It would be impossible for me to condense 60% of my life down into just a few minutes. I don’t know if I should start at the beginning or begin with where I ended up as a result of having had an eating disorder – which would make the biggest impact on your thoughts?
Regardless of where I begin, when I finish, I hope you understand how simply eating disorders oftentimes begin, and how my life digressed to a devastated plight, to a life filled with over two years of wishing I was dead, all because of a simple beginning.
I want to share these details with you not so you feel compassion for me specifically, but to know that I, a daughter, a granddaughter, a sister, a niece, a sister-in-law, a best friend, and a fiancée, am only one among over 10 million Americans whose lives bare too close a resemblance to the hell I lived through day after day for 18 years.
While I hope the details you hear from me tonight do not make you pause to think about someone you know and love who suffers from an eating disorder, chances are they will. I hope my words bring you closer to understanding what this illness is truly about.
I hope to convey to you the misery those suffering with eating disorders live through every day, both during the disease and as they learn to recover. But what I hope my words do most tonight is reassure you, that with God all things are possible –including recovery from my life I once thought I’d lost.
As a child I grew up knowing I was different. While I had a relatively happy family, there were things that were noticeably different, and as I grew up, I learned from my peers that being different, was not good (later, of course, I learned to value my differences).
My sister and I were not allowed to wear jeans to school, and everyone wondered why. I was sent to the fifth grade classroom to read when I was only in Kindergarten, and everyone wondered why.
As a child, I felt different from my friends because they all thought I was too much of a goodie-goodie. I felt that I could never be good enough –that I was always expected to get the highest grades, to be the best piano player, be perfect in all I did; yet, I felt that I could never be perfect enough. Ironically, I also felt that being perfect rendered me no attention because it was simply expected.
Growing up I was also teased about my looks from both my family and my peers. A nickname given to me was “Gibeson”. Gibeson –that’s Big Nose spelled backwards. While I went along with it and tried to laugh it off, I was crying on the inside and desperately wished to change my looks so that I would be pretty like my friends. I felt that if I was pretty I would be more accepted and less “different”.
When I entered puberty, I remembered my mother’s warnings to my sister against gaining too much weight when she was going through puberty. Because I already knew my face was ugly, and I couldn’t change that, I knew I needed to make sure that I didn’t get fat, to boot.
I knew that I couldn’t be both ugly and fat –being overweight was not acceptable in my family. At that point I had no idea that my desire to fit in was about to change my life in ways I never imagined.
Eighteen years ago I watched a movie called, “The Best Little Girl in the World”. Those of you familiar with the movie know that it is based on a young woman who falls victim to anorexia. In the movie, she gets ‘sick’, gets an exorbitant amount of attention, gets taken to the hospital where she makes new friends, and gets better by the end of the two hour long movie – her family and friends acknowledging her more, and her life going on more beautifully than before.
The movie made anorexia look easy and attractive. The movie made it seem like anorexia fixed this girl’s life. That movie, coupled with my feelings of being different, my lack of self-esteem, my desire to fit in, and the messages I received from media, friends, and family, compelled me to take a simple step the next day that would change the rest of my life. The day after watching the movie, I threw away my lunch for the first time. I was twelve years old.
The next time I remember eating lunch was 16 years later at age 28. You may not believe that I can remember the exact day, but the reason I can recall exactly when I ate my next lunch, is because at age 28, I actually called my mother to tell her I was doing so.
When most people are 28 years old, they don’t call their parents every time they eat something – they call to tell them about a job promotion or a raise, or to tell them they’ve completed a graduate program. I called because I’d eaten half a cup of soup. It was the first time I ate during the day (outside of a hospital setting) in sixteen years.
Eating this meal was both the start of my (true) recovery and the start of the most frightening two years of my life.
Just when I thought I had made a breakthrough in my sickness by eating, my heart sank. I was scared to death that I’d just eaten a ½ cup of soup –part of me wanted to rejoice in feeling healthy, but most of me, having lived so long without being healthy, did not even know how I was going to go into work that night on a full stomach.
That night I called in sick to work.
I stayed home and wept about what a waste my life had become. I wept thinking about what a waste I’d been for 16 years. For 16 years I focused solely on food and whether or not I was fat. I wept because I had disappointed my parents, disappointed myself, disappointed my family, and lost all of my friends, save one.
I wept because I was asked to leave college, and after re-entering college I was asked to leave again because I was too sick to remain on campus. I wept because I had been lying all the time to hide my disorder –to the point I didn’t even know what was true any longer. I wept because I had depleted my finances including an IRA and my mutual funds, as I was too weak to work full-time. I wept because I realized that I might never be able to get rid of the awful disease that controlled my life and made me miserable.
I thought the thinness I’d sustained for 16 years would reward me. It didn’t.
I finally decided that night, that if I couldn’t get better, I did not want to live. I wanted nothing more than to die because getting better seemed to be harder than being sick, and the toll anorexia had taken on my life and my mind seemed to be greater than my will.
