I have been honored to read many stories this week about so many people who have found freedom in recovery from an eating disorder. Every story has had different elements, but each story also has had hope! It is my privilege today to share Lauren’s story!
My story starts at a very early age, at about 4 years old. For as long as I can remember I have been bullied- for multiple reasons(and no, being in college doesn’t stop it). One of those reasons was how I looked. Don’t get me wrong, I was a pretty cute kid. I mean who isn’t? But my classmates didn’t seem to see me the way my family did. I was called names all the time; mostly by boys. I was called ugly and fat. I had things thrown and me, and in middle school boys would pretend to ask me out, thinking it was a big game. Needless to say, I grew up with the worst self-esteem ever. And it carried over into the first few years of college. I grew up thinking I wasn’t good enough. That I wasn’t pretty enough. That no boy would ever be attracted to me or want to be with me- all based on how I looked. And I believed all of that 100%. By the time high school rolled around, not only was I being bullied at school, but I was being emotional abused by my father. I felt like my only safe place was the dance studio-it had become my second home- but even that would end up being hurtful to me. By my sophomore year of high school my body started “filling out”. I was getting slight curves and starting to grow up and look like a woman. And as some one who has always been the tiniest of her friends, this was a hard adjustment for me. I thought I was getting fat. And it freaked me out.
Now, I’ll save you the somewhat boring details, but let’s just say that one negative thought leads to another. And then another. And then another. And then before you know it, you mind is consumed by negativity and lies. And that’s exactly what happened with me. By the time my senior year came I had no self-esteem, self-worth or self confidence. If you were to ask me what I liked about myself at the time, I would have lied or made something up because I honestly couldn’t think of anything. All these lies lead to me skipping meals and becoming obsessed with my appearance. By senior year I maybe at one meal a day. And if I didn’t eat a meal I had least had some form of a snack during the day.(Ignoring hunger pains was never my strong point.) I wanted to lose weight. I wanted to get thinner. I wanted to be beautiful. But how I was feeling at the time was nothing compared to what was to come.
I took the spring semester of my freshman year at college off after a suicide attempt. During this time, and the semester before, all of my mental health problems had gotten a lot worse. When I wasn’t focused on the depression or wanting to self harm, I was focused on food. I did everything I could to not eat. And college made it easy. I didn’t have parents telling me to eat dinner and I wasn’t close enough with the girls on my floor for them to notice my poor eating habits or say anything about them. All of this fed the eating disorder. Soon I gave it a name, Ana. And Ana became my best friend. She helped kept me on track, or at least that’s what I thought she was doing. In all actuality, Ana made me feel like trash and wasn’t a good friend at all. I started counting Calories and weighing myself multiple times a day. I had numbers constantly going around in my head. I was worried that if I ate more Calories than I was “allowed” to I would gain weight or get fat. I strived to get to my goal weight, thinking that I would finally be happy and like myself if I reached it. Side note: I should probably point out that by this time I had become a Christian and was attending a Christian college. But being a Christian doesn’t mean you won’t struggle-and this was something I found out the hard way. As I was saying, my thoughts gave me constant anxiety and I had the constant fear of getting fat. Or fatter depending on how I was feeling that day. I even tried to purge multiple times, but for some reason I just couldn’t do it. (Which I’m very thankful for now.) I was caught in a vicious cycle of self hatred. I felt bad if I ate and I felt bad if I didn’t eat. I wanted nothing more than all the pain to stop. I wanted to finally look and feel beautiful. I wanted guys to notice I existed and to think I was pretty. I wanted to get better at dance. I wanted to be loved and feel like I deserved that love. And I thought I would gain all of that by skipping meals, counting Calories, compulsively weighing myself, and getting thinner. I was in denial for a really long time and didn’t see anything wrong with what I was doing to myself. And even once I realized that I really did have a problem, I went back and forth with wanting to get help. I hated the hell I was in and couldn’t live with it anymore, but I had been anorexic for almost 5 years at this point. I didn’t exactly know how to live without it. And the thought of living a “normal” life was scary.
Throughout all of this I managed to not fail out of college and keep some of the friendships I had formed. But my academic life was a mess and my friendships were unhealthy. The fact that those things survived as they did and have only gotten better since recovery is easily explained by the grace of God. But not everyone is as lucky as I am. Most people with an eating disorder loose friends and family members and jobs and do worse than I did in school. I never looked emaciated, but I was unhealthy. And it was obvious. My “before” and “after” pictures don’t look drastically different. And in a way, I’m blessed because of that. And in all honesty, I should have been emaciated. And I don’t have an answer as to why I didn’t except, but God. My point is, no matter what I looked like or what the number on the scale was, anorexia took 6 years away from me. I had a slow suicide for 6 years. I was living in my own personal hell for 6 years. Eating disorders are no joke, they really damage lives in multiple ways. I can’t get those 6 years back. I can’t go back in time or meet my past self to change what I did. But its a lesson I had to learn from. I test I had to go through. And I honestly don’t think I’d be the person I am today if I didn’t go through that.
Fast forward to now: I have been living in freedom for just over a year. I graduated from a treatment program called Mercy Ministries in November 2012. I’m back at school and getting decent grades. I’m heavily involved on campus, including running a dance ministry. I’m even going on my first missions trip in 2 weeks to Mississippi. All of this wouldn’t be possible if I was still in bondage to the eating disorder. This wouldn’t be happening if I hadn’t taken that first step and applied to Mercy. If I hadn’t reached out, gotten the help I needed, and let God work in me and free me. I’m here to tell you that there is life after an eating disorder. There is life after recovery. Recovery is possible. Freedom is possible. All it takes is that first step of reaching out. Please, if you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, get help. Not everyone needs to go to a treatment center like I did, but everyone needs and deserves help. Because everyone is beautiful, just the way there are.
Thank you for sharing your story Lauren! You are a courageous woman! It is true that the first step in recovery is reaching out.
If you, or someone you know is struggling, please reach out. There are so many places who offer help. If you need recommendations feel free to contact me and I will do my best to help. Your life IS worth living with out an eating disorder!