I’m going to tell you a story. It’s a personal one. But before we go back in my history, it’s important for you to know how I am today.
Today, I am happy. I wake up excited for the life I have created. I am married to a man who loves me just as I am, who celebrates the quirks I have fought against my whole life. I have a job I enjoy and have confidence in my skills. I am a professional writer and certified life coach! I can’t wait to use my journey and story and repay the universe for allowing me to be a survivor. I know there is much to learn, but I know it’s the process that will give me the tools I desire. Growth- that’s what I’m into… not perfection.
I don’t really know how to begin these historical-emotional-recovery things, other than from the beginning.
When I was growing up, I was a good kid. I came from a great family- my parents were (are!) still together, and I have two older sisters. I got good grades in school, was a successful athlete, and I had a lot of friends in all sorts of different “cliques.” I was popular in the fact that everyone liked me- not quite that “she’s so cool, but also snobby” type of popular. My size? Well, I never worried about food because I was so active with sports and extra-curricular activities. I ate whatever I wanted and was naturally strong and performed well.
It is also important to note that one of my sisters- the middle one- was two years older than me. When I got to high school, it was a natural transition for me because the juniors and seniors knew her, so they knew me, too. We were both on the varsity volleyball team and went everywhere together. We became best friends and well known in our small volleyball world because we were mistaken for twins on a winning team.
The summer after she graduated high school, I was going into my Junior year. During the summer, my club volleyball team won nationals and I was named an All-American. I also played on a regional team, where we won the national championship and I was named MVP. I never told my high school teammates this. However, because I was still playing, I missed the first two weeks of high school season workouts… everyone else had been done playing months earlier.
I went back to workouts without saying a word- just trying to be the hardest working person there. It was then that I started noticing something funny… the girls on the team- usually my best friends- were forming groups away from me. Talking without me. I found it strange, but didn’t take it personally.
Then it continued happening. I was excluded more, and more. I found out that they had planned a “team bonding” outing without telling me. Then, when I didn’t show up (because, well, how would I have known to?!), they started saying that I thought I was “too good” for them.
At that point in my life, I was ill-equipped to confront someone, especially someone I wanted to like me. That meant everyone.
I told my parents, who lived in a rose-colored world. “Everything is great!” is the type of world I grew up in. If it wasn’t great, we didn’t talk about it. They basically told me that it sucked, but keep doing the best you can.
I did. That was a problem for the mean girls. Their parents started separating themselves from my parents at matches. It became painful and obvious.
I went on to help my high school team have a successful season and was named County Player of the Year and First Team All-State. I received a lot of attention for this. That didn’t help.
My name started to be slandered over the web on national volleyball forums. One night the local sports newspaper reporter called my dad at home. “I got an anonymous call to stop writing about your daughter. Know who it could have been?” Yup. They also said we paid the governing body to name me on those selections. (Really, it was a collective coaches vote.)
The volleyball website we subscribed to e-mailed us, “I tracked who is writing this- do you know them?” Yup.
During the regular school day, was used to sitting with a different group of people every day at lunchtime. People started getting up early from their seats, or closing their circle to not include me. I noticed that everyone stopped talking to me. I heard rumors being spread about me, mostly about me having an ego and made-up things I did to prove it. I didn’t say a word about anything.
To avoid this discomfort (remember, I was a high school girl looking for acceptance!), I would go to the bathroom and eat my lunch in the stall. Then, I would spend my extra free time in the library. I’d find an empty table and pretend to be busy, or on extra-lonely days, I’d put my head down and cry.
I went home from school and, instead of hanging out with friends or even having to face my new reality, and let my parents know what was up, I took a nap. Lots and lots of naps. Then, I’d wake up and not want to talk. I’d push my food around and say I wasn’t hungry so I could leave the table and lock myself in my room again to let it out in the only place that would understand- my journal.
When I couldn’t get home, I would stop at the closest beach and run (and run, and run) and cry.
This is how it started.
It got so bad that I wanted out. I met with my school’s athletic director and principal and you know what he told me? “It’s lonely at the top.”
Never tell a struggling teen that she should live with bullies and her loneliness.
