I held a secret for years.
A deep, dark secret that controlled my world.
I tried to hide this secret from everyone I loved.
I managed to keep something so dark, so scary from family and friends for nearly 3 years.
The trigger point was when I found myself throwing up blood.
I was sobbing on the bathroom floor.
Trying to figure out how I got myself in this mess.
How did I possibly let food control every aspect of my life?
I recall hearing a message from God loud and clear: you are killing yourself. Every single time you make yourself sick, that’s another day you’re taking away from your future family. Is this the life you want?
I heard the message. And for the first time, I got the message loud and clear.
I was bulimic.
At that point, I had spent the past 3 years of my life dealing with a food addiction and some form of an eating disorder.
I made myself sick anywhere from 2 to 6 times a day.
On the weekends, it was easier. I would say I drank too much. Or didn’t feel well.
I would rush into the bathroom after every meal. Turn on water or play music to drown out the noise.
I always had body spray or mist to make the smell go away.
I carried a tooth brush with me everywhere.
I never left home without mints or gum.
I did not want this life. I did not want to continue letting my addiction to food rule my world.
I imagine many addicts have experienced a similar moment; anyone who has made it through recovery can recall a moment like this.
A moment that rocked their world.
A moment that shouted, “Wake up!!!! You can’t live this way anymore. You are dying.”
So, yes- I had an addiction to food. And I had an even bigger addiction to binging and purging.
To be honest, bulimia felt more about control than anything.
At times, I felt I couldn’t control what I would toss into my body. I didn’t know when to stop eating. I used food as a source of emotional healing. As comfort.
Here is how it started.
I wasn’t big my whole life.
I was always tall. A bit thicker. And happy as a clam.
Except when I fell down the stairs. That wasn’t cool.
Oh look, here I am as a clown.
And here I am with my infamous mullet!
Can you find me? Spoiler alert: my pants are up to my chest and I am rocking the smirky smile hard.
I got heavier the moment I hit puberty.
I was 15 and weighed 226 lbs. I was a size 16. I was the chubby funny girl.
But that’s not who I wanted to be.
That’s not who I felt on the inside.
It was frustrating because I was so active!
I played softball all summer.
I swam all day.
I rode my bike everywhere.
I played hide-and-seek with the neighbor kids every single night.
I never could understand why my body kept getting bigger and bigger (Hi, PCOS)!!!!
So, I dramatically cut my calories.
I would skip breakfast.
Eat a granola bar or small salad at lunch.
And maybe for dinner, I would eat a bowl of cereal. That’s easily under 600 calories a day. I went from 226 lbs to 159 lbs in about 10 months.
So, I went from this:
(Side note: yes, I used box color and lemon juice to color my hair)!
So, people started to notice and comment on my weight. My friends on the track team called me “two crackers” – joking that I would only eat two crackers a day.
Those girls called me out, in a supportive way, at track practice one Spring day. They told me I am active. And I need food to fuel me. That I am getting too thin and not taking care of myself.
To those girls, you know who you are, thank you. Thank you for speaking up and caring about my health.
So, I started to eat again. And when I started to do that, I started to gain weight again. In a panic, I made myself sick after eating so much that I felt ill.
Then I realized I could eat more and just make myself sick. So, when I had gone overboard – I would run to the bathroom.
Pretty soon, making myself sick become a normal way of life.
But I still looked somewhat “normal” because my bones weren’t popping out anymore.
It’s how I felt like I was in control of my life.
But I wasn’t in control.
I was a mess.
A big mess.
I was embarrassed and ashamed.
I didn’t know who to tell or what to do. I confided in a few friends. But only scratched the surface with them. I didn’t tell them just how bad it really was for me…
But telling them was enough to make me feel accountable. It was enough to get this horrible secret into the world. It was enough to admit I needed help.
I never got medical help.
I never saw a therapist.
But I should have.
I tried to fight this disease alone.
But when I look back, it’s clear that the support and love of my college roommate (and best friend), Toni, got me through this hard time.
