I read an amazing book by a woman named Susan Jaramillo titled “How God Rewrote My Heart.” Jaramillo is a strong woman to have endured the trials and tribulations she experienced throughout life. The book focuses on how God helped her heal from all these experiences. Short, sweet and to the point, I could relate to how she felt in certain life situations, even if our experiences were completely opposite. Susan hit upon how control ruled her life and how her spirit was broken because of the lack of self-worth she felt.
I guess it brings me to finally put onto paper my own story of struggle and of defeat. It is nothing earth shattering, especially if you think about the struggles others in the world can deal with each day. But none-the-less my story is about a point in my life when I hit my own rock bottom and how control and lack of self-worth engulfed every aspect of my world.
I have written previously about women and our self-worth in a post a few years ago, but my own personal vendetta did not get included in the article. Now I feel like it is time to get the demons out on paper. It is time to come to grip with my own personal failures and mishaps.
It is hard, when you are young and naïve, to really see how one’s own decisions impact the people around you. I never gave much thought to this notion, mainly because I never really believed enough people cared what I did in this world. It was my own Demon in my head telling me how worthless I was to everyone. If I had to really think when this all began I would pin it around young adolescence. Growing up is so hard for any kid, and throw in insecurity, the mix becomes a toxic concoction of self-hatred and self-doubt. I always felt extremely inadequate when it came to friendships or finding my own niche in school. The only place I felt safe and secure was my academic life and knowing my teachers respected my efforts in the classroom. I was a shy kid, kind of a loaner in school with just a few close friends. I would never have labeled myself as popular. I avoided trying out for the cheerleading squad or dance squad. I stuck to more “academic” pursuits because I felt comfortable there. So as I hit high school, I stayed out of parties for the most part and skimmed the parameter of all the “in crowds.” I just didn’t ever feel “good enough” to be a part of those groups, and I was afraid of rejection. I never saw myself as pretty or savvy enough to be included in things they did. I didn’t really date anyone either because I knew I was not the one guys wanted in our high school. I was awkward, felt a tad overweight and had crazy curly hair. But I was smart, and for some reason that was a comfort to me. I knew I could do anything that required the use of my brain. My close friends included me in social things and tried to help me come out of my shell. I loved them, and still do, for their loyalty to me as a friend and “personal cheerleader” in high school.
What pre-teen or teenage girl doesn’t feel this way? Like the entire world is looking at her with a magnifying glass, just waiting for one wrong step. My own feelings of self-worth didn’t have a thing to do with the amount of love my parents showed me. I grew up in a good household where my parents lived lovingly under the same roof, my dad had a good job and my mom stayed at home to care for me. I did not have any brothers and sisters in my home to make me share things or deal with the daily annoyances I find my own kids struggling with today. It was a great childhood, but for some reason I became the left out play dough, unable to form into something flexible and easy to mold. I was always opinionated at home because that was where I felt safe and secure. Aside from that you would always find me amicable and easy-going because I didn’t want to cause disturbance or annoyance. I chose what situations I wanted to be in, and stayed far away from areas I felt unsafe or uncertain.
I lost myself in books and movies, anything to pull me out of my own head and my own thoughts. By the time I reached the end of my high school career I was deciding on how the hell to get out of my small town upbringing and try to create my own persona, my own identity. I wanted to be away from any stereotype and discover how the world really lived outside “Peyton Place.” Going off to college seemed to be the best thing, moving away from home and attending a good school that gave me the academic challenges I so craved.
My senior year was an exciting time because by December I knew where I was going to college and I saw this light at the end of the tunnel. Freedom to make my own way, meet people from other states and really find what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I think I worked a little harder on appearances that year too, and I even became interested in a boy. Perhaps by that point I could relax a bit and “sail” my way through the rest of the most awkward and uncertain time in my life: high school.
I only saw one side of leaving home, my side, and it was invigorating. I didn’t consider the other side my parents experienced. The fear of letting your only child go out on her own and praying everything you did while she/he was growing up would come to fruition. That is what my mom and dad experienced after dropping me off at school, looking back in the review mirror as I proudly waved good-bye to them. They were lost to the battles that lay ahead of me. They were lacking proper ammunition to deal with the struggles I would soon face in college.
