I graduated in the year 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and moved back home. That summer was a nightmare. My weight reached the lowest I’d ever been. Clothes were falling off of me. I think my parents were worried and felt helpless because they did not understand my disorder. For so long I wanted to stand out, but I can clearly remember the anxiety I felt when my parents started confronting me about my weight loss. It all finally came out and I openly said the word eating disorder out loud to them. It was as if they didn’t know I had one. They asked a few questions. You could see the anxiety in my mother. It radiated out of her. She immediately became defensive as if it was her fault that I developed an eating disorder.
That summer, questions were asked. I was grateful they were interested and happy they were trying to understand. But I felt like they did not like the answers I gave as to how I developed the eating disorder or why.
The energy in my house became unhealthy and I knew it. Intuitively I knew I needed to look for a “big girl” job so I could move out, so I applied for a counselor job at a psychiatric hospital on the children’s floor. That fall I moved into a single bedroom apartment alone. It was the best two years I’d ever had!
I loved living on my own. Because of how my parent’s raised me and the skills they taught me, I did well on my own. I worked full time and paid my bills. I loved working at the hospital with the kids. I was good at it and I felt like I was making a difference and giving back in some way. I learned so much during those two years.
Steve and I were engaged that year. He is an amazing man. He is kind and caring and would do absolutely anything to make me happy. Isn’t that the perfect man? I thought it was, until slowly I began to learn that he had a binge drinking problem. I can remember
cursing the classes I was taking at the time because I knew it was those classes that taught me this. I remember at one point swearing I didn’t want to learn anymore because the more I learned; the more it tore my life apart.
But something inside of me pulled at me to keep going. I learned more and more about binge drinking and binge eating. Soon they became intertwined. They seemed so similar.
I began to confront my husband about his drinking which caused problems in our relationship. I remember the day I told him that he needed to make a decision; binge drinking or me. It was devastating. I remember driving to a meeting that day sobbing and feeling completely hopeless and scared. Yet in the
bottom of my chest; deep inside my heart, I knew that I was going to be okay and that I was doing the right thing.
What the heck was that feeling though? I had no idea. However, I knew it was comforting and bright; warm and good.
I finally got to the meeting where they were talking about codependency. I can remember thinking, “Are you kidding me?” So I did what I always did when I learned a new word. First I researched it online, and then I went to the book store. The bookstore is one of my favorite places. We have a love/hate relationship. Education was the key to freedom, but it was also the key to my pain. The more I learned, the more I lost, or so I thought.
Learning about codependency changed my life. I began to learn that I cannot change or fix those around me; I can only change and fix myself. My relationship with my husband got much better once I stopped trying to control him. This change did not happen overnight. It took several years. But once again, there was a strong feeling in my heart that told me our relationship was worth it. So I listened to it once more and stayed in the relationship.
During this entire process I went through a period where I felt like I lost my family for a few years. I didn’t physically lose them, but emotionally I felt detached from them. Today I work with a lot of young adults and have learned that detaching is part of the normal process of becoming an independent adult. I just did not know how to do it in a healthy way. There was a lot of pain that came up while processing my childhood. There was so much anger and grief. Unfortunately my parents were not able to understand my feelings or this process. I can actually remember my grandmother telling me to “Stop reading so much!” My grandmother was a religious person, but far from a spiritual person. She used the name of God and Jesus to punish and shame me. This did not help at all. It just made me feel scared, ashamed and guilty.
I married Steve in 2002. My parents were so supportive and helped us to have the most beautiful wedding. My relationship with my family got much better, but my eating disorder continued. It got really bad through my first few years of marriage. But let me tell you, I looked amazing! I was probably the most miserable I’d ever been. We went to Hawaii for our honeymoon and I can remember sitting down with the travel agent to book the trip. The entire trip we planned revolved around where I was going to eat and if the hotel had a gym. At this time in my life I developed full blown OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) with food and my body. Meal times would cause panic and anxiety unless I had complete control over where we went and what we ate. I don’t remember how long this part of my life lasted, but my husband will tell you it was the most miserable. He was a people pleaser and would never challenge me or tell me how he was feeling. He simply went along for the ride.
I started graduate school in 2002. Keeping up with my eating disorder was not as easy. I could not exercise as much as I wanted due to time constraints. Because I was married and had my husband’s income, I was able to buy more of the foods I wanted. So overeating became easier. Also, there was more stress with trying to balance graduate work and my feelings of anxiety and depression. I became pregnant as planned with our first child in 2003. This was a very challenging and emotional time. I could not vomit, I could not use laxatives or diet pills and I was so big that over exercising was not an option. I was a mess.
