Lake Effect Series: Sarah’s Story

I can’t even begin to thank everyone for their support in this endeavor.  I feel like I’m going to say this every week but it means the world to me.  I’ve currently raised close to 350 dollars out of my 2000 goal.  Last week I also received an email thanking me and everyone else who has supported this cause by someone associated with Ophelia’s Place.  So thank you.  Thank you to each and every person involved.   I’ve also made a page at the top of my blog (Lake Effect Series) with information incase you are interested in writing a post or donating.

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Submitted by Sarah

Hi, my name is Sarah, I’m 23 years old, and I love food. Ha, don’t we all? I have always had an affinity for preparing delicious meals, and have so many fond memories growing up creating concoctions in the kitchen I am positive my family, only by pity, chose to partake in.

I think it is important to first and foremost give a brief disclosure of my background and happenings in my life affecting who I am today, whether I would like to admit it or not.  Hey, those of you who come from a divorced family (should be about 50% of you all), NEWS FLASH! It has an enormous impact on who you are as a person, how you handle things, and the decisions you make as a child and as an adult.  My parents divorced when I was 4 years old, and my mom married a wonderful man less than a year later. My “real” dad, as I refer to him, eventually re-married (then divorced again), and despite growing up among friends who had what seemed like “perfect” intact families and moms who stayed at home and brought baked goods to school (my mom worked 60 hour weeks growing up), I truly never felt different as a child.  When someone, as they inevitably and oftentimes did, asked me “Do you actually LIKE your stepdad” or “What is it like growing up with two moms and two dads?” or the best, “Do your parents fight a lot?” Ha. I never got upset or felt uncomfortable answering those questions.  I was oftentimes told as a child and young adult, “Wow, Sarah, you sure are mature for your age. You handle things better than most adults!” I liked that affirmation. It felt good to know I “had it together”.  So, as one can imagine, and as our brains do, I kept that up really well.  I learned how to push down emotions, which ultimately were expressed in other ways.  I was fiercely competitive as a child, always wanted to be the best, and loved when people told my parents, “Wow! How did you get so lucky? How did your daughter turn out so great?”

Fast forward to high school.  The competitiveness and obsessiveness, especially in sports, continued, and to be the best, I knew I needed to do all the small things right.  Every minute of my day was planned and every calorie counted, but only to be the best athlete that I could be.  I need to make a disclaimer: although my relationship with food was unhealthy in the sense that I would not deviate one ounce from what I was supposed to eat (never any desserts), I ate exactly the amount of calories I needed to.  No more, no less.  I knew how many calories I was burning, and I knew from a health and athletic standpoint, I needed to consume the right amount in order to be the strongest, fittest, and best. And I was. It had little do with looking good in a bikini. And, yet, I had zero clue that any of this extreme behavior had any correlation with my dysfunctional upbringing and the trauma that entailed, or better yet, the horrific car accident which happened my sophomore year of high school from which I nearly died.  I literally wrote off the accident and after recovering from multiple plastic surgeries to repair all of the broken bones in my face and my fractured arm, including being airlifted to the largest trauma center in the nation; I just bounced right back into school and sports and life.  I didn’t skip a beat.  I didn’t attend therapy.  I told people, “oh, me? I’m fine!” And, the extreme behavior only continued even more so after the accident.  I went on to win a state championship in Track and Field for the 1 mile, and placed top 3 in the other events I raced.  It was a huge feat, and I credited it to my hard work and discipline, as did everyone else.

Our brains are like pyramids. Imagine at the tip top is your childhood, and maybe your parents get divorced, or maybe you are left by yourself after school all the time, maybe not huge traumatic incidents, but maybe you are never asked as a child, “how does that make you feel?” A simple question children need to talk about.  Go down one level on the pyramid, it gets wider, and something else happens. Not a huge incident, but like I said, if it doesn’t get dealt with, the pyramid continues to get wider, and problems and emotions are continually shoved down, and they are manifested in other ways. This becomes the perfect recipe for addiction-related behavior, and perfectly explains my extreme behavioral choices in high-school.