We looked into transferring schools. My principal also happened to be on the state athletic board. I chose to go to the only school I had friends- girls I played volleyball with. There were eligibility risks, but I thought at the time, it would be better to be ineligible to play volleyball than stay where I was.
I had to go to three hearings to become eligible. People wrote letters and testimonies to what was happening and that it was for my well-being. That the situation wasn’t handled properly. Finally, on the third and final hearing, my principal had to vote. He voted for my ineligibility.
I think about this today- me standing in front of a board of older men- spilling my tears and my reality, asking for the thing I loved- the ability to play volleyball, and being told no, sorry… I think about this and I still tear up thinking of that vulnerable girl.
I was at a new school with a handful of friends in a privileged world. Things weren’t right for me.
I started spending extra time working out. To understand this benefit, I stopped snacking on food after school and never finished a meal. I would leave a bite or two, just to see if I could be that disciplined. I could.
I was faster in my sport, and had more energy… temporarily.
I remember being so exhausted one night at club practice. My coach sat me down and asked, “Do you like breakfast? What do you like to eat? Okay, tomorrow morning, you’re going to eat that- even more than you think is necessary. Then, I want to know how you feel at practice.” It was amazing the burst of energy I felt. This phenomenon stayed with me for years and years while I was depriving myself of food- I could literally feel the energy hit me, and feel when it was gone.
It was unfair. I didn’t want to eat, ever, at that point. I loved food, but I hated the act of eating. This is a feeling I still have in recovery.
I also remember a coach telling my mom, “She looks great, but don’t let her lose any more weight.”
I won’t, I said.
The thing is, once I started my “health kick,” I was addicted to the attention I was receiving- both positive and concern. “What are you doing? Keep doing it!” I heard this.
I cut my food more and more, and exercised to counter-act what I ate, and then some. In my mind, I couldn’t go back “there… To being the best at my sport? To being fun-loving and energized? To being healthy? Or, big?
My mind started taking over, and I didn’t know what else to do except deny anything was wrong. Nothing in my family was ever wrong.
My senior year began and instead of going to parties and functions and hanging out with friends for the last year before college, I was ineligible to play volleyball, and was shuffled between appointments: therapy, nutrition, doctors…
I was a low, low weight, especially for my height and build. My mom pleaded with me every night to eat something- a yogurt before bed, a peanut butter sandwich (without the crust!)… anything. In the morning, she watched me eat breakfast. Then, she would surprise me with a weight-gainer smoothie. I hated the idea of this and more times than not, I ended up dumping it out in my high school’s parking lot. “That’s way too many calories. And I’m not even that active right now.”
Life became a misery and I wanted to stop playing my part in my life. Depressed? Yes. Anxious? Yes. Self-aware and hating it? Yes, yes!
Before this all happened, I had plenty of opportunities to play collegiate volleyball. I never answered, amidst everything going on. So, there I was, my senior year, trying to decide my next step. I applied to colleges like everyone else, and then I would think about volleyball. I decided to walk-on.
My senior year, I wasn’t allowed to play club until I reached a certain weight. I did it, kicking and screaming.
That summer, I went to my college’s summer camp. I was named MVP of the camp, a good sign for what was to come. The last night of camp, the incoming freshman all went to Sonic to get milkshakes. I went, but didn’t order anything. I sat there with my new friends, starving and drooling.
I had the same “weight gain” plea before college. I did it, but my parents were worried, still. I had to see a sports psychologist and have weekly check-ins for my weight and vital signs.
They had me sign an agreement with my coaches and health professionals at my college: “If you get to X weight, you’ll have to sit out from games. If you get to X weight, you’ll have to stop practicing and working out. If you get to X weight, you’ll have to quit the team. If you get to X weight, you’ll have to leave and go to in-patient treatment.”
Fine, I’ll sign it. I won’t get that bad.
One morning I couldn’t sleep (which became a daily thing trying to get comfortable on a college dorm bed with my low body-fat), so I went for a walk. That turned into a run. Later in the day, I was called into the trainer’s office, confronted with the fact that I was running in a sweatshirt trying to burn extra calories. I probably was by walking/running, but I was always cold since I didn’t have much fat to keep me warm. My mind was skewed.
Well… Daily weight-lifting and two practices a day in pre-season… then weights and practice, class, travel, all that walking around campus and eating barely enough… I checked off all the milestones.
