monster guarding my prison cell.
Finding my voice, I scream: it shakes the walls.
The same club I use to beat myself,
I turn on him, until his flesh too is raw.

Though aching from being bound so long,
I see light.  My heart skips.
Cracks of light pour through the wall,
It shrinks in stature.
Gentle Hands hear me, untangle me.
I open myself to the mind of Christ,
Asking for transformation of thought and heart.
The fog lifts – I can see, I can think.
Emotions flood in, no longer feared.
Instead a gift, an adventure.
There is comfort that He is near: my Friend, my Protector.

Over the mirrors, I glue God’s Truth.
The taunting ceases; A new reflection appears.
A daughter crowned with jewels is what I see,
Holding the hand of her Father, the King.
Light radiates from the pair,
A halo of peace surrounds them.

In His presence is power and healing, acceptance, love.
Judgment is gone, as is the drive to do and be.
He has drawn me with everlasting kindness,
In me, He is well-pleased.
His works are wonderful,
That I am beginning to see.

Why choose a prison of our own making?
When He offers hope, love, freedom, all we need.
Why hold to darkness when He is light?

Turn and face the enemy –
Muster His strength. Fight its deathly embrace.
By letting go.
By letting Him.
Transform. And break the chains.

Adult Anorexia and Recovery

By Laurie Glass

The guilt and shame wore heavily on me. I knew I was mistreating my body, denying it of needed nourishment. And I felt someone my age should know better. I was 32 when it started. Not only that, but I had studied eating disorders. How could I let this happen? The deep regret and embarrassment I felt consumed me.

It seemed everything was out of control. I had been through a series of disappointments, changes of direction in my life and heartaches. I didn’t know what to do next, I didn’t feel I had any purpose for my life, and my future just looked blank. Feeling depressed and hopeless, I sunk into a pit of despair, and I thought I would never rise out of it. I didn’t take my anorexic behavior seriously at first, but it didn’t take long before I felt powerless to stop it.

Painful emotions threatened to rise to the surface, but I was terrified of them and stuffed them back down. This didn’t work for very long, though. I began to let myself feel, and that started a long process of letting out my emotions. My journal was my safe place to talk in the months and months that followed. Those tear stained pages revealed dark thoughts, disappointments, hurts, anger, and more. Sometimes I found myself writing things I didn’t know I thought or felt until I saw it on the page in front of me. As I wrote, I sorted through my thoughts and worked through painful emotions. As difficult as it was to let things out, ultimately, it was very healing for me. I didn’t even realize it at the time, but going through this process would serve me well in my recovery.

My doctor asked me probing questions, shared insights, and warned me of potential health damage. I didn’t take him that seriously until he threatened to hospitalize me. Then I decided to follow his instructions. That worked for a time, but I later relapsed and gave in to anorexia. I remained in the grips of my eating disorder for a few more years. I felt it was pointless to try to recover again, convinced that I would just experience another relapse.

Over time, I became sicker, though, and I didn’t want to see myself struggling with this issue in the future. It sure didn’t seem like much motivation to attempt to recover again, but it was all I had. Fortunately, it was enough.

I was finally willing to see a dietitian and obtain a meal plan. I no longer knew the appropriate amount of food to consume in a day, so it was helpful for me to have something on paper to follow. I had a lot of freedom within that meal plan, but it was a nice general guideline for me to follow. Even so, a meal plan doesn’t do the work. I still had to put in the effort. I continued to struggle with eating, but with divine help, I persevered.

My guilt and shame had prevented me from asking God for help earlier on. But by this point, I was able to put just enough of that aside to ask him anyway. I just knew I couldn’t do it on my own. It was too hard to do alone. I knew God was always available, and I leaned on him for strength.

I needed to do away with the lies and negative thoughts that fueled the eating disorder and replace them with things like positive thoughts, verses, inspirational quotes, and truthful statements. I wrote them on note cards for easy reference because I didn’t trust myself to recall the truth and positive statements when I needed them most. From thoughts about body image to my view on recovery, from my view of myself to my thoughts about letting go of control, there was a lot to change. What an undertaking. It was a process that took persistence, but it was well worth it. Ultimately, it was another key in my recovery.

After six years, I became comfortable in my own skin, I was able to eat adequately, I no longer obsessed over the number on the scale, I was able to let out my emotions, my heart was healing, the weight of guilt and shame was lifting, and anorexia no longer controlled my life.

That was in 2003, and I’ve been on a mission to help others ever since. Through Freedom from Eating Disorders at www.freedomfromed.com, I provide Christian counseling, books, recovery helps, and other resources for recovery. I want to help others experience the same freedom I now embrace.

My Recovery Story

By Jack

It’s strange. Growing up, I never gave eating disorders much thought. To be honest I really just thought it was something that affected teenage girls. Boy was I wrong.

My name is Jack and I suffered with Bulimia Nervosa for 3 years.

Being a man with an eating disorder can be painfully lonely. If you attend any support groups or visit any online recovery forums 99% of the time it’s all females. So you don’t really feel like you fit in.

Men are supposed to be tough, macho and hardy. They certainly don’t count calories or stress over the fat content of a rice cake.

Never once did I consider discussing my eating disorder in front of my male friends. That would have been social suicide. Society hasn’t evolved that far yet.

Other men just don’t get it. Which is a shame and it’s why I feel it’s important to share my story. Our voices need to be heard. You do not have to suffer alone. Reach out, there is support available for you.

My eating disorder began with a simple diet.

I didn’t have a dysfunctional upbringing or any dark secrets in my closet. In fact, I was a pretty normal functional guy. That is until I decided to lose a little weight. Something just triggered off in my mind, and all of a sudden, somehow, losing weight became the number one focus in my life.

It started just by cutting out the treats – Chocolate, sweets, burgers etc etc.

Over time I then discovered calories. That’s when the number game started. I would find the lowest calorie foods to eat then I would limit my self to a unrealistic calorie controlled diet each day. This then developed into a  “how low can you go” game and things just spiraled out of control.

I started to obsess about food. Dream about food. Fantasize about food. I would wake up in a morning so starving but would force myself to stick to my very restricted diet. One day at work a colleague brought a big box of donuts for all the team to share. I remember thinking to myself “I will just have one.” I ended up gobbling down around five of them as fast as I could. It was so nice, but then the guilt set in, it just took over me and I lost all control. I had to get rid of it. I had to get it out of my body. I went to the toilet and purged for the first time.

That was the start of my bulimia.

I started to regularly binge and purge. I quickly realized that this had to stop. This was not healthy behavior, but each morning when I woke up I would promise to never binge again only to fail miserably a few hours later. I felt disgusting and worthless. I was tired, moody and I would constantly lose my voice through purging. I lost friends and became a nightmare to be around. My social life became extinct. Looking back, it was like a dark cloud had engulfed my entire being. I felt trapped, lost, confused and terrified. I keep wondering, “What’s wrong with me???”

I had to get out of my nightmare. It was affecting my ability to work. I wasn’t able to concentrate on my web design job and I kept making silly mistakes. So, after three years, I finally plucked up the courage to see my doctor (to this day I kick myself for not doing this sooner!). He was very supportive and understanding. I broke down and told him everything.

He referred me to a local therapist who specialized in eating disorders and so began my recovery. I also joined an online support community and for the first time, I reached out to other people in the same situation as me. Suddenly, I wasn’t so alone anymore. Suddenly, there was hope. 

I was put on a structured eating program. This involved eating eat 3 meals a day with 3 snacks daily. Each day was hard but “always easier than the day before.” With the therapist’s support I finally opened up to my family about my disorder and my sister became a pillar of support. Again, I wish I had the courage to do this sooner. Having the support of my family made every day a little easier to get through.

Yes, the road to recovery was bumpy and challenging. I had set backs, I had serious bloating, I had tough times, mood swings and relapses. At times I really wanted to quit recovery, but my support team keep me going.

I remember one day laughing at a joke I heard on TV. It was a real, deep, gut felt laugh. That was when I realized I hadn’t laughed like that in years! My laugh was back! Slowly, bit by bit, the old me was coming out of the fog.  Another time I started to feel a strange sensation in my stomach.  What was that?, It was hunger! Normal hunger! Woohoo! I learned to trust my body and to listen to my hunger. This helped ensure I never let myself get too hungry or too full.

Recovery for me was a big challenge, but the hardest part was getting started and opening up to the world that I need help. I only wish now, that I had done it sooner. Right now, I am a 28 year old healthy successful man with a fantastic job, great family, a wonderful partner and the most brilliant friends.

At times I may worry that I am not good enough, or that I won’t be able to cope, but I have since learned that we are all human and its okay to not be perfect.

I kept a blog throughout my recovery journey, which you can view here: http://www.bulimiahelp.org/blog/jack . It’s trigger free and I hope you find it inspirational.

Life is what I live for and I try to enjoy every moment of it.

Good Luck to you all.

My Recovery

By Alison Smela

I’ve been given the precious gift of life three times; in 1961 when I was born, in 2002 when I got sober, and then in 2008 when I finally got the help I needed to overcome an eating disorder.

The first 47 years of my life were nothing less than a roller coaster of addiction, emotional chaos and nonstop searching for a way out.

I believe my disordered vision of who I was began as early as the age of 12 when the teasing at school was beginning to really bother me.  After years of little daily remarks about being “fat” I believed I was an outcast when all I wanted was to be accepted and considered cool.

Around that time I vividly remember sitting with my mom and the doctor following my annual physical. He spoke only to her about the overall analysis, saying quite firmly, “We have no other choice. She needs to go on a diet.”  They talked as if I wasn’t there, never considering what I might think about a diet or why I ate like I did.  But even if I had spoken up, no one would hear me, they never did.

Following that appointment, my mom asked a neighbor who was a dietician to talk with me.  Once again, no one asked if I wanted to talk with this grown up about what I ate or whether I wanted to stand on a scale in front of her.   Yet there I was, planning out what I could and couldn’t eat each day, agreeing to be weighed each Thursday to assure the plan was working.  I’ll never forget how awkward those weigh-ins became knowing that scale would tell a story my own words could not.

Ultimately during that summer a significant shift occurred not only in appearance but in my self-confidence.  For the first time in my life, felt good about myself.  I was actually excited to go to back to school after years of dreading that first day.  When I walked through the door instead of hearing snickers about my appearance, I heard praise.  Before I know what hit me, the “cool group” of cute boys and the popular girls who for years I’d dreamed would simply notice me, finally did.

