Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Life With An Eating Disorder: The Challenge To Stay

Last week we heard personal testimonies. Yesterday kicked off family member and friend testimonies and Sara shared her perspective via a letter written to her sister.

I had to rearrange a little this week as a few who were scheduled to guest post decided to pull out, due to concerns with confidentiality and privacy for their loved one. I completely understand and support their decision. In the spirit of our series I decided to write a little something for today. I know what you all are thinking, "You are the one with the ED history, and this week is about hearing from family and friends." True. Very true. But I thought long and hard over the last few days and I think, despite this little discrepancy, I can share from my heart and shed some light on how to stay connected with a loved one, or a friend who is struggling with an eating disorder, when the easier option would be to walk away. Because several people did this for me. I am eternally grateful.

. . .

The Challenge To Stay  

Staying connected to a friend or family member who has an ED is hard. Eating Disorders have a way of pulling the person farther and farther away from their world. Thus, the more the eating disorder sets in, the harder it is to stay rooted to your friend or loved one. This is so challenging on many levels. As one who cares and feels genuine concern, the last thing you want to do is pull away out of frustration. But how do you stay connected when (it feels like) you're the only one willing to do the work?

I want to give you three words. These three words were monumental to me in my walk and ultimately, in my progress. I am not a licensed therapist of any sort, yet I can say with boldness that these three concepts below, made a difference in those few people who journeyed with me through it all. Those few people who actively said "I am choosing to stay vs. walk away."

Be patient. If I have learned anything over the last few years it has been that patience is key. It is hard watching someone you love beat up their body and fall into the same trap over and over again. Yet try to meet them where they are, and don't expect a miracle overnight. When they cancel last minute dinner plans because the thought of going out to eat is just too hard, be patient. When they cannot muster up enough energy to make it to that girls weekend (that has been planned for months), be patient. When they fall into the trap and the (so it seems) never ending cycle of self harm, be patient. Giving the gift of patience will serve you, and your friend, far better in the long run. Eating disorders take a lot of time and energy to work through. And when you have just about had it, just take a second and reflect on how God showers you with patience each and every day. He has no perfect children after all.

Be persistent. You will probably be the only one making effort to keep the friendship alive, at least for a while. You might ask your ED struggling friend to coffee fifteen times, only to be rejected all fifteen. This is where persistence kicks in. Ask a sixteenth. Be persistent. Eventually (and yes I mean eventually) your friend will say yes. What a shame if the yes was coming after invitation 16, but you had decided to give up instead after 15. Persistence communicates love in so many ways. Keep it up.

Be prayerful. Prayer is so vitally important when you are feeling the tug between choosing to stay and walking away. Pray about everything, big and small. Pray that God will open your eyes and that He will grace you with wisdom of what to do, what to say, when to speak, and when to listen. Pray for those little milestones that one walking with an ED must reach. Pray for their family. Pray for their therapist. Pray boldly and specifically. Pray that they can drink that 2% milk without having a panic attack (Yes, I'm speaking from experience here). I cannot underestimate the power of prayer. It was so encouraging to me just knowing that others were lifting me up (especially when I did not have the courage to pray myself), and celebrating answers and victories along the way. And don't forget to pray for your ability to show patience and persistence as you walk this road.

So that is my encouragement to all of you friends and family members of one with an eating disorder.

Patience, persistence and prayer.

Is it challenging to stay? Yes.

Is it worth it? Absolutely.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Life With An Eating Disorder: A Love Letter To My Sister

Hi everyone! Hope you had a fantastic weekend. We sure did. Didn't do too much but sometimes that is exactly what we need. A little family time mixed with a little r&r is just necessary.

Today kicks off week two of our "Life With An Eating Disorder series." Last week we heard five testimonials from women who have, in some way or another, struggled with an eating disorder. I want to thank them again for their willingness to open up and share their world. I assure you this is not as easy task. Not at all. I applaud them for their transparency and bravery.

This week we will be hearing from family members and friends of one who has struggled with an eating disorder. Eating disorders effect more than just the person who has been diagnosed. Eating disorders effect the whole family. Friendships too. While in different ways from the one diagnosed, the entire family suffers, hurts and grieves. Friendships are strained. Eating disorders put a distance between those that should be the closest to us.

Wives, husbands, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters. . .

Here are their testimonies.

Today we are hearing from a gal named Sara (she asked that all other identifying info remain anonymous). She has watched her sister struggle with an eating disorder for many years, and is willing to share her heart in the form of a love letter. Her letter is below.

. . .

