Monday, February 25, 2013

Speaking Up


It started in junior high. There were cruel classmates, a brother that left home too soon, grieved parents, and a young girl who thought it was her responsibility to hold everyone in her life together. A young girl who believed that if she could only be perfect, then everything else wouldn't fall apart.

That young girl was me.

And then there was that Lifetime movie. The one with Tracey Gold. For the Love of Nancy, I believe it was called. Did you see it? I watched as the girl on the screen lost more and more weight, and instead of seeing the pain, and the hurt, and the body destroyed, I saw only answers. If only I could be thin, then classmates would not be cruel. If only I could be thin, perhaps my brother would find me fun and come home. If only I could be thin, maybe my mom would not be so sad. And most importantly, if only I could be thin, perhaps everyone would be okay again. Including me. So I began to practice.

I practiced learning how to have an eating disorder.

Before I had reached thirteen years of age, I taught myself how to count calories, and how to measure portion sizes, and I did not allow myself to go over five grams of fat per meal. And then came the vomiting. Truthfully, that took lots of practice. It was not as easy as it appeared in the films. But I kept practicing until it became easy. And over my remaining years at home I practiced these learned behaviors and my life took on a pattern. When life was good, I ate and allowed the food to remain in my body. When life became overwhelming, I took control of the only thing I knew for certain that I could control. My body.

And then came college, and new amounts of stress, and more people and feelings that I could not control. And without parents around to notice, my eating behaviors began to completely consume me. Food consumed me, where I was going to eat, and what I was going to have. The scale consumed me, sometimes weighing myself every hour on the hour. And the extra weight went away and clumps of my hair went away. And my heart continuously raced and I was sure I was dying. And I was, if only on the inside.

I knew that I needed help, but I did not know where to find it. So I began to pray and God faithfully answered. At a retreat during my sophomore year of college, a girl stood up and bravely shared her story. She talked of the place where she had finally found healing, and I knew that I wanted to go there. I knew that I needed to go there. Because my only dreams in life were marriage and children, and if I could not learn to love me, then how could I ever love somebody else? And if I wasn't living whole, was I really even living? So I asked my parents if I could go to this place of healing that she spoke of, and seven days later I landed in Arizona. And Remuda Ranch became the place where I got a second chance.

Treatment was hard. The entire first week I cried. I cried because they made me finish my plate at every meal, and I cried because they would not tell me what I was weighing each day. I cried because I did not want to face the feelings that were behind the food, and I cried because I felt as though I had failed. The only thing I had ever wanted was to hold everyone together, but in striving for that I had torn myself apart.

But even in the darkness, God was there.

As I sat and daily read his Word, and began digging deep with my counselor, and learned how to just be, I felt him there. And I knew that this was my chance for healing. My second chance at living the life I desired to live and becoming the person I desired to become. I found healing in the friends I made at the Ranch, friends who finally understood the real me and liked me anyway. I found healing in writing out the words I could never seem to say. I found healing in learning to let go of the grip of the scale. Remuda Ranch taught me that I was more than a number, and that I did not have to be perfect to be valuable. I learned there, that while often painful, life could still be enjoyed, and that the only feelings I was responsible for were my own. And in the healing I finally found the freedom I had been looking for. Freedom to let go of the past and to move forward towards my future.

I found the freedom to be me.

A decade has passed now. I am a wife and a mama just as I always dreamed of being. Life is not perfect, but it is good. And I can honestly say that I have not restricted or purged in ten whole years. But some of the scars still remain. I still let food consume my mind if I am not careful to take captive every thought. I still struggle to be in the kitchen. I still struggle with the thought of dieting, knowing full well that there is a quick way out of the extra weight I now carry. But my biggest struggle of all is knowing how to raise my own two daughters to love themselves for who they are.

I learned many lessons in treatment that I will carry with me for a lifetime. I learned that nobody is perfect, even if they appear that way on the outside. I learned that eating disorders don't discriminate. I was in treatment with women of every shape, size, age, and background. I learned that keeping silent is the very worst thing that you can do. Whether it is silent about your own struggle and story, or silent as you watch someone you love suffer.

Several months ago I was asked to share my story with a young girl who was suffering in the hospital with Anorexia. Her mother had hoped that if she could talk to someone who had overcome, if she could see that there is beautiful life on the other side of addiction, that perhaps that would help her daughter to heal. And I really wanted to go, to sit with that girl and hold her hand. To tell her that I understood. But I didn't. I was too afraid. I was afraid that girl would look at me, would look at the shape I am now, and think if recovery brought on extra pounds then she would want none of that! I let my old fears of not being good enough return. I told myself that I needed to be perfect before I could share my story with others. So I kept silent, and I have often regretted that.

This week is National Eating Disorders Week, so I decided to speak up. I decided to share my story. It's not a perfect story with a perfect ending, but it's the story I have. The slogan for National Eating Disorders week is EVERYBODY KNOWS SOMEBODY. So in case that is true, or in case that is you, please know there is hope. Healing can be found. And with that healing comes freedom. Freedom to be the very real, beautiful you that you were meant to be.



Brittnie said...

You are amazing, Kendra! Love your story and your willingness to share!

The Mama said...

Brittnie, thank you for reading my story! You most definitely inspired me to share.