We all have a story, holding the chance to impact lives. Will you choose to share yours?
The Beginning of it All
I was born and raised into a blended family within the warm desert climate of Arizona. I’d like to say that I come from very humble beginnings. Growing up, I felt loved by my family. Food was never an issue within the first ten years of life, as I enjoyed all kinds of food. Never did a thought cross my mind pertaining to my weight or body image.
My issues with food started in sixth grade, as middle school was a rough transition. My innocent, naive mind also started to change as I became very sensitive to my surroundings. I started to pick up on the atmosphere screaming the importance of image and popularity status. As 6th grade progressed, I would increasingly be shaped by this environment. My friends played a significant role in my life, and a spirit of comparison started to consume me.
I started to question my body and the foods I ate…was I overweight? Did I need to change my food habits too? This would be the initiation of the desire to control something in my life.
6th grade also paved the path to an early exercise addition. I taught myself “how” to exercise using my parent’s exercise equipment and developed a rigid routine to implement before school every morning. I was already developing twisted mind patterns that would only progress the more years I spent alive on the planet. Media truly impacted me during my adolescent years. the only magazines I read were Teen Vogue, containing a plethora of skinny European teens and expensive fashion brands I never heard of.
What I saw before my eyes caused me to evaluate my appearance. My teeth were crooked. My skin was not bronze. I was not “thin”. I didn’t have those designer clothes. The strategies of how to fix myself would be a constant theme the following years, forming such a deep principle to achieve perfection. At this time, my dad lost his job. Resources and living expenses were very limited, causing the stress in our home to rapidly increase.
The Driving force of my Eating Disorder (ED)
It would be one afternoon that would change the course of my life. My stressed, jobless father saw me open the kitchen pantry to grab a snack pack of cookies before dinner. He yelled, nailing a message in my head that we didn’t have the money for me to snack so carelessly. Along with the image comparison of my friends, this comment would be the driving force of ED: the ammunition that would fuel me to “fix”, punish, and control myself before anyone else could.
I felt the need to criticize myself publicly with negative comments about my image and countless fat jokes. I also began to experiment with binging and purging on my brother’s stash of junk food in the pantry. I was so fascinated with the concept of “not having your cake and eating it too”. As I started to see results of weight loss, it became routine to purge after every meal. The more I practiced these beliefs and behaviors, the deeper they started to root within my mind and heart.
It didn’t take long for my mom to find evidence of my purging. After a couple of times of getting caught, my parents took me to see a counselor at our church. In order to prevent more sessions with her, I substituted the binging with rigid food restrictions, ratcheting up my levels of exercise, and purging the contents of meals in the shower. At this point my diet consisted nothing more than yogurt, oatmeal, tuna and carrots. My teachers started to comment on my weight loss as my clothes started to hang off me. Phone calls were made to my parents, who suddenly noticed my emaciated appearance.
By the end of 8th grade, I lost 30 pounds. My parents took me out of school for sessions with a dietitian and psychiatrist. As a result, I further resented my parents as what little control I tried to achieve was about to diminish.
I achieved some victory that summer after a summer church camp retreat, gracing me to eat more and gain weight. My eating disorder quickly surfaced in the beginning of my freshman year. I started the year hardly knowing anyone. Feelings of anxiety and fear arose the week leading up to my first day, dreading the emotions and experience I had of my transition to middle school.
The only way I knew how to cope with my stress was with food, which caused me to resort to my old patterns. I was enjoying the freedom of eating whatever I wanted and didn’t have the willpower to starve again, so I resorted to binging and purging to numb the angst within me. This would set the stage for my severe bondage to bulimia for the next six years.
My parents divorced the beginning of sophomore year, which led me into depression. My addiction would only become worse with each year and the increasing freedom I would obtain from my parents. ED would cause me to resent my own family, as it limited the amount of privacy I had to isolate myself. I let my addiction cause a huge strain on multiple family relationships. This is one of the things I reflect on and deeply regret. It wasn’t until the summer I approaching my junior year of college that reality hit on how deep in bondage I had become.
It was finally time to start college, liberating me from the confinement of my high school prison. I had such an expectation that college would be full of excitement and endless parties that would give me stories would scream how adventurous I lived my life for the following decades.
