HOPE exists after an Eating Disorder

**This week is National Eating Disorder Awareness week. I know many still suffer in silence and shame. I am hoping by being brave that maybe even just one person hears a story of hope and healing and seeks help. Check back this week as I continue a series on ED Awareness. -Jackie

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My journey from eating disorder to recovery has spanned 15+ years, but the sweetest feeling in the world is knowing that there IS life after an eating disorder. It doesn’t have to forever be the defining statement over your life, your relationships and your thoughts. Recovery is possible, just never give up.

My struggle with food and eating began in my elementary years, I can’t pinpoint a year, but I know I had an unhealthy relationship with food even back then. I slowly gained weight and by junior high was pretty overweight. The pre-teen/teenage years are pretty unforgiving when it comes to being overweight. It seems that people love to target and pick on the overweight kids. I was bullied and made fun of on a regular basis through junior high, but you would probably never know it, I learned to hide it well. By the end of 8th grade I remember having episodes of purging, but it was scattered here and there. It was often coupled with stress and handling all these feelings that I didn’t know what to do with.

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By high school, in 9th/10th grade, my struggle had become an all out battle. What was at one point a stress relief became an overwhelming addiction that I had lost complete control over. I lost a very large amount of weight through this time and by 10th grade, not long after my 16th birthday, my family doctor recommended to my parents that they seek intense treatment for me. I spent six weeks at an inpatient eating disorder clinic and due to insurance was told I had to leave and pursue treatment back at home. I struggled with depression, anxiety, thinking that this was the end of my story, I couldn’t see hope outside of my eating disorder, it was my best friend and my worst enemy and it had its grips on me.

During this time I became a Christian and wrestled through much of this with the Lord. I begged for healing, I begged to wake up “normal” one day. I knew that God could heal me from this and I struggled oftentimes as to why He didn’t. Now I look back and know that this was all for a purpose, I am who I am today because of this struggle, but in the midst of it, I couldn’t see past it.

Fast forward through high school, as I continued to struggle. I graduated and moved off to college and my eating disorder amplified in my new independence.  I struggled hard through those years. I am an overachiever and push myself to my limits at anything I do. I was trying to balance college studies and my struggle with an eating disorder, and having a hard time. I was pushing to graduate college with a double major in three years, wanting to keep all A’s. I used my eating as an escape for the stress I felt. A binge/purge cycle would relieve the feelings of anxiety that built up inside.

There were times that I’d get a handle on my eating, I’d think I had made a turn for the better, and then without notice I’d be swept into the struggle more fully than the time before. Eating disorders are rough because you always think you have control of it, until you realize that you don’t. I saw therapists. psychiatrist, etc throughout this time, all trying to help me…all aiding in my eating. None ever understanding how I kept falling back into the same cycles over and over.

I got engaged in my last year of college and a year after college, I got married. Shortly after getting married I found out I was pregnant. Eating disorders and pregnancy are hard. You’re already freaked out about your body and then it starts morphing and changing in ways you cannot control. I did my best. My very, very best for my child. Trying my hardest to always put her needs before mine, I did well for awhile, but once she was born the struggles continued to come and go. I know that God had a purpose in giving me that little girl back then. She made me want to be better for her, to be a better mom, better person. So when I began to struggle again, I could not understand it. I didn’t want to, I couldn’t rationalize why God would give me a child, only for me to be thrown back into the woes of my eating and not be able to be fully present when I was struggling.

God has His perfect way of knowing what’s best for us, because four years later I had another daughter and somewhere in between this time, in the highs and the lows, I began to crawl out of the pit I had been sucked into for 15 years. I can’t pin point a moment, I can’t tell you I did x,y,z, and that helped me. I don’t know exactly what it was. I do know I never stopped trying to get better. The Lord was beyond gracious to sustain me. When I had given up on myself, He never did. He was my provider, my sustainer, my grace-giver when I absolutely did not deserve it. He held me tight in His grip through the worst of times. And I can promise you this, He was rejoicing the most the day I declared this battle as done, in Jesus name. He fought hard for me, even when I didn’t want to fight for myself. He never gave up on me.

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Lets jump to today….I have 2 beautiful little girls that are 4 and 8. They look to me as an example, they want to look like me, act like me, be me. That is very scary when you struggle with an eating disorder and you’d give your life to spare them from this struggle. I started working out and lifting weights a few years back and begin to find the strength in my body to be amazing. Just very recently, I discovered my love of running. I just completed my first Half Marathon on February 9 and am still in awe that I ran that far. I see beauty, I see the redemption of the cross, I see a newfound respect for my body for its strength to carry me. I have found my legs to be such an amazing gift to me, food is now fuel for me and I have such a healthy relationship with it that I shock myself on a regular basis. I can truly say running has been a huge part of what the Lord used to heal me. It has given back to me something that I never knew I possessed….worth in myself and a love for myself.

Running has made me feel whole, see my worthiness as the Lord created me. I am a Christian and I thank God always for sustaining me in my struggle. He truly has given me the strength to press on and never give up. My faith carried me in the darkness and that coupled with my running shoes are carrying me places I never thought possible.

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I fought a hard battle, I never gave up having hope that one day I would live without the struggle of an eating disorder. I am a survivor. My voice may be small, but I am not longer ashamed of the battle I fought. I made it, many others are still fighting and I want to give people the hope….just keep going! If one person finds help, if one person sees hope, then my battle has been well worth it. Eating disorders don’t have to stay hidden and in the dark, there is such beauty in the freedom of the truth.