This began my final fight for my life. I knew that I could not go on living with the self-loathing misery from my eating disorder. I also knew that my body would not allow me to go on much longer. I knew that I needed to try recovery one more time, or die.
Like most people with an eating disorder I had attempted, many, many times, to recover –and many times I failed. And when I failed I always swore, “This time is bottom.” And I would begin (again) the climb up. You might think hitting bottom is hitting bottom is hitting bottom –but with my eating disorder I discovered just how far down bottom can be. As unique as the individuals are who suffer, so are our rock bottoms.
During my rock bottom, I couldn’t figure out why my hair was falling out, why I was sick ALL the time, and why I had constant chest pains. I realize now that I was dying. And I realize now that no one really knew. Unfortunately, many people were still complimenting me on my “model-like” thinness.
During those two years I spent my nights crying my broken body and my crippled mind to sleep –and praying for God to take my life. I prayed Psalm 6 over and over again, “Have mercy on me, for I am weak, o Lord, heal me, for my bones are troubled. My soul is greatly troubled. I am weary with my weeping, all night I cry and I drench my pillow with tears.” And through my tears I added my own verse to Psalm 6, which was, “God, you need to take my life!!”
I wish I could stand before you tonight and testify that my recovery is a result of the treatment I received or the effective therapy I went through. But that is not my case. Unfortunately the treatment I received was inadequate and short-term, which is what many eating disorder suffers find available. My formal treatment consisted of an inpatient stay in a hospital setting for a 28-day program.
I was a teenager placed on a psychiatric ward where most of the patients were eating disordered, but not all. By the time I was hospitalized I had already been anorexic for four years. A 28-day stay was a joke to me. I did what the rest of the girls did –I did what I had to do to get out and get back on with my eating disorder It was not successful treatment.
I also saw a variety of therapists. I felt hatred toward each of them because they were all trying to take away my eating disorder. They were all trying to fix me, as if I was the problem –they were not looking to understand the reasons I began my eating disorder in the first place.
By the time I had suffered enough, by the time I wanted help and wanted to go for treatment somewhere like the renowned Remuda treatment facilities, I was no longer on my parent’s insurance and there was no way I could afford over $1,700 per day on my own –that is the reduced fee. I tried outpatient therapy again, but wasn’t well enough to consistently work to pay for the $110 sessions.
Thus began my self-treatment. While I have learned to be extremely in awe of and thankful to God for the recovery I’ve made on my own, I have absolutely no doubt that because the treatment I had access to was inadequate, I have taken longer to recover than those who do get proper treatment. I wasted, in many ways, years trying to recover –although I now know that the results of our journeys through recovery are never a waste; the result of my recovery is my life.
I was working in a restaurant during part of my period of suicidal thoughts and hopelessness. No one there except me knew the secret I was hiding –because I was always just a little thin, not “too thin” by society’s standards. Because I’d found my many other attempts at recovery fruitless and near impossible, I convinced myself that complete recovery was not an option for me.
I decided to resort to what so many eating disorders victims resign themselves to do. I decided that my recovery would be to maintain my life with my eating disorder –I would co-exist with it on a reasonable level. I would keep my thinness, but nonetheless I would be somewhat recovered, in control, and everyone would leave me and my eating disorder alone. I thought it was the best I could do.
During this time of partial recovery I made many decisions I would never make in my now healthy state of mind. After work I was drinking almost every night. My friends would suspect nothing except that I couldn’t hold my liquor.
During that time there were many times when I’m sure I drove while I was drunk; I put my life and the lives of others in constant danger -something I would never do now that I’m in a healthy state of recovery. Looking back, I see God’s loving kindness was with me then –even in my darkest hours, He watched over me. I am humbled by that fact.
Still working at the restaurant, and still constantly grasping at any glimpse of recovery in my life, I waited on a table at which sat a future-priest. We spoke briefly while he and his family were dining, and I decided to ask what church he attended. He told me which church and invited me to Mass. Though I wanted desperately to go because I knew my soul was aching for God that Sunday I felt too fat to attend, and I made up some excuse of why I couldn’t be there.
That pattern repeated itself for a few weeks until I felt that I’d lost some weight, so I finally went. I ended up weeping at Mass because I felt the guilt of all my years spent away from God heavy upon my heart. I knew that my eating disorder was taking the biggest toll of my life when I realized that it was tearing me away from the only One who was offering me the last chance I had to live.
It was my first glimpse of what I needed in order to gain true freedom from my disorder and live a true recovery, and I realized then that I needed God more than ever.
Of course, I stopped going to church after a while. It either didn’t fit into my schedule, or more often than not I made up reasons why it didn’t fit into my schedule because I always felt too fat to be seen in public. By the grace of God a friend of mine from church stayed in touch with me.
