Beauty from Ashes
If it had happened once then I wouldn’t think anything of it, but it’s happened four times in the last week. Someone has asked me about my past; they’ve asked me about my anorexia. It’s not a secret, and it’s no longer something I’m ashamed of. I know that God allowed me to experience that for many reasons and it’s taken me a long time to understand that that part of my life can help others.
Recently a friend asked me to open up and share with a young teenager who is in the midst of harming herself for the sake of being skinny. What do I say to that precious girl? What do I share? Do I get raw with her because I can absolutely dig up those emotions, or do I sugar coat it and tell her “everything’s all right, look at me?” I know what I need to do. I need to get raw.
It’s strange to think back to the turning point and what brought me to the place where I decided I was going to control everything. I was an honors student with few friends. I was ashamed of my weight and unhappy, but I cannot recall why THAT day I chose to turn a corner. Was I done with the teasing? Done with the comments? Done with the way I felt and looked in clothes? Done with the fact that I couldn’t exercise or participate in sports like other kids? Was it wanting to be noticed by boys? Did I want to be “popular” or just invited to something? Was it because even my own boyfriend told me I was big and made it known that he liked someone else?It could be all of these things. I’ll never know, but I do know that that day I decided to make a change and I went through with it 100%. The max? 1000 calories. I weighed over 150 pounds on my 5’2″ frame. I wore a size 14 jean and they were tight. That day I decided to take all meat out of my diet (I’d never liked it anyway) and to stick to servings sizes and to memorize the calorie content and fat content of the foods I liked in what became my food “bible”, the FAT book. I didn’t eat anything that had any kind of fat in it. It HAD to say 0 for me to consider eating it. And I only ate the serving size. At that time I thought diet soda was OK so that was my drink of choice. I wish I could change that, but hindsight is 20/20.
I was 15 years old and going into my Sophomore year of High School. At the beginning of the school year I was in my size 14 pants and by the time my birthday rolled around in March I was in a size 2. I walked everyday all over the neighborhood with my sony walkman. This was how I began to strengthen my lungs. After 6 months I was so proud of myself. I loved the way I felt. I loved that I looked “cute” in clothes and that I could finally wear things that other girls my age wore. I found validation in my accomplishments and so I kept going. I was wonderful student always making straight As and I sang in the choir at school and church and only hung out with my youth group. I was a good kid, but I still wasn’t accepted. I still felt alone. So I continued to control my food even further.
I took it one step further. Cream of wheat for breakfast, plain, a 100 calorie fat free yogurt for lunch sometimes with an apple, or plain white rice for lunch. After school I went to the gym to walk/run on the treadmill and sometimes use the weight machines. ON the way home I stopped by Braums to get fat free vanilla bean yogurt…one scoop for 110 calories. So, adding those calories up. I had strategically consumed maybe 500 calories for the day, but don’t forget walking/running on the treadmill. I would burn about 200 -300 calories. The goal was to zero out and then have dinner. Dinner was veggies and I would cook my own food so that I could control the way it was prepared. I was constantly worried about weight….about fat….about hitting my goals each day. It became more than obsessive.
But….there’s something to be said about people noticing, and about people paying attention to you. It validated my efforts. Boys took notice, I had more confidence, and I had a boyfriend for the first time who wasn’t ashamed of me (true story). When my senior year rolled around there was a local scholarship pageant and a few of the talented, popular girls said they were entering. I decided to go to the meeting and left telling my mom that I was not going to compete/participate. I changed my mind and decided to do the pageant for fun. I’d played the piano for 15 years so I decided to be silly and I chose Scott Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag. I dressed up as a piano player from a saloon and I had so much fun playing with the audience. The clothes covered the fact that bones were sticking out of my shoulder and back. And when it was time for the evening gown/question portion I put on my long red dress and felt so pretty. Looking back the pictures scare me. The bones are visible and my face is gaunt. I remember the judges telling me how pretty I looked after I won the local competition. It infuriated my parents. “Don’t tell her she looks good!” I remember them saying. But for me, my weight loss, size, everything was validated.
