The alarm goes off and the music begins to play
I can't figure out what song it is, I only hear a hum
It's pitch black outside and you want me to get up right now?
I'm like a sloth, rolling from my left side to my stomach, then my back
My eyes closed, my arms and legs barely moving
I feel like molasses, oozing down the side of the bowl, thick and sticky
Does this ever get easier?
I doubt it, at least for me it doesn't.
As the days get shorter and there's less sunlight, I struggle to get going in the morning. October 1st is the day it all falls apart. It seems like clockwork. Does my body or my mind know it's October? It boggles my mind how just a day can change how my body works. I tried to hope this away and scold myself, saying I just need to push myself more, I should be able to control this. And yet, mental illness doesn't work like that. The brain is an organ and organs don't always work well. It's a brain illness; so does that mean it can heal or does it always stay sick. I'd like this to be different but I'm not sure it can be. From October to March it's a challenge. It's hard to admit, nobody wants to say that their brain has a sickness, but I can't pretend that I don't. Since I am learning more each day about my body and mind I celebrate what comes naturally and I learn to adapt to what is difficult. It's not good and it's not bad. It just is and today I am grateful. Thank you for what you are teaching me.
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.
You could see it in her eyes. The lifeless, pale, and gaunt face. Her downward smile, her hunched over appearance. The way she looked at herself in the mirror. How she tried to fit in, but on the inside how broken and bruised she felt. Her world was dark, hopeless, and suffocating. She hid under the sheets, hoping she would just disappear. Or maybe be forgotten. “I don’t want anyone to save me” “Just let me go” “there’s nothing good about me”. she would often say.
For the past 20 years, every day seemed to present a new battle. A battle of the mind, the body, the soul, and the spirit. Nothing seemed at peace anymore.
In a world tangled in trouble and a body failing to function, the only quiet she could find was when she found the escape with her obsessive thoughts. She squeezed her head tightly in her hands, desperate for the thoughts to go away, but at the same time, she found comfort in them. She knew their story, she knew their next move, she knew how she would react in light of the swirling world around her.
As she laid down, she felt her stomach, why are you so fat? She asked. There’s pudge in the middle, I can’t feel my hip bones enough, my thighs spread out like warm cheesecake in August, and her wrists were far to large. Tomorrow I’ll do better, I promise. She said to herself.
As she lay awake, replaying the nightmare of her childhood, she couldn’t get the images out of her mind. They plagued her like a swirling tornado ready to touchdown and destroy everything in its path.
Everyday she told herself she was meant to suffer and that the only reason she was born was to endure pain. This nightmare became her existence. She hurt herself because that’s what she knew, she starved herself to numb the pain, she threw up anything she ate to show herself rejection, she binged and purged till her lips turned blue and she couldn’t feel her body. She desperately wanted to die.
One night as she sat in front of the toilet she cried so hard, she shook in fear. She even scared herself. The intensity of the pain that night was so brutal. She told herself how disgusting she was, how pathetic, what a waste she was in this world. Any success she ever had was a moot point. It didn’t matter, because look at her life, at what she had become. Spending her days manipulating her body, running from emotions, and scared.
When the light of day returned and she looked out the hospital window, it was as though the sun shone in a whole new way. She looked down at the street below and asked herself a powerful question. What if my life was like other normal people, without the obsessions, without the self-destruction, with a purpose and a drive to do good in this world? The questions hit her hard, she had never thought of herself in that way. Hopeful? Was it even possible? Was she capable of change?
It was then she made a decision. A decision that would change the course of her life. That gave her new meaning and direction. “If I’ve been so successful at destroying myself, at mastering this eating disorder and self-hatred, what if I become so successful at loving myself and creating a life of hope, of joy, of renewal?”
That moment was the beginning of a year of deep transformation, determination, and conscious change. After years of being in and out of treatment facilities, she decided to abandon the traditional status quo, and forge her own way: through a dark past and towards a brighter future.