I had my first son, Dylan in 2004. I began planning my diet for how I was going to lose the baby weight before he was even born. I did manage to lose most of the weight through Weight Watchers and exercise. But I can remember obsessing and feeling completely miserable through the whole thing; shaming and beating myself up for months and months. I really didn’t know any other way. It was the way I treated myself since I was seven or eight. Dylan was born with some minor challenges. He had sensory integration challenges at an early age. He wanted to be held constantly. He struggled with keeping clothing on, loud noises stressed him out, and he began having fears, phobias and night terrors by 9 months old. His first word was “dirty”. We thought it was cute at the time, but I knew “dirty” was not exactly a typical first word. That was the start of mothering a son with anxiety and OCD. But despite my education and personal experiences, I had no idea what was going on with him.
I got pregnant with my daughter, Hailey quickly after Dylan was born. She was rushed out of my arms at birth because she would randomly stop breathing. She was immediately taken that evening to Boston Children’s Hospital where she lived for the first two weeks of her life. Those two weeks were a blur. I don’t remember much about it except that I looked and felt like total crap. I also remember that food was still on my mind. My daughter was in the NICU at Boston Children’s Hospital and I did not miss one meal. In fact, I loved being there because they had these amazing chocolate chip cookies that were the size of my head. I ate one every day. I began to love hospitals after that because of those cookies. Little did I know that I would be spending much more time in them with my third child.
Hailey came home after 2 weeks with a prescription of caffeine and a heart monitor. The monitor would go off if she stopped breathing. We were instructed to conduct CPR after calling 911 if the monitor went off. This definitely raised my anxiety levels to an all-time high. But I didn’t really have a say in the situation. I was in complete survival mode, so I just went along with it and made sure to eat whenever I could to numb the feelings. For some reason that always helped.
Hailey slept in the bassinet beside my bed for three months. I was so exhausted one evening that I slept through the heart monitor alarm. My husband came running up more concerned about me because I did not wake up. And let me tell you that alarm is absolutely ear piercing. At three months old she was cleared of her sleep apnea.
We made it through the three months of Hailey’s sleep apnea and one RSV pneumonia hospitalization. Still in survival mode, I continued to make it through each day using food as my comfort. Dropping the baby weight was much harder at this point and I never made it down to my pre-baby weight. I did however; find a way to continue to make my way to the gym each day because the pain and guilt of not exercising was just too much to bear.
I got pregnant with Tyler in 2006 and he was born in August 2007. All I can say is OH MY GOSH! I thought I had seen it all. I had a three year old who was afraid to get dirty, touch anything, sleep alone, be in public places and wanted nothing to do with boy toys which is another story for another day. I got through the three months of apnea and one pneumonia hospitalization with Hailey. But then, Tyler was born. All of my children have changed me in some way, but my experience with Tyler changed me the most.
Tyler cried the minute he came into the world and didn’t stop for two years. He was my only child who had to sleep in the nursery at the hospital because I just couldn’t do anything to make him comfortable. Tyler was a very sick little boy. He had trouble swallowing and breathing and would often times choke on his own saliva. He developed nine pneumonias in four years that we know of and was hospitalized twice. I can remember once again feeling that feeling in my heart and hearing that voice in my head that would say, “Something is wrong!” I will not go into detail, but I went through years of constant confusion and questioning.
I read so much information online about what he was experiencing, but could not find someone to listen to me and help him. His doctor made me feel crazy even though I knew I wasn’t. I learned things about children no parent should have to learn unless they are a pediatrician or nurse. I can remember one time right before Tyler’s second hospitalization that I was told not to bring him back to the doctor office until it had been three days. On the second day he passed out at home from coughing. He was running a high fever for seven days and was struggling to keep his eyes open. I called the office and told them that if they would not see him, then I would call 911. They told me to bring him in and we saw a different doctor who was so concerned that she rushed him over to the hospital where he laid for two more days with yet another pneumonia.
I fought the fear to people please and decided to fire his doctor and see the doctor who took care of him during this hospital stay. We have been with her ever since. She listened to me and referred Tyler to several specialists. Long story short, that voice inside my head was right. There was something very wrong. Tyler was diagnosed with a laryngeal cleft that caused him to aspirate liquids and food causing his recurrent pneumonias and illness. It was repaired and he is doing very well. Tyler was also diagnosed with other developmental issues such as verbal apraxia and sensory processing disorder. We were able to get him help for these issues and he is functioning quite well in 3rd grade.
My hope in telling you my story is to help you to uncover yours. My guess is that you can relate to some of the feelings I felt and the experiences I went through. To continue reading more about my journey with self-renewal, check out my book, “RENEWED: A Mind, Body, Spirit Approach to Self-Renewal”. If you would like to learn more about how I can help you to find peace and balance in your life, please visit my website at www.mindbodyspiritcounseling.net. To join a RENEWED group or attend an upcoming 5 Week Transformational Workshop, please check out the Events at Mind, Body, Spirit Counseling.