The beginning of freshman year was an adjustment. Being a kid who loved routines, I had to take some time before figuring out my own. Once I did, it was also very hard for me to let go and have fun. I felt I had this immense responsibility to myself, to my parents and to the world when it came to my grades. I needed to show everyone that I could do this—move away from home, attend a prestigious university on a public school education and blow the world away. I realized then my days of breezy afternoons by the pool were over. It was go-time and I needed to pull up my bootstraps to get the grades. So I did, but in the meantime, my failures I received in the classroom knocked down the fragile self-confidence I had developed my senior year in high school. I was back to square one, surrounded by exceptionally smart people who went to private schools in large cities or boarding schools on the coasts. They were also beautiful, thin, well-groomed individuals, especially the girls. I had no idea where I fit in on this campus. What I held so dear in high school, which was my intelligence, became completely challenged and my lack of self-esteem did not help the situation.
My parents often talked about things they saw me doing after school. Would she be a doctor? Would she be a lawyer (maybe because I was so argumentative), or would she be something else? My parents were in the medical field, so that is all they knew. But they never shied away from the idea of me doing something different. I just could never gain the self-confidence I needed to get out from under their shadow of successes. I never felt independent enough to make mistakes and be okay with it. For us, mistakes were bad and for me mistakes were irreversible. I couldn’t live with irreversible. So when it came to earning good grades and succeeding in my college courses, I wanted to blow the damn world away. Yet, the pressure that is placed on someone’s shoulders can be excruciating. When that pressure is personally put there, the effects can be life changing and severely damaging.
Freshman year wasn’t a complete bust. Don’t get me wrong at all here because I did meet some girls I felt a strong connection to and enjoyed being around. We all became pretty close that year after living in the same hall, and we ended up staying together until the end of our college career. But as life ebbs and flows, mistakes are made and life-lessons are learned, the relationships began to change. In the beginning, we felt the same about the environment around us. We had come to the school because we knew the education would be outstanding but I don’t think we were expecting the rest of it. As I contemplate on this time in my life now, as a 37-year-old adult with a family and life experiences under my belt, I realize how much we had on the ball if we had just recognized it. But college is so hard for adolescent kids. Everyone is trying to fit into this perfect mold and also discover who he or she really is as individuals. Some people find it right off the bat, others it takes years to develop. But my college experience was not full of fraternity parties or sorority socials. I had chosen not to pledge after going through rush during my freshman year. I remember being so nervous around all the other girls; they were so perfect. I just didn’t see myself fitting into their perfect world. Perhaps it was good I did not join because I struggled enough with control as each semester passed and I placed more and more expectations on myself with my classes.
Those expectations grew into something bigger and more dangerous and suddenly I found myself in the rabbit hole of self-control and restrictions. I destroyed the relationships I had built around me during my college career because of my reckless obsession to become perfect. We, as a group of girls, did not know how to handle it, and I let it go too far. Who can ever be around someone who never smiles, who is stressed out all the time and feels such a lack of self-worth? It is depressing and sour, and relationships won’t last a single minute longer than necessary. I take all the blame on losing my friendships from college. I can’t blame those girls for not wanting to be around my crazy-mindedness and me. I was so intense and self-imploding; I didn’t even want to be around me.
Here we go on the journey of an eating disorder. It is an ugly journey that completely engulfs every being of your mind. It is a disease about control; at least that is what mine became centered on in college. I loved my coursework, in spite of the occasional boring required class. My professors listened to my viewpoints during lectures and I never felt awkward when I visited office hours. My brain was there in front of my face and body. It was the first thing someone saw when I entered the room. But placing intelligence in one basket entirely can be dangerous for someone of my nature. I wanted perfection in my classrooms, especially when it came to grades and my budding passion for becoming a writer of some kind. It fed the Demon that told me to portion out servings and live on a fat-free regiment. I could tell you how many calories and fat constituted normal “pantry” foods. At meals, I would count in my head how many calories I ingested during one meal. I controlled how much I ate, what I put in my mouth and how long I stayed awake to study. It was an endless cycle of self-destruction. It blew away my body, and it engulfed my friendships in flames. It was an awful way to live, and I have only myself to blame for it all.
