Monday, October 19, 2015

My Sister on Her Eating Disorder

Below you will find a guest post from my sister Laura.  When she let all of us siblings know about her struggles several years ago, at some point later I approached her and said if she'd ever like to share her story in this space, I'd be honored to post it.  This is a story that I think can help a lot of people:

"The intent of this post is to inform parents, siblings, and friends that those near you may struggle with an eating disorder. Eating disorders take many different forms, but I hope that by sharing my own experience with them, you might have a clearer understanding of them and how your daughter, sister, brother, or friend might be struggling. This post is also for anyone who may be dealing with an eating disorder. As I will mention later on, I truthfully didn't realize I had one until three years after I had first started. May this post help you in your journey to healing. 

In October of my junior year of high school, almost all of my friends began drinking and disagreeing with Catholic Church teachings. I didn't know how to go about discussing things with them, so I just stopped being friends with them. I went straight from having lots of friends and people to talk to to being the silent one at the end of a hostile lunch table. In January of my junior year, for cheerleading we began discussing the pairs for a Valentine's Day dance where each cheerleader dances with a senior guy. I was paired with a popular football player and started to worry. We would be doing a bunch of crazy flips, and I didn't want to be that girl that couldn't be lifted. I came home from one practice at the end of January, 2011, and decided I would eat less at dinner. The next morning, I had an apple for breakfast and packed a lunch of half a handful of grain flake cereal and a carrot. I kept it up for a week and lost five pounds. The dance went fine and everyone told me how great I looked. That weekend, I was at home looking at some cookies my mom had just made and thought how sad it would be to have everyone see me gain back my five pounds I had lost. I consciously decided in that moment that I didn't have to gain it back, and began struggling with eating disorders.  

The compliments were endless. Girls came out of nowhere to tell me how gorgeous, tiny, cute, etc. I looked and it was intoxicating. I had gone months without friends, so this attention was addicting and only encouraged me. Lunch was always a struggle, however. I would either take my lunch into the library and eat my ~70 calorie snack there, or I'd stay in the bathroom for the first ten minutes of lunch then come down and hurriedly eat and go to the bathroom again. When I got home from school I would walk 40 minutes on the treadmill. I lost 15 pounds that school year, and weighed less than my seventh grade sister, which I viewed as success. I went to Eurpope for two weeks with my brother that summer, and came home weighing ten pounds lighter than when I left. It never occurred to me that I had an eating disorder. In fact, I went on a retreat my senior year and heard other people talk about their eating disorders and thought "man, that would terrible!" It wasn't until three years later that I took an online quiz to see if one might be at risk for an eating disorder that I realized I was in its throws. In fact, I struggled with multiple eating disorders. My freshman year of college, I decided I didn't want to eat so little, but I couldn't bear the thought of returning to my original weight. I would eat myself stuffed, walk on the treadmill for ten miles at a time, then come back in and eat more. Although I never made myself get sick to get rid of the food, it was bulimia, a constant battle with myself over wanting to be skinny and wanting to never again feel that hunger and exhaustion I had experienced in high school. The fall of my sophomore year, I got a stress fracture in my femur from training for a marathon. That threw me into my third eating disorder, where I would simply binge on food and was unable to do the physical activity required to burn it off. Yet again, I was entirely unaware of what I was struggling with, but I knew it wasn't right to feel that way. Eventually my leg healed, and I was able to get my eating under control. My brother had asked all of my siblings to start a monthly sibling update email, so in April 2014, I decided to tell all my siblings. It was extremely difficult and I hated feeling that vulnerable. Everyone I cared about now knew my darkest struggles, and that was absolutely horrifying. However, Archangel Raphael is the patron saint of mental disorders and happy meetings, so with the help of his intercession, God took care of me. My siblings simply showered me with love and understanding, and it was the best decision I've ever made, telling them. I now have them on guard for me, and they notice if I start to eat too little or obsess over working out. After years of prayer, work, and many failures, I am now at a healthy weight, eat right, and lead a wonderful life!  

Thus far, I hope my story has informed parents, siblings, and friends of at-risk people what eating disorders can look like. I don't have all the answers for what to do, I don't even know what all my family did to get me out of those dark places. The only thing I can say with confidence is PRAY CONSTANTLY FOR THEM. My parents never made me eat a steak or stop my workouts, which was incredibly wise of them in hindsight. However, your daughter or son may need more drastic measures than I did. Also, I didn't even know I was suffering from anorexia and bulimia for three years, so trust your instincts over your sibling or friend's emphatic "I'm fine!"s. Made In His Image, a support website for those with eating disorders, has lots of resources that can direct you. But please always pray for those who struggle. Thank you! 

Now, for anyone reading this article that might be struggling with an eating disorder: you deserve to be free of this, and you CAN be! Firstly, take your pain to Jesus in Adoration; He has been waiting 2000 years to listen to your struggles and help you through them. Praying the Rosary daily has helped me tremendously, and Mary promises that any of her children who dedicate themselves to her in the Rosary will "receive her protection". In Mary we find ceaseless consolation; please look to her. 

Eating disorders are not something easily shaken, so don't hate yourself if you slip up. I have slipped up countless times, but each time I remember a line from the movie Robin Hood: 

Rise and rise again, until lambs become lions 

Each time you fall down, God is waiting with an outstretched hand to pull you back up. Grit your teeth, grab your rosary, and stand again. Also, you can use your suffering for good! Saint John Paul II loved to reflect on the beauty of suffering, writing an entire encyclical on it. He states 

"Come! Take part through your suffering in this work of saving the world, a salvation achieved through [Jesus'] suffering! Through [Jesus'] cross." 

Without a doubt, eating disorders are heavy crosses. However, we neither suffer alone nor for nothing. On a hard day, say a prayer to God, offering your pain for an intention such as those affected by abuse. Our beloved Father can take our suffering and use it to relieve that of others if we only ask Him to. Knowing we have the power to help others through our own challenges is such a beautiful thing and gives our suffering dignity. Lastly, realize that you deserve to be free of this and ask for help. It will be horrifying, but offer that fear up for your intention and bite the bullet. There are trained professionals that live to help you! You can do it; you're so worth it. God has a beautiful plan for you, and loves you more than can be comprehended. Know of my prayers for you, and may God always hold you in His loving arms!

Archangel Raphael, pray for us!"

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