Hi, I’m Shannon. I’m 32 years old and have suffered from the hell and prison of anorexia for 10 years. Very long story short, I am FINALLY in recovery as of January 2016. It took me losing my job, my income, almost my marriage and almost my life for me to (reluctantly) accept the help I needed.
For many years, I only agreed to see therapists, counselors and the occasional psychiatrist. But I refused any treatment more than that, even though it was painfully obvious to everyone in my life that I needed a higher level of care. I refused it because I needed my disorder; I needed it to handle this life, to cope, to survive. It’s what made me special; it was my identity, my guiding principle, the best coping mechanism I’ve ever had, my comfort, my shield, and even became my God. I was so sick, so brainwashed, so brain-starved, so malnourished, and so stubborn.
My disorder went in stages of losing, gaining, ups, downs, highs and lows; surprisingly, there was a few years when I lived in Washington DC that I was much healthier and happier, and wasn’t consumed by ED. But when my (now) husband and I decided to relocate to Cleveland, OH before our wedding (we wanted to be closer to our families and I wanted to take the risky leap of faith to own my own business)… I tanked. It was a steady decline for 2 years. Of course I would have argued and denied it at the time, but looking back, it was a slow suicide. Not just a physical death, it was a mental death, an emotional death, a major spiritual death. ED literally stole my soul; I became a completely different person, only worshiping, listening and trusting him. I lost my joy, my carefree and bubbly personality, I lost my sparkle, I lost my light, I lost my sanity. I literally almost lost everything I cared most about. I loathed myself, I was a walking zombie, I was a monster to my own family, no weight or pant size was ever good enough… I was NEVER good enough. I often just wanted to disappear. So, last summer, I ran myself into the ground, or I should say almost the grave. I was a wedding planner working 10-12 hours on my feet every weekend (of course not eating), I was working another event job during the week, I was restricting more than I already was, and I started compulsively exercising on top of it. I had lost ALL sense of reality; my purpose was to keep losing, consume less calories, and achieve this unattainable perfection. I didn’t care what it took. I easily would have continued this lifestyle until I was at least 50. (Except I’m sure I wouldn’t have made it that long!) The torture was my comfort, the misery was my “happiness.” I was incredibly proud of my withering, paper thin body; my bones became my banner, my sickness was my accomplishment. It gave me power; the best high of my life.) But my body finally made the decision for me. In every way, it was showing me, “I’m shutting down. I simply can’t do this anymore.” My hair was falling out in clumps, I couldn’t remember a damn thing, I felt incredibly weak, my husband would find claw marks, scratches and bruises all over my body, I barely had the energy to get out of bed in the morning, working (although I pushed myself to the max) was becoming unbearable, and worse, I started to have severe chest pains. (as if I were a 70 year old man having a heart attack!) Then, I had fainting spells at work and almost in the car while I was driving. After a much needed EKG, my doctor told me I had gone into bradycardia. My heart rate dropped to 51 beats per minute. She said anything under 50, you have to be hospitalized. I was PETRIFIED. It got to the point where these “episodes” increased and worsened, that I started praying to God, “Please don’t take me.” My poor husband would even wake me up in the middle of the night to see if I were still breathing, because I was literally at risk for cardiac arrest. (I cannot fathom what he went through!) Yet, (shockingly enough) I still was holding on to ED for DEAR life! But for the first time, I was terrified of dying, which was crazy because I thought I was invincible. I would speed-walk with my dog multiple times a day, and would actually look around seeing who was outside in their yards who would potentially help me if I passed out or God forbid, my heart gave out. I knew it was bad, I could barely function anymore, and down deep, I knew I couldn’t go on. But OH how I wanted to!!
Weeks before my family did their grand intervention, I had deep, horrible anger to my body, ED (which ultimately became me) screamed awful, cruel things like – “If your heart didn’t kick up, you’d be fine. You should be able to do this for a lot longer, you failure! Why can some anorexics get so much skinnier and their heart not be effected?? You are NOT that bad! Thanks for failing me!! You just couldn’t do it, could you?!” Thank God my family decided to rescue me; literally rip me out of this “cult” and evil possession. They researched the best residential centers in the country; it broke their heart, but they didn’t have a choice. They had to save my life. I have never seen my mom or husband so sad, so distraught. I’m sure it was one of the hardest decisions they had ever made in their life! At the beginning of November, they flew me to Tallahassee, Florida and took me to a place called Canopy Cove. (My dad actually told my mom in the airport, he felt like they were walking around with a cancer patient.) I was gone; I was a shell of myself. I was SO sick that I still argued passionately with my husband up until they dropped me off, “I’m not that bad! I will be the fattest one there.” I will never forget that morning heading there; shaking, feeling weak, faint, nauseous, and numb all at the same time. It was unbelievably surreal; all I could do was sob. It was by far the most scared I have EVER been in my life! I can’t quite describe the feeling; it felt like I was being dropped off on an island and would be stranded. These people were trying to take this away from me and turn me into someone I hated even more.