I had to leave and go in-patient.
I left campus immediately without packing much. I had to fly standby that day and my flight home was delayed until the next morning. I slept on the ground in the cold airport and my parents were calling me every hour to make sure I was still alive. I contemplated all day whether I should eat the free brownie with my meal earlier. I stared at it all day and figured that, if I had to go in-patient, I should probably be as sick as possible. I threw it out.
When I got home, my parents cried as they saw me. My sisters were also asked to come home… I think, just in case it was the last time.
At 5’8” and less than 100 pounds, it is amazing I could travel by myself, have the energy to literally be standing in front of them.
A couple of days later, my parents drove me to my in-patient facility. I slept the whole way so they wouldn’t bother me with lectures or offers for food. My mom pleaded with me as I drifted in and out of sleep. When they dropped me off, my dad gave me a big hug and it was the first time I saw him cry. The only other times have been at mine and my sister’s weddings. I will never forget this.
I stood in my new room while a stranger went through my things in latex gloves, making sure I didn’t have anything that could keep me in my- or any- danger or eating disorder. No alcohol mouthwash. No tweezers. No pills of any kind.
I didn’t do that. I didn’t eat (much) and I exercised (too much).
Still, I was naïve to what other people did, or what I should be doing instead of how I was doing things.
My first meal was pizza and I was horrified. For the first couple of weeks, I was to stay in this one big room, watched at all times. When I had to go to the restroom, I was escorted. I had to recall the A, B, C’s so they didn’t think I was throwing up my food.
Stripped of anything I had left, I was. Every morning, I was woken up and escorted to take my weight and vital signs- both blindly. That would tell my fate for the day: would I have an extra supplement? Would I be allowed to go to group exercise (walking…)? Would I feel terrible about myself?
I had meetings individually and with groups- therapy, nutrition, art and music therapists, with a psychiatrist, nurses... There was a period, maybe for a week or two, when I hated everything. I thought I was being told what to do my whole life and I questioned whether happiness was real. Whether it was worth it at all to trust anyone. I was told, for the first time, that I was allowed to be pissed off and questioning everything. I was told that I didn’t have to be a volleyball player, that I could form a new identity.
This was it for me. I lost who I was when volleyball was stripped from me.
Isn’t that silly? It sounds so silly, but when that is your world, and then it’s not… what do you do? Who do you become? I became nothing.
I decided that I never wanted to even watch volleyball again. I couldn’t handle it. I couldn’t be labeled again. I learned how to exercise with mindfulness and limit myself. I learned to live in my new body and appreciate just “being.”
I was gradually given more privileges and challenges while I was there. While my size grew, so did my confidence, actually. After 104 days, I left. I drove home and life was rosy again.
Then… I realized all my friends were in college, away. Everyone was living it up, playing sports, partying, getting educated. And yes, I went through the most trying time in my life. I learned life lessons that, 10 years later, I still wonder if others have had this great opportunity.
But I struggled being at home, in my parent’s home, again, alone.
I started working and planned on taking classes at a community college, and then perhaps a state college.
That summer my dad and I took a trip to the Pacific Northwest, namely Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington. I began struggling again and it was apparent to my dad, as I was stubborn with my food. I was anxious and unhappy again, and I was denying the tools I had worked so hard in learning.
While we were in Portland, I started tossing around the idea of moving there. When we were in Seattle, I decided the Northwest was for me. I dreamt of Portland. A few months later, I moved by myself. And my parents crossed their fingers, decided I was stubborn, and wished me well.
I loved Portland. Everything about that city inspired me. It was my original idea that I would stay there long enough to gain in-state tuition… I got a job, made some friends, and did the most awesome local exploring I have done. I sent myself to an eating disorder support group and found some loving friends who could understand me. But, not a year later, my parents hadn’t heard from me and had a hunch something wasn’t right. “Come home.”
They were right. I got home, and there were more tears, more pleas, more family called in. They took me straight to the hospital. This time, I was under 80 pounds.
The nurses and doctors said there was nothing they could do except rehydrate and monitor me. Those few days, I was woken up every few minutes it seemed to measure my deathliness. A psychiatrist came in to question me and it was ridiculous that he was trying to find out if I had an eating disorder by the psychological questions he was prying at. I had one particularly nice nurse. She told me about her own daughter and I understood how much my mom cared by placing me there.
