For as long as I can remember, my life has been directed by two things: My weight and food. I always wanted to be thin because in my mind thinness was equal to acceptance. As a little girl, I constantly compared myself to my friends. I was never the “skinniest” and I hated that. At age 11, I went on my first diet with my mother. I lost weight very quickly, and people took notice. The compliments were addictive…” Wow, Sarah you look so good” ….” Someone is losing their baby fat” ….” Sarah is really coming into her own” … I was hooked. I’d never felt such confirmation. And so, I started my new life as a “dieter.” I tried all the fad diets and my weight yo-yoed for years. My relationship with food was horrible. My relationship with the scale was even worse.
By my fifteenth birthday all thoughts and actions revolved around food. The servings on my plate were tiny and I would run for miles a day to burn off what little calories I consumed. I was officially out of control. My clothes hung off me, my periods stopped completely; I looked skeletal. My mother took me to my pediatrician for my yearly exam and he exclaimed “if you continue like this you are going to die. “He urged my mother to seek professional help for me immediately. I agreed to go to treatment and my mother set an appointment with my very first therapist.
She was sweet, but not very knowledgeable about eating disorders. She did not ask me to meet with a nutritionist. Instead, she and my parents developed a plan to fill the home with candy, cakes, chips, anything I used to eat that was full of calories and unfortunately lacking nutrients. I wanted to succeed in treatment. I have always been a people-pleaser and wanted to make my parents proud. I ate what was asked of me and more. I carried around a book bag full of chips, snack cakes and chocolate. This is how I learned to binge. I would eat all day. Many times, to a point of extreme discomfort. My parents were elated. My therapist praised me for my efforts. It was not long after my weight restored that I was considered “recovered”. My weight was back to normal, so all was well, right? My therapist and parents agreed I was “cured” and no longer in need of treatment….so I stopped going….
….and I continued to binge. I learned it could be just as mind-numbing as restriction. My weight climbed to a point that was unhealthy for me. I felt totally out of control. My eating disorder told me I could take it back by purging. This took various forms: either by restriction, over-exercise or making myself throw up. For years and years, I found myself in a binge/restriction cycle. Over time I assumed it was normal; and because I did not look emaciated my behaviors went unquestioned. This is how I lived for most of my life. I was detached and isolated. As far as I was concerned, this was good enough.
Time went by and I lived my life, but I was bound by the rules set by my eating disorder. A few years after I got married my husband and I decided we wanted to try to have a baby. I had a very difficult time getting pregnant. At the time I could not see the correlation between my weight and infertility. I assumed I was unable to get pregnant without medical intervention. I started fertility meds and eventually got pregnant. At first, I thought I would be fine, that my maternal instincts would over-come my disorder. Certainly, I would be fine with the weight gain for the sake of my baby, I thought.
How wrong I was.
I found myself in a very dangerous place after I conceived. I lost weight my first trimester due to morning sickness and something inside me snapped. Terrified of weight gain, I became very restrictive. I could not eat what I needed to sustain a healthy pregnancy. Around my third month of pregnancy I realized what a bad situation I was in. I spoke to my doctor about the severity of my situation. She told me about a program in Wilmington that specifically treated eating disorders. She referred me to Chrysalis, thank God.
I started to see a therapist and nutritionist regularly. I was amazed at the difference in this treatment episode! They were so knowledgeable and capable! For the first time in my life, I felt understood, I felt hope.
I would love to say that I was immediately healed and gained the weight recommended for a healthy pregnancy, but anorexia is a very powerful disease. I was still underweight when I gave birth. I was anemic throughout my pregnancy and was very thin. Thankfully, I carried my son to term and he was born at a healthy weight. We were very lucky.
When my son was born I was determined to breastfeed which made meeting my treatment goals very difficult. Over-whelmed with caring for a newborn, I clung to my disorder for comfort. After months of this with no improvement I realized I may need a higher level of care. I spoke to my nutritionist about inpatient…but after we spoke I realized going away would mean being away from my precious baby for months. I would miss his first words, his first steps. But then I had a thought that turned out to be the reality check I needed: I was going to miss out on all those things and so much more if I didn’t step it up in treatment.
So, I did the work. I pushed myself even when I thought I had nothing to give. Little by little I started making progress. I learned to cope with my disorder. I gained tools, faced my fears, and rediscovered who I am without anorexia. One day my nutritionist told me about a film called “Embrace.” It taught me about appreciating my body for what it can do rather than what it looks like. I never thought about it that way. I’d always seen my body as purely ornamental. I can now appreciate and love my body for its capabilities! For the first time in my life I am living! I am eternally grateful to my counselor, my nutritionist, and the Chrysalis Center. They played a monumental part in helping me get my life back. In the past two years I have started to learn to love myself unconditionally. There are no words to express the value in that. I will continue to push myself and work toward a life that is free from my disorder because it is worth it! I am worth it!