Love Letter To My Sister
Dear Sissy,
Somebody asked me, “What is it like to know a loved one with an eating disorder?”  Ironically it is the opposite – I feel like I do not know her.  You know all too well what life is like battling an ED.  I have no idea.  There is a fortress that the ED hides you inside; so far I have been left outside the walls.  One of the evil things about an ED is that it tries to convince the person it’s pursuing that the distorted eating behaviours associated with it are shameful.  What is the human response to shame?  We hide.  Rewind to Genesis … the ultimate in beginnings.  Adam & Eve are created by God for relationship with Him and relationship with each other.  Genesis 2:25 quite clearly reveals “they felt no shame.”  A mere 7 verses later “they felt shame” followed in the next verse by the decision to hide from God.  So here in this fallen world people initially respond to shame by hiding. 
For those of us who love the one hiding inside that fortress we struggle too – back and forth & up and down on the spectrum.  We’re frustrated.  We’re supportive.  We’re quiet (yes that’s it keep it hidden).  We’re noisy (pushing our way like a bull in a china shop). We ask questions trying to show we’re interested and we care to understand.  We don’t ask questions to show we are not nosy and we respect privacy.  It is such a fine line.  We want to cross it so we can be re-connected with the one on the other side of those walls, yet we don’t want to cross it and end up alienating and thereby losing what bit of connection remains. 
God created people.  God gets to define us.  My pastor says these words a lot and they have engraved themselves into my mind. They give complete clarity to identity and can improve the perspective of any seemingly hopeless situation.  The enemy has no (none, zero) power to say who we are.  The enemy has no ability to say that you are worth less … worth less than me, worth less than her. The enemy does not get to identify you as “an ED victim”.  In Truth you are a beloved child of God.  In Truth you are a beloved sister of mine.  This is your identity as defined by Our Sovereign Creator.  Nobody gets to change it or take it away.
God created people for relationship with Him and with each other.  He yearns for people to turn toward Him and to want that intimate connection that He is passionate for.  Similarly, those of us on the outside of the fortress wall yearn for their loved one to crack open that door, let the Light shine into the darkness of the ED’s fortress, and choose to re-connect with us.  To help us understand where you are so we can walk alongside you on this journey.  Sometimes we don’t express this well or even appropriately.  Maybe we express anger, or impatience, or ignorance, or any number of other unproductive reactions.  But at our core we just want to love you (and maybe haven’t figured out how to show it) and for you to love us back.
With Love, 
Your Sister Forever No Matter What

Saturday, April 27, 2013

One spot open for family member or friend testimonials. . . who wants it?

Happy Saturday!

I just wanted to pop in and let you all know that I had one spot open up for this coming weeks "Life With An Eating Disorder" series. If you are a friend or family member of one that has had or is currently struggling with an ED, and you are willing to share, email me! I can publish your post on Friday as to give you plenty of time to write. So. . . who will it be?

See ya Monday!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Life With An Eating Disorder: Never stop fighting

Today's post concludes week one of the "Life With An Eating Disorder" series.

In case you missed Monday - Thursday, here you go...
A Story of Hope
A Story of a Once Perfectionist
A work in progress
The importance of recovering for YOU

Today we have Nicole who is here to share her testimony. She is from the great state of California (yes I am partial because I was born there) and loves reading, singing and making music. Nicole recently graduated from a treatment center for eating disorders, and I am SO proud that she is willing to share with all of us. Not many people would be willing to share like this, less than two months post treatment. Talk about some courage.

. . .

This past year has been a whirlwind. Let me back up though and ease you in. When I was in 5th grade I had the thought, “I’m fat,” for the first time. I wasn’t until I was in 8th grade that the behaviors started. It started off innocently enough. I thought, for whatever reason, that in order to make friends in high school I had to lose weight. So I started eating less thinking that was the only way to lose weight. By the time I was a freshman in high school I was skipping meals and I had begun self-harming. The one thing I promised myself I would never do was purge because I wouldn’t risk ruining my singing voice. Towards the end of my sophomore year I started purging because simply not eating wasn’t working. This was a turning point in my battle with eating disorders. A turn for the worse. The next two years are all kind of a blur. This beast wholly consumed me.

The summer before I left for college I consciously had the thought that I could finally lose the weight I had been trying so hard to lose because no one would be around to stop me. No one knew me. I could get away with not eating. I was excited. My eating disorder was ecstatic. I started seeing a counselor at the school’s counseling center at the request of a friend. During the spring semester of my freshman year my counselor asked me to go to an eating disorder clinic to have an assessment done. I had absolutely no intentions of admitting to the program. I went to appease my counselor. I remember the day I walked into Valenta very clearly. I don’t remember the questions I was asked. I do remember being weighed and not being able to see my weight. I was freaking out inside. I didn’t need to be there. I wasn’t sick enough. I left, never intending to go back. I went home that summer and continued on my downward spiral. I just wanted to be thin. I came back to school where my friends pleaded with me to start seeing a therapist again and go see a doctor. I found another therapist, but I refused to see a doctor. 

Finally, in December of 2011 my physical symptoms became an issue so I went to a doctor and had a complete blood panel done. When I went back for the results I was told that everything looked normal and obviously I didn’t have an eating disorder because my BMI wasn’t low enough. “See, you aren’t sick. You’re fine. You don’t need any help.” I believed this lie and continued to let my eating disorder live my life for me. In March I began having suicidal thoughts and a couple of my friends cornered me telling me that they wanted me under 24/7 supervision so that I couldn’t hurt myself. I refused and in response they contacted my RD (Residence Director). I met with her and a therapist from the counseling center and assured them that I had no plans to kill myself. They were reassured and I thought I was home free. Then they asked me to set up an assessment at the same eating disorder clinic that I had been to a year ago. I called the next day and set up an appointment for the day after that. I remember this assessment with amazing clarity. I remember being scared to death because admitting to the program was an actual possibility this time. One of the therapists came in, the one who ended up being my primary therapist, and began asking me an exhaustive list of questions. After what seemed like forever she told me I had bulimia. Shock and denial filled me. Then she told me that she would strongly recommend the partial hospitalization program. I went cold all over. I left telling her that I would think about it and give her a call. Within a couple of days I had withdrawn from a class, talked to professors, and committed to going to treatment.

