This week is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week and I have decided to tell a part of my story. As you may or may not know, the day after my 15th birthday I was taken to the hospital because my weight loss had reached a critical and life-threatening level; I was deeply immersed in the disease Anorexia Nervosa. Next month I will turn 23, and can say in complete honesty that I have lived these past 8 years free from anorexia. There are so many stories that I could tell because of this experience, but the purpose of this one is to share that there can be victory in battling an eating disorder. This is the first time I’ve attempted to tell my story.
For me this story begins the summer before my freshman year of high school when I was 14. This is before I started losing weight, before anyone would have guessed there was a problem, at a point where I could not have possibly imagined the events that would take place that coming March. This is, however, when I decided I was fat. I decided I wanted to lose weight, but also that I wanted to be healthy – to start off high school by eating healthier and exercising. The first thing they asked me when I entered the eating disorders program at Laureate was what caused my eating disorder? They told me it wasn’t about the food, which at the time was a shocking concept to me. I thought back to this time in my life and my desire to be healthy and lose only a few pounds, and all I could think was that, yes, it is most definitely just about the food. Soon I would realize that for me the eating disorder represented a desperate need for control. This was about being scared of high school, of growing up, of changing friendships and family dynamics, etc. most of my fears were pretty normal for a teenage girl; however, for me and my growing obsession with establishing control over my life, I was soon in way over my head in a losing battle with anorexia. There were many things happening in my life, both in school and with my family, which intensified my need for control. Weight loss became my drug, my way to escape, and my friend. It dominated my life. I cared for nothing but keeping my disorder alive. I was also in denial.
It was about this time that my parents took me to Laureate to meet with a therapist. I cannot find the words to explain the hold this disorder had over me. It dominated my life. It was something I would fight for, it was something I would sacrifice relationships for, and it was something I was dying for. Dying to protect this disorder that had taken over every aspect of my life – dying to find perfect control. The first time I admitted to having anorexia was when my mother and I told my best friend. She came over to my house and my mother did most of the talking, and I remember sitting there looking at her face and wondering what she what thinking, expecting her to judge me, ready to fight and defend my illness. What I saw surprised me enough that for a moment I saw past my disorder and saw her pain. My best friend was doing anything but judging me. She loved me and she was sad for me, and one short moment later I was angry at her for it. It was then that anorexia became a secret source of pride. I didn’t need sympathy; at this point I felt powerful because I was anorexic. I was willing to accept that I had anorexia, but I had no intentions of letting go of it, or to view it as a problem. I believed it made me strong and set me apart, and I was perfectly willing to let it run my life.
This marks the beginning of my fake dedication to getting better. I went to therapy and I answered her questions. I ate lunch with my best friend everyday at school and tried to show that I was making a real effort. I began fake praying for healing, and fake trusting God, and about a week later I was lying in a hospital bed with a very real tube stuck down my nose being force-fed. After a few days of being stabilized at the hospital I was admitted to the eating disorder treatment program at Laureate in my hometown. I remember walking in with my mom, feeding tube still in my nose, thinking “uh-oh this has gotten out of hand, my parents are actually going to leave me at a mental hospital” this was the first time since anorexia had taken over my life that I began to realize that I might not be in control anymore.
What happened next is something I thank God for, but that infuriates me to my core. I began the many admissions interviews discussing the history of my eating disorder, but the only thing I truly remember is that one lady told me that I would NEVER be free from this. I was told that statistically this eating disorder would plague me the rest of my life; that if I made it ten years without relapsing (which was highly unlikely) I might be able to live a somewhat normal life. That there was a CHANCE that in ten years I may be able to think about food normally again, but probably not. I was told that I would be fighting my obsessive thoughts about food and weight for the rest of my life. They quoted statistics and kept talking about how this would be a life long journey that I would never be free from, and I finally woke up. I was mad. After months of feeling nothing and protecting the disorder I am so thankful that God brought a women into my life who looked me in the eye and told me I would never be well, because at that moment I was determined to prove her wrong. It is a moment I am thankful for because it is the moment I entered a fight to save my life. It makes me mad because I cannot imagine why someone would tell a 15 year old girl that there was no hope. However, for me and the way I’m wired, there could not have been a more perfect way to make me want to fight.
The problem was even though I was seeing things a bit more clearly I was trying to fix them myself. I finally believed I did not have this disorder under control, but I was now trying to control my recovery. I decided I would be the best patient they had. I would do everything right and I would get out early. I did move through the program quickly; I got privileges at the treatment center and was slowly putting on weight. I was fighting to get out of treatment, fighting to control the disorder, but not yet actually fighting the disorder. Again, I believed I could control this, and again God intervened in a way that was perfectly geared to my personality.
After about a month of living at Laureate I received a CD in the mail. I had never heard of the artist before, and honestly I think that if I had known how the message on the CD would change my life I probably would have thrown it away. I was at a point in my recovery where I believed I had reached a compromise with my disorder that I could live with. I thought I could maintain my life and keep my disorder at the same time. That night I put the CD into my portable player, placed the headphones over my ears, changed the setting so that it would continuously play all-night and listened for a while and fell asleep. This was my habit. Music had become one of my lifelines while at Laureate. I loved getting new CD’s and listened to music as a way to escape whenever I could. I love music, and I love that I have a God who would send me His sweet message through something that I loved, something that He knew I would enjoy.
On a humid April night God moved in my life and it has never been the same. I woke up around 1 am, the CD still playing, and tears streaming down my face. I do not remember dreaming. I do not remember anything except the tears. I felt overwhelmed by everything that I was feeling and slowly I started listening to the song. The words were “let me go” over and over. It was “let me go, I don’t belong to you anymore” they were words that spoke out against the darkness. I was able to say those words to my eating disorder. To say and mean for the first time “be gone, I don’t want you” it was a moment that left me vulnerable and bare, but in my desperate hour I stopped faking my prayer for healing and meant every word. The next song spoke of calling on Jesus and how He will move mountains to come to you when you call. I crawled to my knees and fell at the feet of my Jesus. The songs that played led me on a journey through the prayers I needed to pray during a time when I was receptive to them. I didn’t have time to think, there was no time to process there was just God and His sweet message, and there was me finally giving up my addiction and desperately begging God to help me. My world changed. God heard the cry of my heart and I was rescued. My cry was honest, and my desire to give up the addiction, in that moment, encompassed my being. Everything within me wanted it gone. I cannot imagine reaching that place without the grace of God. The fight continued, but never for a second was I alone. I felt the presence of the Lord day in and day out, and I walked out of that treatment facility not just able to cope with life, but able to LIVE my life.
Eating disorders are not a life sentence. I have never been back to a treatment facility. The purpose of writing this goes back to the women who told me I would never be free. I AM FREE. I was able to walk away because not only did God take my burden, but He walked the road to freedom with me. I can see looking back how He was there all along. He saw my desperate attempt for control, and showed me clearly I had none. He alone brought joy and healing to my life that I know I could not fathom. I can see where I was blind and I can see how He never gave up on me even when I turned away from him. I was redeemed by the power of God; the same power that raised Christ from the dead is the same power that God offers freely today. By His power I was made well.