This was the turning point for me. In an instant I equated being smaller to mean acceptance, admiration and praise or what I’d so desperately craved.

Right then I vowed to myself I’d never be fat again.

That same year, with those same kids who used to tease me, I started drinking.

When I was drinking, my eating disorder was in the shadows, when I tried to curtail my drinking, I’d turn back to unhealthy eating.  As I tried to “stabilize” one addiction I’d be de-stabilizing the other.

For over three decades, through high school, college, corporate life, marriage and on into mid-life, whenever things became unbalanced, I would feel sane again by simply relying on some sort of unhealthy coping behavior.

I was strong-willed and stubborn, a perfect combination to resist food and insist on another drink.  If I could do either, or ideally both, I felt I could overcome those “out of control” feelings, not realizing how quickly my life was flailing out of control.

Black outs came more often while hunger did not.

I continued this merry-go-round until, after thousands of second chances and countless promises to eat more and drink less, my life took a very dramatic turn.  I entered treatment for alcoholism and to date have not found a good enough reason to have another drop of alcohol.

While I was in treatment for alcoholism I was continuously asked to reconsider my relationship.  I chose to disregard that recommendation for the first six years in sobriety.

The mere idea of divulging my secret eating habits horrified me.  I feared being pegged immature and childish for struggling with an eating disorder typically associated with girls 20 years younger.  I felt incredibly vulnerable to criticism; fearing people would turn their back to my pain.  Instead of making an outward fool of myself, I chose to continue the charade and remain an imposter in plain sight.

In March of 2008, after watching a news segment about a middle-aged woman who went through treatment at a center with a program for adult women with eating disorders, I called the number provided.  After a long question/answer session and obtaining medical clearance for admission I was told space would be made available for me the next day.

I froze.  I was overwhelmed with feelings of shame anticipating what would happen by admitting to those closest to me I’d yet again failed in life.  The utter disgrace kept me silent even with test results proving my health was becoming seriously compromised.

Yet I could not shake the tone of immediacy I heard from the woman at the treatment center or the non-stop questions people were asking out of fear for what I could not see.

Within days of that phone call, I glanced at my reflection in a store window.  The image reflecting back was that of a woman I didn’t recognize.

The veil had lifted.  I no longer saw the little girl everyone called fat.  I saw the truth.

I didn’t want to die.  I wanted to live.

So after a 35-year battle with an eating disorder, at the age of 46, I walked through the doors of a treatment center willing to do whatever was suggested.  The first test came within minutes of my arrival when a wheelchair was rolled up to me.  I was told based upon my medical status I’d be on “full bed rest” which meant I’d be restricted to movement by wheelchair only.

Although shocked and confused, I stood up, stepped to the chair and sat down.  I had no more fight left in me.  I realized if this is what was needed to get my life back; I was willing.  Based on history, everything I’d thought best for me hadn’t proved healthy at all.

Three months later, after much physical change, direct yet productive therapy sessions talking through deeply coveted secrets and fears, and the support from women of all ages who shared their experience, strength and hope with me, I walked out a healthy, grateful woman.

Since then many life challenges have come along; when I’ve found myself feeling lost, alone and struggling to understand why the hell things happen as they do, I remind myself I’m a survivor.

Yes, the process of recovery is hard.  Yes, the physical changes have been difficult.  Yes, changing just about everything I knew as normal was rigorous.  But nothing compares to the emptiness I felt for decades before finding the courage to ask for help.

And while I have proof that I can face whatever comes into my life, all I truly have is today.  (www.alisonsmela.com)

Strength in Recovery

By Dominic Albano

After struggling with anorexia nervosa: binge/purge type for three years, I confided in a teacher that I had during my sophomore year of high school, who was also a bodybuilder. After telling her that I had been diagnosed with anorexia while hospitalized, she convinced me to start lifting because it would force me to eat more so my muscles would grow. I took her advice and began weight training.

After lifting for another year I relapsed back, but this time it was worse and was eventually hospitalized again and even landed into the emergency room for what I was doing to myself. At the hospital I was put on gym restriction and had supervised eating. When everyone else had three meals a day, I was required to have food every two hours! Post discharge from the hospital I was required to go to group therapy where I still struggled emotionally and mentally with this disorder. After being discharged from group, I started seeing a therapist who specialized in eating disorders. During this time I refused to weigh myself on the scale because I knew no matter what my weight was, I would never be satisfied and would relapse back. I decided to change because I was hearing concerned doctors and a dietitian that I would die if I didn’t stop what I was doing to myself. I didn’t take the first doctor seriously because I thought he just was trying to force me to eat, however when I kept hearing it from several other doctors I started to believe it.

After reaching out in tears, to a personal trainer at my gym for help, I decided I wanted to get better. So with what started as an idea, I started training for my first bodybuilding competition. And that is recovery – even now, for me. I still meet with my dietitian, who weighs me and helps with my meal planning to make sure I’m eating enough and staying on track. I also meet with a therapist who keeps me focused on my goals and helps me work out my problems, rather than using my eating disorder as a way to cope. Even now I still have thoughts of my eating disorder, but I always have to analyze why I’m thinking about it. It may be because I’m stressed or angry or even sad, so now I need to cope by dealing with the feelings instead.

My Recovery Story

by Val Wilson

I walked lifelessly into the emergency section at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) in early January when I should have been heading back to school after the Christmas break. The colourful, brightly lit waiting room was full of sick children. They sat in rows on benches with parents at their side. The tension and worry felt by the adults was detectable through their furrowed brows and forced smiles. When I walked in I could feel eyes gazing in my direction. I self-consciously folded my arms around my stomach. My belly wasn’t flat enough, it never was, no matter how much weight I lost. I knew because any mirror that I walked by I stopped and stared at it sideways. I was always disgusted by my reflection. I sat down beside my mom and we waited.

A plump female nurse called my name. I stood up, feeling dizzy and made my way toward the woman. We exchanged smiles. She held a cuff attached to a blood pressure monitor. She stuck the cuff around my arm and pushed a button on the monitor.  As the cuff swelled, I felt an uncomfortable tingle in my hand. She jotted down some numbers on her clipboard and then moved on to measure my height, and finally, my weight. I took a deep breath and stepped onto the scale. For my mother, who had been standing by the door, the number was devastating to hear. Tears welled up in her eyes. As they ran down her cheeks, she brushed them aside with her forearm. The same question repeated itself in my mind. “What am I doing here? I’m not sick.” But I was sick. I just didn’t recognize how disordered my thoughts and perception of myself were.

*

It all started with my lack of self-esteem. I was mid-way through the fifth grade and I had been friends with the same group of girls since Junior Kindergarten. These girls placed tremendous value on appearance. I was part of the “in-crowd”, although I began to feel that I didn’t fit in. During recess one day in February, I spotted my best friend and another one of my friends whispering under my favourite wooden play structure. Once I reached the base of the play structure, I stopped and stood in front of her. She looked up awkwardly. My smile faded and I asked her what they had been talking about. After a few seconds of silence, she looked up and told me that the girl had said that I was fat. FAT… the word echoed in my mind for years to follow. I felt hot tears drip down my rosy cheeks but I quickly wiped them away. I was always a sensitive girl but I would not let it show. We ran off to play a game of hide and go seek. I tried to forget what my friend had said.

In grade eight, I was already obsessed about my appearance, but on top of this desire, I felt that I needed to get good grades, work hard around the house, and do anything that I could to please those around me. One night, my mother arrived home from work as my sister and I were busy doing our homework. She walked through the front door without her usual smile. We weren’t prepared for what she would tell us. As she reached the counter where we were seated, we both lifted our eyes to meet hers. She took a deep breath and announced abruptly that my dad was an alcoholic and that they were likely going to split up. Everything went downhill from there. I assumed the role of looking after my sister when my mother wasn’t home, I was overwhelmed by the concept of starting high school, and before the summer came to an end, my grandmother was diagnosed with cancer. She had developed a brain tumour which led to a stroke. She died soon after. I felt as though I was losing everyone I cared about. I thought that maybe if I looked perfect, my life would follow suit. Things didn’t get any easier with my focus turned to my appearance.

I constantly compared myself to every girl I saw. I was never as pretty as them. I saw many dieting ads on TV and thought that maybe if I went on a diet I would be beautiful and happy like the girls I saw on these endorsements. I made a promise to myself that I would only eat what advertisers classified as healthy foods. Those that were low calorie, low fat, or all natural. I gradually began to lose weight. I played soccer almost daily and tap danced once a week. The dance studio, where my dance classes were held, was surrounded by full body mirrors. We wore skin-tight body suits. These outfits made me feel incredibly self-conscious and made comparing my body to the other dancers’ easy. I decreased my caloric intake more and more every day. My parents began to notice a drastic drop in my weight and recognized that I needed help.

When they confronted me, I explained to them that I just wanted to eat healthy. A kid wanting to eat all health foods, what parent wouldn’t be pleased? They were proud of me. That is until they realized that I had become obsessed with controlling my food intake. I became a picky eater and asked for small portion sizes at family meals. I wouldn’t dream of eating deserts, which our family had after dinner every evening. My weight continued to drop as I increasingly starved my body. My clothes began to hang from my body. I thought I looked better than I had, but I wasn’t thin enough, so I restricted my food consumption. I started lying to keep my mom from calling the doctor. I told her that I was finishing my lunch every day when in reality I would throw it away. I felt very guilty, yet I couldn’t bring myself to tell her the truth.

One day in December, she found a lunch that I had thrown out as she was emptying our kitchen garbage. Alarm bells went off. She confronted me with what she had discovered and I burst into tears. I had never lied to my mom before, and I had always tried to be the “perfect” daughter. I knew that I had disappointed her. I ran upstairs to my room, closed the door, jumped onto my bed and sobbed, face first into my pillow. My mom researched eating disorders on the computer that night. She presented the information that she had found. I had been demonstrating almost all of the symptoms of anorexia. All the same, I was in denial; She was overreacting. She called our family doctor and booked an appointment for the following week.

