Today I decided that I would go to the mall to buy a couple of gifts and God gave us a beautiful day to get out in. But as magnificent as this day was, it turned very sour for me. This day was reminder of a post I have been wanting to write but haven't for whatever reason, I'm not sure. But I knew after a situation I witnessed today, I could not be silent and that the testimony that God has given me isn't in vain. This week is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week and some of you know (some don't) that this subject is very close to my heart and is laced in the fibers of my story. We will get to that later. I want to talk about what happened today first. I also want to let people know why having awareness of an ED is important, even if it doesn't effect you.
I parked my car, stepped out, locked up and began to walk to the entrance. I notice 3 boys standing at the entrance. These "boys" were probably 11th or 12th grade and I could call them young "men" but that term would be to gracious to bestow upon these creeps. They were "hangin'" out at the front of the mall being productive customers, I'm sure, with their parent's money. I notice a young woman walking out of the mall, carrying to-go-food in large bags in both arms, while juggling her purse and keys. This lady was overweight but she was beautiful and she was dressed very tastefully and professionally. I assumed she was probably doing a run for the office for lunch. As this woman passed by these idiot children, they began to hurl some of the most foul comments and jabs about her weight very loud. I watched her head bow, shoulders slump, face crumble and she darted to her car. I broke inside but I'm sure my outside had a pretty distinct look of fury. I made a direct path to the little boys and said sentences to the effect of how immature and very unattractive they were and how I'm sure their mothers and Jesus are ashamed of them. Was the last part very right to say... probably not. But based on their laughter as I walked away, they didn't learn much and I'm sure the good Lord as a valuable lesson waiting for them. I was disgusted. I walked through the doors and all I could think about was that beautiful young girl and how crippling those words were to her. Do I know what it's like to walk in her shoes? Absolutely not. Do I know what it's like to have those words said to me? No. Do I know what it's like for people to make comments about your weight that meant in innocence or just poking fun? Yeah, I do. Words. They are powerful and it's about time we start using words to break the stereotypes of eating disorders and I can't think of a more fitting week than this one to start talking about it. Now, will these kids have a miraculous change of heart over night from their actions? I'll go with no. They may years down the road when they finally mature or go on to have daughters of their own. But will it be too late if the one person they choose to tear down decides that that day,they are not worth living. I can't bear the thought. Will this blog start some revolution that will take this heinous act that happens daily out of existence? I wish but of course not. But that is where I know God gave me a voice and a testimony to talk about a subject that may hit far to close to home for some people or open your eyes to those who may be suffering around you. Am I claiming that this girl has an ED? No. I'm I saying my story is harder than hers? No. This blog is about the community of ED's and it broadly effects those overweight and underweight when a form of addiction is present.
I realized, I have never shared my story on my blog. I have spoken to many young women around Arkansas about my story and I'm thankful for the testimony my story became. I feel ashamed that I haven't shared it more because at times I hate that part of my life because it is painful and embarrassing to share the "ugly" in your life. It's hard to just be real and give the details but I know that sometimes it can save a life. I'll take that.
In high school, I didn't have it rough by any means. I had great friends, I was involved heavily in church and school activities. I had a family that loved me. I made good grades, I worked for them, but I made good grades. Did I experience sadness in High School? Absolutely. You won't meet a high schooler that didn't. Just a hunch though. From the outward appearance, I probably looked like I had it together as much as a 16-18 year old can. But on the inside, Satan had a deep hold on my self esteem, my self worth and my want for control in my life. I am saved and have been since the age of 8. I recommitted my life at the tender age of 16 and I loved Jesus. I loved church. I knew right from wrong but as much as Jesus consumed my soul, Satan fought hard and won for a period of time in my life. I began to rationalize in my head how I had no control over anything. I was just too busy for my own good. At times, I knew I had put a lot of work into my school and my extracurricular activities but stress consumed me and instead of giving up and giving to God, I gave up. I began to see myself as this ugly person who couldn't keep up with anything. I began to justify that I just didn't have time to eat and that I needed to do something for school or get to my next practice or think about the next routine for the game. I've always been a thin girl. I've never struggled with weight gain. I have always had the battle of gaining weight to be healthy. Now, some people literally scoff at this to my face and call me lucky. But those who deal with this battle, know how frustrating it is and you have to maintain a health weight for several reasons: the loss of a menstrual cycle, increased risks for heart problems, early bone brittleness, lung problems, lowered immunity and a slew of nutritional deficiencies. Who wants that for themselves?
