Stories of Recovery: Chained to an Eating Disorder
I’m about to share with you a secret that kept me in virtual chains for over 15 years of my life, and even though I’ve been healed for almost 10 years, I’ve only recently had enough courage to share my story with others.
When I first began writing about everything that had happened in my life, I thought back to my middle school & high school days. I remembered seeing my friends & classmates in the halls – thinking I basically knew who they were & what they were about.
But what I didn’t realize that they could be hiding something deep within them, causing them shame and fear. I thought that because they looked fine on the outside, they must be fine on the inside too. But, sometimes, even those closest to us feel empty & sad inside. And a few of us have done some pretty crazy things to compensate for those feelings. I’m here today to tell you what happened to me, and how my faith brought me through it.
Today I’m a wife, a mother, and a businesswoman. I’m involved with church and at my daughter’s school. This may seem kind of boring to you, but twenty years ago, the life I have today didn’t seem possible. I never thought I would make it here.
So as I go through the events of my life, I want you to keep in mind that there was a master plan through all of my heartache and pain, creating the miracle I am today.
On the outside, our family looked pretty normal. My dad was a good provider & a loving father and he worked very hard to make life easy for my mom. Looking back, I realize that was a very difficult task.
You see, my mom dealt with the complications from Juvenile Diabetes her whole life. The doctors told her she shouldn’t have kids – but to her insistence, she had my sister & me anyway. My mom tried to lead a normal life. She was a kind, sweet soul, and wonderful mother. However, she had trouble telling the truth and would cover things up or even lie to be sure nobody would get hurt or upset. She was also very emotionally fragile. She hated confrontation & would rather hide from problems than resolve them. We weren’t allowed to make waves or express any differences, in fear it would upset her. Everybody lived as if nothing was wrong. But in my heart, there was something very wrong. I just didn’t know what it was or how to deal with it.
My older sister was a very anxious child and needed a lot of my parent’s attention. So, I was inadvertently left to tend to my own emotional needs, and food became my comfort. I always felt like she was the favored one – and not only with my parents. This only got worse when she grew up to be this thin and beautiful teenager, and even though I was encouraged to be my own person & find my own interests; I was determined to be just like her! I lived in my sister’s shadow for years, consumed with trying to live up to how perfect I perceived her to be (that included being thin).
Throughout my adolescence, I felt insecure about who I was – inside & out. But by the time I got into middle school, I managed to hide my insecurities pretty well. I had friends & boyfriends, I was a cheerleader & in the Choir. But I started losing what little confidence I had when those boyfriends started breaking up with me because I wouldn’t “mess” around with them like other girls did.
When I started High School, I was done with being a “good girl”. I slowly stopped going to church and turned away from any friends that had kept me out of trouble.
I was desperately searching to fit in and be accepted by the “in” crowd and was determined to do it any way I could. That’s when I cashed in my first class ticket to Hell.
During the second semester of 10th grade I started dating a senior at my school, who gave me the attention I was looking for & soon he told me he loved me – but that came with a price. He too, started pressuring me to do things I wasn’t ready to do. Afraid of losing him like all the rest, I soon gave in and at 15 years old my innocence was gone.
Over the next year or so, this guy became a controlling, insanely jealous, manipulative person. He slowly turned me against my father & sister by telling me outrageous lies about them, and in spite of what my inner voice was telling me (the feeling you get in your gut), I began to believe everything he told me.
In the 12th grade, I began cutting school & sneaking out in the middle of the night to be with my boyfriend. My mom would cover for me so my dad wouldn’t find out. At the end of the year, I decided to move in with him. My dad was so furious!!! He told me if I left, to never to bother coming home again. So, in my rebellion, I walked out.
Soon I was under my boyfriends’ full control. I was so brainwashed that I did almost anything he wanted me to do. In the next few years I made a lot of exceptionally poor choices that I’m really ashamed of, and even though in my heart I knew it was wrong, I was too scared & confused to do anything about it.
By now I was being outright abused (emotionally, sexually and physically) but it was the best-kept secret around. Everyone thought he was the nicest guy. They thought I was nuts when I told them what was really going on.
My mom’s health started to decline rapidly. I tried to go home several times to make amends with my father & sister, but each time I tried, my boyfriend physically stopped me.
Desperate to get control in my life, at 20 years old my battle with anorexia and bulimia began. My boyfriend was constantly telling me how fat my legs were, so I decided to try to lose weight so he would stop taunting me. At first, I was starving myself – only eating an apple a day. But, after a while it was too difficult not to eat, and soon put the weight back on. Then, through a strange set of circumstances, I began using laxatives to lose weight. But, as my body grew dependant on them, I had to take more & more to get the same affect, and with that came awful side effects like massive diarrhea, vomiting, kidney infections, terrible cramping & passing out from electrolyte imbalance. But, I had lost 10 lbs and was getting compliments from everyone, so I continued to torture my body.
Now, my mom was in the hospital & soon she passed away. I missed her so much and couldn’t imagine my life without her! I was so depressed & I started praying that I would die too – just to make it all stop!
I dove into my eating disorder deeper than ever before. I lost another 10 pounds very quickly, and even though I knew I was too thin, I couldn’t’ stop. I was now feeling helpless. I would weigh myself 10 times a day to be sure I wouldn’t gain an ounce.
I was so dehydrated that I couldn’t walk from one room to the next without having to put my head between my knees. I would eat salty foods to feel better, but that just made me retain what little fluid I had left in me. So – I started taking mega doses of Vitamin B6 to lose that.