*

So here I was, in the waiting room, fluorescent lights beaming down from the tall white ceiling. My hands trembling anxiously. Instinctively, mom put her arm around me. A nurse came and stood in front of us. She pushed an empty black wheel chair. She was young and very pretty. I looked down at my thighs, they were too big. She said that the wheel chair was for me. The fact that I had to sit in an uncomfortable old wheel chair only added to my frustration. I was perfectly capable of walking, why were they making me sit in a wheel chair? I wasn’t handicapped. My mom explained that it was to make sure I didn’t pass out. This all seemed so over the top. I was fine. I just wanted to go back home and get some sleep before school the next day. Little did I know, I wouldn’t be going back to school for a long time.

The room they assigned to me was almost all white except for the blue curtains that divided me from the other patient in the room. My mom had prepared an overnight bag expecting that I would be admitted to CHEO that night. I stood up from the wheel chair, feeling faint. I lay down on the firm mattress at my side. My mom asked me if I wanted her to get me something from the cafeteria downstairs. We hadn’t had a chance to have dinner and it was now 9 pm. I was starving, but I told her that I wasn’t hungry—my usual response. She encouraged me to try and eat something but I refused. My mom gave me a hopeless look, turned around and left.

I lay in the bed, thoughts running through my mind. How long would I be here? What would my friends say? I could only think for a few minutes before my head began to ache. I flicked on the tiny television extending from the wall behind the bed. “America’s Next Top Model” appeared on the screen, a show I had begun to watch at the beginning of the year. I wished I could look like them. Despite the fact that the bones of my spine could be counted and that I could see and feel each of my ribs, I still thought I could stand to lose more weight. I began to weep. I thought about not being able to see my friends, go to school, or play soccer. I ended up crying myself to sleep, exhausted from an eventful and emotional day. This would become a habit.

The next few days were torture. The nurse took samples of my blood and urine, my weight was taken, and I was forced to drink a disgusting beverage called Boost, every day. I was told it was a meal replacement and that it contained all of the nutrients my body needed to survive. It tasted like chalk and came in three flavours: chocolate, vanilla and strawberry. The flavours failed to conceal its dreadful taste. I drank it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. My mom would stay at my side to ensure that I drank every last drop. I had lost all freedom. I felt even worse about my body now that I was confined to bed. I would have no way of “burning off” whatever I had eaten. Everything that I consumed would add fat to my body, a terrifying prospect.

After filling out numerous questionnaires and speaking with psychologists on a daily basis, I was officially diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. I was told that I was waiting for a spot to open up in the Inpatient Eating Disorders Program.

A week into my stay at the hospital a spot opened up in the program. Dr. Fedder was in charge of the Eating Disorders program. He was an older man probably in his fifties. He was thin and had short curly grey hair. He wore his pants high and tucked in his dress shirts. He reminded me of a mad scientist. He was a nice enough man, but I did not welcome his visits. Whenever we spoke it was about how much longer I’d have to be stuck in what felt like an asylum.

I joined four other teens in the Inpatient Program, three girls and a boy. I was the youngest, at 13 years old. They were all sickly thin. I felt like I didn’t belong in the group. I was not nearly as thin as them in my mind. Every day we met in group sessions and discussed our emotions. Meal times were always the toughest. We ate together in a sterile white room, a large-round table in the centre. Two nurses sat with us at the table to monitor our eating. We all struggled to make the transition from drinking Boost to eating solid foods. At every meal there would be at least one of us who couldn’t manage to finish what was on their plate. The others would watch and listen as the nurses spoke words of encouragement.

My friends came to visit me occasionally. I always anticipated a visit from someone of “the outside world”.  Visits from my friends often inspired me to continue my efforts towards recovery. Seeing them and listening to their stories reminded me of everything that I was missing out on. I had school for two hours every day. I cherished those hours where I felt almost like a regular 13 year old, in a classroom with other students. As the weeks turned into months, I began to tire of being in the hospital and being treated like a sick person. I decided it was time to do whatever it took to be discharge from the hospital. I needed to get back to my healthy weight range and eat all of my meals. That is exactly what I did. I fought my way through most meals and sobbed to the point where my eyes stung, but I told myself that the struggles would all be worth it in the end. One day in May, after spending 5 months in the Inpatient Program, I was finally discharged from the hospital. I was one step closer to getting my old life back.

I moved on to the Day Program, which meant I spent nights and weekends at home.  My first day back home was bizarre. I was so used to being in the hospital that I almost didn’t recognize my home at first. I opened the white front door and sighed with relief. I plopped my bags down on the floor of the tiled front entrance and ran straight up to my room. All the memories of my life before the hospital came flooding back. I felt like I had just returned to reality. I jumped onto my bed and lay on my back. It felt so good to be in my own room. I slept like a baby that night.

The Day Program group consisted of some of the same members as the Inpatient group, and a few new girls. Every weekday morning for the next 4 months my mom would drop me off at the hospital for 8am so I could have breakfast with the others. The atmosphere was much more relaxed than the Inpatient Program. We spent most of the day in the lounge. The walls were multi-coloured and covered were hand-prints with words of encouragement written by previous patients. The room had a large TV and two large, blue, comfy couches. The kitchen where we ate was right next door. I made a very good friend in Day Program and we supported each other all the way through. She was the same age as me, had curly brown hair, very good taste in clothes and a bubbly personality. We had a lot in common. Every Friday the group went on an outing together. We all decided where we would go. Once we went rock climbing, another time we went to the mall, we did all the things we would have done as teenagers living a “normal” life. I even got back into playing soccer.

I was discharged at the end of September. My graduation from the program was both exciting and sad. I was going to miss the doctors, nurses, and friends that I had met in the hospital.  They all made little cards and shared their favourite memories of my recovery process. I still have these cards in a small box in my closet.

It took me four years to completely overcome my eating disorder and I was readmitted to the hospital another time during my journey to recovery. Looking back on all of the pain that I put myself and those who surround me through, I can see just how terrible my illness was. I think about that cute, sweet little girl who, by fighting so hard, overcame so much. She will always be a part of me. Through my long battle to recover from anorexia, I discovered that I am stronger than I ever believed.

Finding the Beauty in Everything: My Recovery Story

by Marilee Fritsch

Originally, I wanted to lose weight.

I was a chubby 11-year-old and I was tired of kids and adults making comments to me about my weight. I was always comfortable with myself. But at an 11-year-old who just wants to be accepted, it was too much.

I taught myself how to use to the stove and other parts of the kitchen. I had control now. My family life was a mess. My parents were always screaming and fighting. But I could finally cook my own food. Now I was really in control of my body.

I lived this way on and off until I was 15 and my sister came home from college and said to my mom that something was wrong with me. “Oh no, she’s just exercising a little too much; she eats.” I honestly didn’t know I had a problem. My mind was so messed up. I realized something was wrong when I ate a small bowl of green beans and vegetable broth and started crying afterwards.

But it all felt so good. People at school looked at me. I was someone now. I was the girl who lost all that weight on her own. I was comfortable in my skin. Kind of.

I remember I was in gym class, standing there alone, wondering “why isn’t anyone talking to me? am I not skinny enough? That must be it.” But then I thought, “Wait… no. That’s absolutely not it. That’s just crazy.”

After I was diagnosed with an eating disorder, I was determined to get better. My mom had recently suffered from a heart attack (which I witnessed). We promised each other (while she was drinking) that if I recovered, she would stop smoking.

I recovered quickly. I got back to a healthy weight (and of course, my mind was still kind of in eating disorder mode and I hated it, but I had to remind myself I was getting healthy, which is what I wanted all along).

For years after I physically recovered, I still suffered from the thoughts. I still never felt pretty enough. I still compared myself to other people. It was exhausting living with these thoughts and trying to combat them. It wasn’t until recently that I realized I needed to change my thinking for good.

My mom didn’t withhold her end of the bargain. I could have used that as ammunition to not get better myself. But after everything I learned in therapy, and after all the support of my friends and family, I couldn’t turn back.

After years and years of hating myself, I realized that the key to recovery is to love yourself. It takes time, it takes effort, and it’s really uncomfortable, awkward, and weird at first. I also realized that this way of thinking is everywhere, and it’s so sad. Someone who I consider my little sister told me the way she feels about herself, and how terrified she is of getting fat. I saw myself in her. I started seeing myself in a lot of girls. She’s just an innocent girl who will do anything for love, acceptance, and affection. So was I. Seeing her reminded me of my young self. Think about how hard it would be for you to look at your younger self and say to them “You are fat and worthless; you need to lose weight or you are unloveable; you’re not beautiful; you don’t deserve happiness unless you’re skinny…” I know I couldn’t do it. Everyone is worthy of love, regardless of if they look like what the media says they should look like or not. Everyone is worthy of love. Everyone. We are all human. We are all beautiful. Weight, size, etc. DOES NOT determine whether or not we are deserving of affection.

Some of you may or may not have had parents who nurtured you, held your hand, or kissed your forehead when you were hurting. But that isn’t because you didn’t deserve those things. You did, and you still do. However, in order to let go of things and move on, we need to provide this type of affection ourselves; otherwise we’ll depend on other people or material things for it.

The next time you feel down, look at a baby picture of yourself. Try telling that adorable, innocent child that they need to lose weight. That innocent child is still within all of us. That innocent child still needs nurtured, still needs loved, and still needs cared for.

I turned to other people to do that for me. Did it help? Absolutely not. When my first boyfriend first told me he loved me, I was happy at first. I thought “finally, I’m loveable.” But after a while, those good feelings started to fade. I caught myself looking in the mirror, thinking critically of my body.  I thought, “someone loves me now and thinks I’m beautiful… but why do I still see a fat, ugly girl?” It was because I didn’t love myself. I had everything I wanted– a boyfriend and I was studying at my dream school– yet I still wasn’t happy with myself. I finally started realizing that only I can make myself happy. Only I can make myself believe I’m beautiful.

Once I adopted that way of thinking, I woke up smiling everyday. I am happy now. I barely make money and I’m struggling to pay rent, but I am happy. It’s like a huge weight has been lifted off of me. I don’t have to look for love anymore, from anyone. I already have it within myself. I can sit by myself and just take in the beauty around me and be happy. I find happiness and beauty in everything and everyone. Not everyone else may see it, but that is because they choose not to. I finally found the beauty in everything, and everyone, including myself. And none of these things that I find beautiful now are what the media portrays as beautiful.