I also met Justin a short time later. For whatever reason, I felt like I had known him my whole life. And we were meeting back up again. I told him all my secrets. I told him about my addiction, that I had controlled for about a year.
He told me I was beautiful. And crazy to think that’s the only way to lose weight.
I told him it wasn’t just about my weight.
It was about control.
It was a much bigger issue within my mind and world- about how I perceived my body.
Eating disorders are ugly. Sometimes they hide themselves well. And other times they don’t.
It’s National Eating Disorder Awareness week. I wanted to open up and share my story because it’s an important one to share. I’ve shared bits and pieces with you on this blog. But not to this level…
My current weight loss journey hasn’t been easy. I’ve had to face all the side effects of PCOS head on. I’ve had to fight the urge to restrict calories or make myself sick countless times. I will live with this disease forever. I have habits that I can’t eliminate – such as eating my food quickly.
Sometimes, I eat food so fast you would think I’ve spent a good amount of time in prison (I haven’t).
I do feel weak talking about those times.
I do feel sadness when I look back to those days. All of the times I ran away from a family dinner or night out with friends- only to find a bathroom.
I feel bad for lying to my parents. Telling them I was fine, when I wasn’t. Telling them I didn’t need help, when I did. Telling them I lost all this weight from being active and finally eating healthy.
Every day of my life, I am reminded of those days. How lost I was. How alone I felt.
From my research, I’ve learned women with PCOS are 6 times more likely to develop an eating disorder than those without PCOS.
PCOS messes with your hormones.
With your weight.
With your heart.
With your mind.
With your life.
It’s clear to me, years later, how connected PCOS and eating disorders are within my life. Sometimes, I look back and feel conflicted.
Did I get PCOS from my eating disorder?
Or did PCOS create this monster within me?
I don’t know the answer. But I do know one thing.
We all have secrets and addictions.
That’s what makes us human.
But the important thing is to ask for help.
It’s hard to walk through this life alone.
And as a bystander, don’t just look on.
There is a famous story about a women who gets murdered in the middle of the steeet in New York City.
Seven people watched it happen, but no one did anything. They all felt it was all someone else’s responsibility. They all felt someone else would make the call.
It’s hard to ask for help when you need it. Often times, it’s hard to admit you need help in the first place.
Don’t stay silent- whether you’re the person watching or the helpless person in the street.
We all need each other.
I am proud of my body today.
It’s taken me 3.5 years to lose 106 lbs. This was a new journey for me.
I placed my health front and center.
I didn’t ever say I wanted to be “skinny.”
Instead, I said I wanted to be fit.
And most importantly, healthy.
I feel like that happy little girl at the beach again. I just need some waves to splash in!
I’m confident in this body. I snapped this picture after a 21 mile bike ride, weight lifting, and 101 squats. I work hard. I eat well. I use food as fuel to push my body. But I also have learned to enjoy food without guilt. Food is no longer my enemy.
I love my body. I really do.
I’ve got big hips.
And if you zoom in, you’ll see I have stretch marks to remind me of my past. You can see a scar near my belly button from my surgery (and my terrible belly button ring scar too).
But I also have a thin waist. A big smile. And brown eyes that change colors with my mood.
This is my body.
My temple for this world.
And I love it.
At church last week, our pastor talked about transformation.
How hard transformation is for people.
How comfortable people can feel with their “normal” or “familiar” – but sometimes; transforming is our only option.
Transformation is what extends our life.
He talked about how opening your heart and mind can help transform you. You just have to listen!
And finally, he told us to go into the world and “get to work” – I think it’s my work and gift to share this story. This transformation.
Because change is possible. You can pull yourself up from a dark pit.
It takes love. It takes support. It takes acceptance. It takes commitment. It takes making the decision the fight for the best version of you every single day.
It takes the belief and hope that you can be better.
Because you can. I believe it with all my heart. I’m living proof.
2 thoughts on “My Addiction: Then and Now”
Ashley, you continue to amaze me! You are an awesome strong woman!! You should be very proud of all you have accomplished!! 💞
You are amazing! Always have been.