Ohhh, how wrong I was! They literally saved my life; they brought me back to life! The place I dreaded most, became my happy place, my safe bubble. I actually didn’t want to leave! (I ended up staying an extra week because I wasn’t ready to face the scary, real world yet. I truly was like a flower; I swear every day I was there, I grew inches and bloomed a little bit more!) I cried in the back of the cab on the day I left. (Hilarious, isn’t it? WHO would have thought??!) I had the best therapists I’ve ever had (and let me tell you, I’ve had a lot!), I met the most amazing women I have ever met; it was a life altering experience. It hit me hard a few weeks in, when I realized I needed all control to be taken away from me in order to begin to heal. There I was at 31 years old, needing to be babysat 24/7. (It was demoralizing, but it was the truth and I accepted it because that’s how far gone I was.) The staff was remarkable; even though I first viewed them as the enemy, I could see their compassion and kindness radiating. This wasn’t just their job, you could see the genuine care and concern in their eyes; you could feel their support in your heart. Everyone there became my army, and the dining room table was my battlefield. Every single morning when I didn’t want to get up and eat, and was so homesick it physically hurt, I pushed and fought with every fiber of my being to do this for my loved ones. Literally, the only thing my husband begged for was, “I just want my wife back.” The only thing my sister pleaded for was, “I just want my sister back.” The only thing my parents so desperately prayed for was, “We just want our daughter back.”
Perhaps it was the incredible therapy, their philosophy and recovery model, the right medication, the proper meal plan, the sincere nurses and loving staff, the indescribable bond I made with the other girls, the peace of the horses, the homey, safe environment, the way my heart and my faith grew immensely, the astounding, powerful presence of God there, or maybe it was the perfect combination of all those things. Whatever it was, it was nothing short of a miracle! God rescued me. When you get to the lowest point of your life, sometimes you just have to fall to your knees and cry, pray, beg… give up in His arms. Not give up at life, give up control. My obsessive need to control everything had come to a tragic end. As excruciating as it was, I had to let God steer the ship. I couldn’t manage my life anymore, and clearly when I (and my “false God”) steered the ship, look where it got me! I will never forget going through that big gate, driving up the pathway lined with huge weeping canopy trees thinking my life was over, when in fact… it had just begun.
I came home a few days before Christmas, and felt like a COMPLETELY different person. I feel like I have a new brain, a new set of eyes, a clear mind, a clean heart, a restored soul. (I have been “transformed by the renewing of my mind.” Romans 12:2) I have color back in my face, brightness to my eyes and am often told by my family that I’m glowing again. I can really smile again! Almost 5 months into recovery, I feel GREAT!! My marriage is repairing, my muscles are repairing, my organs are repairing, my friendships are repairing, my family is repairing, my faith is repairing, my spirit is repairing. It’s a WHOLE new world! I have energy, I can remember things, I’m kinder, less anxious, less judgmental, less irritable, more loving, more fun, more spiritual, more open, more PRESENT. More days than not, I am overwhelmed with joy, gratitude and freedom. (Funny huh? The word “freedom” might as well have been in a foreign language, and the word “recovery” was the worst swear word I had ever heard. I avoided it like the plague.) I’m medically stable, following my meal plan, eating challenge foods on the weekends, and am able to do things I couldn’t have possibly done before (hikes with my dog, yoga, going out to dinner with my family talking and chewing freely, laughing with my husband; really feeling hugging and kissing him, not taking 2+ hours to get ready, actually tasting the food I’m consuming!) I am still in the weight restoration phase, which is painful physically and mentally, not to mention incredibly frustrating! My current #1 biggest struggle is grieving my disorder, desperately grieving my old body and old coping mechanisms. There are days where it’s suffocating to look in the mirror and see my bones being covered up. It actually feels like I’m mourning a death. I’ve already gained so much from where I was, but how do I continue to gain more??!! I guess I don’t yet know how to not feel like I failed at anorexia. BUT I refuse to fail at my marriage and I refuse to fail at my second chance at life! I remind myself every day, the enemy does not stand a chance when its victim decides to survive!
So I guess it’s safe to say, I understood myself only after I destroyed myself. And only in the process of fixing myself, am I getting to know who I really am. I am confident that if I can do it, so can you! Choose good over evil, light over darkness and LIFE over death every single day. The strength you will find in yourself that you never knew was there is mind blowing! When I sit and eat breakfast with my dog, I am still often in complete shock that I’m able to feed myself alone. Even though I am desperately and relentless working on believing this myself, hear me out… ‘You deserve happiness, you deserve freedom, you deserve food, you deserve love, you deserve life. You are more than enough! You are worthy as you are; exactly as you are.’ You are a beautiful, innocent, precious soul that has been kidnapped by a deceiving, manipulative demon; a deadly disease. (“The thief only comes to steal, kill and destroy.” John 10:10)
But there IS a way out. Is it easy? Hell no! Is it quick? My no! Is it painless? Not a chance! Is there a rule book to follow in recovery? Absolutely not. Is there a guaranteed “no relapse policy”? Unfortunately not. But is it WORTH it?? Yes, a thousand times over!! I promise you.