“Real hope combined with real action has always pulled me through difficult times. Real hope combined with doing nothing has never pulled me through.” ― Jenni Schaefer, Goodbye Ed, Hello Me: Recover from Your Eating Disorder and Fall in Love with Life
This is a story that almost came to an end many times over the last two decades. The person that you are looking at to your left has battled disordered eating since she was thirteen years old. What started out as trying to lose a few pounds turned into a full blown eating disorder by the time she was sixteen. There were many tears, doctor visits, breakdowns, and therapy sessions — BUT this is no longer a tragic story anymore and it is time to share it. While it is a long story, I hope you bare with me and follow along. It is important to know the different phases of my life to understand where it lead.
I had an amazing childhood, one that others dream of. I grew up with a brother (who was close in age) and had two amazing parents who would have given their lives to make sure ours were perfect.
Everything was pretty normal up until the time I was ten years old. The month after I turned the “double digits”, I got my first menstrual cycle. It wasn’t a big deal at first. I was now officially part of womanhood! Or at least that’s what my mom told me. It wasn’t until my body started changing faster than those around me that it really started to affect me. I was a fourth grader, who was 5’3 with growing boobs and hips – while the other girls in my grade were flat chested and didn’t have to worry about wearing a bra. To give you a gist of how embarrassing it was, other girls would snap my bra straps to make notice of my growing change.
I also noticed that, not only was I physically more mature, I was maturing mentally faster as well. It began to feel like there was no where I fit in.
Then fifth grade came – the year that changed everything. I had my first heartbreak. And while that seems absolutely silly now, it really tore me up mentally at the time because it was just another thing I found “wrong” with me.
I began to separate from all my friends. As seventh grade came, I would hide in the bathrooms in the mornings and cry because I felt so alone. No one seemed to even notice.
I finally broke down to my dad that I needed help. I was so sad, and I felt so bad about it because at the time I could not put the pieces together. He and my mom made a psychiatrist appointment and I was put on my first antidepressant. Except, the psychiatrist was not a very good one – he started me out on a high dose of Effexor, which as a 13-year-old was way too much for my body.
It was a January day in 2003, I told my dad I needed a mental day from school. I ended up grabbing a hand full of Aleve and shoving it down my throat. I didn’t want to live anymore; I felt so alone. Long story short, I spent some time in the hospital, got taken off Effexor, and was put on about twenty different meds in the course of the next three years to try to help my depression.
In those three years, the meds caused me to gain a lot of weight. I began feeling even worse about myself. To try to lose some of the weight I gained, I began doing pilates everyday; nothing obsessive just enough to combat the weight gain.
The pilates worked and I had lost most of the weight I gained. As a result, I was starting to get comments about how good I looked. That was the most damaging thing anyone could have said to me. Why? Because it told me that I was noticed when I was thinner.
This is when I began to restrict what I ate. By the time I was a junior, I would go to the library everyday during lunch so I wouldn’t have to be around food. I wouldn’t eat in the morning and would play around with my food at night so my parents wouldn’t notice something was wrong. That routine only worked for so long. Once I hit a certain weight, they knew something was wrong.
There were many fights at the dinner table. Many tears, and quite a bit of yelling. “Why can’t you just eat?” I don’t know, why couldn’t I just eat? The truth? it wasn’t about food anymore – it was about control.
When everything felt out of control, I knew the one thing I could control was what I put in my mouth. And I wasn’t giving in.
I ended up inpatient at Renfew in Philadelphia and then continued outpatient treatment for months after.
It was now my senior year of High School. As it was coming to a close, I chose a college close to me so that I could continue the treatment I needed for my eating disorder. However come August of that year (a month before school was supposed to start), I was at my lowest weight ever and the doctor now wanted me to go back inpatient. I made the choice to go to school. I wasn’t going to lose that too.
Once in college, I began to gain a little of the weight back. I found an amazing college counselor and attended eating disorder groups fairly frequently. I thought I finally had it under control.
Then 1.5 years later, my dad passed away. I did the only thing I knew how – restrict. A couple months later, I was back in the hospital. I had contracted MRSA and the bacteria quickly moved into my bloodstream. While in the hospital, they did a bunch of bloodwork finding my iron and potassium levels extremely low. The doctor turned to me and said “If you don’t start changing your life, you are going to die.”
Over the next ten years, I have fought to have a better relationship with food. Just like a recovering alcoholic, you can consider yourself recovered and still have thoughts that you know aren’t healthy or beneficial.
More about my nutritional journey will be in another post – but for now, I want to share my biggest take away. Food is not the enemy. Negative thoughts were and continue to be the enemy. When I didn’t eat, I allowed the negative thoughts to tell me I was empowered. And when I did choose to eat, I wasn’t eating to feed my body and to nourish myself. I was eating to fill a hole inside of me created by those negative thoughts. That hole can only be filled with self-love and affirmations.
If you struggle with an eating disorder or disordered eating, I encourage you to fight those negative thoughts and challenge yourself to see what is really going on behind the self-destructive behavior. I needed to love myself and know I am exactly who God made me to be. I needed to find my inner strength and purpose.
The secret to beating an eating disorder, or any addiction for that matter, is the desire – the desire to find something BIGGER and more IMPORTANT than your self-destructive behaviors. Because, yes…while these behaviors become our outlet and our “friend”, it takes more than it gives and ultimately it can take your life.
You are so much more than what your mind is telling you. Recovery is possible and life is waiting for you. xoxo
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