I write this in the darkness of the night. I can not sleep. My mind is running and running in circles about how to help people, how to affect change, how to help people discover themselves, heal, and stop hurting themselves. I struggled with an eating disorder for 23 years, all forms including anorexia, compulsive exercising, binge eating disorder, bulimia, and anorexia with purging behaviors. It was a horrid 23 years, with days of dark depression, desperation, grief, hatred, loneliness, isolation, including periods of self harm, suicidal ideation, and suicide attempts. I was in a deep dark hole, so stuck, like an endless nightmare I could not wake up from. I was so sure that my life and my purpose was to suffer. I grew up in an abusive home, both parents loved me but it was shown in a way that didn't make sense. As a child I always thought and wanted my parents to divorce because the abuse from my dad was so frightening and hurtful, the nightmares so intense. I cried every time my mom left the house, or drove away after dropping me off somewhere. I would stand at the window and sob uncontrollably. I remember being punished in Montessori school, for being sensitive and fragile, for being emotional and afraid of men. My eating disorder began when I was 7, not consciously but because I didn’t feel I deserved food that tasted good or food that was associated with happy and positive experiences.
For many years I took the hate that sat inside me and hurt myself. I didn’t know any other way. I needed to be perfect, I knew when I was anything but perfect, the monster of my dad would emerge. I was a straight A student, I looked like I had everything together and figured out, I was the first one to help everyone else, I listened to everyone else’s troubles. My mom turned to me for help and guidance, I needed to be strong. I graduated high school at the top of my class, graduated college in 3 years, became an EMT, ran my own in-home respite care business for medically complex kids and pediatric hospice for 10 years, and went to nursing school, got my BSN, RN license, and have now been a nurse for 11 years; working in a variety of capacities. It's in my nature to care for people.
From the age of 18 until 27 I dabbled in getting help for my eating disorder, it was suggested a couple times to drop out of school to get help, but I told them I had it all under control. When I told my parents for the first time at the age of 22 about my eating disorder and depression they denied it all, and told me it couldn’t be true. I told them I needed help, but they said you’re not like the people that are severely malnourished, you’re fine. So I carried on. It wouldn’t be until I was 29 and staring death in the face, going to the county jail to plead to the psychiatrist and judge that I shouldn’t be medically committed to the state, and my body withering away to nothing for my parents to see for a short time that I was in need of help. That understanding of the hurt inside of me only lasted for a short time, and it was back to what it had been like for so long. Silence. Denial. I was dying on the inside. Starving from the inside out. I was so desperately wanting and needing to be and feel loved. I can't say I ever truly experienced love, with all of my abusive relationships I was in, the date rape I experienced twice, the compulsivity in engaging in sex, getting pregnant and being coerced into having an abortion against my will, and bouncing from one person to the next, I let everyone take advantage of me. I thought I could fix everyone, everyone except me.
I often read through the journaling I did and it's heartbreaking what I went through, it is even hard for me to read it. I have suppressed many memories, yet other ones are so intensely vivid I can still recall what I was wearing, the smells, the sights, and the feelings inside me bubble up and tears run down my face. I am not certain how I survived. I was told by multiple professionals and eating disorder treatment centers that there was no hope for me, that I would end up in jail (as I was shoplifting multiple times a day), the state hospital, or dead. I could not stop myself from destroying myself. I hated who I had become, I hated I spent so many years fueling my eating disorder instead of myself. I was trapped in the cycle of a revolving door in treatment centers with no progress, only frustration, losing myself, and being secluded from the world.
Just when the center wanted to send me to the State Hospital, I decided I needed to do something different. I decided I needed to change and needed to choose change. After an intense 12 days in the hospital, writing down my story and my thoughts every waking moment, I looked outside and I said to myself, I want to experience life outside of hospital walls. I wanted to experience freedom from the eating disorder. When I discharged, it was highly likely that I would be back or I'd die before I could get help again. However, next month the 3rd week of October I will celebrate my 6th year in recovery. When I left the hospital that last time, I never went back. It is a miracle that today I am married, own my own home, feel confident in myself and who I am, am able to hold a job longer than 9 months, and I can even look in the mirror and like what I see. And now, I've turned my difficulty into helping other people find recovery from their eating disorder demons.
I started a nonprofit called Living Proof MN and things have been taking off slowly. The vision in my head is so vivid, but implementing it has been challenging. The resources, support, funding, grants, and any assistance through Minnesota and the Department of Health Services for eating disorders has been extremely sparse. Out of thousands of national grants, none are dedicated to helping people struggle with eating disorders. I have reached out to so many organizations and local newspapers, what they have said is alarming: "We cover stories that have a worldwide need and impact, that require attention, eating disorders are not something we cover". When reaching out to the local treatment centers, they said they cannot refer people to Living Proof MN or allow me to give out business cards, they said they need to keep the business within their business, wow, talk about money making. That is a tragedy that places are making money off of people desperate for help. And anyone I speak with seems to lead to dead ends. It is so disheartening.
Since I started Living Proof MN, I have heard from people all over the world needing support and guidance. Many have been in and out of treatment for years, many don't have a support system, many don't have money to pay for therapy or treatment, many are keeping secrets from their family and friends, many are suicidal and contemplating or on the verge of ending things. I have personally lost many acquaintances to eating disorders, the treatment centers are all guessing at what to do to help people, and yet they are not helping. It's a huge problem with very little knowledge, support, and funds. I'm trying to help in the way I know how, from my experience. When I left the hospital 6 years ago, I decided to forge my own way, to create my own treatment program that included being out in the world, eating regularly, facing fears, meeting new people, and trying new things. I kept myself busy. I devoted a solid year to my recovery journey and transformation. It was the best decision I made, for myself. I began to heal. I began to see myself differently. I began to see that my purpose was not to suffer, but instead to thrive. It is that same experience I want to offer others.
Anyone reading this, know that there is hope. That recovery is amazing. It is worth the fight. I sincerely believe in everyone.
Yesterday there was a houseful of people who were eager, excited, hesitant, nervous, fearful, and strong. The Making Meaningful Memories event warmed my heart and struck a chord deep down within me. People longing for a way out of the eating disorder, out of the darkness, the isolation, self destruction, and spiral they have found themselves to be in. With so much in common, connecting when in the same room is easy, it's finding the motivation to get out of your house and our of your head to come to events like this one that is hard. When people are struggling the most, it's the hardest to reach out and prompt yourself to do what is helpful. When people are doing well, there is an openness to being vulnerable and getting yourself to be engaged with others. It's in the times of struggle that opportunity for change is incredibly high; and so important to step into the fear that's keeping us stuck. I want to find a way to lift people from the struggle to find hope, strength, and healing. Living Proof MN is a safe place for anyone that finds themselves in a negative environment or unsafe situation. Please don't hesitate to reach out to Shira day or night.
The Beyond Rules Recovery blog is written by people who are passionate about mental health and wants to spread the message of hope, resiliency, and recovery.