Do not let your past define who you are today, but allow it to help you to better understand who you want to be tomorrow.
Like so many of you, my story starts at a young age. I was a very insecure and fearful little girl. I was raised in a home with my mother, father and two sisters. I was a middle child. My mother is a wonderful and caring woman who worked part-time as a registered nurse. She is an incredibly hard worker with a giant heart for people.
My father is a positive and happy man. He too is a very hard worker. My father became a successful business owner by taking a risk, leaving a job he was not happy in and opening a business of his own. He was rarely home, but when he was it was nice.
My parents were caring parents. They were very supportive of me and encouraged my education, my athletics, and me becoming an independent woman. They raised my sisters and me to become responsible young women, with a strong set of morals and values. Overall, they were very successful parents; the kind of
success I hope to achieve as a parent one day. I had a good relationship with my mother growing up and she is my best friend today. I have a father who I admire and respect and am able to have great conversations with today. I am who I am because of my parents. I learned what I learned because of my parents and today my parents are two of my greatest supports and encouragement.
Another person who greatly impacted my childhood was my grandmother. She was 100% Greek, was loud and loved food. She died in her seventies and suffered many medical conditions including obesity. She triggered a lot of my anxiety growing up. She was very rigid with her thinking. She was emotionally abusive and sometimes even physically. Her expectations of children were completely irrational. She controlled my mother; therefore, she controlled me.
I was afraid of my grandmother. I grew up secretly in fear. I was too afraid to talk about it; therefore, I did not allow myself to feel it. I began to numb my feelings and blocked everything out mostly with food. I started having panic attacks and anxiety by age 7 or 8. I would lie in bed the night before having to see my grandmother and I would panic and cry. My feelings were never validated and I was not taught how to cope with them. I was just told to stop feeling it.
Looking back into my childhood I can see now that I struggled with so many things. I was a sensitive child who was abnormally uncomfortable in loud and busy environments. I can also see now that I was very intuitive. I could and still can sense feelings and
emotions from peoples’ faces, body language and energy; things that most people can’t sense. This sensitivity contributed to me being anxious around people, places and things that were unknown. It also made it very hard to watch the way my mother was treated by my grandmother.
I learned at a young age to ignore my feelings. Like many of you, I learned to feel shame, guilt, fear and insecurity. I learned at a young age to become controlling to protect myself from being emotionally and physically hurt. I developed obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and social phobia by middle school. I will talk more about all of this in the next few chapters.
The interesting thing about my social phobia was that I was was extrovert with social phobia. I loved people and craved connection in relationships and fun, but inside I feared rejection and shame. I learned to use my extrovert personality to mask my anxiety. To this day people tell me they never would have guessed that I struggle with anxiety or social phobia.
By age 8 I began using food to mask and comfort my emotions. My eating disorder started out as overeating and comfort eating that quickly grew into binge eating. I was overweight by age 9 which impacted my body image and self- esteem. By age 11 I was dieting and restricting food and by age 15 using
laxatives and diet pills. At age 19 my eating disorder turned into full blown bulimia where I binged on food and purged it with exercise, diet pills and vomiting. I hated how I looked and how I felt. Today I can see that my eating disorder was triggered by my
OCD thinking. My OCD thinking was triggered by my social anxiety and generalized anxiety. It’s no wonder I struggled in and out of depression my whole life. The anxiety was just too much to handle.
I struggled in school socially. I did not struggle to make friends, but I struggled to keep them. I had difficulty trusting people, so I talked about them. I feared rejection, so I stayed emotionally as far away from them as I could. I became so anxious around people that I sat far away from my friends in class. I was still able to mask my anxiety and nobody ever knew.
My teen years and twenties were an absolute mess which is where some personality stuff comes in. I learned to behave a certain way to get my needs met. Sometimes this meant seeking attention from others by lying and manipulating or even dressing a certain way. Sometimes it meant making a bigger deal out of something than it really was to get attention. I did not do these things to hurt others; I did them because I was hurting.
I met my husband Steve in high school. We were 15 years old. I couldn’t resist his cute smile and “Z. Cavaricci” pants. Plus he always had gum and bought me lots of food. I was a food addict so this worked very well for me. On a serious note, we fell in love freshman year of high school and spent the next four years together. Steve was and still is very good to me. I love him very much, but there was also a part of me that stayed in this relationship because it was comfortable. I feared men and talking to boys. My social anxiety kept me from being able to communicate with others. I hated myself and felt unworthy. I think part of me feared first dates and talking which made it very easy to stay in the relationship with Steve.
