As a kid, I had everything I could have ever wanted; my Mom and Dad were always supportive of me and my two brothers. There was always food on the table, a roof over our head, a yearly vacation and plenty of extra-curricular activities to keep us busy. Overall, I was a happy kid that felt loved and appreciated. I played the piano, was a girl scout, ran track and had many friends; my mom always called me her “social butterfly.” When it comes down to it, there are a few significant events in my life that contributed to my downward spiral into a destructive lifestyle, centered on absolute control.
1) Sexual Abuse
During the summer of 1999, when I was six years old, I was sexually abused by a relative. At the time, I didn’t realize how much of an impact it would have on my life; I was unaware that his actions with me were inappropriate– I just thought I was special. I tried to lock this secret away in the back of my mind but as I got older, I became aware of the fact that I was unable to form normal and trusting relationships with men. To this day, I still struggle with letting men in. There are days when I don’t even let my boyfriend touch me because I am so aware of that terrible incident and the feelings of shame that come with it. It took me over 15 years to open up about the abuse, and I still have difficulty not letting it control my thoughts or behaviors.
2) Beauty Pageants, Divorce & Modeling
In the sixth grade, I came across a flyer at the grocery store, announcing our upcoming community pageant. That’s when I decided I wanted to compete in beauty pageants. Even though I liked making new friends, wearing beautiful gowns, gaining confidence, and competing for a crown, I realize that pageants only led to increased self-loathing. When I didn’t win, I would bash myself for being too fat and too ugly; I was constantly comparing myself to other contestants and in my mind I could never measure up. When my pageant coach told me that I would ideally need to lose “15-20 pounds to increase my chances of winning” Miss Teen [state] USA, I began to think that something was severely wrong with my body and I started to diet for the first time (which continued throughout most of my high school career).
When I was a junior in high school my parents got a divorce. Deciding to live with my mom, I packed up my things and moved, abandoning my school, my friends, and my childhood home. In hopes of making new friends, which suddenly felt impossible, I joined the cross country team. Cross country became my escape; I could run away my feelings of dissatisfaction and frustration. But, once the cross country season ended, I didn’t know how to keep those troubled feelings away, so I decided to use restriction as a means of coping and keeping off the weight. If I failed at restricting, I would make up for it by running or abusing laxatives. At first, I felt empowered, but as the weight continued to fall off, I felt absolutely miserable. My senior year of high school was a blur and I turned into a liar and a bitch. My interest in modeling (which was influenced by people always telling me, “you’re so tall, you should be a model”) didn’t help with these behaviors or my poor body image. After starving myself for months, an agency told me that my hips were 3 inches too wide and that I was an inch too tall. Hearing that made me feel like my tall body was a complete waste of space, so I continued to make it my mission to take up less space. I wanted to prove to myself and the world that I could be model thin. To me, that was perfection. My mom knew that something was wrong and threatened to keep me from going to college in the fall. I did everything in my power to make sure that didn’t happen and I ended up winning that battle.
3) Transition to College, Diagnosis & Treatment (aka: The “Real Life”)
I was already in the midst of my disorder, but I didn’t let that stop me from living my new college life. When I wasn’t out drinking and partying on the weekends, I was hard at work studying rigorous pre-law courses. Little did I know, college was the place where my eating disorder thrived. Most people (it was a small campus) referred to me as the “tall, skinny girl;” I was the one who always ate salad, ran everyday, and got tipsy after having only one drink. I felt an enormous pressure to maintain this image because I thought it was the only reason that people liked me. But, the more I maintained this image, the more miserable I became. I was so absorbed in trying to create the perfect life at school that I didn’t realize my life was heading downhill. My ability to function was so low and my abuse of alcohol on the weekends didn’t help. I got myself to get into quite a few risky situations; I drank till I blacked out, lost my virginity to someone I barely knew because I was too intoxicated to say no, and started cutting and purging when I couldn’t cope with the feelings of sadness and inadequacy brought on by the alcohol. There were also difficult situations occurring at home that only increased these behaviors.
By time I reached junior year, I was so unhappy and using every behavior in the book that I decided to seek help from the school counselor. I immediately told her about all of my behaviors and she encouraged me to see an ED therapist. During my first session, I was immediately diagnosed with an ED. This honestly came as a shock to me and suddenly I was terrified about my future. How could my seemingly perfect life turn out so wrong? How in the world did I end up with an ED? After I was diagnosed, I was extremely thankful to have supportive family and friends; however, even though this support system was great, I was still using behaviors and I was not getting any better.
As soon as my junior year ended, I entered residential treatment. I was angry, scared, and unsure; it was not entirely my choice to be put at such a high level of care and I had trouble accepting that there was something wrong with me. After two weeks, I somehow convinced myself and the staff that I was perfectly fine to step down and enter back into the real world. I completed three weeks of IOP, and then dropped back down to outpatient. By the end of the summer, I was happy, eating healthy, dating a great guy, and getting my life back on track. Once senior year rolled around, I felt a million times better and I couldn’t wait to be back at school. I was eager to finally live a normal life and to make senior year the best year yet. But, as soon as I returned, all of my old behaviors resurfaced—it was like I hadn’t even spent my whole summer in treatment. The atmosphere was so triggering and my desire to maintain the perfect image was uncontrollable. Depression set in heavy, my self harm and ED behaviors worsened, and I started to have suicidal thoughts for the first time in my life. I was so determined to just sink back into an endless hole that I discontinued outpatient therapy and I stopped meeting with my nutritionist. My close friends and counselor noticed that I was relapsing and pushed me to really think about my life. I ended up giving myself two options; one, stay at school and get sicker and possibly die, or two, go back and get the help I needed.
My second go at residential proved to be much more effective. I stayed for over a month then stepped down to PHP and IOP over an extended period of time (months and months). I kept up with classes online and was even able to return to my dream college. This past May, I (fortunately) graduated with a Bachelor’s of Art degree and now I am working a job I love. I still continue outpatient therapy quite frequently.
It has been over 7 years since my ED first developed and over 3 years since I started treatment. I am nowhere near recovered, but I feel that I’ve been lucky enough to be given the tools I need to get healthy one day. For those of you out there struggling, I just want to say that I understand. I understand the long and difficult journey that ultimately comes with the ED diagnosis and I understand the frustrations and guilt that come along with this ugly illness. This is just part of my lifelong story, a glimpse; but, if you have any questions about any of it, please feel free to connect with me. You are not alone. Thanks for reading 🙂