Eating. Drinking. Smoking. Snorting. Weighing. Hurting. Burning. Cutting. Starving.
Purging. Praying. Stripping. Weighing. Binging. Dying.
These are words are verbs, actions. These words are not who I am, but things I have done. These things don’t make up a person or even describe a person. They are things that people DO. Why? For myself it is how I survived in the world starting in my very late teen years. These things were my way of living, dying, punishing, forgetting, numbing, functioning and coping. These are my sanctuary, my safety and at the same time, a double-edged sword that was jabbing away at my soul, my spirit and my life.
I don’t have a specific age that my eating habits changed. What I do know is an estimation of the time. An era in my life that I felt worthless, used, damaged, broken and lost. There was much fear, confusion and a hell of a lot of blame. Through my past two years of therapy and struggles as an adult woman, I have come to learn more of the roots of my addiction. I still don’t have a clear cut answer, but no addiction or disorder is ever clear cut. It has holes, blackouts and missing time chunks.
Aside from some spontaneous deaths, being bullied in elementary school, middle school and high school by students and teachers, having my voice invalidated by teachers telling me to “stop crying, it won’t fix anything” or getting into my first car accident, things did not fully shift until I was 19-years-old, concluding my teenage years. Little did I know I would be mentally stuck at 19 for the next two years.
When I was 19-years-old, I was sexually assaulted. At the time, I didn’t know that was the case. Here I thought I had been stupid, snuck out of my house, gotten so drunk that it was my fault. I deserved it…didn’t I? Sure, I have been told that many teenagers sneak out and nothing bad happens to them. I was just unfortunate. Or, maybe it was the gift that would lead to a chain of events bringing me to wonderful people and God.
I was only 19 when I became drunk for the first time. I had a lot of older friends who were able to drink at the bars and they found it somewhat of a fascination to find a 19-year-old sober virgin. It became their mission to introduce me to a world of drinking. Throughout my drinking, I did not know or understand alcoholism. I didn’t even know that for my entire drinking career, I was drinking alcoholically. Perhaps what started as innocent curiosity and parental rebellion turned into an addiction after my traumatic experience.
I remember the first time throwing up made me feel good, healthy and clean. I had climbed back into my window after the night I was assaulted. I clearly had too much to drink, was confused as to the nights events but knew that something bad had happened. Something wrong that left me feeling sick. It was a combination of the hefty amount of liquor and being violated. After I got into my bedroom, my stomach flipped and I threw up all over my carpet. With that, I remember feeling “better” and that I had gotten everything out of me.
Somewhere around this time I decided that I didn’t like my body. Being a petite girl, my heigh was only about 5 foot 1 and I naturally weighed a decently low weight. At this point, I was not underweight but healthy and even had some curves. In fact, prior to this time period, I was always fond and proud of my lil’ booty that I called my badonkadonk! For some reason, I decided that 100 lbs was a good weight. It was perfect and pure and would make everything seem better. It was a goal I strived for. I remember having this jean mini skirt and it is what started it all. It was my mission to fit into this 00 skirt once again. The sad part is; I eventually did and it became loose on me.
Through the following year, my starvation and purging became my obsession. I couldn’t stop and I was dropping weigh rather quickly. Sure, the lies would bounce around, “you’re not throwing up your food, are you?” or “how do you eat so much and still lose weight?” or “are you eating?” The response was always a quiet, “No, I am not.”
As my anorexia and bulimia worsened, so did my drinking. I had never been able to drink and stay sober, in fact, my drinking mission was to get as shit faced as possible without getting sick. During this time period, I had my first encounter with smoking weed. I must say: I did NOT like it, at all. If you were to follow me through the following year, you’d find that I would lose my friends, lose my family, lose my church life, lose myself.
I also picked up the habit of burning myself with my cigarettes which would fluctuate with rapid cutting.
During my junior year of college, a friend told me that she was concerned with my eating habits after I accidentally spilled them in a late night delirium. She convinced me to sign up for a counseling session at the student counseling center. She literally had to grab me and push me into the office. After a three-month delay, I finally received a call and made the decision to go in and “talk”.
I do believe that my first several months in therapy, my eating disorder was not at its bottom. In fact, I got much worse before I began to really start to get better. My weight had dropped to a low between 83 and 84 lbs. And I had yet to share my secret of “self-harm” with my therapist until about a year into therapy.
Throughout my years of therapy, I had managed to get control of the self-harm and had fluctuation periods of doing well with my eating and keeping the food down. My weight had stabilized many times and I would have set backs. In the past two years, I have seen 3 to 4 relapses to where my weight dropped right back down to the high 80s.
A year and a half later, I was finally graduating college, was in the middle of my second relapse, and had met a new friend in my life that took away all the pain: drugs.
For about six months, I was actively abusing myself with heroin and crack. I had the occasional bump of cocaine, and a few wild nights of “speed balling” with every other drugs there is… simultaneously. Honestly, I am lucky that I am alive, that I haven’t been arrested or hurt anyone else during my drug addiction.