How I Overcame Anorexia

By Manna

Hi all! My name is Manna. I want to share my story in hopes to make a difference in someone’s life <3

My story starts back when I was in High School. I can’t tell you how I discovered Anorexia, it just
happened. It controlled the way I thought, my life. I remember not being able to concentrate in class
because all I could hear was “nothing but dinner,” constantly reminding me that in my mind, That’s all I
was “allowed” to eat. This obsession controlled my entire High School life and though I was trying to be
a happy 17, 18 year old woman, it’s hard when you have a voice telling you eating is wrong.

When I graduated High School, I ran off to California and got married. As the years went on I wasn’t
starving myself as much but I was depressed because I wasn’t. I would go through phases trying to
please the Anorexia, and then come out of the mindset and get depressed because I wasn’t “As skinny
as I could be.” This mindset clouded my judgment. It in essence, stopped me from living my life to the
fullest.

This past year I made the transition into having a healthy lifestyle and stood up against Anorexia.
Anorexia is a voice that has no meaning to our life and what it is really worth. We are beautiful people
and each one of us has a story to tell. Anorexia is debilitating and life threatening. I am so much happier
now that I have overcome it. I am eating healthy and my perspective on life is unexplainable. I can’t
tell you how good it feels to wake up and not be depressed because “What I ate the night before, I
shouldn’t have,” or “How long until I can eat.” That mindset is long gone. Now I wake up and work out.
I give my body nutrition so it can burn and help me maintain my new healthy body. I have never looked
so good in my life.  I am just happier all together. My body FEELS healthy.. and I can’t remember before overcoming Anorexia, just how long it had been since I felt that way. I remember constantly having headaches…hiding my growling stomach, wanting to hide. The decision to rise above Anorexia gave me hope. I hope it gives many people hope.
If I can do it, so can you. Reaching out to anyone that is battling this disease; you are not alone and you
too can beat this.

A New Beginning

By Anonymous

As I near the end of yet another year, I look back and remember that it was not so long ago when I was the sick one, the one who was isolated, and the one who had built up a tremendous fear inside me.

Only two years ago, I was diagnosed as being one of the many who suffered from anorexia nervosa. At first I felt proud that I could reach such a high goal and that others couldn’t. I was determined never to touch any foods that I felt would make me fat, and that, in fact, was nearly all foods. It didn’t take long before my parents and sisters found out what I was doing with my food. It was a total change for my family, who were used to seeing a happy extrovert that was eating normally and growing up. I wanted to starve and starve until I was the thinnest of all the girls I knew, but for me thin was not enough. After starving myself, drinking little, and manipulating psychologists, teachers, and my parents, I was then placed in Provincial Hospital where they have a specialized eating disorders unit. For several months northing helped, or should I say, I was not prepared to relinquish my control. At that point my strong inside feelings would not permit me to do so, in fact, I trusted no one.

Several months after I was discharged, I decided to strictly limit my food intake so much, that I ate and drank very little. By that time my long hair had begun to fall out, and I already had plenty of fine hairs growing on my body. After a few days, my heartbeat became irregular, and I could barely stand up. For the first time something inside me gave me the understanding that I was going to die. After being immediately admitted to a hospital and with the help of some wonderful people who cared for me, tests showed that I was near death. The next 24 hours were critical; those were the worst 24 hours of my life. For the first time reality face me, straight in the face.

Today, I look back on my past and see an unhappy girl trying to be perfect, always trying to please everyone and never being kind to myself. It took years to recover, every day I made progress, yet it was hard. I had to produce the key to unlock this illness, together with the help of many dedicated clinicians and my psychologist who gave me love and understanding. He believed in me and guided me. We often had disagreements and I refused to go back, but I did go back; I was determined not to give in to those angry feelings.

I have learned to take control of myself, and most important of all, I am kind to myself. I sincerely hope that the strength that I was given to recover, I will be able to give to you. Being positive is your success to recovery.

Today I enjoy life. I have many friends, I socialize, and I am no longer perfect. There are so many more positive things in life other than being thin. To those who insist on measuring me from the outside: start by looking at yourself from the inside. Life is full of fun. It’s the new happy me!

My Story

By Kirsty Summers

It all started when I went to Secondary school. As a young girl I was very bubbly and smiley! Lots of confidence and very happy. When I began 1st year at the ‘BIG’ school it terrified me, and before I knew it I was stuck in this little shell with what I thought was no way out! I became very secluded and really quiet, struggling to do everyday things, socialising but most of all eating.

Most people around me were getting very concerned about me, worried and all talking amongst themselves. My family, friends and teachers at school all worried sick. To approach myself seemed like it could go either way, it was like walking on eggshells. Some comments made to try and help me did result in actually making me feel even worse about myself. Anyone who would comment on my weight I just didn’t believe anything they were saying to me, the ‘MONSTER’ inside of me was taking over. Feeling trapped and lonely, I was very confused as I didn’t truly understand where I had ended up. Was there a way out of this…

One weekend away with my family to Blackpool and we had some pictures taken, as reluctant I was to these pictures getting taken, I had agreed. Never would I let anyone take a picture of me because I didn’t like myself very much at all. These pictures shocked me beyond belief! I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Looking in the mirror at a struggle to what I saw was a ‘fat’ person looking back at me, to getting this picture and seeing something completely different. This was probably my lowest moment and weakest, as I did collapse this holiday away. It scared me and when the hospital was telling me, “This is serious, you must eat,” something in my head told me I don’t want to die! I want to beat this.

Through a good 3-4 years of help from an amazing lady, my psychologist, she made me realise that I am worth it and that life is worth living. Something happened to trigger this and she made me see the light! No more darkness.

A couple of songs I listened to: “Fighter” by Christina Aguilera and “Beautiful” by her also. These songs are amazing! They gave me strength and the power to believe in myself once again. I was no longer thinking these awful thoughts. The hatred towards myself and the low self esteem had somehow faded and I felt like a new person.

Through hard work and determination I did eventually throw this horrible monster in the bin! I did achieve this, finally after those draining years this was getting a lot better! It was not easy, there were tears, struggles and even some little setbacks along the way but my strength got me through with the help of my loved ones around me. I can say that, as I was very young when this all happened. I am now 24 and I am completely different person. Once in that dark hole with the sad feeling of no way out, to now a fun bubbly girl who appreciates everything I have and love life to the full. It is like a transformation! For as much as this will always be a part of me, I can safely say I have a whole different outlook to everything, especially food! There is no problem at all, I have actually learned to love food!

I just want to let all you girls out there know please please don’t give up! There is a way out of this, no matter how hard and stressful this can be, you can do it! Find your inner strength and courage and believe in yourself. Don’t let anorexia win!

Raise Your Wings

By Treena Hall

Imagine a world full of darkness. Imagine a world full of pain. Imagine a struggle so powerful that it takes over one’s life. This world is a life bound by the chains of an eating disorder.

Anorexia is a life-threatening disease, and one that I struggled with for many years. It was a hell on earth kind of existence. Well, actually, it wasn’t even an existence at all! I functioned daily in a zombie-like state, only caring about how much I ate, how much I weighed, and how I could get out of eating my next meal. Every thought and movement I made in my life was encompassed by anorexia. It had become my world, and one that almost took my life. I had fallen so far down that my family, my doctors and everyone else around me started believing that I would lose the fight.

What saved my life was my love and lifelong passion for horses. I’ve always felt an extraordinary and safe connection to them. They never expected anything from me, my love and kindness was always enough. I felt that they understood me when no one else did. I would look into their eyes and feel that I was alright… simply loved for who I was. They never judged that I was starving myself to death, that my life was slowly slipping away from me.

Feeling their strength, love and warmth became the foundation for my recovery.

The unconditional acceptance of equines provides what most people with eating disorders long for. If you are kind, loving and respectful to the horse, they give the same in return. Horses don’t judge you based on physical attributes like size and weight, socioeconomic status or any other esoteric trait. This unconditional acceptance is a very powerful piece in the recovery process that was life-giving for me.

Horses are master teachers of unconditional love and acceptance. They’re very sensitive, intuitive animals, and thus they mirror the motions we display with our body language. This can be a very helpful tool for people with eating disorders, making them aware of the energy they’re putting out and how they’re thus perceived by others.

My journey into recovery was a slow one. I’d spent years identifying myself as anorexic but now needed to re-identify as an intelligent, capable, kind and loving woman. It took time to discover “who” I really was, rather than who I thought I was. My negative self-image was false, self-imposed. I discovered that it was actually not what others saw in me at all!

Because of the monumental affect horses have had on my recovery, I believe that there is a purpose for me, that I do deserve love, happiness and a new life. I just know that if I hadn’t had that horse connection, I probably would not be here today.

I now want to share the same opportunity that I was given – the chance to bond with a horse. That is why I’ve created Raise Your Wings, Inc, to create that experience for others in need.

Raise Your Wings is a non-profit, volunteer-based organization. There’s no charge for our services; the only requirement is that participants must be under the care of a licensed professional (therapist, physician, etc.). We’re located at Lakewood Equestrian Center in Los Angeles County’s Lakewood. We welcome volunteers who believe in our mission and we can be reached at raiseyourwings@yahoo.com or through our website: www.raiseyourwings.org. (Our 501(c)3 status is currently pending.)

Triumphing Through Adversity

By Debbi S.

In the latter half of my 8th grade year, I was diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa. My battle with an eating disorder continued until my freshman year of high school up until my winter break, in which my parents had to take extreme measures to prevent me from being hospitalized. I was placed into a residential treatment center for eating disorders and missed four months of high school. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through. In the facility, I was also diagnosed with depression since I was in such shock over being out of school.

However, as my therapist noted– “If you have the power to overcome this, everything else in life will be simple. You will have the power to do anything.” Thus began my long road to recovery and the beginning of the hardest battle of my life; a battle I had to win, or else I would have my own tombstone before even managing to finish my first year of high school. The hardest part was accepting how my recovery would not happen overnight, since I was not accustomed to failing at accomplishing something right away. I soon realized that the only way to defeat the one thing that was, quite literally, eating away at me, was to fight it with all the strength and courage that I had.

After four months of hardships and progress, I was finally released from the center. Yet, as much as I thought I wanted to leave, my last day at the center proved to be something of bittersweet happiness. My “goodbye group” will always be etched in my memory as something significant, for it taught me to accept myself once and for all. Tears streamed down my cheeks as the therapists, staff members and other girls touched my heart when they told me how far I had come, and how I was guaranteed to be a prize to the world as long as I believed in myself and allowed my talents and passions to shine.