Fast forward to college, I pursued soccer at the collegiate level, I gained a little weight just like everyone does, and very quickly realized how easy it is to simply purge up any unwanted food. I remember laying down pounding my fists on the floor of my apartment crying out to God after 3.5 years of shoving my face with food and running to the bathroom to rid myself.  No one knew.  I was so secretive, and remember I’m the girl who “has it all together”, so no one ever expected anything.  The first time I wrote it down: “I have bulimia”, was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.  The first time I told someone, was even harder.  The second time I told someone was easier.  And it was the first step to recovery.  All I knew was that I couldn’t stop eating. I thought it was a mind over matter thing. I knew the implications it had on my body, but I felt trapped and felt I couldn’t do anything about it.  I didn’t know the correlation it had with anything from my past.  When I started seeing a therapist and she explained to me the pyramid idea, I realized for the first time, “wow, Sarah, you have had a lot of shit happen to you! It’s not your fault. It’s okay, but it needs to be dealt with”.  Between 2011 and 2012, I cried more than I have ever cried. I’ve never been a crier, but my therapist told me there are SO many emotions that you have shoved down. She literally told me to make myself cry every day (haha I did this by taking a shower and crying as I felt the water hit my face—don’t even lie, you’ve probably done this too!) I told her, “I’m not sad though!” It doesn’t matter that I was in the middle of planning my wedding and my fiancé changed his mind and left me one day.  Just like I always had, I didn’t cry, I just said “I’ll get through this”.  Well, you guys, that doesn’t always work.  I needed to cry. I needed to feel pain and hurt and just sit in it, and actually embrace it.  It took an entire year of focusing on the root problems (the root problem WAS NOT food), crying a lot, but also focusing on feeling my true feelings.  When I would get urges to eat a large bowl of ice cream even though I wasn’t hungry, was a feeling from somewhere else I needed to embrace.  Okay, so what does that mean?  I learned to recognize those feelings and truly feel them.  Was it fear about an upcoming interview?  Was it anxiety about my race this weekend?  Whatever it was, I learned that those are valid feelings, and there is no need to be afraid of them.  Embrace them, feel them, and move on.  As I write this, I’m trying to picture 20 year old Sarah, and how she might have resonated with this.  I don’t want to ever make it seem easy.  There were days, weeks, months, and even years when I had a very difficult time believing I’d ever make it out of this.  The very few people that knew would tell me, “Look you can do this. You’re going to get through this, Sarah”, and despite wanting so badly to believe that, I had my doubts.  I say this because when I started therapy, I would go a few weeks or maybe even a month without any binging/purging, but then would sink back into a week of hell and that erratic behavior.  And then, it was one day when I realized it had been three months without any binge/purge, and I realized, “Holy SHIT! (pardon my French), I CAN DO THIS! I HAVE DONE THIS FOR 3 MONTHS! I have developed healthy coping mechanisms, damnit! YES!” (haha Okay, now if you don’t or haven’t ever had an eating disorder, you probably can’t understand this. But realize, there has to be some humor in all of this).

So that was that.  Three months turned into 6 months, 6 months into a year and now I’m at a year and a half free. Do I have days when I feel those urges deep in my bones to run to the fridge and just grab everything I can get my hands on? Sometimes.  Not often, but in the beginning of my recovery, absolutely. We are not perfect.  Even though I’m free and healthy and no longer defined by this disease, do I still have to remind myself of those coping strategies and mantras I learned early on?  I do.  It doesn’t mean I won’t ever mess up, or that I won’t ever have those desires ever again, but I’m not scared of them anymore.  I’m not scared anymore of life or not being the best.  I know when hard things come up, I can feel them, I will feel them, and I will discover why it hurts, and properly handle those feelings in ways we, as humans, should.  And I will.

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If you are interested in donating here is my fundraising page.