With the pressures of harder coursework, dealing with a breakup, and trying to have a social life, I would fall daily on my bulimia to numb all of the raging emotions ruminating within. My addiction would cause impulsive and careless behavior, as I would spend $10-15 each day to binge on donuts, cakes, and savory cartons of ice cream after class. All of the hard-earned scholarship money I obtained literally went down the toilet.
At this point in the journey, bulimia was serving more than just a daily routine of binging and purging, but would become the key coping mechanism for every life circumstance. It would serve as a way to reward myself for a good grade, a new guy taking notice in me, or for a good day. It would my source of soothing. It was also my punishing mechanism, as I would force the food out of my body harder and as painful as possible. More each day, I became my worst enemy.
During junior year, my addiction to bulimia and running skyrocketed. The grocery clerks knew me by name and were accustomed to seeing my face on a regular basis. I started running with my boyfriend’s mom which started as a healthy endeavor, but only led to the expectation of running 8-12 miles per day. Anything below would make me feel inadequate.
A few months later, my boyfriend broke up with me. the only thing I could find comfort in was my eating disorder. Running, purging, and restriction started to increase, as the sadness repressed my appetite.
Transition to Anorexia…Again
Again, my rigid eating behaviors and running addiction would consume me. Each day was the same. Wake up. Pee. Step on the scale. Run. Starve. With each week, my weight steadily declined. In adjunct to the exercise, the number that appeared would determine the rest of the day: my mood, the number of blueberries on my morning oatmeal. and the extra walks I would add in. I was obsessed. People at the gym would come up to me with concerns about my weight loss. I thought they were crazy. I allowed my high load of studies and graduate school applications distract me from my issues.
In this season, there seemed to have been recurring themes. The more I exercised and restricted food, the more depleted my energy became. The more food I restricted from my starving body, the deeper the urge to binge and purge became. The more food I refused from my body, the more fearful I became of calories. The more the number on the scale dropped, the greater the drive to ensure that it never went above that achieved number. The more weight I lost, the more dysmorphic my eyes became. The more others expressed concern, the deeper the self denial became. The greater the inadequacy, the greater the depression. I was so mentally entrapped that I failed to see all of the pits I caused myself to enter.
By the time December hit, I couldn’t even eat a piece of bread without fear plaguing my entire body. Meal time ruled everything. If any plan interfered with my dinner time, It would be cancelled. January 2014 would mark my biggest nosedive, landing me right where the Lord had dreamed and patiently waited for me be. The stress of the holidays further reduced me to 97 lbs. This would be a new low, which was the weight I was at 13 with Anorexia.
I was at my deepest point of anxiety, guilt, shame, and depression. The only thoughts that were able to formulate with my lack of energy were those related to food. I couldn’t sleep at night, even my dreams were about eating food. All my body screamed at me to do was to feed it, but the only option was to silence and suppress my needs. I lived by the clock, anxiously awaiting each second before it was my scheduled feeding time. I was getting to the point where I couldn’t even tolerate the grocery store without being stirred with anxiety.
It would take a trip to the emergency room for me to awaken to the destructive reality I was in. I reached my breaking point, finally surrendering my life to Christ and to the journey of healing. I stopped all of my future endeavors to start a residential treatment program, which would change my life. This would be the beginning to not only the physical component of healing, but the deep emotional healing I so desperately needed. It would expose the true condition of my mind, thoughts, and destructive words I was feeding myself.
Through this season of suffering, never did I dream I would receive such a blessing in disguise: the gift of journaling and art. On the path to healing, I would be granted the opportunity to unearth my creative self. With more time on my hands, I began to literally discover the power of my hands, all the beauty and creativity stemmed deep within me. These would serve as the outlet to express the pain of my heart. As more healing continued, my art and words started to transform into tools to unleash the hopes and dreams I was beginning to feel again for the future.
Nothing is wasted. Not one day of pain, agony, or affliction. I believe every day I have lived with an eating disorder, stemmed from childhood roots and the development of an overly critical mindset at a young age can still be used for good. It has blessed me with the opportunity to share my story: my journey to healing. I believe God works all things out for good. Never underestimate the power of your story. You never know who’s listening. Who might need to hear it. Your words radiate power, healing, and encouragement. Though you still may struggle with some sort of addiction, emotion, or behavior, there will always be someone who is struggling at a greater level…who can take nuggets of wisdom, truth, and encouragement from your story. Nothing is wasted. Not one moment of your life.