Stupidly, I began to just starve myself because, again, at the busy age of 16-18 years old, I "didn't have time" to eat. I would take a bite of something to just have something fill the ravenous pit that was my stomach to just shut it up and look like I was eating. This act soon led to purging for me and it began a sense of release for my stress that welled up inside me. I would finally eat and then find the right moments to leave. If anyone has ever harbored a secret like this... it kills you... it consumes you. I didn't want people to know because I was embarrassed of what they might think. My family, all my friends.... my youth group? What would they do if they knew? I look back now and I wondered how I functioned and how I kept going and not just collapse at a practice. That kind of emptiness and hunger just sends your head into a pounding rage, your heart races, you can't control your body temperature and inside you feel numb.
By my senior year, I weighed less than 100 lbs, which for a tall girl, is a very disgusting skinny. I got "mono" my senior year because no doubt my immune system was shot. I remember my Dad asking me at one point if I had started drugs and I laughed and said absolutely not. But thinking back to how rail thin I was, moody, angry, depressed, stressed and tired I appeared... I probably would ask my kid the same question. I continued on my path of self destruction but some how fell under the radar with everyone in my life and keeping myself concealed from the world was almost like a game. That is one of the biggest hurts from this portion of my life that still haunts me...I lied to everyone I knew. I lied to the very people who became my biggest cheerleaders. That still hurts me to this day. I would have battles with God because I didn't want to be like that. I knew how destructive this was. I would have a couple good days and then I was pulled right down under. It was an addiction. An addiction that almost ruined me. As if I didn't have enough on my plate for senior year, I took a job at a retail store in my small town. I loved working there and I made some awesome friends there. There is a friend I made there, she knows who she is, that really saw me for the mess that was me. This friend ended up being the beginning to my healing.
Around Christmas time, I feel like I was probably at my all time low and at times wondered if this was what my life would be and if I wanted to live it anymore. Guilt, shame and hurt just overtook me. I remember there was one night that I was home alone during Christmas break and I called a dear friend of mine and told him that I was just depressed and hurting and I didn't know how God or anyone could love me for that matter. I didn't divulge my ED. I remember him saying to me that there was nothing on Earth that could ever keep God, my family or friends from loving me. He suggested that maybe I talk to my Mom. That night, I feel like he talked me off the ledge and made me feel something I hadn't felt in a while... hope. I gave my Mom a brief synopsis of my struggle and played it off as not a big deal and that I was "handling it." She asked if I needed help and I said "No, I'm working on it."
I did good for a while but fell again. I couldn't do it on my own and God sent in a wake up call for me. The girl, that saw me for me, invited me to go eat dinner with her one afternoon after work. She then pulled over on the side of a freeway, locked the doors and turned to me and she simply said, "I know what you are doing to yourself." I laughed it off casually and asked what she was referring to. She said, "You know exactly what I'm talking about and if you do not get help for yourself. I will get help for you." I was stunned. I was angry. And then I broke. I cried. I told her everything that day and I promised her that I would get help that night. I felt slightly freed in that moment because I was no longer alone. Someone knew and she cared. That night, I lingered around my Mom trying to get the courage to talk to her. She will laugh because anytime I needed to talk about anything serious to her, I lingered until I finally told her. I was like her shadow. When we were the only two up that night, I laid across my Mom's lap at the age of 17, with my legs hanging over her reclining chair and I probably had one of the ugliest cries of my life. I told her everything and admitted to her I needed help badly. I tried to explain this ED wasn't because I thought I was fat or anything but it was what I thought was the antidote to my ugliness I felt on the inside, all the pain I held and the control I wanted so badly. I felt like the food and how it entered or left my body was the one thing I had control of. My Mom didn't judge me. She didn't get upset with me. My Mom held me that night and cried with me.... prayed over me. But most important, she loved me and let me know it. Within weeks, I was sitting in the office of a counselor who I can only describe as God's angel, Trish. She didn't want to solve my problems for me... she helped me use God, my faith and my soul that was buried by a lot of dirt to help me figure out how to face this demon. Trish reminded me I wasn't alone. I remember being so surprised that no one judged me... ever. Anyone who knew, just wanted to help. I saw Trish well into college and I feel like she had a huge impact on the person I am now. Did I fall at times? Yes. Is it a daily struggle? Yes. Do I ever just wake up and look in the mirror and see that old sad, hurt consumed, control hungry person? Absolutely. But all I have to do is ask God to take hold of my being and tell me that I am His and He is mine and that is all I need to push through.
