Proof that Young Women of "Good" Backgrounds Need Help with Eating Disorders

I am so excited today to share with you a blog from my friend Lani Calabro. She is one amazing young woman that I've had the privilege of walking beside for part of the recovery journey. I'm proud to say she has grown and continues to grow beautifully - from the inside OUT. That's why I asked her if I could share the blog she posted yesterday on her site as a Healthy Voice blog during National Eating Disorder Week.

Her story is a powerful testament to the connection between Eating Disorder recovery and addictions. It just goes to show you it takes a day at a time, there's an ebb and flow to it and as we used to always discuss - recovery is like a game of whack-a-mole. You just never know what's going to trigger you.

You also know never know if you'll be the one going through it.

Neither Lani nor I thought we ever could be the ones. We were given so much, good schools, parents who loved us, the chance to compete for getting into a good school. We never wanted for anything (which isn't always a good thing.) By worldly standards it would seem that we "shouldn't" have any problems, because we "seem" to have it all. Yet that's just proof that having it all absoLUTELY doesn't mean you don't have any problems. It just makes it easier to hide them.

 In fact, when you always have a way out and someone who will bail you out, you have every excuse not to want it yourself, because someone is doing it for you. But then - it's up to YOU. You hit a place of desperation where nothing anyone else does will work. YOU have to be the one, and that's exactly what we both did. We stopped being flaky, looked our eating disorder right in the face and got help - for us - and no one else. 

We know it absoLUTELY didn't matter what our background was, how highly ranked the girls high school we went to was, or the fact that we went to Notre Dame. What mattered was that we used our eating disorder to control what we could not and we needed to stop so we could LIVE. The fact that Lani I meant smack dab in the Midwest having come from the East Coast was no mistake. We talk often about getting the message out to those girls from good high schools out East who have everything but STILL have this, warring with them within.

If anything, our friendship is proof that there is more than one of us and hope of recovery for those who might be struggling. If you "get this", we want to hear from you. 

So without further ado, I give you Lani and her blog!

The Truth About Eating Disorders: My Experience with Addiction and Eating Disorder Recovery

(2.24.15)

February 22nd-28th marks National Eating Disorder Awareness (NEDA) Week 2015. This cause is very close to my heart, as I have struggled with an eating disorder for over eight years.  NEDA Week is a great way to raise awareness about the dangers and common misconceptions of eating disorders.

Eating disorders -- including anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating, and other specified feeding or eating disorder (OSFED), formerly known as Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS) -- are serious, potentially fatal conditions that affect an individual’s emotional, physical, and spiritual health. Eating disorders are not a fad, phase, or lifestyle choice; nor do they discriminate against any sex, race, sexual orientation, age, ethnicity, or socio-economic status.  According to NEDA, in the United States, 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some time in their life, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, or OSFED. A review of nearly fifty years of research confirms that anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder (nationaleatingdisorders.org).

I am incredibly grateful to be in recovery from my eating disorder today. My struggle with anorexia and bulimia has been one of the most difficult challenges of my life. I developed anorexia about eight years ago -- one of the questions I am asked the most is “what caused it?” For years, I tried to pinpoint what lead me to the obsession with food, weight, and body image, but I couldn’t nail down just one reason. At the time I started overexercising and starving myself, I felt very out of control in my life. I was in 11th grade at a highly competitive all-girls school, and the stress of applying to colleges started to catch up with me. I found that controlling my intake gave me a sense of control and success -- anorexia fulfilled my constant need to set and reach personal goals.

I need not go into the details, but I feel compelled to discuss just how torturous it is to live with an eating disorder. Anorexia is often glamorized, not only in the pro-ana world, but also in the media. Anorexia is not glamorous -- it is a pitiful, freezing torture chamber that is nearly impossible to escape on your own. When anorexia took over, my life became a prison. My capabilities to have meaningful relationships, perform in school, and think about anything other than weight and calories were stolen from me. My life was a whirlwind of doctors’ offices, hospital visits, therapists, nutritionists, and staring at the dinner table as my family cried, begging me to eat something, anything. I rapidly became just a shell of a person -- unemotional and detached from the scary truth that the doctors kept telling me: I was dying, and I was dying fast.

Luckily, today when I see pictures of myself from those dark days, I no longer desire to be that thin. Today, I recognize that I was very ill and that I never want to feel that alone again. Drugs and alcohol took me to the same dark place that my eating disorder did.  I thought I was “managing” my eating disorder by using substances, but I was really just substituting one addiction for another. And I am not alone in having struggled with both an eating disorder and a drug and alcohol addiction: research suggests that nearly 50% of individuals with an eating disorder are also abusing drugs and/or alcohol, a rate 5 times greater than what is seen in the general population (nationaleatingdisorders.org). Both eating disorders and substance abuse are influenced by genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors. Because of the high comorbidity of substance abuse and eating disorders, it is important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of both illnesses.

Recovery from eating disorders and addiction is possible. It is challenging and it will not occur overnight.  I have learned to accept that my recovery from both addictions has an ebb and flow to it. In the beginning, it often felt like I was playing an intense game of whack-a-mole -- I would get a handle on the eating disorder, but my cravings to use would spike.  To this day, it is a challenge. Some days, the voice of my eating disorder creeps in on me, telling me I am disgusting and don't deserve to nourish myself, but the fact of the matter is that each day gets a little bit easier. I now recognize that my eating disorder and my addiction rely on each other for fuel, and I refuse to fall into their deadly traps. My life is amazing today, free from the torment of living with an eating disorder and active addiction. You can experience this same freedom, so I encourage anyone struggling with any type of addiction to seek help as soon as possible.

To find out more information about eating disorders, visit http://nedawareness.org/get-in-the-know.