March 19, 2012.

This was the day I entered treatment. 

I went in thinking that I would be in and out within 6 weeks. Little did I know that 6 weeks would turn into a year. I lived with a friend over the summer since Valenta is 10 hours away from home. I thought for sure I would be done before school started in the fall. Too bad eating disorders are relentless. I was still in program when school started. I was only going 2 days a week in order to attend classes. This arrangement started causing issues and my therapist placed before me an ultimatum. Either I came back into program full time or I discharged. I discharged. I couldn’t let myself get anymore behind in school. I had to graduate on time. Enter in 3 weeks of hell. These 3 weeks opened my eyes to an attachment I had to my therapist and to the fact that I still desperately needed help. After 3 weeks I sent my therapist a text and told her I needed to come back. I ended up withdrawing from 2 classes, staying on campus for Thanksgiving break, and only going home for 3 days at Christmas in order to be in treatment full time.

This time around something had finally shifted in me. I finally wanted recovery for me. I didn’t care that I might graduate late. Who said you had to finish your undergrad in 4 years anyways? For the next 5 months I worked my butt off. Before I knew it my therapist was talking about graduating me from the program. I was ecstatic and scared to death. How could I do this without Valenta? 

March 20, 2013.

I graduated from Valenta.

It was a day of many emotions. I had done it. I had accomplished something and I was, and still am, darn proud. Looking back over this past year, I’ve realized that despite the pain it brought, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. God made Himself known to me in so many different ways. He put me in positions that forced me to rely solely on Him. I’m not done with recovery yet by any means. I still have a battle ahead of me. But, I can now say that recovery is possible and everyone deserves help

Eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes. Don’t silence yourself because you think you aren’t sick enough. Never stop singing. It’s taken me a long time to find my voice again- the voice bulimia had stolen from me. Find your voice again. And if you need help to do it, seek out help because you deserve it. And always, always, always, kick your eating disorder in the teeth. Take back your power. Take back your life. Never stop fighting

. . . 

See you back here Monday to continue this series and hear family member testimonials.

Have a great weekend! 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Life With An Eating Disorder: The importance of recovering for YOU

I hope you guys are enjoying the series thus far. I know I am and I love that we can come together, learn from one another and journey through life's ups and downs, together, even if over the internet.

A Story of Hope
A Story of a Once Perfectionist
A work in progress

Our testimony today comes from one gal who would like to remain anonymous. I have gotten to know her (via this blog and lots of emailing) and while she says she reads this blog as a way to receive hope and encouragement, I can tell you quite confidently that she has also been an encouragement to me. While she has had some ups and downs (um hello, haven't we all?), she continues to seek God's will and guidance for her life and in her recovery. In a nutshell, she is awesome.

Day four here we go.

. . .

First off - I'm keeping my struggle of an eating disorder anonymous - partly out of respect and neccessity to my career, and partly out of shame.  I know this makes it harder to connect to me and my story, but I hope & pray you will allow me to open up to you all. 

I first began reading recovery blogs, which is how I know Brittnie, a few years ago when I was trying to get serious about recovery after a recent relapse.  I didn't really know what I'd find, but what I found was a community of genuine kindness, sharing, and most of all - HOPE.  My ultimate goal of this post is to extend that same feeling of hope I found, to even just one person, so they don't feel so alone in their struggle. 

My "story" began as so many of our struggles do - I was a young teen - 12-13ish - and was dealing with a lot of the normal teenage girl stuff - friendship drama, feeling unworthy, feeling less than others around me.  I also grew up in a family where it is acceptable to comment on someone's weight, and while I was absolutely not fat (funny how we can look back and see that NOW, huh?), I was not really thin, and got teased for it.  I was also dealing with family drama - nothing major, and I was raised in a very, very blessed and loving home, but there were issues that I really have no need or desire to get into.  The end result was, like so many young girls - I had nothing to control but myself.  I didn't know this at the time; I told myself that if I just lost weight, I would be thinner and it would help the friendship drama and family drama, and it would absolutely help my feelings of being unworthy.  So began my descent into disordered eating, followed by EDNOS, followed by my final diagnosis of bulimia nervosa. 

I was very good at hiding my eating disorder for a long time (family drama assisted with that), due in part to the lying that comes along with an eating disorder and also in part to the fact that bulimia does not lend itself to extreme weight loss, at least not in me.  All this to say - I was able to avoid treatment for about 7 years.  I started my first round of treatment when I was 19.  I admit, I did not go all that willingly, but because of an incident that woke me up - let's just say - I was removed from my college chemistry lab because I was considered a liability after nearing fainting - but once I went, I felt such a relief.  For the first time in my life, my depression was under control with medication and therapy.  

wish this is where my story ended, and I could tell you all that treatment round 1 was perfect!  and great!  and worked like magic! ... but that's not the case.  I hated therapy and being uncomfortable and feeling judged.  Once my depression was being managed, and I was behavior free of my bulimia for a few weeks, I quit.  I stopped seeing my entire team.  That was probably the worst decision I've made with respect to my eating disorder recovery.  I did not have enough of a solid recovery under my belt yet, and I quickly relapsed.  I won't bore you with the details - I was 19 (maybe 20 by now?) and relapsed many, many, manytimes between then and now, at 26. I have bounced in and out of outpatient for way too long.  My insurance would definitely, absolutely never cover inpatient - because again - my bulimia never caused extreme weight loss, much to my annoyance and frustration when sick, and therefore, my average weight means never "sick enough" for insurance - but that's a whole other rant.  

