Stories of Recovery
MY JOURNEY THROUGH AN EATING DISORDER
My life is full of love, joy and a true passion to live life fully everyday. I want to make a difference. It has certainly not always been this way for me. Now, at age 53, I am fully recovered from over 35 years of suffering with anorexia nervosa. Those years of my life were plainly put — a living hell.
I was born in a small town in Southern Indiana, and lived there until finally finding the path to recovery at a clinic in NW Ohio. My eating disorder began, I believe, with what seemed to be an innocent attempt to lose weight at age 13. I had been teased and criticized from a very young age for being “fat”, and I believed that by losing weight I would finally be accepted and happy. I desperately wanted to “fit in”. My initial weight loss, about 65 lbs., over a four month period of time, did prompt many compliments and what I perceived as “acceptance” from my peers and my family. What they did not know, however, was that I not only had lost weight, but I had also stopped menstruating, which is now known to be one of the major diagnostic criteria for anorexia nervosa. During the next couple of years, I now recognize that the obsessive thoughts and behaviors related to food, weight, and exercise truly manifested into an eating disorder. I exercised for hours each day, ate less and less, avoided social functions, and my life became a pattern of rituals and rules, all for the sake of being thin-a.k.a.-accepted.
Little if anything was known about eating disorders at that time (approximately 1972), so although my parents were concerned about this strange ritualistic lifestyle, they had no reason to believe that anything was wrong, only that I was being stubborn and rebellious. For many years, even I did not realize that what I was experiencing was a true illness, or that my health was in grave danger; but deep inside, I knew something was very wrong.
I married at age 17, and proceeded to try to live my life to please everyone around me. Marriage and family were important in my familial environment. I was living a lie. Because my reproductive system had shut down, my husband and I adopted two baby boys, Matthew in 1979, and Timothy in 1984. Being a good mother was vitally important to me, but in reality, my eating disorder had control. Between the births of my sons, I began to seek treatment for my disorder.
My life for the next 20-plus years was filled with numerous hospitalizations; some included psychiatric treatment and some did not. I had just about every different kind of feeding tube inserted at one time or another. The insidious nature of the disease kept me seeking help, but also fighting against assistance every step of the way. It was a vicious cycle, but something in me kept fighting to live. In 1997, just after discharging from three months of treatment, I enrolled in Nursing School, which had been a life-long dream, but one that I had been far too ill to pursue. I managed to earn my nursing degree, but I was once again losing weight and becoming very ill during the entire process.
After graduating with my RN degree, I went to work in my hometown, and I loved being a caregiver and serving others. I was much better at that, rather than taking care of myself. Within two years’ time, I was back in treatment, worse off than ever before. While in treatment at a facility in Arizona, in June, 2001, my youngest son was accidentally shot and killed by his best friend at our home in Indiana. I tried to move on, but I had nothing to fight with anymore. During the next six months, I continued to lose weight and also my hope of ever recovering. In the Fall of 2001, I knew in my heart that I was going to die unless I got help. My family had given up on me — we were all suffering deeply with grief about Tim’s death. I reached out once again to a local therapist, who referred me to the clinic in Ohio where I finally found my life again. The professionals there believed in me, and helped me find hope to fight for my life. It was a terrifying process, giving up the only identity that I had even known, and fighting to discover how to live again. Most of all, I had to let go of my old belief system, and allow myself to be who I really am. I made the very difficult decision to divorce my husband of 29 years. It was a decision that was necessary if I was going to live.
Recovery is not linear. There have been many ups and downs. I am not proud of who I was at certain times in my disorder. The desperation of trying to hold onto what I knew, and the fear of uncertainty, resulted in dishonesty, manipulation, and other behaviors that violated my internal value system. I know now that these aspects are common, and often result from a starved brain, and an inability to see reality as it truly is.
My recovery has become solid in all areas only in the past couple of years. I have grown to know, love, and accept who I am as a person, without feeling I need to change to meet anyone’s standards. I remarried in September, 2006, and for the first time in my life, I know what it is to be “in love”. He is truly my soul mate. It’s amazing to wake up in the morning and know that I’m free, and that I’m just fine the way I am. I don’t have to be perfect, or fit society’s mold. I have a passion to use my knowledge and experience to help prevent other women/men from being locked in their own prison of an eating disorder. I want to offer hope for those who can’t find it anymore. Above all, I am thankful for the abundant love that I feel in my heart each day, and I love spreading it around!