It may seem ironic that what began as a seemingly impossible nightmare to wake up from ended up being the one lesson that taught me the true value of life. Experiencing a new “life” for four months showed me how lucky I was to have a loving family and the most caring, patient friends who supported me during the hardest time of my life. The most rewarding part about triumphing through adversity was the way in which it made me love everyone and everything in my life with so much more appreciation. I’m not saying I would ever redo what happened or what I went through, though.

Perhaps if I didn’t have that experience, I wouldn’t be as strong-willed or enthusiastic about life as I am today. I’m so grateful for all the love and support I received from everyone– it truly showed me how lucky I was. There was even a mock funeral staged for me at the facility to prove how many people I’d be hurting if I let my disorder consume me entirely. Physically and psychologically, I was torn apart by this– however, I fought with all of my strength in order to recover and get back to school. Though I wish it didn’t take something so severe to make me realize how I really was “perfect” enough, I am grateful for the long, difficult and eye-opening change that ultimately saved my life.

Life happens, and this is one of my personal battles that shaped me into a more independent woman. Perhaps a life-changing experience really was all I needed to find in my heart that I am beautiful just the way I am. I ended up graduating high school with highest honors as a National Honors Society inductee and California Scholarship Federation life member. I received my B.A. in Communication from UC Santa Barbara in three years and will always cherish my college memories.

I currently work for Walt Disney Parks & Resorts and will follow my dreams of living and traveling abroad when I move to New Zealand later this year to work in the birthplace of Middle-Earth (next to travel, Lord of the Rings is the one thing I love most). You can follow my adventures and passion for life through my travel blog: www.debbishibuya.wordpress.com.

Recovery

By Anonymous

I had Anorexia Nervosa for twenty three years, and have been in recovery for ten months. When I woke up on the day of my “new reality,” I knew that I could not continue on the path of listening to “ED (Eating Disorder),” as it had been a roller coaster of restriction, over-exercise, and emotional turmoil with those who loved me. At times when I would allow myself to eat (e.g., holidays, vacations), I would feel horrible after, and ED would tell me to “cathartically cleanse (go back to restricting)” as soon as I returned home. My life was ruled by the scale, a main tool of ED, and I thought that the lower I weighed, the more in control of my life I would be. I also looked at myself in the mirror a lot (my husband called it EMT; Excessive Mirror Time) to check my body parts. There were times when I was starving, sick, injured, and in danger of seriously damaging my relationships, but ED yelled at me to keep going, saying “How bad do you want it (to be thin)?” The answer was of course “bad,” in every sense of the word. ED promised that if I followed his rules, I would be happy, but I realized that morning that I was miserable, and I would be for the rest of my life if I didn’t change anything.

The “essential me” knew that I needed to save myself (from ED). Working with my doctor, therapist, and nutritionist (my professional “support bench”), I learned how to hydrate and fuel my body, growing to trust it would tell me when I was hungry and full, and that it would make up for my mistakes. I had a lot of momentum in my recovery at first, and then I realized that I needed to maintain a pace that was sustainable (life is a marathon, not a sprint). There were times that I felt like I was on the cusp of giving up, but I pushed through, and the reward was that I became healthier and happier. I am in recovery for my loved ones (especially my husband), but most importantly I am in recovery for ME. There are many benefits to living without ED, but the driving one for me is a sense of sanity (it is priceless). I am seeking a balance; not too little or too much of anything, and when I am there, I am in my “sweet spot.” Throughout recovery I have been further discovering my identity, the things that make me happy; I am really excited about moving away from ED, and focusing on the “essential me.”

My Recovery

By Katlyn Beecken

Anorexia Nervosa. Exercise Bulimia. Obsessive Compulsive Tendencies. I remember that night at the Doctor’s office like you would remember a dream. Fleeting images that seem real and imaginary all at the same time. I so clearly remember being embarrassed and upset. I was angry that the sport’s doctor had figured me out; embarrassed that I had let it go this far.

Growing up I had an amazing home with the best parents I could ask for, and siblings who, though we argued from time to time, I love dearly. I grew up surrounded by unconditional care, love, and support. I remember my mom was sick from time to time, with occasional visits to the doctor and stays at the hospital but everything always seemed to work out and be okay. Freshman year of high school I learned that my mom had been dealing with an eating disorder for several years, and that many of those doctor’s visits were results of side effects of her disorder. At that time she was admitted to the hospital for inpatient treatment. It was a battle, and we didn’t see her much but she made it through. At the time I was kept in the dark about most of her disorder and her experiences, but I did know she battled and overcame. She is the strongest woman I know, and maintains her recovery to this day.

Unfortunately, shortly after this time I took a turn down a dark path without even knowing I was. Following a project in school that focused on keeping a food journal for two weeks to calculate metabolism, my diet started to change. After seeing what I was eating (in my entirely normal teenage diet) I assumed that it wasn’t healthy so I made adjustments as I saw fit, without real basis for my decisions. I just figured less was better. Track season was happening at the same time, and after intense practices I didn’t have much of an appetite. My weight began to drop.

Fortunately for me (and my health) my parent’s noticed my dramatic weight loss quickly. It didn’t take long before I was going for regular visits with a sports medicine physician. Looking back I am ashamed at what I put my parents through, dragging them all over town seeing specialists trying to break down what physiological problem there could possibly be for my sudden loss of appetite and weight loss. It pains me to know that their “perfect little girl” learned how to lie to them.

Eventually the day came where my doctor diagnosed me. I was in complete denial at this point, because not only had I learned to lie to my parents, I learned to lie to myself. Angry and upset, I started to see a psychologist. It wasn’t a great fit. I was her first “anorexia patient” which turned me off to her guidance. Eventually my parents decided it was time to go to a treatment center. My mom was afraid of me missing out on school and didn’t want to remove me, so outpatient treatment was agreed upon. I went into it thinking nothing was really going to change. I was better than ever at tennis and in classes. What good could change possibly do? Inside, I was proud of where I was at and so far I was able to make people believe (or at least so I thought) that I was getting better so I would be able to maintain where I was. I mean, I wasn’t sick enough to be in the hospital, right?

I started to see a therapist and dietitian. I was angry at what the dietitian would tell me. Mad when she made me fill out her forms of what I was eating, and even more upset when she told me I wasn’t doing enough. But now it was senior year, my second year as tennis captain, and I was ready to start captain’s practice. But instead of jumpstarting my season early, my dietitian shut me down. I was being put on physical restrictions. No practices. I was furious and humiliated, watching my teammates play as their captain sat on the sidelines watching. So I started to put in the work she had been asking all along, got to the absolute minimum weight she would allow and got approved to go back. But my coach put me at the bottom of varsity. I played exhibition all year long, and it killed me. My points didn’t even count towards team score. It hurt, but looking back I am overwhelmingly thankful for her putting my health first, and believing in me. She had meetings with me one on one encouraging me, which at the time I blew off, but now I see made a significant impact towards my recovery. I am forever grateful for her decision because it kept me from validating my way of avoiding true recovery.

I started to work harder. I wanted my family to know that I was going to be okay going to college 6 hours away. I had amazing, unconditional support from family, teachers, coaches and the friends that I had trusted enough to talk about it with. I was exhausted and angry because I felt like I was missing out on my life. Later I found out that my anorexia was a factor in why I hadn’t made it into show choir, as my director thought I was being spread too thin. I didn’t get a major role in the spring musical because the directors feared I would be hospitalized and they would lose a key player.

I began to realize that life was passing by without me. 90% of the time I was awake was time spent with my eating disorder. I was tired of it and disgusted with myself. I read stories of other survivors and overcomers. I felt like I didn’t have a right to be where I was. These people had been to hell and back. My childhood had been nothing but loving and support. But I was also terrified of turning away from the life what I created for myself. I began to realize that I was my own worst enemy; that my need for perfection was the wedge driving me away from my recovery. Perfection that no one was asking of me, but me.

My recovery was gradual.  My family had been through enough. I felt I couldn’t hurt them anymore because of this. But the true force that drove me to reach my recovery goal was that I was tired of missing out. I didn’t want to not be in musicals in college or sent home from school because I was too sick. I wanted to thrive, not just survive. So, I learned to embrace the support that was offered and push myself to recover. I met my weight goals and graduated from my recovery program. I went to college and met new friends. That first year was riddled with temptation, but I survived. I managed a lead role in the musical and was having success in classes empowered me. There was no way that anorexia was going to pull me back in.

My eating disorder lasted almost five years, and I’m now over six years of recovery, and I am proud to say I’m standing strong. There were hurdles along the way but I have been given the strength to overcome them. I couldn’t have asked for a better support system to get my through. I now have a wonderful husband who is my rock and wholly believes in me, and I can happily say I believe him when he tells me I am beautiful. My journey, though at times it was dark and difficult, has led me to a place where I can now turn and help others, knowing the road they are traveling. There is always hope, always strength, and always freedom.

A New Morning

By Carly Cozza

I’d cry out yet my silent voice would only be heard within the walls around me.  I was trapped into a closet of worrisome and strife.    My thoughts and emotions concerning food were like a flimsy leaf on a tree  …twirling up, twirling down and spinning all around.  I continued to think that the myriad of redundant thought patterns would just someday fly away in the wind.  I was trying to be simplistic, convincing myself it would be so easy to change.   Eventually I succeeded and change did come but only because I allowed it to.

The onset of my eating disorder, Anorexia/NOS, was at the age of fifteen and it followed me well into my twenties.    There were questions bombarding me left and right coming from family, friends and even myself starting with “Why?”, “How?”, “When?” ….etc. but never had the answer.  I may never have the right answer, however, can now look back on it more easily to understand it.

Sometimes by our own choice, by the actions of others or even by God’s allowance things happen (both good and bad) in our lives.  God has given to us everything we have yet it is up to us to decide what to do with it.  It is up to us to decide what to let stay and what to let go.