It began as a desperate need to “feel good” and once I knew where to buy, I began buying heroin on my own. I only used crack “recreationally”. I had detoxed on my own on several occasions. The first detox was the worst. I wasn’t as violently sick as most addicts when they withdraw because I was only early on in my addiction.
During that time, I had just graduated college and moved out, living somewhere that I wasn’t happy, loved or even noticed. Which caused me to go back to using on several other different occasions.
Finally, when I had had enough, I began to separate myself from my drug buddy, but also someone whom I loved, very much. It was a painful experience, but I had to save myself.
Eventually, I found myself in a strip club. I found my hatred for myself, my body and sexuality. If I felt this horrible about myself and my body, my past and actions, why not make some money off of it. Here’s the thing: A virgin stripper is an experience that deserves its own chapter. However, I ended up quitting the next day; lasted one night, because it was not in my values. I had once again, hurt myself in order to feel better. I thank God that I was able to break free of that one rather quickly. But I won’t lie; I’ve carried that around with me for a while.
Fast-forward several months after that: I believe my turning point to getting sober from alcohol (I was no longer using–however, I had a period of abusing OTC medicine). For a spit second, I was in a situation where I was stranded and abandoned in Philadelphia and I had to get my way home. It was then that I had a small value for life. It was small, and dim, but it was the start of a spark.
After that experience I began attending Alcoholics Anonymous very, very frequently. It was my safe-haven, my acceptance, the love I needed to keep moving. When I returned to AA, I was beat up. I was very thin, and dying inside. I remember standing in my bathroom, staring at the mirror in hopeless fear. I saw a young and starved woman who was hungry for hope, but afraid of living.
When I finally gave myself to the program, I had reached a little over a month of sobriety when I came to the acceptance that I was an alcoholic. From there, my sobriety climbed from days to months. I found a sponsor, and surrendered the fact that I will never be able to drink.
I had learned by this point that drugs, alcohol, starving, purging, binging: they don’t fix the problem, but only prolong the solution.
Fact: I know how you feel. Although our stories are different, I know that emotion that desperation, despair, loneliness, fear, shame and guilt. I know what you are going through, and I can honestly say, there is a way out.
Last year, I fell to my knees in full blown anguish and shame. I was desperate for healing, for hope and for forgiveness. I sobbed and prayed, almost hyperventilating, begging God to lift this life of shame, this life of self-hatred, regret, life of self-abuse, from my hands and to change my life.
I begged God for a relationship with him, and to set me on fire with a passion for the Lord.
On July 4, 2012, I wanted only for myself, to be baptized. It was not religious nor was it ritualistic. It was symbolic for my new life and dedication to my God.
While I was getting sober, and working a program, reaching out, establishing a healthy community, I was still in the middle of a spiral with my eating disorder. On the day of my baptism, I received a call from Remuda Ranch, in Arizona, saying that my insurance covered treatment. Within a day, I was admitted and within two days, I packed up my apartment, took a medical leave from my job and flew out across the country.
I was so desperate to get the help I needed, that I could no longer maintain on my own struggles, that I surrendered everything I had, and gave up everything I had worked for. For two months, I spent my summer last year inpatient and then residential attempting to reclaim the life I was meant to live.
When I was discharged I returned home to trash bags of clothes and a car. I was homeless, and had to trust that God would return everything I lost. My funds were empty, but my job was safe so I returned to work. For three months I lived on a couch, homeless, working full time. Finally, I found an apartment in the town I had been wanting to live in for nearly two years.
I wish that I was a first-time winner, in many attempts in my life, but I’m not. Two years after my stay at my first inpatient center, I relapsed with my anorexia and had to make a difficult decision to commit myself once more to Renfrew Center for Eating Disorders. I spent 30 days living in the residential facility and another three weeks through a full day program. While I had the resources in check, this was mentally, so much harder than the first time around. I felt like a failure, I felt less motivated, and almost completely defeated. I couldn’t understand how two years later (to the exact admission date) I had fallen into the grips of my eating disorder once again.
However, I had amazing support, love and encouragement along the way. It has not been easy. I am back in school, again, and still working full time, and yet, every day is a struggle. Slips are not relapses — they are lapses. I am still pushing super hard to keep recovering, and now tackling the PTSD and OCD that contribute to my anorexia and mull my growth.
Today, I have three years of sobriety. And I continue to repair my life. I have a sponsor and now I am a sponsor. The promises began to come true, even though life is a daily struggle.
And while I am no where near healed: I’ve begun the healing and I am on my way to a new life free of addiction, mutilation, eating disorders, shame, and hatred and you can walk in a life of light and love, belonging and purpose. You just have to surrender it all, and keep moving forward and want it.
“Come to me who are weary and carry heavy burdens and I will give you rest.”