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A Letter to my 15 year old Self

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Dear 15 year old Jackie,

I look at a picture of you and I remember being you like it was yesterday, not 17 years ago. There are days I look in the mirror and I still see you, I joke that my eyes are broken, but you are ingrained in my memories. Jackie, I have so many things I want to tell you, but as I look at this picture of you at 15, I want you to know that you are beautiful. You will come to learn, many years down the road, that beauty has nothing to do with the physical appearance. Beauty is the heart, the love, the concern and caring. You are all of these things. You are a giver, a loyal friend, a joyful spirit. You are God’s precious daughter, created in His perfect image. You are not a mistake, Jackie. Hear me again, YOU ARE NOT A MISTAKE. You were never overlooked, you were never forgotten, you are living through each and every day for a specific purpose.

Sweet girl, do not listen to the words that come from ill meaning peoples mouths. The taunts, the laughs, they are not about you ultimately, I know it seems like it at the time, but they are coming from people that probably harbor more insecurities than you do. Wait 15 years, you will learn that hurt people, hurt people. I wish you could block out those voices that haunt you and realize that everyone is walking their own struggling path, each hard in their own ways. We all need to give one another grace. But also, do not be afraid to let it hurt, hurting isn’t bad for you. You don’t have to stuff your emotions and turn to food to make it through. It’s okay to cry, to be hurt. Growing up is hard, teenage years are hard, shoot, life is hard and when someone looks like they have it “all together” they are putting on a mask, because we all struggle.

Many years from now you will look back at this time that was hard and appreciate the struggle that you are walking through. You will see the woman you have become is better and stronger because of it. She’s more loving, more empathetic, and more determined than someone who may have had an “easier” path. You will dig deep in the hard times and remember where you came from and what you are made of. You will learn to rely solely on God for your strength. Sweet girl, He carried you through when you couldn’t even walk some days and He has never, and will never abandon you.

Life doesn’t get easier just because you move out of the adolescent years, it just takes on different, more adult problems. You have a strength that you didn’t know you had. God had His hand on you from the very beginning and even when you didn’t see it, even in the darkest days that felt like they would never end, He brought you out.

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Just wait, Jackie, many years down the road you will begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel, concerning your eating disorder. You will have defied the odds, been one of the lucky ones that made it through and by God’s grace you were able to have children. Two precious, amazing, spunky little girls that want to be just like their mom. You see redemption each time you look at their faces. You see His grace that brought you through what you thought would be the end. You see His face, shining on you, pushing you to be better than you would be for yourself, for those 2 girls. He knew best…He picked the perfect ones for you.

Jackie, you will learn you possess strength you never knew you had. You will set goals for yourself and surpass them. You will still struggle, we all do, but you have learned that the struggle is part of the journey. Without it, the victories are never as sweet. Be brave. Every. Single. Day.

Jackie, you have become someone you never thought you could be, you are doing things you never thought you’d be able to do. By His grace you keep going, just as you did when you were 10, 12, 15, 23….you have never given up. Hang in there…it will be worth it.

and PS….You are going to CRUSH your FIRST Half Marathon in a little over a week (yes, you, the one they called un-athletic your whole life)….try and hold it together 🙂

Love,

Jackie (at 32 yrs old)

Leading By Example

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This morning as I am getting my girls ready for school my oldest daughter, Sara, randomly said to me, “Mom, I like it when you run.” I was making her breakfast and I turned around and laughed, thinking it was a funny comment. Then I asked her what she liked about me running and she said “it makes me really proud of you and I like a mommy with big muscles.” I laughed again, but it hit me hard. For once I am setting a good, healthy example for both of my girls. They are watching my every move, mimicking my behaviors, both good and bad, using my life as a baseline to navigate their world. I have commented so many times in recent years that my youngest daughter, Kate, is my clone. She acts like me, looks like me, and talks like me. I see myself in Sara a lot of times too.

I have prayed since the day my girls were born that they would not follow my footsteps into the unhealthy world of an eating disorder. I have always been hyper sensitive to body comments, weight, etc. in my household. I try to mimic behaviors that I want my girls to follow, and avoid them seeing behaviors that I think can be unhealthy. I make it a cognizant habit to talk about the Lord with my girls on a regular basis, read the Bible with them and to them, pray with them. I want to set an example of faith for my girls, I have always known this, but I never thought I could set an example of health for them as well. As we were driving Sara to school, I said to my girls, “do you know why mommy runs?” Kate says, “to get sweaty?” We all laugh, then I tell them that I run to be the healthiest mom that they can have. That I want to be here for years and years to come and this helps me be healthy and keeps my heart strong. It gives me energy to chase them through the park, jump on the trampoline with them, and take them on bike rides. They both agreed this was a very good thing. 

My girls are beyond precious to me, they are the most amazing gift God could have given me, second only to my salvation, and I smile when I know that He gave me two girls. Two strong, independent, and very different little girls for a reason. This mommy had to get healthy and be an example of not only a godly woman, but a healthy, strong, and confident woman to help these two navigate this crazy world they are growing up in. They suggested that in a few years we could all run a race together, whether that happens or not, it doesn’t matter to me, they don’t have to be runners just because I am. They will each find there own way in life and walk their own path, but what I do know is that I will be there to watch them, guide them, and set the best example I possibly can for them by God’s strength and with MUCH grace. Running is changing  me from the inside out, each step, each mile, I am gaining a new understanding of myself and seeing new strengths each day.