This past Saturday morning, I had the opportunity to be the recovery speaker at this year's Oklahoma City National Eating Disorder Association's walk. A great crowd braved some crazy Oklahoma spring weather to still show up and support the cause of providing support and raising awareness for those who struggle with eating disorders.
Here's a copy of my speech from the walk. Thanks to everyone who was able to come out this morning and to all of our friends, family and to all of you who follow and read Speak Out Loud.... you have been a source of encouragement and hope on this journey!
I’m honored to be here this morning, talking with you about the gift of life. Those of you who are here, know that for some of us, living life is no small feat! I wish I could stand here this morning and say that eating disorders just aren’t a big deal, and that they are no threat to 30 million men and women who will suffer from an eating disorder in their lifetime. But you and I know that would be a lie. Anorexia and Bulimia are relentless in their efforts to take the lives of people we love. It’s tried to take mine for 27 years and it’s not okay to let this continue to happen. That’s why we are here today. To raise awareness and educate.
We live in a world that is obsessed with how we look, but being the skinniest person in the room due to eating disorder… will still kill us. Changing our weight in any way to get well and stabilize can go against the norm, and it’s scary. In a society that works so hard to stay fit, a person who struggles with an eating disorder may not ever have a future in exercising. Honestly, I feel like I do look different since coming home from treatment, and I do feel different, and people can say offensive things about these changes without even knowing they have hurt me. But I’m trying to learn that they don’t understand eating disorders and that they won’t without us teaching them. I’m trying to learn It’s not okay for me to punish myself for choosing life, no matter what the comment.
Just last year, the National Eating Disorder Association’s website posted a few truths, or facts that may surprise you, and I want to share just 3 of them.
1…Many people with eating disorders look healthy, yet may be extremely ill.
2…Eating Disorders are not choices, but serious biologically influenced illnesses.
3…Eating Disorders affect people of all genders, ages, races, body shapes, weight, sexual orientations, and socioeconomic statuses.
These are truths that you and I may know but we live in this realm of doctors, therapists, and nutritionists, so this is good information to share with those who are trying to understand and support us.
Looking out…I see people who have been fighting for their lives, just like me. Then… I see those of you who have helped us fight. Thank you. I personally want to say thank you to my family, my friends, and my team who have fought for me when I couldn’t fight another day, and who now fight alongside me.
Some of you today are here with hurting hearts because this illness has taken someone who you love. We are walking with you. Your loved one matters, and our walk means that we are learning how to help educate others for this very reason. Our hope is that you leave encouraged today.
I got too sick from the mental illness of anorexia, again, a little over 2 years ago, and this time I needed extra care. I needed to go inpatient and learn to eat and take care of myself. I was so scared to leave home, but I was more afraid to eat.
It was a Tuesday when we took my oldest daughter to college to begin her freshman semester, and the next day, I hugged my youngest daughter, and my husband took me to treatment. I went to the Laureate Hospital for Eating Disorders in Tulsa. I’ll never forget this…when we pulled into the parking lot, my husband unlocked the doors in our car, and I quickly locked them back. He unlocked them onceagain- and I locked them for the last time. I just didn’t think I was sick enough to be there.
It’s hard when you love someone so much that you need to help save their life, isn’t it? But that’s what my team and my family did. They got me the highest level of help, and I was exactly where I needed to be.
Anorexia really showed itself in my life when I went to college, although there were signs of the illness long before that time, like the fear that food would actually make me sick, rather than healthy. One day, one of my suitemates in college was studying for finals in our room all day, and she stopped counting when she got to the number 30. This number will forever be etched in my mind, for it was the amount of times I WEIGHED myself in one day - ONE DAY!
That’s not self -absorbed, that’s not narcissistic, that is a form of mental illness. In my case, that was an eating disorder. I had no idea, I just knew I didn’t want to gain one single pound even though I barely ate a thing.
My thoughts were irrational.
I had so many rules around my food that I could barely breathe, much less eat.