What I kind of wanted to focus a bit on is what made me finally WANT recovery.  It is such a cliche that anyone who has had any amount of therapy for an eating disorder has heard multiple over - it will NOT work until you actually WANT recovery.  I scoffed at the idea, but honestly and truly realized how true it was only in the past year, over a decade after my eating disorder started ruining my life.  

Wanting recovery is not even good enough; you need to want it for YOURSELF.  It is not good enough to want recovery for your family.  It is not enough to want recovery for your job. It is not even good enough to want recovery for your husband or boyfriend or best friend, who loves you and adores you and it pains him to see you suffering - I have been there and tried recovery for my husband - it worked for a little while, then I relapsed.  Again.  I am absolutely not saying those things can't all be factors in recovery - they can and should be - but ultimately, you need to know that if all those factors are taken away, you still want recovery for YOU.  

For me - what keeps me motivated - is something I want for myself more than anything else in the world.  I want to be a mother.  I believe it is my calling from God, and I mean that really and truly.  I believe I was put on this earth not to be good at my career (which I like to think I am!), not to be a perfect person, most certainly not to spend my entire life purging and starving, but to be the best mother I can be.  Due to a medical condition that may or may not be related to my eating disorder (it is impossible for my doctors to know whether I would have had it anyway), I am infertile.  Whether or not my eating disorder caused my infertility, I know without a shadow of a doubt that it will NOT help me get pregnant.  My infertility has been the key to my finally staying in recovery and not relapsing.  This is what I want for MYSELF.  Of course, I want to make my husband a father, but I want a child more than anything my eating disorder provides for me.  

I do not really consider myself recovered - I have been in recovery (again) since July 2012.  I have had almost an entire year of recovery.  I admit there have been set backs; the most recent being a couple of weeks ago.  My wise friend Brittnie told me in an email to just keep telling myself, "my eating disorder will not help me get pregnant".  

Though I do not consider myself fully recovered - I definitely consider myself as someone who has had sometimes long periods of recovery before a relapse.  I know how wonderful it is to be free of this disorder, where bulimia does not dictate my day.  I am still in the stage where I know I need recovery to reach my goal, but the eating disorder thoughts are often very loud and I have to fight the urges each and every single day.  I know, without even a small doubt - that if I lose sight of why I want recovery for ME, why it is important that bulimia does not ruin MY life again, then I will relapse again, probably at an alarming rate.  

The only thing I really want anyone to take from this is that you need recovery for YOU.  I promise all those other reasons are good reasons to recovery, but not good enough. It needs to be for YOU.  Find that reason within yourself, what you want for you - whether it is overall health, or a specific goal for yourself (like my fertility), find it for you.  And know that if everything else is taken away, you will still have that reason.  And THAT is when recovery may start to stick. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Life With An Eating Disorder: A work in progress

Happy Wednesday! If you are just catching up you can click here and here for the first two guest posts in the "Life With An Eating Disorder" series. This week we are hearing personal testimonies and next week we will be hearing testimonies from family members of one with an eating disorder.

I must say, I am still (always) amazed at how God uses our stories, our pasts, our struggles and life journeys to connect us to others, His precious children. I am so thankful God crossed my path with Dawn, who will be sharing with us today. Dawn is a loving wife and momma to three adorable boys. Dawn writes over at My Journey Through Anorexia and I encourage you to hop on over to her little space and read more about her day to day journey. I love what she has written in the "About Me" profile of her blog. "I'm on a journey to follow God's leading, even when I don't see where He is taking me." Can I get an amen?

. . .

I volunteered easily when Brittnie needed some extra hands writing about life with eating disorders.  Of course I want to help.  And now that it is actually here, I stare at my blank computer screen wondering where to begin.  How do I wrap up my journey in just a few paragraphs?  I have spent the past couple of weeks wondering if I had gotten in over my head and praying that God would give me direction of what to write.  I’m still a work in progress but I have hope, hope that I never before had.  

I think that one understands hope best when they have experienced being hopeless.  My hopeless journey began when I was a child.  I experienced some intense sexual abuse as a very young child.  I was confused and scared.  I felt unloved, unworthy and unprotected.  I was small in a very big world.  I didn’t know how to say what was happening to me, I knew it wasn’t right but like most children who experience sexual abuse, I was certain I was to blame and would be in trouble if I talked about it.  I kept my dirty little secret and let it begin to define who I was.

I also began dealing with severe depression, in retrospect probably due to the fact that I was bearing a burden far bigger than my nine year old shoulders could handle alone.  I was a “good Christian girl” and good Christians didn’t have bad things happen and definitely didn’t experience negative emotions so I had nowhere to go with those overwhelming feelings of hopelessness. I needed control and stability in my life.  