My mom wanted me to live. I really didn’t care, except for the burden it would cause them all if I had died. Apathy was my middle name.
When they discharged me, I was hustled to more appointments and was watched like a hawk.
I began taking classes at a community college, but was still in my eating disorder very deeply. My grades suffered because I was distracted and consumed in calories, weight, exercise, food…
I began getting healthy enough that people didn’t stop in their tracks and stare at me, but not healthy enough that my parents let me flee again.
I started running. Exercise made me feel confident. It made me feel worthy of eating. It was another cop out for my exercise/eating disorder.
My greatest wish through all this was to be independent. I wanted to travel and see the world, and climb mountains and do whatever I wanted, when I wanted, and be happy about it. This also meant, that no one worried about me. I wanted this so bad, but I wasn’t doing anything to gain approval from the universe that yes, this is what I deserved.
One day, five years after originally going to college, I started asking people if they knew where I could go to play volleyball. There wasn’t much around. My sisters would play with me again, occasionally. I missed it. I felt like I let myself down by not finishing what I started.
One of my club coaches was a college coach, so I reached out to him to see, just maybe, if I still had collegiate athletic eligibility. It turned out, I had two years of Division II eligibility… but I hadn’t even touched a volleyball in five years.
My coach asked if I wanted to come play with his team, just to decide if I really wanted to do it. Then, he asked if I wanted to join the team. WHAT?!
Yes! Of course, everyone was nervous, and I was too. But I wasn’t going to let anyone down again.
The first year back, I was terrible. Stiff, and not myself. I felt disappointed, but at the same time, while my teammates would complain about being tired and not wanting to do it, I saw it as an opportunity I missed, that I would not take It for granted again.
After that year, I learned that my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. This was a time that we were all supposed to care for her (and we did!), but why were people still worried about how I would handle this news? It is my honor to say my mom is doing great again today!
My second year, we were the national runner-up against a team who had a national title streak going. Disappointing, an “almost” year. But, I gave it my all. I was finally proud of myself- for finishing something. For doing it. For being an example. For overcoming.
I knew after this that I could do hard things.
Today, when I am faced with a difficult task, I remind myself of this perspective. I’ve done harder things. This isn’t killing me. I’ve been there before, and I’ve overcome it.
I’ll overcome hard things again.
Recovery- recovery from anything- is one of the most badass, awesome, prideful things a person can do. But, it’s so hard. Know that it is possible. Whether you’re a parent or friend of someone struggling, or hurting and wishing for recovery yourself, my advice is: Do. Not. Give. Up.
If it weren’t for my family, I can guarantee you I would have been a goner. Because when I didn’t care, they did. For that, I am eternally grateful. Ashamed I got to that place, but so, so thankful for the family I have the fortune of belonging.
If you’re feeling like the weight of the world is stopping you, you must do the uncomfortable. What you know, the world you are living in with addiction- you can’t trust the person living this life. You must get used to being uncomfortable. You must trust that some other people know better than you. You must receive the help offered to you. And then tomorrow, you have to choose the same thing.
You can get to the other side. I know it because I still can’t believe it myself that I was that girl fighting myself and the world not too long ago.
Recovery is hard. But man, is it worth it. You are worth it.
I crossed paths with Sloane back in college at a rather unique time in my own life. We were both athletes at our University, so it was very common for us to run into each other. We were also a part of the same social circle, meaning, all athletes pretty much hung together. We spent a lot of our time in the same facilities on campus when we weren’t trying to balance our TRUE reason for being there…education.
Sloane had already been in recovery by the time I met her, but it was at this point in my life that my own eating disorder was started to control, and take over my life. Looking back on our friendship, and the handful of interactions we had, and have had since, there has always been this level of understanding that I can’t quite put into words, but one I feel nonetheless.
Sloane is just one of those people that has the purest of intentions, and a gentle, kind heart. When I cross paths with people who contain a special kind of light, it makes me wonder about their dark. I cannot say enough how happy it makes me to know that people like Sloane exist.
Thank you for being here. Thank you for reading.