One early morning I was taking a walk outdoors.  I particularly enjoyed hearing the birds awake with gleeful chirps as I watched the sun align itself in the skyline for a spectacular sunrise.   An elderly man with a cane clenched in his hand slowly approached along the walkway.  He peered out between the few gray hairs he had beneath the cap on his head and greeted me with a smile.   A swarm of questions instantly buzzed through my head.   “Wow! How old is he?” ”What kind of life experiences has he encountered? ”  “Has he been happy his whole life?”   I thought, “Where will I be in the years to come for me?”  He interrupted my zoning-off state with a fragile “hello”.     I picked my chin up, raised my cheeks with a feinted grin and returned the greeting.   I walked ahead as he carried on his walk away.   I realized in that moment that I’ve been idling by in life putting my goals on hold for too long.   Life and time are precious.  It was new morning – a day to start over!

I recollected the verse of (Matthew 6:25-26) 25“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life[a]?”   This has been my life verse throughout my recovery.

I admire the word “perseverance”.  I had to persevere in what I believed.     My faith has been instilled at a young age but I had to act upon that faith in order to take the next step forward.    From my own thinking I could handle my eating issues on my own.  My fear of food was not related to a number on the scale or how I looked in the mirror but rather a fear of failure.  It was a fear of letting bad things into my body {which was really unwelcomed events into my life that I didn’t put the pieces of the puzzle together until a later time).    I let those negative feelings devour me.      I had to humble myself and hand those fears over and bury them at the foot of the cross.   I admit God does work mysteriously in His ways and His timing but certainly does answer prayer.  He is there in a time of testing and will provide the strength and a way to endure tough times.  As a Christian, I know that my body is a temple of God’s Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19).  A vital part of my spirituality is caring for this temple. Doing so is essential to experiencing Christ’s motivation.    Had I not had my faith grounded I would not have been able to conquer my stumbling blocks.

My voice is not silent anymore.   It calls out to God with great joy and gratefulness!

I believe we can each find on our own way of help by seeking for it in the right areas.  Friends, family and organizations share a unity of concern, affection, commitment and the willingness to offer support through trials and storms.  They will offer reassurance of our worth.

If you, a friend, daughter or loved one is struggling please be encouraged to turn the focus to God and prayer.   If you do not favor the example of my own self rehabilitation there are multiple resources available that offer support.  You can visit www.anad.org  for more information.

From Uncertainty to Security

By Ashley Gilday

Like many of you, I grew up in a split home. My parents divorced when I was three years old. My grandmother on my dad’s side helped raise me. There was a lot of love in my family, but it wasn’t consistent.

During my formative years, from 3 years of age to around 8, my parents were not very available to me. They loved me very much, but I bounced around from house to house to house because they were busy focusing on their new “single” lives.  My dad also went back to night school during this time, which took up a lot of our evenings spent together.

As a young child, this inconsistency in “available love” created a feeling of unworthiness inside of me. I turned to Food. It was always there. It made me feel good.

I was an active child. I was involved in competitive figure skating from the young age of 5 through my teenage years and I also played softball and ran cross country in Jr. High School. I was outgoing by nature and was full of energy. When I was in third grade I started to fill out a bit. Looking back, I know it was a direct correlation to major changes that were taking place in my life- a loss of control.

My Dad went on to meet Beth, who would become my stepmother.  Around the same time, my mom met Tom, whom I consider a father figure.  My Mom and Tom lived together for 11 years and though they never married and are now separated, Tom played a parental role from age 5 through adulthood. He is still in my life today.

My dad and Beth had 2 children; my mom and Tom also had 2 children. The birth of my brother Marc, signified the end of my “only child” experience and my new step parents seemed to be stricter then my actual parents. It was quite a confusing time for me.

I remember my stepmother measuring my cereal in the mornings before school and monitoring the number of snacks I would have. My stepfather often made snide comments about my weight. They were not perfect and meant no harm, but it had a negative effect on me.  I rebelled by sneaking junk food when they were away and started to have low self-esteem. I didn’t feel accepted in my own family.  This was something I would struggle with for years.

At the end of 7th grade, I decided that I was going to lose weight and get trimmed up and beautiful so that the boys would pay attention to me at our middle school. I started to monitor what I ate and started incorporating more exercise into my daily routine (this was in addition to the sports that I was already involved in).  I did it! I lost my extra pudge and became thin and more attractive to the opposite sex. The positive attention felt wonderful.

When I became a young adult, my mom left Tom.  It was another huge change and major stress in my life. The true colors of my mom and Tom’s relationship slowly became revealed to me. It was a sad and scary time. I experienced a loss of innocence. Once we moved out, my mom began to party and stay out late while my younger siblings watched. I felt as if my life was spinning out of control.

Subconsciously, I began to restrict my diet even more during this time, until the point of starvation. This is when I started to develop anorexia nervosa.  The compulsive counting of calories, the obsessive exercising, the lack of energy and meaningful relationships during this time in my life started to take its toll.

I was exhausted and sick of living in another world- a world of obsession and isolation. At one point, a counselor at my High school had reached out to me in concern. I felt he was a safe place to go for help. So I did. I remember it clearly. It was a spring day and I was in gym class taking an exam. My fingers were blue from lack of circulation and I had already gotten my ‘required’ exercise in for the day. I was struggling to do the push up portion of our testing and got so fed up that I asked the teacher if I could go see the counselor. I am so grateful that I surrendered that spring day. It saved my life.

That evening, I went to the local mental health center and was immediately checked in for inpatient care since my heart rate was dangerously low.  While in treatment, I was a willing participant to their recovery programs. I worked very hard to follow the specialist’s plans for me and I still practice what I have learned.

I went away to college just over a year later, where I stayed involved in recovery programs. Unfortunately, I developed a short bout of bulimia when times got uncertain for me, but I knew what I had to do. I had to surrender, once again, to the help of professionals and be honest about what was going on inside of me.

In a short amount of time, positive changes started to take place and I was back on the road to balanced living.  If there is anything that you take away from reading my story, I hope that is it this. It’s not about the food, or the drugs or the (fill in the blank here). It’s about a lack of control in one’s life and more often then not, lacking a feeling of self worth.  You have to be willing to be honest with yourself and surrender to the help of others.  And remember, even though you may feel as if you are going crazy and you are the only one that feels this way, you are not alone.

I missed out on a lot of good times during the years that I struggled, but I wouldn’t take it back. It made me who I am today.

Thank you for reading my story.

Ashley

My Recovery

By Melissa

At 13 years old I was diagnosed with anorexia and put in treatment.  When I was 19 I went to treatment again.  Another admission when I was 23, again at 24, and 26, and 28, and twice when I was 29.  What happened in between?  Besides using any weight loss gimmick that was sold then banned then recreated and banned and so on, I was an extreme exerciser, I was told I was chronic, I would die from anorexia, I would be in and out of treatment, and many other unsettling thoughts.  Physically?  I was emaciated at times, every single blood count was low at one point, EKG’s were abnormal, I was having chest pain, and I developed rhabdomyolysis where my muscles were breaking down and could have caused kidney failure.  Socially?  I had no friends and couldn’t hold down a job.  If I had a job, I always called in sick.  Emotionally?  I was depressed, anxious, lonely, and felt worthless.  The combination of all of the above is enough for anyone not to want to live, but when I put my unrealistic expectations on myself it made it worse.  Since I didn’t meet my timeline of where I wanted my life to be (a college graduate at 22 then marry with kids), then I lost more hope.  When I was younger, I always thought my anorexia would kill me before I turned 25.  It didn’t, although at times it was close.  As the years went by and I crept closer to 30, I was miserable.  I was depressed, living with my mom, not holding a job or finishing school.  How did I get past this?  My Psychiatrist from when I was in my teens stuck by my side, and during my last couple of years I met an outstanding treatment team consisting of 2 therapists, a dietitian, and physician.

Since I had my eating disorder for so long and had been told I was chronic so many times, my anorexia had become me.  It was my identity and I was no longer Melissa.  Considering this, I give a lot of credit to my treatment team because my eating disorder was mean and I’m sure it was no easy task to help separate myself from my eating disorder.  So what was the magic they had that no one else does?  Unfortunately, nothing.  Yes, it probably had to do with me nearing 30, having no one in my life, and the fear that I was reminded of daily: what if you’re eating disorder doesn’t kill you and you are forced to live in this misery every day.  That really shook me up.  I had hoped and prayed I would die from my anorexia, but if I couldn’t and I would be stuck in my mom’s house, depressed, with no life, something had to change.  At first I held on to my treatment’s team pinky by taking meds, following exercise restriction, following my meal plan, and basically told what to do every minute.  Of course I let go of that pinky many times, but when I started to gain confidence in what I was doing I gradually grabbed onto their ring finger, middle finger, pointer finger and whole hand.  At times, I dropped their hand completely, at other times I held on with dear life.  Probably one of the things that helped me the most was what I fought the most.  My meal plan.  I followed it when I didn’t want to, when I knew I could do my meals without out it, and several months after.

Had someone told me it was possible to recover when I was in my eating disorder, I would have laughed at them, saying yours isn’t chronic like mine, you’ve only had yours a few years.  I could come up with every excuse possible to prove recovery for me couldn’t happen.  However, I am now 31 years old and pledged to myself to work towards recovery at 30.  This is one timeline I have not let myself down on.  Day by day, I have worked on normalizing my food, not weighing my food or counting calories (which was a huge deal), incorporating exercise, and pushing eating disorder thoughts out of my head.  Is it all gone?  Absolutely not!  Is recovery worth it if you still have thoughts?  Absolutely!  After  a solid plus year in recovery, I can proudly say “I’m hungry”, have a cookie or a piece of cake or ice cream without having to “undo” it or “punish” myself.  I eat when I’m hungry; I exercise because I want to, not to burn calories.  The point where I finally realized my eating disorder is in my past is when I had an appointment with my dietician whom I rarely saw anymore and she referred to me as having an eating disorder in past tense.  Everything in that sentence felt wrong!  As upset as I would have been if I was told I didn’t have an eating disorder when I was in the depths of it, I was as uncomfortable with her saying I had one.  It didn’t feel right.  It didn’t fit.  That’s not my identity anymore.  So what is my identity?  I am Melissa.  I am 31 years old.  I am working a job I love.  I am living on my own.  I am a few months away from finishing my college degree.  I have my whole life ahead of me.  I am happy.  I am free from my eating disorder thoughts.  I AM NOT MY EATING DISORDER!!!!

Untangling The Mesh

By T. Benjamin Fischer

“One step forward, a mile back.  We’ll make it someday.”