When I was eight, I began drinking Slim Fast.  I saw my mom doing it so it seemed that was what grown ups did.  I felt very grown up and very small and insignificant all at once.  When I was nine I began praying that God would make me grow up to be a skinny woman with small breasts and kind eyes.  At twelve I attempted suicide for the first time.  By fourteen, I had found the control I longed for in the arms of an eating disorder.  Though I had been flirting with disordered eating for years by that point, I remember clearly the moment that not eating became a conscious choice and my new coping skill.  

It was and wasn’t about how I looked all at the same time.  I can see glimpses of body image issues and thinking I was fat.  Really though, anorexia was bringing me control and “relief”.  There was a certain euphoria about feeling hungry, a euphoria that I had never before experienced.  I finally felt in control of one thing in my life which added to the euphoria.  I spent much of my fourteenth year in all kinds of doctor’s offices while they tried to figure out why I had lost so much weight, why my circulation was so poor, and why I had no energy or appetite.  Not one person suggested an eating disorder.  I had a new dirty little secret, one that I kept with pride.

All through highschool I used food (more accurately, the refusal of food) when the pain of being me became unbearable.  It became more about how I looked when I began dating an abusive boy who told me how fat I was.  I was drinking to dull the pain and not eating to please the boy.  It was a recipe for disaster.  Somehow everyone around me managed to not see how sick I was.  Maybe it was the baggy clothes that didn’t reveal my body?  Or maybe it was that no one knew quite how to deal with it so they pretended it wasn’t there.

I began to experience glimpses of hope when I met the man who later became my husband.  He offered kindness to me when I wouldn’t offer it to myself.  God brought so much healing to my heart through and slowly the struggle with food became less and less until one day I realized that I had been eating like a normal person for months and had no desire to go back to that girl.  

I’d love to say the story ended there and I am now completely recovered.  Sadly, not so much.  I had seven years of healthy behaviors and thought I was “cured”.  I thought recovery was easier than it is.  The depression was still lurking and slowly I began engaging in ed behaviors again.  I convinced myself that I wasn’t getting sick, I just didn’t feel like eating that particular thing right then. I wasn’t very hungry.  If you have ever lived with an eating disorder, you know the thoughts I am talking about, the thoughts that refuse to acknowledge the slippery slope of relapse.  Much like depression, the person engaging in an eating disorder is often the last person to see that they are actually sick.  

I had not done the hard work of recovery the first time around and when relapse hit, it hit with a vengeance.  I really thought it was immediate but now I can see how it was a series of small choices over the course of a year that made the suddenness of relapse possible.  I started counting calories.  I exercised late into the night after my family had gone to bed.  I was SICK.  Thankfully my husband, knowing my past struggle, saw the seriousness of the path I was on.   Though I still insisted I wasn’t sick, he informed me that I had lost far too much weight and it had happened in far too short of a time and that it was time to call the doctor.  I told him I wasn’t sick.  He told me that if I didn’t call the doctor that he would.  He intervened early.

My doctor and nutritionist immediately referred me to an eating disorder clinic for outpatient therapy.  I was genuinely shocked that they thought I was sick enough to need to go to the eating disorder center.  I had no desire to get better but was scared for what it would mean for my kids if I didn’t get better.  I ended up being hospitalized for suicidal intentions.  While in the hospital, I clung to the verse on the back of  the new t-shirt I had been given.  “Even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”  Even there, while I was panicking about food.  Even there, when I had just intended to commit suicide just days earlier.  Even there, when my heart was overwhelmed with pain.  In the midst of my darkest days, Jesus was there with me holding me.

That hospital stay was where the long road to recovery began.  I’m doing the work this time around.  It hurts and is hard.  There are days still when depression overwhelms me.  There are still days when the lure of the euphoria of being hungry still entices me.  I’ve learned to reach out on those days, to ask someone for help.  I’m learning that the hope Christ brings is for me too, not just for those around me.  I’m learning to feel the pain when it comes which is often times scary.  God is healing my heart and as I let Him heal my heart, I find that my body is slowly healing as well.  I have to fight  for my recovery.  Some days more than others I need to guard my heart from things I know to be triggering.

I have hope.  A hope I didn’t have then.  A hope I wouldn’t be able to describe if I had never experienced the utter darkness of hopelessness.  I’m not there yet.  I still have days of despising my body.  I still have days of longing for control found in food rules.  I’m a work in progress but I am so grateful for the hope that makes the progress possible.

To read more about my journey you can find me here

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Life With An Eating Disorder: A Story of a Once Perfectionist

To check out day one of this series click here.

Today my blog buddy Amy is going to be sharing her experience and testimony. Amy is a new momma to her beautiful baby girl Lily, who is just as cute as can be. It has been fun watching Lily grow as she is just about three months younger than Clara. I have so enjoyed getting to know Amy, especially over the last year. She just launched her new blog Livin' La Vida Lily where she documents her day to day adventures with her little one. 

Her story is below. 

. . . 

I will admit that when Brittnie sent me an Email that said, “Just tell your story and experience and how you came to the place you are today,” I had a mild anxiety attack.  And by “mild anxiety attack” I mean I was two seconds away from finding a paper bag to breathe into.  What had I gotten myself into?!  The idea of just telling my whole story in a few paragraphs was pretty overwhelming and challenging.  But the more and more I thought about it and, admittedly, obsessed over it (old habits die hard!), it all seemed to boil down to one concept for me: perfection. 

