I have been struggling with my eating disorder for over 8 years now. I grew up a happy and healthy child. From the time that I started school, I knew that I wanted to be a teacher. I loved life, loved school, and loved my friends. No one could have seen what was coming…
It started innocently as a way to fit in, but little did I know that it would soon be my worst enemy. I went to an all-girls Catholic school. As you can probably imagine, there was a lot of focus on how people looked. We wore uniforms, but that did not stop us from becoming very critical of our own bodies and others. I started by skipping lunch, then breakfast. For several years this is what I did. At this point I did not think I had much of a problem, and neither did many people around me.
In the fall of 2001, I went away for my first semester of college. Soon I realized that I didn’t need to eat anything as long as I took diet pills. They could keep me energized when I needed to be and I was never hungry. Slowly all of the horrible side effects of having anorexia started invading my life. I was too tired to stay awake most of the day so I slept. I lived on the second floor of my dorm building and I would have to take a break half way up the stairs. I was could all the time, even when it was hot outside. I couldn’t focus on anything. I forgot meetings I had with friends and professors. I was wasting away.
Finally the week before finals, I couldn’t take it any more and decided that I would rather be dead that continue on the way I was. My therapist hospitalized me and two days later I left for Remuda Ranch in Wickenburg, Arizona. I was not ready to commit to recovery and fought the program the whole way. I learned from the other patients how to become sicker, and I did. I ended up getting essentially kicked out being way more sick than I came in. I think Remuda is a great program, don’t get me wrong. I just wasn’t ready.
I came out and immediately started compulsively over exercising. My life was miserable. I had no friends, no hobbies, nothing besides my eating disorder. It was too painful for anyone to watch me go downhill, including my family. I spent two years in misery. I was, and am, a big self-harmer. I lived by myself and spent my days doing anything to maintain my eating disorder. I was isolated. I was constantly sick with the flu, a cold, or anything else that my weak immune system came in contact with. I didn’t care, as long as I was getting thin.
I didn’t think I needed anyone if I had my eating disorder, my diet pills, and my self-harm. I was severely depressed, and again, didn’t want to live. I overdosed on the same pills that were my constant companion. Once again I was hospitalized. Everyone was extremely concerned and in December of 2003 I entered treatment for the second time at The Menninger Clinic in Houston, Texas. I was on the eating disorder unit, where I stayed for 9 weeks. Recovering from an eating disorder is such a challenge, and treatment is not a miracle cure. Every bite of food that I had to eat, made me feel miserable. I hated it. It was so scary to have your best friend and only coping mechanism, the eating disorder, taken away.
Despite the challenges, I did so well. It was amazing how much just eating in itself helps. For the first time in 4 years, I was hopeful. I felt healthy and strong. I still hated my body, but I was working on it. I knew that I could succeed in life. I had the tools and skills to make it in every day life. Everyone around me was so happy and proud of me, and for once, I was proud of myself. I thought that nothing could stop me. I think that another big misconception about treatment is that going back to “real” life will be easy.
I got out on Valentine’s Day and was doing very well for about a month. I didn’t have a good support system set up with friends, family, and professionals. This was my biggest mistake. Soon I started to slowly restrict my food. Then, because of circumstances out of my control, I went off all of my medications I was on in one day. I was very sick for a month. When I came out of the sickness, I was fullblown back into my eating disorder.
The next 3 years were a blur. I was hospitalized more than 10 times for being suicidal. I dropped out of most of my classes. I again had no friends. I was so highly addicted to diet pills that they were starting to have major negative effects on my heart, liver, and kidneys. I was completely relapsed back into my eating disorder. I didn’t care. I became so depressed that I didn’t care about anything or anyone. I attempted suicide twice. My self-injury became deadly. Today I look at people trying to glorify eating disorders and want them to see how horrible and life-threatening the effects are.
I had given up. It was August of this year, 2006, and I just told myself that I was never meant to be alive anyway. I sat at home and withered away. There was nothing left in me. I had again dropped out of school. I was asked to leave my job because I was not doing my duties, or even showing up. I was in the hospital about once every other week. I was done.
I couldn’t think because of my malnutrition. All I thought about was food, and not matter how thin I was, I wanted to be thinner. I could feel my heart failing. I prayed for a miracle as did everyone around me.
That miracle came at the end of August. I found out that I was going to be on a charity bed at The Menninger Clinic. This meant that I would be receiving free treatment at the place that helped me so much. I was there for three months. Again, I became stronger and healthier, although this time was harder because of my lack of hope and faith in myself, and the world around me. I got out of my third time in treatment about a month ago. I feel so much hope for my future. I finally have goals again. I know that I do not have an easy road ahead, but I am started down the right path.
So what is the recovery process like? It is the hardest thing that I have ever done in my life. It is not hard just for a couple of days, it has been hard for many months, and even years. Each day that I make healthy choices it gets easier, but the challenge is still there.
Life today is filled with very very focused on recovery. Staying healthy is a job that is 24/7. I see a wonderful therapist twice a week. She helps me to stay honest and open about my recovery. I think that this is one of my greatest avenues to gain back my power over my life. If I am constantly focused on the eating part of recovery, I get obsessed. I need my therapist to help me to work on the issues underneath, because once I start to get more control over those, my eating disorder will lessen. I do see an amazing dietitian once a week too. She helps me make wise choices with food. Although, I try to focus on other things in life, the food is still there. It is hard to face it three times a day or more. She helps me to make better choice with what I eat, so that I can stay healthy physically and emotionally. She also helps me to identify what goals and other things I look forward to in life, that don’t involve food. This way I can look at the reasons why eating in a healthy way will help me to achieve a life I desire. I have learned many skills and techniques in the past several years of my recovery. Some work well for me, some don’t. I think that you learn so much from therapists, doctors, friends, family, and other people in the same situation. You also read a ton of books. I have all this knowledge, but it is up to me how I apply it to my life. I can have all the support in the world, but it really comes down to me making the choice to live a healthy life. One of the most helpful things for me in my recovery is to talk with others in the same situation. In my opinion, this is done best in group therapy. I know I have had a wonderful group leader that helps us to maintain the goal of getting healthy, rather than just giving each other negative tips. Even free groups like Overeater’s Anonymous and Eating Disorders Anonymous have been a great way for me to strive for a life without an eating disorder. Another thing that has been helpful for me is to get into hobbies that have nothing to do with food. Even in treatment, you don’t focus on eating the whole time. I think that incorporating fun into your life is very important. What isn’t helpful? Anything, that claims to be a quick fix, is not helpful. It is a long process. I have had people come into my life to “save me” and then leave because they get frustrated. The media is also not helpful. You could avoid it, but it is really hard. I think that you have to just keep things in perspective and not get caught up in what people on TV look like. There are also many unhealthy websites that help women and girls to continue making very unhealthy choices. In general, there is no pill, idea, theory, or even person that will take all of your problems away quickly.
Do I consider myself fully recovered? No way! I struggle to eat every bite that I put in my mouth. I am very unhappy with the way I look, now that I have gained a healthy amount of weight back. I am starting to accept it though. I have not self-harmed in over 60 days which is a miracle in itself. I am getting faith back. I finally know what it is like to function like a normal person. Most people take that for granted, but when you have an eating disorder, you lose that.
I don’t know what my future holds, but I am on my way, thanks to God and the people that support me…