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My parents were healthcare professionals who gave us a great home, love and many advantages growing up, but there were unspoken high expectations.
My brother, sister and I were high achieving, straight-A students. The "perfect" family outwardly, my spirit was wounded when I did not receive the time and attention I needed from my well-intentioned father. Unknowingly, I was developing a strong hunger for male attention that would later cause me grief. In high school I excelled in sports, and that became the key to my individuality and identity, creating a limelight that did not include my siblings.
My goal was playing volleyball at a well-known NCAA championship college. A knee injury during my freshman year crushed my dreams of becoming a college star-much less an Olympic player. I don't remember when it started, but soon I was telling myself regularly: "You don't deserve to eat because you aren't exercising." I could find no other identity beyond sports that allowed me to accept myself. In four months I dropped from 184 lbs. to 127 lbs., which, when combined with my height of 6' 3", gave me a very thin, model-like appearance. The appreciative way that men looked at me was new and exciting. With all the comments about my weight loss, I felt a sense of achievement and power. I received modeling offers and enjoyed the admiring looks men gave me when I wore my swimsuit. Finally, I was receiving the attention from men that I had longed for. Perhaps I didn't need my father's attention after all! I had again found an individuality and identity that provided the limelight I desperately needed to feel good about myself.
Soon, unable to maintain the demented discipline of my self-imposed starvation, and yet needing desperately to keep my new identity, I began to binge...and ultimately to purge. I remember vividly the first time I ate sugar after those four months of starvation. Our family gathered at a traditional July 4 celebration with friends. After allowing myself a piece of the red, white and blue cake, I shamefully ended up in the pantry finishing off the cake. When I returned to college in August, my eating was still out of control. Shame and the fear of growing fat in front of my peers caused me to start lying to those I loved in order to protect myself. At the end of the semester I decided to transfer to another college because I felt I would be "safe" being an unknown. I deceived my parents by telling them that I was no longer interested in the NCAA championship college if I couldn't play volleyball. In truth, if I made new friends now, they wouldn't compare how I looked when I was thin to "fat" me. My fear made me an expert at isolation. Food became my only friend and comfort during those years of isolation.
Graduation from college was to be followed by medical school, but the idea of failing caused me to run again. I moved to a breathtakingly beautiful little town in the mountains where I could enjoy nature's beauty. This offered a temporary peace from the dark and lonely path my life was taking. Working as a waitress at a ski lodge forced me out of my isolation and into a world of drugs, bulimia and promiscuity. The addictions crept up on me so slowly that I didn't realize I was trapped. The ongoing search for my father's attention led me into many affairs that left deep scars. Guilt and depression overwhelmed me.
I took as many as 60 laxatives three or four nights a week. Many nights were spent in the bathtub because I was so sick that I would "mess" my bed before I could get to the bathroom. By this time my knee was healed, and I found a new passion (and purge): mountain biking and hiking. Outwardly I was a picture of health, but inside I was slowly dying. Due to my height, I was easily remembered by people, which only served to deepen my pain. I felt they only noticed that I didn't look as good as when I was last seen. I avoided family holidays because my fear of appearing fatter or less attractive led to increased laxative abuse. I habitually called in sick to work and concocted a story about having a disease caused by drinking stream water. My size and demeanor intimidated most people, so few would confront my behavior, and I became skillful at intimidation, deception and manipulation. The only person who confronted me regularly and without fear was my mother, so she became the focus of my increasing anger. Pain and fear became my new identity. The inevitability of hospitalization grew as my pain became unbearable, and I began to accept that my body and life were endangered. Frightened and desperate, I told my parents I needed help.
I found the structure that I needed to begin the recovery process. I lacked the discipline in an outpatient setting to even complete the assignments my therapist gave me. Discussing my issues and the resulting emotions always helped...while I was in his office. I left each visit with renewed hope and conviction but continued to run into an abyss of bulimia, alcohol, pot and men to numb the pain. Frustration diminished my hope and the feeling of helplessness worsened. The inpatient treatment setting provided the time, safety and accountability I needed to slow down and begin the recovery process. I learned to trust staff and had time to test relationships. It was important to be in treatment with other eating disordered women. At first, though, I told myself that I wasn't as sick as they were or my problems weren't as bad as theirs. However, bold, loving confrontations by staff and peers forced me to face my pain, and I learned about trusting, intimacy and vulnerability. The structured environment and common disease etiology provided an atmosphere in which I could see my pain in their suffering as their insight helped me with my memory work. The very ill patients among us, with their emaciated bodies and diminished lives from their eating disorders, scared me and got my attention. Before treatment I wished that someone would control my food, but in treatment I hated that control for which I had longed. I know now how important it was to my recovery.
I was in treatment long enough to begin to recreate my family dynamics with staff and peers-a very important piece of my treatment experience. As I began to experience my triggers, I was unable to run to my bulimia or other unhealthy coping mechanisms. Inner growth began as I endured the emotions...hurt...and began to problem-solve. Success at problem solving led to contentment and victory over the triggers. That feeling of contentment gave me courage to carry out the new coping skills I was learning. Only in this structured setting, did I feel safe enough to risk this growth.
I believe that without hospitalization I would not be in recovery today. The program I entered had a spiritual component, which was very important to me. The focused Christian approach provided consistent input from staff. I learned to transfer the trust I had in them to God. The recognition of my powerlessness and my need for a relationship with God is the basis of my recovery.
Warning signals of an eating disorder include: isolation, compulsivity, many trips to the bathroom, frequent illness, weight fluctuation, inappropriate focus on exercise and food, and an inability to maintain intimacy in relationships. If you think you have an eating disorder, consult a professional. Without treatment, it will never go away.
Four years later, I am happily married with a beautiful daughter and another one on the way. For a time, I worked as an advocate for patients with their insurance companies in the same program where I was once a patient. I understand that life is a path strewn with challenges, achievements and failures. But failure is often the foundation for great successes! I now know what it means to be healthy and successful-and it has nothing to do with being thin!
Recovery from an eating disorder is possible. It's happening every day at Remuda Ranch. For additional information about the treatment of eating and anxiety disorders, please call to speak to a Counselor 866-390-5100 or complete a Take the Next Step form and we will contact you with the information you need