I am a born perfectionist and people pleaser.  It’s in my blood and courses through my veins with a frightening severity.  I cannot pinpoint anything that happened in my childhood that made me this way; it’s honestly just an inherent part of my make-up.  All I have ever wanted was to make everyone proud, to impress people, to be … well … perfect! 

When I was 5, my sister was born.  I refused to sleep in my own bed, opting instead for a pillow and a small throw blanket set up neatly on the floor next to her crib.  I felt that it was my job to protect her, care for her, and keep the monsters away.  At five years old, I wanted to make sure my parents were getting enough sleep and help them in any way I possibly could.  Everyone told me I was mature and sweet and cute and responsible and helpful.  Everyone told me they were proud of me.  That’s all I’ve ever wanted, and I learned quickly how to achieve it.  Be mature and sweet and cute and responsible and helpful.  Rise to the occasion, no matter what. 

Why did no one ever tell me to just go get back in my own bed? 

That example really set the pace for the rest of my story, I think.  My life proceeded on in that way for years and years and years.  Pushing myself to the limit, winning every award, turning heads, leading every possible organization in school and in the community, doing everything in my power to be the best at everything.  I was always the girl who “did it all” and “had it all together.”  I looked pretty darn perfect and “together” to everyone around, but eventually the inside turned to nothing but total chaos.  It is exhausting to keep up that act for so long.  

I started using food as a way to express my emotions and silently cry for help when I was 12. I was already so over-worked and over-exerted that I couldn’t even deal with it.  What coping skills does a 12-year-old have?  I didn’t know how to articulate that I needed a BREAK!  I felt so worthless and silly and undeserving of that, though.  At 12 I was playing with disordered eating and pushing the limits, but it never went too far.  High school was the same story.  Doing too much, striving to be the best at all of it, and beating myself up like crazy when that didn’t work out.  But definitely more “disordered eating” than “eating disorder.”  If there is even a difference.  (Different debate for a different day.)

Then I started college.  Two weeks after I moved into the dorms for my very first semester, Hurricane Katrina hit.  I live in Southeast Louisiana, so this was a life changing event.  Many of my family and friends lost everything.  Returning back to school after having been evacuated for weeks, and having to start the semester knowing what my loved ones were going through 45 minutes away was more than I could handle.  I needed to FIX it!  But this time there was not a thing I could do.  It killed me.  I distracted myself by taking 18 hours my first semester, working 30 hours a week, and joining a sorority.  By the end of my four years in college, I had held 9 Vice President offices in my sorority, often 2-3 at a time.  While working 2 jobs, taking 18-21 hours per semester, and exercising a minimum of 2 hours per day.  Yeah, college kind of fueled my fire.  Big time.

By my second semester, I was very sick.  Everyone around me could see it, and my family and friends were all terrified of what was going on and what would happen if they did not intervene.  So, intervene they did.  Full-blown A&E TV show sort of scenario.  I was mortified, terrified, humiliated, and mad.  I started seeing a therapist and a nutritionist, and honestly learned pretty quickly how to do just enough to get everyone off my back, and no more.  That worked for a little while, because people around me equated weight gain with progress.  All I was doing was gaining (quite minimal) weight and smiling (like a LIAR!) my way through it all.  Eventually everyone was thrilled that I appeared to be “recovered” so they left me alone. 

But recovered I was NOT!  I was just getting started.  I continued my workhorse lifestyle, kept doing anything and everything I could to keep the peace and keep everyone’s worries/suspicions at bay, and continued, even more rapidly and intensely, down a path of total destruction.  My eating disorder became my entire life.  My life was complete chaos.  I stopped spending time with my friends; I stopped visiting my family; I stopped doing anything that did not involve exercise, coffee, bleach, or a vacuum.  My days were mapped out in 10-minute increments, and there was no room for error.  And trust me, I NEVER got off-track.  I had no idea how trapped I was inside the neatly outlined self-imposed confines of my own life.  But my eating disorder convinced me that those confines and that amount of control were safe, comfortable, and absolutely necessary and non-negotiable.  It was the only way to not let the chaos overtake everything. 

This is when everything finally started to fall apart.  My grades dropped, I lost the office I was holding in my sorority at the time. I nearly lost both of my jobs. My friends (with good reason) wanted very little to do with me.  I had wrecked just about every relationship I had.  I was so obsessive and caught up in my routines that people were terrified of me.  I was running on empty, albeit very manically due to insane amounts of caffeine, lack of sleep, and probably bleach fumes.  I couldn’t stop, though.  And honestly, I didn’t want to.  I wanted everyone to leave me alone with my planner, my hunger, and my cleaning supplies.  I spun, and spun, and spun out of control.  There are whole months of my life that are so hazy that I can’t even remember them in any detail at all.  The smell of bleach, the sound of my ears ringing in a deafening pitch, and the nagging throb of hunger pangs are all I can really recall from a big window of time. I would stay home while everyone else was going out and having fun, just to clean my baseboards with a toothbrush and soak my blinds in a bathtub full of Clorox.  I realized one day that I had accidentally left my phone charger on my bed in the morning before leaving the house, and it tortured me for hours until I finally left work to go put it away.  Why?  Because I was worried SICK that if someone broke into my home and saw my phone charger on the bed, he would think I was a disgusting slob.  True story.  God forbid I should appear anything less than perfect to someone who is robbing me.  That is so sad to me now.  But I was so lost, so confused, so overwhelmed, and so broken.  I was stuck, and convinced that I was okay with it. 