Steve and I parted ways our first year of college. That is when life really fell apart. I turned to partying, alcohol and sex to calm my social anxiety. I didn’t know how I felt and I certainly didn’t know how to deal with it. I just knew I didn’t want to feel it anymore. Drinking alcohol allowed me to let loose. Unfortunately I can’t say it allowed me to be myself because I was acting nothing like myself. Like food, I lost control when I drank alcohol. I did not know my limits and I drank way too much. I threw myself at whoever would give me attention. I was an active bulimic who hated herself. To this day I believe that I was in survival mode, desperately trying to make it in a world that I did not understand at all.
I got back together with Steve at age 20. I was in my third year of college at the University of New Hampshire. I was studying psychology. My goal was to become a clinical mental health counselor and own my own private practice one day. I was learning about addiction that year. That is when I realized I had a problem. I can remember it so vividly. I was taking a class on “Dysfunctional Family Therapy”. We watched a movie about an alcoholic father and our teacher taught us about the family systems theory. He taught us about what it means to be dysfunctional; he taught us the roles and stages of change in a family system. As I read the course material and watched the movies he showed, my affect got flatter and flatter. My mood got more depressed and eventually my eyes were opened and my denial was lifted. At age 20, in the middle of my junior year of college, my life came crashing down.
I met with my professor briefly that year to ask some questions about what he was teaching. I rarely spoke to men unless I was drunk because they intimidated me. But I was desperate to learn more and he was the only person who was able to break through my thick denial. I remember telling him about the feelings I experienced growing up in my home. I told him about the roles that we were playing out in my family and how it all made sense after watching the movie he showed.
For the first time, I cried. And I don’t mean I cried because I was hurt. I mean, I cried because I was devastated. I thought my family was perfect. That moment was the beginning of a long recovery. That moment was the beginning of the 15 years of grief that I was about to endure. That moment was the beginning of my spiritual journey.
My eating disorder became extremely compulsive that year. I was obsessive about what I ate and compulsively purged it. I would workout with fevers and no sleep. I lost weight and was praised for it by family and friends. On the outside I looked like a new person, but on the inside I was dying. On the eve of my 21st birthday the best and worst thing happened. I binge drank that night. I drank shot after shot until I was so intoxicated that Steve had to call 911. I was non-responsive to the world. After a terrifying ambulance ride to the hospital, I am grateful to say that I recovered; well, physically that is.
Four weeks later, I received a letter in the mail. It was my discharge summary. At the bottom was a recommendation for me to see a therapist. It made no sense to me at the time. I still didn’t get the big picture. I needed help, but I could not see it. I went to the University’s Counseling Center. They immediately sent me outside of the school for help. At the time I did not understand why, but now I can see that the issues I was dealing with were not academic. They were personal and they were much more complex and serious than the school counselor could handle.
That spring I started therapy with my first therapist. Her name was Jodi. She was sweet, kind and gentle. So much came to light for me. By working with Jodi in therapy, I was able to gain insight on my issues of anxiety and began to learn about how it impacted my eating disorder. I also disclosed another dark secret that spring; it was the first time I talked about the impact of being molested by a family friend.
I went home that summer and binged, purged and exercised my way through it. With my education as a resource, little things began to make sense. My family dysfunction became clearer. Only this dysfunction did not only exist in my family, but it also existed in my relationship with Steve.
I started a Twelve Step program that year. And it was not because it was suggested by my therapist. It was actually an assignment I was given my junior year of college during a class I was taking called, “Alcoholism and Addictions”. We were required to attend six AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) meetings to learn more about addiction.
I love telling the story about my first meeting. I will never forget it. I showed up with a bag of chocolate chips to listen to addicts talk about their addiction to alcohol. I laugh every time I think about it. In all seriousness, there was something I fell in love with during those meetings. There was a presence there that was unexplainable. It was something I felt deep within my heart. I had a lot of social anxiety, so talking with others out loud in a group was not my thing. But I continued to go back because of the strong presence and connection I felt in the room. It was that year that I learned about a Higher Power whom I choose to call God. It was that moment of my life that I began a spiritual journey and the Twelve Steps became the foundation of my faith. So I was now seeing a therapist and attending Twelve Step meetings thinking to myself, “Man oh man, I am messed up”.
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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.