He called one day, after I failed to show up for Mass, and suggested I call a friend of his, Father John Ricardo, for spiritual guidance. I was having a not-so-fat-day that day, so I called the priest to make an appointment. Succumbing to my disordered thoughts again, I canceled a few appointments until I felt thin enough to be seen.
When I met with Father John I had no idea what to say. I felt meek, embarrassed, humbled, and afraid to be in front of someone who represented God. I knew that if I told him why I was there, he would laugh at me. I finally started to talk and I said, “I am finding life difficult because I have no friends.”
Little did he know that my only life-long friend at that point was my eating disorder. I don’t know that I even comprehended such a thing at that point in time He said that he would pray for me, and that I should pray, too, that God would bring friends into my life. I thought our visit was over, when he startled me by asking, “Would you like to go to confession?”
OK, I was raised Catholic –we’re supposed to go to Confession once a week or at least once a month –I didn’t think my having been to confession once-in-the-past-18-years would come across very well, so I decided I’d better high-tail it out of his office before the place burned down!
As I was about to sheepishly leave, still feeling as empty and just as restless as when I’d walked in his office, something made me turn around and ask to go to confession.
For the first time I confessed to God that I had been killing the gift of life He’d so freely given me. I confessed that I’d had an Eating Disorder and that I had been wasting my life worrying about only food and what I did or didn’t look like. I confessed to Him that I had been engaging in dangerous behaviors such as drinking and driving and ignoring my spiritual health, as well. I knew that God already knew what I was doing, but I had never gone to Him seeking any sort of forgiveness or guidance until that day. I just assumed, that if I asked, He would provide.
As I’ve learned, God doesn’t just hand us our wisdom, our happiness, or our lives; we need to work with Him. I left Father John’s office that day feeling like the weight of my world had been lifted off my soul. I hate to use a cliché –but the truth was that I felt all of my guilt lifted off my heart –the weight of my eating disordered world had been taken away from me, by God alone.
For the first time in more years than I can remember, I saw the blue in the sky. I saw the positive things already in my life. I noticed my face didn’t look fat when I smiled. I felt encouraged.
Because I went to God, He opened my eyes.
I remembered Father John said that I should pray for friends in my life. So, I did –only once. By no small miracle, my life is now filled with more friends than I ever thought I would know. Just two years ago I thought my only life-long friend would be my eating disorder. I now have friends; simple, yet amazing.
Long before I ever knew God was working in my life –with His perfect plan in place- I was blessed with meeting a man named Jim. Sometimes when I was so sick in my disorder and tried to push Jim away so he wouldn’t witness the embarrassing and self-destructive life I was living behind my closed doors, something (God), made me stay.
Every other relationship in my life I had somehow managed to drive the person away, except for the one with Jim –although I’m sure he’d tell you there were times when he wished I had 😉 Jim, not just because he was my boyfriend but because he realizes that society is wrong in teaching women that they need to be a size zero, taught me normalcy.
He patiently stayed with me time and time again when I hated myself and wanted to die. He told me over and over again that I really was not fat (and continues to do so when I need a reality check). He supported me through recovery as I learned to replace all the warped perceptions I’d had of myself for nearly 20 years with rational and healthy thoughts. Jim lived my pain and suffering; he has lived my recovery with me and I am forever grateful to God for placing Jim in my life.
Two years ago I thought I would be dead by now. For sure I thought Jim would have left me just like all my other fed-up-with-Kathy’s-eating-disorder-friends.
In fact, I am not dead now. I am alive, so very alive. And, in fact, Jim didn’t leave. He proposed last October and we are getting married next April. He is the first person who did not leave me because of my eating disorder and he is the first person who did not judge me through my recovery process.
Another friend of mine whom God also placed in my life with perfect timing, and is now in treatment herself for an eating disorder, passed along a piece of advice that has been my source of strength against my “eating disorder voice” time and time again. She told me that my eating disorder was the devil. She told me that anytime my eating disorder voice popped into my head, I should tell it, the devil, to “go to Hell!”
What power God gives us when we turn to Him for the truth –and turn away from the Devil’s manifestation in our lives. Her wisdom in those words has freed me time and time again from the prison of my eating disordered thoughts. I have watched as God slowly fills me up with His love in place of all the self-hatred and disgust the devil once convinced me I deserved.
I am in a healthy state of my journey through recovery now, but I am by no means perfect in my journey. I don’t know that there is a perfect way to traverse on this journey.
What I do know is that it’s not for me to worry about any longer. God has me in the palm of His hand and I am free from my disorder because I finally let Him into my life to heal me.
I do still have days when I revert back to my disordered thinking –but they are far and few in-between. When I do have those days, I am healthy enough in body, mind, and spirit to turn to God and pray, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am still weak.” -Psalm 6, now with no added verse.
I now see why He didn’t listen to my added verse and again, I am humbled. He shows me through my struggles, that I need to depend on Him and only Him, and that He will provide me the resources, the healthy mind and body, and the support to continue living a life of recovery