I’m not really sure the exact events that led to “Intervention, Take 2” in 2007, but this one was a doozie.  My parents had all but packed my bags to send me to residential treatment, which I somehow sweet-talked my way out of.  I agreed to participate in intensive outpatient treatment and group therapy.  I wasn’t happy about it, but who is?  I grew to be a more open minded, willing participant throughout the process.  This time around I was diagnosed with ADD and Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder.  It was actually a huge relief to finally be able to understand all that chaos and control and perfectionism.  It made the eating disorder make more sense to me, and I could immediately see how all the outward displays of perfection and over-achieving were very much necessary in order to keep all of the inner chaos and ADD at bay.  For the first time ever, I could understand the cycle and what was going on. 

Unfortunately, just because I understood it doesn’t mean it just all shut off and went away. I started Grad School in 2009 to get my Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy.  I have never felt like more of a big, fat, liar in my life.  I was sitting there breezing through the program with ease, all the while living my life still fairly trapped by my eating disorder.  I pulled myself together, fell apart, ran into walls, and reeled it back in many more times, always seeming to teeter on the edge of Holding it Together and Fake It ‘Til You Make It.  I learned how to manage my eating disorder and maintain my weight fairly well, without totally letting go of it.  I was still taking in way too few calories and spending way too much time exercising, but I was hiding it better and knew how to work out to avoid losing an obvious amount of weight. I had pretty much resigned myself to the fact that this was just how life was going to be - constantly walking on a tightrope that no one could even see existed. 

Through much therapy, I’ve realized that all of that over-achieving and that quest for perfection was never anything more than an attempt to find inner peace, and to fill a void in my heart that plagued me for years.  I didn’t know what that void was, so how was I supposed to fill it?  Believe me, I tried everything.  It all just made it worse, though, discovering that the nagging tug at my heart for something I could never put my finger on, could not be satisfied with anything

And then I got pregnant.  Let me remind you of the 10-minute increments my days were planned according to.  “Have a baby” was definitely not color-coded anywhere in there at that time.  I was finishing up Grad School, had no job lined up, not married (although in a serious, committed, wonderful relationship) … those things were not quite the picture of perfection.  Far from it!  But you know what?  That bothered me for about 5 minutes.  And then this sense of peace, this feeling of total calm and surrender, took over.  I fell more and more deeply in love with that teeny baby with each passing moment.  I knew that this was the reality check I needed, and the best thing that would ever happen to me in so many ways.  I was forced by God into a rest, and I was so not afraid of it for the first time EVER.  Even though that was not quite my plan, I knew immediately that God had vetoed all my foolishness and given me the very thing that I had always needed the most.  

My daughter was born last July, and I could go on for years and years about how that one moment changed my life forever in ways that I’m sure I still don’t even fully understand.  She was the missing peace.  She was the part of me that I never dared to dream of, because I never thought I deserved something so amazing.  I still know that I don’t!  But she is here, and she’s mine, and I can’t think of a more amazing miracle in my life. 

I’d like to wrap this up with a pretty little bow and tell you we all lived happily ever after.  I can’t really do that.  My life is light years ahead of anywhere I ever dreamed I could be. Yes, there are still struggles.  There are still fears.  There are still worries and concerns and thoughts that creep into my head on occasion.  Absolutely.  The fear that I could ever somehow “pass my ED on” to Lily is crippling, I promise. 

The desire to do everything “right” does not just disappear overnight, I hate to tell you.  But as I am sitting in my living room right now, looking around at all the toys and big bows and tiny shoes and Gerber puffs and MESS all around me, I can’t help but feel that this is total perfection.  This life - this amazing stay-at-home-mommy gig I’ve found myself blessed with, this amazing little angel who steals my heart with every cheesy smile, this love that makes me feel like I could take over the world - is what I was always missing.  I was running like a chicken with my head cut off, stretching myself so darn thin (pun sort of intended), getting my hands in everything I could in order to stay busy enough to not realize how unhappy I was.  And when I had to finally stop and slow down, it just … came to me.  A true God-send.  Peace, contentment, happiness, and a soul that can’t help but smile until it may crack when my little Lily gives me the sloppiest kisses in the world. 

So I guess I can’t wrap my story up with a big, beautiful bow, but I CAN tell you that I never imagined my life would be so calm and easy.  Not calm in a boring, not-much-going-on way, but calm in the way of inner peace and ease.  No chaos coursing through my veins, no need to busy myself with mundane tasks in order to impress everyone, no need to be the best.  Now, I am SO MUCH happier to busy myself with games of peek-a-boo, impress Lily with my amazingly on-point dance moves, and be the best Mom to Lily that I can possibly be.  It’s not so all-or-nothing or black-and-white anymore.  Everything is gray, for the first time ever.  And I promise you, it is the most beautiful thing in the world.
My little family of three 

Monday, April 22, 2013

Life With An Eating Disorder: A Story of Hope

I am so excited that today is the day we are kicking off the Life With An Eating Disorder series. As I have mentioned before, this week we will be hearing from women who have personally struggled, in some shape or form, with an eating disorder. Their openness and vulnerability is beyond admirable. I hope and pray that their stories are read and received with an open mind, free of judgement. Because this is real stuff. Real life messy, heavy stuff. And sharing it is not an easy task. So let's be gentle as we hear their testimonies.