That was longer than I anticipated as far as my story but I feel it's important that I share it all. So, back to my statement about words and how they play a huge roll in shedding light on people's understanding of eating disorders. There are some myths that people believe about ED's that leave individuals uneducated and unaware at the depth and broadness of this disease. First, an ED is not just anorexia or bulimia. It comes in the form of obsessive working out and dieting. Also, it presents itself in those who have food addictions that lead to being overweight. You may hear the term "binge-eating." Some who underweight and overweight can be victims of an ED. It's the addiction factor involved whether you are ridding food in your life or hoarding it. It is an ED. Several go undiagnosed, sadly. Another myth, women are it's only frequenters. This is absolutely not true. I believe the number is around 1 million men are affected per year from this awful disease. Also, some people believe that the media is the cause for ED's. While media can be harmful to one's self-esteem, it is not the soul cause for an ED, just as the want to lose weight is not the primary motivation to continue an ED for some. Mine was control and taking out all the ugliness I felt on the inside... on my outside. Food in your body is pretty easy to control when many life factors are not. Finally, but certainly not the last (I know there's more), you can tell someone has an ED just by looking at them. Not all skinny people starve themselves or purge. Not all overweight people obsessively eat. It's not fair to "judge a book by it's cover." God makes in all shapes and sizes and we are His beautiful creation.
I can't even begin to count the number of times when someone screetches out, "You're so tiny! Go eat some cake! It must be nice, you're so thin! Go put on some weight!" I'll just be real blunt. I want to scream at people who say these things to my face. One, they probably don't know my past and those who do know me, know I try very hard to put on weight, especially because of my past. When I started doing the Miss Arkansas Pageant System later in college, I got told that I was too thin and that if I wanted to win, I needed to "put some meat on my bones." That may shock people. I tried hard. I ate a lot. I took supplements. I lifted weights. I tried it all just to put on some little Olive Oil muscles and get a little weight in my behind. I cried a lot over this and again... I know some of you may sit there and scoff and say "Oh poor you Melissa! It must suck to be real thin." No it doesn't always suck, I'm sure it'll catch me one day around my 40's. But when I go to the doc, I get reminded that I'm too thin and that if I'd ever like to think of having kids, I'd better try hard. That's a hard pill to swallow and it hurts. I feel guilty that one day I may not get to fulfill my dream of being a mother because maybe I did too much damage to myself or I cannot gain the weight. Those who deal with this issue, you know the frustration. In my bluntness too, I have always wanted to ask the person telling me that I'm too skinny if they ever look at someone and say "You're too overweight." I think it's a pretty honest question and the answer would most likely be "Of course not!!" So why point out my weight, to my face. Some of the most hurtful remarks I receive deal with my weight. Remarks about weight used to be so taboo I feel but for some reason people now think it's ok, especially if you are "skinny." I can take a lot of things in stride but for me personally, it's hurtful and damaging. Just as I know that an "overweight" comment to someone is hurtful and damaging. Think about it.
So, after this long blog post, if you made it through, I hope you not only be aware to the silent victims of an ED who may be beside. You may be someone's beginning to a brighter future if you just have the courage to call them out of love... not hurt. Also, maybe you'll think of choosing your words of someone's weight whether it's to their face or not, more wisely. Maybe you will choose to build someone up rather than tear them down because their body isn't what society says is right. You never know what they may be dealing with. I know the week is coming to a close as March 1st will mark the end of the official awareness week but I encourage you to keep the awareness alive. If you can wear purple tomorrow to mark that you stand up for ED Awareness!
Thank you for letting me share my story. I feel it's therapeutic for me to share it and it is a reminder of what an awesome God I serve that took my mess and gave me a message. He gave me a test and turned it into a testimony. What messes and tests have God given you to in turn give back to him?
Live. Laugh. Embrace your story.