But, over the next several months I started noticing that my arms & legs were becoming numb and soon I was unable to walk or use my hands. When I finally went to the doctor, she told me I probably had MS. I completely lost it!
Thankfully, after many prayers, the tests revealed that I did not have MS. I had a vitamin B6 toxicity that had caused nerve damage and if I stopped, I would regain all feeling. Although I slowly healed from the nerve damage, my eating disorder became much worse, but I kept trying to ignore it.
With all that I had been through, I knew I needed to make some changes in my life. The first change was to either move out or marry this guy. Since I was too scared to try to leave again, I decided marrying him was my only choice. As you might imagine, my wedding day was not what I had dreamed it to be. Not only was I marrying an abusive man, I was sick with another kidney infection and could barely make it down the isle without passing out.
In the next couple years, my dad started sending me scriptures with little notes, saying that he loved me & that he was there for me if I needed him. Then my sister came back into my life, doing everything she could to help me. All of this made me stronger in the spirit & our relationships began to mend, but my body was literally skin & bones! At the age of 25 I hit my lowest weight –75 pounds.
Then one Sunday, I secretly went to church with some friends. That’s when I confessed my addiction for the first time. They laid hands on me & prayed for my recovery. I believe that was the beginning of the turning point for me. This is when my family & even my husband tried every way they knew how to get me to eat – they even tried stuffing burgers & fries down my throat but nothing was working. I was sent to therapy, but cheated my way through it. I remember going to the Sizzler with my counselor & having to eat everything on my plate – I was petrified! I was convinced that if I ate that scoop of tuna, I would gain 10 pounds. Bottom line – I didn’t want to be better. I just wanted to disappear. And that’s exactly what I was doing!
A few months later, my dad came to visit and saw me lying on the couch. I was near death’s door. That’s when he held me in his arms like a knight in shining armor and took me home to get well. Leaving my husband was very scary for me, but I knew that unless I left, I would die. During the next year, my ex-husband kept trying to get back into my life, using a whole new set of manipulations, but nothing worked. I had been given a new strength and after a year, he was finally out of my life for good.
Now, even though I was eating a little more each day and had put some weight on, I was still abusing laxatives and did everything I could to keep my dad from finding out. You see, laxatives were my way of purging the feelings I had been shoving deeper & deeper inside for years & I wasn’t about to give that up.
As time went on, I got a job and moved out on my own, but never let anyone get too close, in fear that they would find out my secret. I was now so tired of living this double life. It was like a wild roller coaster ride trying to figure out who I was & where I belonged. My relationships were short lived and meaningless. I wasn’t going to let anyone ever hurt me again. I kept trying to fool myself into believing that I was this free spirit, but was always left feeling empty inside. That’s when I started hearing that little voice in my heart again, telling me; “Jennifer, this is not who you are! You are worth so much more for this.”
Then, a few years later I met the love of my life – my present husband, who showed me what love, truly is. But, as with my father, he only knew of my anorexia. He had no idea I was still abusing laxatives. This secret continued for another 8 exhausting years and even though I hated what I was doing, I didn’t’ know how to stop! I remember sitting on the toilet – of all places, praying that something would happen to make me stop. I needed a power much stronger than my own to save me from myself.
Then, several months later I went to the doctor for a totally unrelated reason and was told I was pregnant. This totally blew me away! I never thought this could happen with all the abuse I had done to my body. This was a miracle and an answer to my prayers! But this meant that I would have to stop hurting myself, and that scared me to death! That’s when I totally surrendered my life to God and never took another laxative again. This was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done! I’ve suffered long-term physical complications because all the abuse I did to my body, but I knew that my faith would get me through it. I should have died, but I believe the power of God saved me.
Today, I am healthy, I have a wonderful husband and daughter and my relationship with my father and sister is now closer than ever before.
As I look back on my life, I could wish I were wiser, wish I never lost my way, wish I could take the time back. But, instead of wishing my life away or feeling angry, I have been blessed with a very special mission. To share my “secret” with you, with the hope of keeping just one of you from taking the path I did.
It has taken me 45 years to discover my inner beauty & special gifts. I don’t want you to have to wait that long to find yours. And if you think life will all of a sudden be perfect if you look perfect on the outside – you’re wrong. Happiness doesn’t come from changing your circumstances. It comes from changing the way you see your circumstances.
Each of you have your own special gifts, and although they may not be the ones you thought you wanted, they are the ones uniquely chosen for you – and you alone? And when you use them, you will begin to see just how beautiful you are.
You also have your own inner voice that tells you when something’s not right – and when you need to escape a situation. Learn to listen to that voice (you’ll feel it in your gut).
I wish I had listened to mine, screaming at me & waving big red flags in front of my face, but I deliberately ignored it.
Some of you may be thinking that my story is pretty wild and that something like this would never happen to you. But, it COULD happen to you – it could happen to anyone here. It just takes one wrong choice to set you on a path to destruction.
So let me ask you – Are there secrets in your life that are keeping you in chains – preventing you from living the life that was intended for you? If there are, please confide in someone you trust. If you can’t talk to your parents, then talk to a counselor or teacher. Because you can’t be free if you don’t ask for help and you can’t love if you don’t love yourself. So, learn to love yourself –even the things you hate about yourself.
My whole life I hated my thighs, and one day my grandmother saw me fighting with them in the mirror and she told me I should be thankful that I have two healthy legs that carry me around. How sad that it took me all these years to finally listen to her.
So, think of this as your fork in the road of life – which road are you going to take?
Be true to yourself and above all else, respect yourself!