College was the time when I started running every day and when I really began working out. I was trying to make my body match my brain so when I walked into a social setting outside of classroom professors and students I could feel strong and empowered. Running allowed me to break out of the ironclad determination I slipped on every day I attended class. I could breath easier and loose myself in the natural high running can give a person. I competed with myself on how fast I could run at times or how long I could last if I didn’t count the miles. When you are living on a diet of low-fat carbohydrates and little protein, your body starts to shrink. For me, it was a visual affirmation to how well I was running my life. Yes, I could do this all on my own. I could earn the grades, be my own self away from my family and begin to fit into the beauty I saw all around me on campus.
It makes me sad when I sit and write about this because I see now what a waste it all was for me, and for my parents. I blew away four years of my life and missed out on fun times and everlasting friendships because of my self-destructive, obsessive behaviors. It can make a person become so humble to fully accept such a verdict. To know that I am my own worst enemy when it comes to my actions. I am the one to blame.
This inner competition sticks with me today, although sometimes I have to squelch that Demon and make it behave. The self-competitive me became the anorexic me after freshman year. Finally, it is out and in the open. The ugly, nasty “A” word that every parent fears will label their child. My parents lived that fear when I came home for that first summer after finals. I had ended the relationship with the boy from my high school senior year and my heart was broken, my spirit demolished but my intellect was intact. I had earned high grades that year. I had also lost 15 pounds since Christmas break, and I really didn’t have 15 to lose.
I changed, and not for the better. My grades kept going higher as my weight went lower during each semester. I watched relationships become damaged and endangered during the rest of my college career. All because I was trying to fit into this mold I believed I needed to fill. I placed that expectation on myself, despite the pleadings of my parents and my closest friends. The latter part of my Junior year was when I hit my lowest weight, under 100 lbs. I had not had a menstrual cycle in months. My roommates and my parents had an intervention one night before midterms. It still makes me tear up after all this time when I remember those conversations. The anger and despair we all felt at one time, in one tiny dorm room, now floats across my mind. I knew I needed to change, but I didn’t know how to do it. I was tightly wound, rigid as steel and I wasn’t sure I would ever become the person I was before I came to college.
But I fought, and I fought hard, to find myself on my own. I knew I had to change and that I had to be the one to do it, but it would not be overnight. I lost a roommate after junior year because she could not live with it all anymore. I wouldn’t have blamed the others if they had moved out too. No one can survive around someone who is hard as stone and driven to a point of madness about academic responsibilities. I dug deep in my soul to find strength to let go of my inner demons. I needed to relinquish the control I was trying to have on every single aspect of my life. I needed to learn to breathe again like I did before I turned into this crazy monster that forgot how to have fun and relax.
I know now, with time and wisdom, my lack of self-worth brought me down the path of self-destruction. It got to the point when my parents wanted to bring me home to them. They threatened to pull me out of school and move me home if I didn’t start to eat more and put on some weight. My hair was beginning to fall out and bones began to protrude in places. So I agreed to eat, and my mom would drive down to school every so often hauling a load of my favorite treats and goodies. Doing anything she could to make me eat. But what is ironic is how that was the last thing I needed. I get that now as a parent because parents will do anything to protect their children. All my parents wanted to do was protect me and help me find myself again. My parents and roommates did the best they could in that situation. But my mom’s brownie truffle was not the answer to the problems at hand. It was a Band-Aid to a very large sore. I remember my mom stopping in Nashville one weekend, bringing me yet another bucket of brownie truffle. As she placed the bucket on the counter she proceeded to tell me how proud she was that she didn’t even “lick the spoon” while making it. That statement was a slit to my anorexic wrist. You don’t tell someone suffering from an eating disorder how excited you are for restricting your own self from something. The anorexic (me in this case) will take that to the next level. It just goes to show how intricate this disease can be to someone not suffering from its claws. When she left that afternoon I threw the entire container in the trash completely untouched.