~Tanner Olson

February 5, 2013 marked my 731st day of “freedom.”  It has been two years (one leap year) since my discharge from Residential Treatment at Roger’s Memorial Hospital.  On this day two years ago I reluctantly, yet exuberantly, walked out of the doors of the Eating Disorder Center with my fiancé (now wife) and my mom.  I was ready to take on the world.  I was ready to move on with my life and take charge.  I was ready to kick anorexia in the butt.  There was to be no more meal cards, supervised snacks, or technical workout restrictions.  I was not yet going home but to a partial hospitalization program; however, my nights were mine and I was in charge.

Or was I?

I had not been out of Roger’s for more than 5 minutes when I began crying.  I missed my home.  Roger’s had become my place of comfort, my home, my dwelling place.  I wanted to go back.  It was a magnetic attraction that pulled me inwards.  My eating disorder thrived on the comfort the hospital provided me, the support it gave, and the never ending acceptance I received.  It was a place free of judgment, void of real world responsibilities and a place where I could face my inner demons safely.  I was facing them, but challenging them was another issue.

Roger’s was my home and it has taken me almost this full two years to realize where my home truly is.

Every year Roger’s has a reunion to celebrate recovery.  Past patients return to Roger’s from across the country to support each other, share success stories, and get a “booster” for their recovery.  During the reunion this year a common theme among alumni was “I feel like I am home” and “This will always be home for me.”  Regrettably I kept my oppositional mouth closed.

I do not think that we should consider the hospital home.  Home to me is a place of security, love, and peace, where I go daily to relax, recharge, and unwind.  It is serenity marked by the people that I love and spend my time with.  It is spending time with my wife wherever we are wallowing in our adoration for each other.  It is more than a structural shelter it is an emotional umbrella and a guardian for my heart.

This was not Roger’s.  Do not get me wrong Roger’s saved my life, but there came a point when I realized that wonderful place was not my home.  When I went to my first reunion in 2011 Roger’s was still home to me.  I desired so badly to be re-admitted.  I ached to return.  I had to leave the reunion early for fear that I would check myself in because I missed my home so much.  I was not ready for a reunion.

This year was different.  I had finally accepted where my home was.  I had finally chosen to live my life above and beyond the ties of my eating disorder.  Not that I was, or am, recovered by any means, but I am here and I am fighting, and I am going to live my life the way I choose to live; not according to a programming schedule put in place by therapists and residential counselors.

I began my story with the above quote because that is how I view my recovery.  The first 15 months out of treatment were some of the hardest times of my life.  I had to face old friends, confront old enemies, and, most difficultly, see myself for who I am.  There was more to T. Ben than I had ever allowed myself to see.  Suppressed memories had been resurrected, self-hate was disappearing as self-acceptance was on the rise, journaling was my outlet, and honesty had become my guide.

Life was exhausting.  I was constantly fighting to remain compliant with my meal plan, not over-work-out, plan a wedding, spend time with the friends who had stuck by me, get a job, and, most importantly, re-establish who T. Ben was.

I battled demons I never knew where there.  It is funny how I went into treatment for what I thought was a “basic” eating disorder.  ”Make me fat and let me leave” was my initial mindset, but there is much more to treatment to that.  An eating disorder, as odd as it may sound, is not about the food.  Food is a source of control, of normalcy, of security, of power.  Inside I was chaotic.  I was unfocused.  I was a mass of mashed up mesh metal wires.  Treatment started untangling the mesh, but it was up to me to continue the unwinding.  That is what treatment was about.  Unwinding the mesh of self-hatred, sexual confusion, abuse, confusion, fatigue, anxiety, and acceptance.

It was not easy.  It is not easy.  Some days I feel I eat the one snack to only skip a meal later in the day.  Step forward: mile back.  Other days I eat lunch only to purge it afterwards. Step forward: mile back.  Still other days I am totally compliant but I choose to work out longer and harder because my body image is bad that day. Step forward: mile back; I’ll make is someday.  The point of this paragraph is that recovery is not always forward motion.  It is hard and set-backs happen.  But that does not make someone a failure.  One of my biggest dilemmas was understanding that a set back does not mean a total relapse.  It means taking a step back, analyzing the situation, and improving for next time.  It is a learning process.  Like school.  You can’t get a college degree in a month.  It takes years to culminate enough knowledge finally live as a college graduate.  The same is true for eating disorders: learning how to live life after an eating disorder takes time, studying, and work.  Persevere and do not give up.

 Today, I sit here sipping coffee, listening to the silent crackle of a gas fireplace, watch the snow gently fall outside, and remember my past and where I am going. I am not there yet, but I am making significant strides in the right direction.  At the physical level I am maintaining my weight, monitoring my working out, and feeling strong.  My body is functioning and I am physically able to live.  More importantly, at the emotional level I am honest with myself.  I am fighting the lies of hate and despair.  I am confiding in my wife.  I am honest with my struggles and celebrate in my successes.  I am two years out of treatment and I finally home.  Home is where the heart is and my heart lies with my life, my trials, and my wife.

Written by T. Benjamin Fischer

My Story

By Kelsie Gleason

After undergoing a series of traumatic events, I began struggling with anorexia at age 11. On top of the usual challenges of navigating the middle school social scene, I was also experiencing ongoing sexual abuse and dealing with the loss of my grandmother and my parents’ separation. I felt completely alone, and it seemed like the world was crashing down around me. I turned to restricting as a way to control one aspect of my otherwise completely chaotic life, but before long restricting began to take over, and the control I thought I had was gone.

I struggled in silence for several years, guarding my secret carefully, but it was exhausting. By the time I got to high school, it was impossible to continue hiding the fact that I had a problem. I was finally enrolled in a treatment program at age 15, but I was very opposed to treatment. My parents dragged me to the hospital kicking and screaming, and I made it clear that no one could make me do anything I didn’t want to do. I then spent the next 2 years in and out of hospitals. It was a vicious cycle: I’d be hospitalized for 4-6 weeks, then meet the bare minimum requirements to be discharged, only to go back to my old behaviors as soon as I got back home.    After a few cycles of admissions, I knew exactly what I needed to say or do to get discharged, but I had never actually considered recovery as an option. I was determined to prove that I didn’t need help from anyone. I had survived the trauma of my adolescence without anyone noticing my pain or offering me help, so why did they all of a sudden say they cared and wanted to help me? I was convinced that my parents were just trying to steal the only coping mechanism I had, and I was furious.

By the time I was 16, I had spent more time in the hospital than I had spent in high school. I had had two feeding tubes, attempted suicide three times, and was under constant scrutiny from my parents. It became clear to my treatment team that I wasn’t making any progress and needed a change of scenery if I was ever going to improve. One doctor told my parents that they shouldn’t be too hopeful. The way things were going, he said, the best case scenario would be that I would learn to live with a “managed eating disorder” (I’d be able to control the behaviors well enough to survive, but I’d never really be healthy). The more likely scenario, he predicted, was that anorexia would kill me before I could even graduate high school.    My parents were as stubborn as I was, though, and they weren’t ready to give up. They sent me to a therapeutic boarding school my junior year of high school, and it was the perfect atmosphere for me to thrive. I met girls from all sorts of backgrounds with many different struggles of their own, and I was able to form meaningful connections with them. I was away from the watchful eyes of my parents, so I was able to focus on making progress for myself instead of trying to prove that I was independent and didn’t need them. I had school, chores, music lessons, art and dance classes, and weekend trips which kept me engaged and allowed me to actively live my life. At that school, I remembered what I was living for and what I had been missing out on while stuck in my eating disorder. Those reminders, along with the support that I got from the other students and the staff, finally allowed me to commit to recovery.

The road to recovery wasn’t perfectly smooth, but that switch that went on in my mind was really the turning point. Once I decided that I wanted to recover and that I was willing to work for it, there was no looking back. I still had slip-ups, setbacks, and bad days. Sometimes I wanted to give up, but I was surrounded by supportive people who helped me push forward and overcome all the obstacles that life threw my way. I learned to take life one day at a time and celebrate even the smallest successes. I stopped to appreciate the little things, and to find at least one thing a day that made me smile, inspired me, and made getting out of bed that day worthwhile.

It has now been almost 6 years since I left that boarding school and entered recovery. Since then I have done many things my doctors once thought would be impossible. I graduated from high school. I went to college and earned a double BA in Biology and Hispanic Studies, traveling to 10 different countries during the course of my studies. I am now a medical student at Dartmouth Medical School, working towards a career as a surgeon. Looking back, I can see how much strength I have gained from overcoming those past struggles and how many skills I have learned along the way. I may wish that I hadn’t put myself through so much punishment with my eating disorder, but I don’t regret one minute of the recovery process. Dealing with this illness and confronting the issues in my past has made me a much stronger, more mature person, and for that I’m grateful.

The most valuable advice I can offer if you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder is to remember that you are not alone and there is hope! Hold on to that hope, no matter how hard the recovery process may seem. Recovery IS possible! Keep going and never give up because there’s an entirely new world waiting for you once you beat this, full of beauty, happiness, and the most amazing adventures, and every day I fall more in love with it!

I Could Never…

By Kira Olson
BS Exercise Physiology, BA Psychology
Eating Disorders Resource Center (EDRC) Program Manager

“I could never have an eating disorder – I like food too much,” I told my Mom at about 12 years of age as we devoured ice cream sundaes together.  If only I had remembered then to “never say never.”  About three years later, I found myself struggling with an eating disorder that at the time, I thought was only an attempt to be “healthier.”

The battle began inwardly, when I was searching for acceptance, experiencing natural bodily changes, and facing athletic, academic, and social pressures.  My mother and I had become codependent to the extent that I lacked confidence to make my own decisions, and I frequently felt lost in the family among my brother’s health problems and rebellious behavior.  As someone who cares deeply for people and has high self-expectations, I somehow concluded that it was my responsibility to ease family tension, appease highly demanding teachers, and maintain ever-changing teenage friendships.  I began looking to the world for meaning and truth, listening to what everyone else said to create my “rulebook for living.”  Little did I know that everyone else was lost and searching for answers.