I can’t put my finger on what it was that made me continue to starve myself. I was empty. I was surrounded by family and friends who loved me and I was empty. How selfish. My parents say that dropping me off at Baylor University was one of the hardest things they’ve ever done because they didn’t know if I would take care of myself. They didn’t know if I would eat. Truthfully, I lived on Corn Pops and salad. Instead of gaining the freshman 15, I lost even more weight. I threw myself into my studies and went home almost every weekend. I was empty….lost….and the only thing that gave me some sort of value (in my mind) was the control I had over my food and my body. But….I couldn’t control my body. It stopped working in many ways. My hair was falling out, I was told that if I didn’t take care of myself I wouldn’t have children. I didn’t care. The number on the scale meant more to me than anything anyone else said. In my mind they didn’t understand and they didn’t care.
I joined a sorority and again found comfort in functions, seeking acceptance from boys, and being numb. I was still a good girl, still kicking butt in school….but using laxatives and starving myself in private. The summer of my sophomore year my great big-sis in my sorority asked me “what are you doing this summer?” Well I was taking summer school because I had nothing better to do. Why not finish school early? Why not get another degree? She dragged me to an interview with Camp Ozark and I was hired for the second half of the summer as a lifeguard. When the semester ended I went to Mt. Ida, AR to become certified as a lifeguard and it was here where I met my future husband, Chris. Something clicked there. And when the school year began again and we dated back and forth between our schools I found acceptance and comfort. Someone loved me for who I am. He appreciated my voice….my brain….my talents and not my size. So as I became more and more happy I put on a little weight. When we were married a year later I was at a happy size but eating half a stack of Saltine crackers with BBQ sauce isn’t a meal….and I had to learn to eat and be ok with food.
I tell you all of this because it’s taken me many years to accept me. I get where people come from because I’ve been at both ends of the chart. I’ve been classified as obese and I’ve been painfully thin as well. I know the emotions, the self-hatred, the emptiness of both. In the past few years I’ve found a healthy place and a balance with food and exercise. I don’t use a scale and I know my triggers. I cannot compare size or weight with anyone because I know it’s unhealthy, so I take care of me the best that I can with Vegan diet that works for me and I share with others who are struggling with their own fitness and weight loss journeys. I GET TO help others now and it’s the most fulfilling journey I’ve ever been on. It’s brought me and my family so much joy and I am excited everyday to invest in my coaches, my team, and in each person whom I’m blessed to meet and get to know.
Despite being told I wouldn’t be able to have children because of the damage I’d done to my body, I have two perfectly healthy children. We are blessed. I want my daughter to see her worth in Christ and not in what the world would call “beautiful”. I don’t take one single part of this story for granted because I know that God allowed me to experience it so that I can share with others. It’s not fun to share your faults and the “ugly” parts of yourself, but I truly believe that He brings beauty from ashes and that each person’s story is not just a story for them, but a story to be shared and acknowledge as Christ’s work in us.
I didn’t expect my life to be “this” way, but I really didn’t have ANY expectation. I think that’s the most exciting part. God will use you even if you aren’t looking to be used. He equips you with the tools, the experiences and the strength to live out the life He has planned for you. So, I’m going to share with this sweet girl and hopefully open her eyes to the beautiful creature she is….even though I know she doesn’t want to hear from me. I remember those people who confronted me with letters in an eating disorder clinic. “They didn’t really care about me, ” I thought. I know. I’ve been there, but I will never forget what those letters said. I will never forget the people who took the time to write them. So, that’s what I’ll do. I’ll share my story in hopes that she hears hope, future, freedom and that she sees how beautiful she is.
I guess that’s what I want everyone to know. No one is perfect. There’s no such thing. You can only be the best version of you. If you aren’t happy with something change it, but don’t let someone else dictate how you feel about YOU. You were made for a purpose…..and when you live out that purpose you radiate JOY.