My parents tried to find a psychiatrist on campus for me to see. I met with some old-school psychology guru who had published a few books through the university’s press. It appeased my parents and kept me enrolled in school. I was now surviving on two fronts. As a student wanting to earn the grades and as an anorexic hiding her dirty secret from the world. He was a nice man, and we only met for about an hour. He told me how worried my parents were for me and talked to me about why I didn’t need to put so much stress on myself. The honest truth here is I could not remember one thing the man said to me during that visit. There was no personal connection. He was just a means to an end for my mom and dad. I appeased it all so I could pretend I was getting better and able to change. Again it is the intricate workings of a mind whittled with self-doubt. I just wanted to get out of there so I could hit the library again and continue preparing for exams. He gave me one of his books to read and told me to call if I needed more help. I left that office knowing I would never see his face again. I lied to my parents when they called to ask how it went. I said the man really helped me and I could already feel myself getting better. Again, another Band-Aid to a huge ulcerated sore. It made my parents feel better, especially with them feeling helpless and lost as to how to handle my situation. I did end up reading this guy’s book he signed and gave to me. It wasn’t bad, just not what I needed at the time.
This was how I lived the remainder of my years in college. Trying to put up a good front of being “healthy” and eating better, yet compensating for all the additives in my life. I ran longer, worked out harder trying to “adjust” for what I put in my mouth in front of friends and my parents. I was fighting a constant battle in my head that said I needed to get my shit together, but also not to cave to weakness. I was the one in control here, nobody else. I called the shots when it came to my lifestyle. It was a slow beginning to the process of retraining my brain for anything close to normalcy.
Before my senior year of college, I took an internship in Washington, D.C. That was a great summer. I lived in a city full of energy and fun people who were like the “old” me. I found a bit of myself that summer, making new routines and reminding myself that what I did with my body was for health and happiness and nothing else. My brain led me through it all, keeping me focused and grounded. My heart began to heal from a long and exhausting point in my life. I turned 21 that summer in France with my parents, and I learned on that trip how to develop a healthy relationship with food. I also became in love with wine and it introduced a new level of connection with my mom and dad. I know this is why I have such a big heart for wine and all it encompasses. That summer was a time of healing for me and again I was finding myself opening up to a new point in my life. I had decided to move to Dallas, Texas with my dear friend from high school. She was graduating from Texas A & M the same time I was graduating from Vanderbilt. My life was finally coming together, and it was in a good way.
Changing was not easy, but slowly, with time and a lot of perseverance I prevailed. My friends helped me, as did my parents. But the biggest help to me was myself. My ability to see reality for what it was and take slow and steady steps away from the muck of anorexia. I never did see anyone professionally for my disease. I worked through it myself with books, strong friendships and a passion for learning how to eat the healthy way.
I had to completely re-wire my entire relationship with food after college and post-college. It took a good ten years to really discover living with a nutritious diet. I continued to read books, find videos and television shows on cooking and create my own perspective on how food should taste and what I wanted to eat every day. Gone were days of frozen vegetables for dinner or saltines and honey for lunch. I was now discovering an entirely new lifestyle, and I was beginning to fall in love with wholesome food. I knew what I cooked and ate was going to be good for my body. I lost the fear of putting something in my mouth. I lost the fear of relinquishing control over something because I was completely involved in my diet.
Unless you have walked the footsteps of an anorexic or bulimic, it is hard to understand what goes through the mind of someone suffering from these diseases. The issues are real and ugly and completely opaque to the rest of the world. One little word or a phrase can turn someone’s sphere upside down. And now that I am older and have worked through my own issues with my eating disorder, I have become so very sensitive to what the rest of the world discusses. I know that word or phrase which destroys a girl’s (or boy’s) self-esteem and self-worth.