I have suffered from this illness for so many years since then that I honestly thought I would die from it. I began to take myself out of the picture of my family’s future. I stopped letting myself be a mom and wife, and I was numb at events that would have meant so much to me. I barely remember the event at all. I wasn’t scared to die, because I had forgotten how to live. I was exhausted.
With the type of anorexia I have it shows itself through restricting mainly. I restrict food, drink, relationships, help, and so much more. This is why I must fight all the time…otherwise I have a life that is unnecessarily lonely and desolate rather than abundant. It’s a slippery slope, so my weeks are full of support through groups with people who are fighting as well, and appointments that help me remember why I fight.
Why do I require this help regularly? One of the main reasons, is this. When you take a bite of food, the “sensories” in your brain say, “YUM!” and possibly that you want more food. When I take a bite of food, the “sensories” in my brain SCREAM with every bite! My mind thinks I am doing the wrong thing repeatedly, and it can wear me out mentally.
As a result of this form of my illness, my heart was shrinking, my bones were unnourished, I couldn’t think, and my organs had forgotten what to do with food. Outgoing had melted into not going, and the people in my life shouldn’t have to keep worrying about me when help was available and specialized.
For the next 4 months, my fears found help and 24-hour support. The ladies who I met there around the table, are forever my allies in this battle, and I love them. None of us were brave when alone, but we did pretty great when we were together, especially during the re-feeding process. My therapist and nutritionist were smart, they cared about me, and they could see the lies I was staking my life on. The lies are loud, and they want those with eating disorders to die. So, the battle is one that must be fought and support is not only important, but essential. GOD used these amazing people to help save my life.
Treatment was vital to my life… and now is vital to my story.
Whether I have had the privilege of meeting you or maybe not just yet, if your battle is eating disorder, we are a family, and you are brave, and courageous.
Since I’ve been home, I still get scared and I struggle just like you. But the difference in being in recovery or not, is HOW we struggle. Some days I struggle better than others and some days I don’t want to fight at all. But GOD and my amazing outpatient team are helping me to fight even harder on those days. I still need help with knowing what is the Truth and what is a lie about who I see staring back at me in the mirror. I’m still getting to know her.
I’m learning 3 very hard lessons about me…I am more than a number on a scale, I fail when shopping alone because I’ve learned that I do not see my body realistically, and I matter EVEN when I’m nourished. These patient conversations with professionals, have saved me from relapse up to this point. I have learned that my eyes see differently, and that the best people for me to be around are those who see me as a person who is trying to win a LIFELONG BATTLE. Please…even when you think you can’t say another helpful and encouraging word…TRY. We hear you. I promise. It’s just a messy fight, and our minds might be screaming because exposure therapy is facing what we have restricted or indulged in, repeated many times every day.
The cure to our illness? Food management!
SO…WHAT HELPS ME? Looking out and seeing the blue eyes of my daughters, and I am reminded that they deserve a mom that they can count on to not leave a legacy of starvation in our home. In 2 weeks, my youngest daughter is graduating from high school and I get to go. I’ll have to take a Boost nutritional drink, but I’ll be there! And just a couple of weeks ago, I got to go to my oldest daughter’s sorority mother/daughter brunch. She never stopped smiling and hugging on me. Mental Illness affects those that love us…. so does fighting to recover.
My husband is forever educating himself and others about what our days look like as I try to get better and continue to heal. He is my #1 advocate.
SHELBEE…She is my protective one, especially when she can tell I’m having a tough day.
RYLEE…Is my merciful one, who I can reassure, but for her the worry mostly gets less when there is proof in progress!
Whether you are the one with the eating disorder, or maybe that life is a distant memory… or maybe you are the unwavering family member or friend. Please don’t give up on us. Help us remember that we have SUFFERED ENOUGH. Because one bite, one meal, one day at a time…we are getting better and are continuing to stay in recovery. You WON’T want to miss out on the CELEBRATIONS along the way.