Five different women.

Five different journeys.

Five different roads to healing and recovery.

Week one. . .  here we go!

Kendra Zickafoose, who writes over at (our life) Plain & Simple is sharing today. Kendra and I grew up in church youth group together (how fun is that?) and then lost touch post high school. God crossed our paths again through blogging, years later, and I am so very glad He did. Kendra is an amazing woman of faith, an exemplarily wife, and loving momma to three (and soon to be four!).

Take it away, Kendra!

. . .

My story is a story of recovery. It is a story of grace, of forgiveness, and of moving forward. It is a story of learning how to fall in love with the life you have been given, just as it is. Though mostly, it is a story of hope.

But let me start at the beginning, because my story was not always this way.
I was born with too large of a heart. Not physically, but figuratively. I felt things much too intently, and far too deeply. A people pleaserby nature, my only goal in life was for those I loved most to feel happiness.

My older brother left home when I was in junior high. He left too soon. He left our family, he left our faith, and he left a giant hole in my life that I thought could only be filled by him. My parents were devastated. The feeling of happiness in our home was gone, and my too large of a heart felt like it was going to break in two. So I decided to fix the problem. I decided that I would be enough, that I would be both children to my parents. I decided to become perfect, promising myself I would never make my mother cry the way that my brother had. It was a heavy load for a young girl to bare, but it was the load I chose to carry. But not surprisingly, over time, I discovered that I was not enough. I could not replace what my family had lost. Everything in my life was still spinning out of control, regardless of what I did, and I just wanted it to stop. So I began to control the only thing that I could. I began to control me. I began to control my body.

In the beginning, the food restriction, the binging, the purging, it all felt good. It felt good to set a goal and accomplish it. And as the weight came off and the compliments came rolling in, I tasted success. I was good enough! I could be in control! And for the first time in a long time, I felt happiness. Despite the life circumstances that continued to swirl around me, I was happy. And so a pattern was born. When life was good, when I felt strong and in control, when my parents smiled, I ate and let the food remain. When the depression rolled in, when I felt weak and out of control, when my parents were sad, I restricted. Or I purged until my heart felt somewhat healed, and my soul somewhat lighter. This pattern lasted for eight long years. But over a period of time, through many different circumstances, I began to realize that I needed help.

I was nineteen years old when I entered treatment for anorexia and bulimia.

I had spent years walking through the most difficult season of my life, but that is the beautiful thing about seasons. They only last for a time, before moving on to something better. Something fresh and new. If the days of my eating disorder were winter, then treatment became my sort of spring. I learned three things in treatment that literally saved my life. The first is that I will never be enough. Not on my own. I desperately needed God in my life. Only He could fill the gaping holes that had left my heart bleeding. The second was that I was not responsible for anyone's feelings other than my own. There is great freedom in releasing the feelings of others for them to claim as their own. And the third thing I had to learn was that life, though often messy and difficult, was worth living. I had to believe all three of those things if I wanted to fully recover. It was a treacherous journey, the winter was long and dark, but I can tell you now that spring did come. I left treatment a different person than when I arrived. When I arrived I was filled with holes.They were all I could see. When I left I was filled with hope. Beautiful, glorious hope.

A decade has since passed, and I can honestly tell you that life is beautiful and good. It is not perfect, but it is good. There are still hard seasons, long winters to be endured. But now I know that spring always comes. And as long as I have hope, I will never be left in the darkness forever.

I have always hesitated to share my story out of respect for my family. It is important to note that this is my story, shared from my point of view. The very same story shared from my father's point of view, or my mother's, or my brother's, would look different. One story, four different points of view. Any type of addiction and recovery has a rippling affect, and no one in the water with us goes untouched. It is important to respect and validate another's point of view, just as you desire them to respect and validate yours. Restoration of relationships can only happen if all parties are willing to hear and forgive.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Weekend Links 4/19/13

I haven't spent a lot of time browning blogs and the web this week, but here are a few that caught my eye over the last few days. I cannot get Boston off my mind. And thinking of Boston makes me think of the Newtown families. And I hurt for them. For it all. If I am sitting here hurting, I cannot even imagine what the people of Boston and of Newtown are feeling & will continue to feel for quite some time.

So this weekend. . . hug your family and friends. And make sure they know how much you love them. We aren't promised today, tomorrow, or even 10 minutes from now. So while I don't mean to sound a little cliche. . . let's make the most of our time here, each little moment, and try to remember our purpose.

even this - something beautiful
on gratitude - Simple Mom
How NOT to Share the Gospel with Your Kids - Inspired to Action
on little hearts - Life Rearranged

Did y'all know that this Sunday the 21st kicks off National Infertility Awareness Week? I had no idea. I wish I would have known and thus would have times the ED series a little better, but oh well. Check out the link above and resources posted there. Lots and lots of good info.

See you guys back here on Monday as we kick off a two week "Life With An Eating Disorder" blog series. . .

Monday 4/22 - Friday 4/26 Personal Testimonies
Monday 4/29 - Friday 5/3 Family Member Testimonies

(For those who are contributing - I know we spoke this week, but I also wanted to remind you to please include any pictures that you want posted with your writing. Just email them to me when sending the final draft of your post. Thanks!) 

It's Friday!
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