My eating disorder led me down a new path with food. I am to the point now where I love knowing how beneficial healthy foods can be for the body, and I am not scared to sit down and eat full meals. I no longer count calories when making meals. I just simply assess what I feel hungry for and what I think my body may need. I let go and started letting healthy food rule my diet. I was finally becoming free of my Demon. And I also learned to enjoy wine with my meals, and discover the beauty and potential it has on one’s life.
I ended up graduating from Vanderbilt with honors, and they were earned with blood, sweat, and tears. I poured my heart and soul into my education and desire to become a writer of some kind. Thanks to my professors and my parents I had a new kind of boost and it was that I could write and do it well. My dad always told me writing is something that can never be taken away from me. A person doesn’t forget to write if it is a talent that comes naturally to them. Something completely inherent in my soul, this is what writing is for me. I had battled dragons of control and self-worth in college, but I had come out the victor. I had bruises and scars that would take many years to heal, but they are also reminders of what I know I can do to make myself better. I know I have the strength in me to put up a good fight, and my experience as an anorexic showed me how to put my dukes up.
Age is not a bad thing because it also gives you wisdom. I recently had a conversation with a friend of mine about finally getting comfortable in my own skin. It took time to figure that out, and it wasn’t an easy discovery. I am not saying life is always peaches and cream, just the opposite in fact. But I have read enough books about how negative society can be, how all kinds of media can prey on men and women and how such unrealistic expectations are completely worthless. Each page I turned made me realize how much easier my own battle would have been with these recitations and realizations about body image and health. I know my experience with an eating disorder led me to the path of learning to love food, to learn how it nourishes our bodies and what I can do to make myself stay vibrant from the inside out. It led me to develop a stable relationship with exercise and listen to my body. I know when to reach for goals and when it’s time to back off. God allowed the failures of my early twenties to open the door and discover happiness and confidence. How poetic His pathways can be for us when we are simply still, listening unfiltered to His words.
I have often wondered if my experience would ever help prevent someone from going down the path of destruction as I did in college. I was one of the lucky ones who made the turn before real damage was done to my body and my mind. Yes, it took some time to heal physically and mentally from my experiences, but it was peanuts compared to what some boys and girls go through with an eating disorder. And unfortunately, it all starts at such a young age, often before kids hit double digits. Coming back to the town I grew up in to raise my own family, I see small glimpses of destruction and I want to reach out and stop the train wreck I know will happen in a few years to these individuals. How sad is that? Our children are finding out at such an early age what self-worth is and isn’t in life. It makes my stomach flip and is why I am so protective of my own children, especially my daughter. I will fight for her and fight hard to keep her on the path I wished I had stayed on years ago. I have my ammunition ready for whatever battle I face. I just wish I could protect all the soldiers out there who will succumb to the unrealistic expectations lurking out in the real world.
Thank you, Susan Jaramillo, for being brave enough to share your story with the world. It gave me the strength to share my own story in hopes it might touch someone. Perhaps it will permit someone feeling lost and forgotten to stop and smell the roses. Allow someone to realize they are shining stars amongst a sea of darkness called Reality.
If you know someone suffering or if you are suffering from an eating disorder, please have the strength to get help. Find a friend or loved one to confide in. There is no shame in what you are experiencing. The shame comes from ignoring the problem and letting it fester like an open wound. Power comes with knowing how to heal oneself, and that power lies within you. Although I was able to work through my issues alone, there are some out there that may need the love and support of outside help. It can be hard for the friends and family of someone suffering from eating disorder to disassociate their feeling and emotions from the problem at hand. They are too connected to the person suffering from the disease. If this is where you find yourself, there are also countless third-party resources available, like the National Eating Disorder Awareness website (www.nedawarness.org), to provide direction. Counselors and therapists are specialized to help people heal from this disease and can hold an individual’s hand through the walk of recovery. Or simply talking to someone recovering from his or her own disorder, such as myself, could be a great place to begin the pathway to freedom. If you know someone suffering from an eating disorder, reach out to that person; give them the confidence they need to find a way out of those invisible chains of destruction. You never know what people really need unless you first open up your heart to them. Eating disorders are a silent disease that can be cured, treated and overcome.
For anyone who needs an anonymous ear to listen, I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.