For some reason, maybe because of outside comments and friends’ preoccupation with food and weight, I turned to food as a means of private rebellion and public perfection.  What I ate seemed to be the one thing I could control in life – it provided a way of exerting independence while also displaying to the world how “in control,” “disciplined,” and “healthy” I was.  Deprivation served both as a form of self-punishment, since I somehow felt guilty receiving pleasure from food, and of empowerment – the emptiness brought strange satisfaction.  I was able to focus completely on food and on my body, which meant I didn’t have to feel any other emotion or risk being hurt by relationships.  Again, at the time, I knew none of this – my main goal was to be healthier by reducing certain foods and to avoid “getting fat.”  My “healthy” became extremely unhealthy as I shifted toward black and white thinking, eventually spiraling downward in every area of health due to malnutrition and lack of balance.

Even when I became deceitful and apathetic, went on medication for depression, welcomed thoughts of dying, and was told by my Father, who cried at my feet, that he and my Mother were admitting me into a residential treatment facility… Even then, I didn’t realize how sick I had become.  Reality didn’t hit until I faced the fact that I would be spending the next three months on my own far from home, stripped of control and of the daily activities and achievements that had become my identity.  By striving to be in control and placing my identity in what was meaningless, I had brought myself to a place of complete chaos.  My neat little rulebook had become a mess of lies that had turned into captivating, nightmarish voices.  As I sat listening to the doctors explain that I had to have a feeding tube installed in order to eat what was required, I realized I had two choices: 1) I could either surrender, trust God, and choose life; or 2) I could choose my path, which was leading to death.  I chose life and also chose to allow God to be my strength rather than a feeding tube.

The following three months and the road to recovery afterwards were not easy.  I cried daily during treatment, woke up in night sweats and with terrible stomach pain, and suffered from bruises getting blood drawn.

When I returned home to face the environment that triggered the problem and feelings that had been buried for so long, I quickly relapsed.  I lost weight, then later struggled with emotional overeating and over exercise.  Rather than buying into the lie that I was a failure, I clung to God’s promise that He had a plan for my life and that He was more powerful than my eating disorder.  I was also anchored by a better understanding of who I was, an improved relationship with family, and tools for healthy living and thinking.

Recovery happened when I realized the eating disorder was not my identity.  My identity was as a creation and child of God, beautiful and dearly loved.  He alone gave strength, hope, joy, and meaning.  I gave up labeling my thoughts as “eating disorder thoughts” and simply viewed them as thoughts that I could choose to act on or ignore.  I allowed God to replace negativity with positivity and lies with truth.  Since “balance” and “normal” have no clear definition and differ in meaning between individuals, I eventually gave up on their pursuit.  I focused on what and who “me” was and learned to embrace “me” in all my strengths and weaknesses.

Recovery also involved the realization that an eating disorder was not a secret to hide: it was a story to share of human brokenness to encourage others that they are not alone and to provide hope for healing.  It was also not a beast to avoid – it was a warning sign that reminded me of what was out of balance in life and in need of attention.

I do not claim to have it all together by any means, but I do claim restoration and hope.  Recovery is a process of daily surrender, and we are all on that journey, no matter what the struggle or how big or small it is.  As a result of the eating disorder, the Lord has brought positive change in my life and in my family’s life, and He has allowed me to help other people heal and experience healthy, balanced living through roles as a Personal Trainer, Life Skills Coach, Support Group Leader, and Addictions Counselor.

Recovery is possible, but it requires detaching oneself from identity with an eating disorder, surrendering control, and fighting to transform one’s mind, even to the extent of giving up the definition of recovery. ..Because who really knows what “recovered” or “recovery” is anyway.

This is written in honor of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week with the hope of encouraging individuals suffering from eating disorders and their family members.  Please feel free to contact me directly with any questions or comments. 

Ode to a Friend

By Lindsay Goodwin

You were my Westford neighbor, we used to carpool. I remember picking you up one time in the fall and you were just goofy. You told me you had eaten or inhaled leaves, and you swore they had made you high. Another time we took the fire extinguisher off the wall and sprayed foam all over a secluded corner of the gym, feigning shock and guilt amidst laughs, swearing our misdeed to secrecy. And there was that classic story you told- one that I tried to appropriate as my own before being called out by my mother- about accidentally pooping in a boys’ urinal once on a pee dare. “Uh oh, I can’t stop…”

You probably thought my mom and brother were cooler than I; they probably were. The two of them would drop F-bombs the whole way to gymnastics and back. We used to play that game where we would come up with a dirty word for every letter in the alphabet, while Adam mockingly (albeit very impressively) would sing arias or classic rock. I always felt a bit like an interloper- proud but slightly embarrassed by my unusual family. Sometimes I felt like you should have been the daughter and sister instead of me.

When much to the shock of my family, friends and self I became anorexic at age fourteen you sent me a really touching card, one that I still have today. It was a picture of you and me, freshly pied during an awards ceremony at gymnastics camp. Your card reminded me, amidst all of that chaos, of a part of myself I had lost touch with.

When you yourself became anorexic a couple of years later I kept thinking about that card, how in essence it was a testament to our authentic selves, the part of us that had been lost in the fog of adolescence. I had forgotten the pure pleasure of handstand contests, the thrill of seeing the flailing legs and exhausted tumbles as my adversaries folded one by one, and the overwhelming sense of pride at winning.

Given what we now know about that period in our lives – statutory rape between one of our coaches and teammates, among other things – it’s not hard to see why womanhood, to us, seemed a very scary prospect. It was almost sadder to see you succumb than me. I hated how cold you seemed all of the time, picking me up in your car in the winter, sipping tea with the heat on high. A person who had emanated light for the duration of my childhood was suddenly so sad.

One way or another we both came through. When you and a few other close teammates graduated and went off to college I spent my senior year working at an ice cream parlor and hanging out with friends, for the first time in my burgeoning adulthood developing an identity that was wholly removed from the gymnastics mat. Though told in the early days of my ordeal that anorexics seldom- if ever-   completely recover, over the years I gradually shed the last vestiges of the disorder, in the process discovering that love, thinking, and participating fully in the too short attempt we have at living our lives is infinitely preferable to the opposite course. You have done the same. Today you retain all of the silliness and humor of your youth, but with the addition of an abiding humility and spirituality. You are a river guide, an advocate, a yoga instructor, a therapist. You help kids find their way through to the other side of adolescence. And you make people laugh. Hard.

I used to attribute our enduring ties as a team to our coach’s influence, but now I know the whole time it was you. Like Walt Whitman’s Noiseless Patient Spider, launching “filament, filament, filament, out of itself/ Ever unreeling them—ever tirelessly speeding them”- you launch forth the connective thread that binds us all. Thank you for being the force that you are.

Recovery: Something to Live For

by Mallory Faye

I struggled with anorexia and bulimia for over 10 years of my life. I started having thoughts and distorted body thoughts as young as age three as I was a dancer. I was also a singer, so I was always on stage or in front of a mirror. I had this drive to be the best and be “perfect.” As I started grade school, I would never eat in front of people; I always too embarrassed and thought people would be talking about how I was too fat and didn’t need that food. I would then go home to an empty house because both of my parents worked late and my sister was always out with friends. I would come home and be so hungry, I would binge on any food I could find.

From binging, I gained weight and got bullied for that. I never told anyone I got bullied because I was too ashamed of myself and the way that I looked. I felt worthless and no need for anyone to help me. When I got into third grade, I learned what Bulimia was and I thought now I could lose the weight I had gained from binging. Also around that time there was a lot of events taking place in my personal life that I couldn’t control, but I could control what I put in to my body. All of my friends had something they were good at, whether it be dance, music, school, volleyball, and I thought the one thing I was good at was I had the best self-control out of everyone in this school because I could go the whole day without eating and come home and binge and purge. I thought my eating disorder made me special.

For the next 8 years I was secretly binging, purging, and starving myself. Nobody knew and nobody would’ve guessed. A year before I started high school, my eating disorder took a major turn. It said, in order to make new friends, be successful, go to the school I want to go to, I have to be skinny and to my eating disorder I just wasn’t. I started restricting just a little bit, stopped binging, and started working out just a little bit. I also set a weight goal and I would hit that weight goal and set another, and restrict just a little more and a little more. The thing I realized was it was never enough for my eating disorder. I was very unhealthy looking and my life became unmanageable. I spent nights in the hospital because of heart palpitations and seizures. I was throwing up blood, passing out all the time. I was literally dying and I wasn’t even 15.

I told my cousin I think there is an issue because she struggled from anorexia herself. We talked for a long time, and I still didn’t want to admit I had an eating disorder. My friends ended up telling my social worker and I was forced to get treatment. I went to Alexian Brothers for treatment and the first time, I didn’t want to get better, so I got worse when I came out. I just wasn’t ready for the change. I was scared and I liked my familiar relationship with my eating disorder. As time went on, my body kept on deteriorating and I realized I needed help. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired.

I was told “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” I looked at recovery as that fork and if I didn’t like the results I could always go back. That year in school I had the most amazing teacher who helped me so much. She literally saved my life. We talked everyday and she was the kind of support I needed. Besides that, I admitted myself back to Alexian Brothers and it completely changed my life.

Recovery has been the hardest struggle of my life, but so worth the reward. I literally put my life on hold during high school to save my life, because I knew somewhere deep down that a better life was awaiting me. I had dreams of becoming a musician and a writer. With my eating disorder, none of that was possible, and I had to realize all the lies I was believing from it. I let it go a little more each day, and I found myself in the midst of it all. There were times in recovery I honestly didn’t think I would make it, and I wanted to give up because it was so hard and I hated feeling all of the emotions, but I survived. I prayed. And I believed in myself. Feeling happiness and joy was so amazing the first time I felt those feelings, but it was also scary. I think my favorite word in recovery was it is just too “Weird.” Feeling happy, getting to be a friend, being a student and going to school, getting in to the college of my dreams, writing, making music, doing things that made me happy was a new normal for me and it took a while to adjust.

I realized my life without my eating disorder is so much better than it ever was with it. I have learned to feel emotions and be okay, utilize support, go on dates for the first time, and mostly fall in love with ME! I consider myself fully recovered to date. I want people to know recovery is possible and you aren’t alone in a struggle. I always say recovery is just one word, but it really does change lives. I am going on a mini NEDA tour to walks in different cities with a song I wrote during my recovery called “Something To Live For.” It is a song of hope for those struggling and to never give up because things do get better and I am living proof of that. I also now go to middle schools and educate students on eating disorders and share my story. Speaking, music, and making a difference is what I live for. My life without my eating disorder is a life I can’t believe I am actually living, but I love it!