She learned to stop numbing her emotions, instead she learned to sit with uncomfortable feelings and express the hurt, frustration, anger, and anxiety.
She learned to stop hating herself, instead she learned to love herself for who she was, for the story she lived through, and for the new woman that would emerge.
She stopped controlling her body size, the food she ingested, and associating good and bad with the meals she ate.
She accepted her body for the strength it provided and learned to nourish herself fully.
She made peace with the hurt she experienced as a child and learned that nobody is perfect, that everyone has their own past and demons, and we all try to do our best.
It has been almost 6 years since she looked out that window, it was as if she opened the window to her true soul and potential that day and let her spirit flourish. She has become a light in the world for others, she has taught others to find their own recovery, and she has built a life she is proud to call her own.
This woman is me. And I am so grateful to be standing here today, healthy, happy, free, and discovering a potential I never knew.
When you embark on a journey, you may have an idea of what you want to do or the path you want to take, however, it's not quite that straightforward when you actually take your first step on your way. Even with the best of intentions, the road ahead of you has bumps and hidden trails, curves and hills; and your mind is another factor that can greatly affect how your journey unfolds.
The year before I decided I wanted to recover, I kept hearing from people "you are such a wonderful person, you have so much potential, there's so much more to you than the eating disorder." At the time, those words went in one ear and out the other. Sometimes I'd get frustrated for hearing them over and over; and other times it would make me shrink further down and curl inside myself. It was as though those words were so overwhelming that I felt paralyzed and trapped, and guilty that I couldn't see that about me, or that I couldn't do anything to will the eating disorder away. (Now I know recovery is not about willing anything away, it requires a lot of hard work, determination, and fight.) It almost made me feel worse at times, because I suppose it meant that I wasn't living to my full potential. Of course I wasn't. I knew that and everyone else knew that; but still I felt like I couldn't do anything about it.
That last year was not only exhausting, it was debilitating and so bleak it is almost hard to recall what each day was like. Thinking about that now, I wonder if it was so traumatizing that I blocked out some of those memories.
In the past year, while establishing Living Proof MN and starting my mentoring, some of those memories started flooding back into my mind, my memory seemed to open up a bit and there's times now that I can so vividly see a certain point in time, feel the hurt inside of me, feel the sensations building in my throat, and even smell or taste certain foods.
Yes I have lived through those horrendous years and they are behind me, but they also help me when working and mentoring other people struggling with eating disorders. They give me the ability to speak to the ache people feel.
The other day, I spoke with a young woman about her family life. Her mother controlling, her dad quiet, siblings of various ages, and the weight of the world on her shoulders. As she talked about her struggle with anorexia, I saw myself in her. There were so many similarities. It made me think about the majority of people struggling with eating disorders, are we more similar than different. What would it be like to discover those certain triggers and affect them so the eating disorder doesn't get triggered in the first place? It's an interesting concept. That would require people to be raised differently, treated differently, spoken to differently, cared for differently, and for the society to make some drastic changes. I don't know if the world could even handle doing this, or if it's capable of those changes.
When I talk with someone struggling, I am most impressed by the courage and the fight they have and their strength. They are remarkable individuals. I have learned more from them than I have from any book or movie, specialist or research paper.
And it makes me so grateful to be a part of their healing journey, to see that first spark of light, and the glimmer in their eyes. I have seen their hearts ignited and their desires to live refueled. To watch someone return from the darkness is an amazing experience, I wish this for everyone. I know everyone is capable of it. I never thought I'd be proof that it could happen, but now that I am living a life in recovery, I am without a doubt convinced that recovery is even more possible. Not just for some, but for everyone. And having the right people in your life, helping you to see the light, is most important.
I am married to a man that I met at a writing group and have 2 big dogs that bring a lot of joy to my life. I like to go camping and hiking and spend time with my friends and family. I have been a registered nurse for 10 years and work with people who have mental health issues and people with drug and alcohol addictions. I have been in recovery from my eating disorder since Oct 2013.