My name is Danna, and I have been on a journey. It all began my junior year of high school. A competitive athlete, straight A student, and well liked by everyone, I strove to be the best in everything I did. In my mind I believed there was such a thing as perfection, and when that perfection was not met, I did not know how to handle it. I turned to food as my coping mechanism.
It started out with the sense of control I felt I had on my life, because I could control food and control my weight. But before I knew it, the food controlled me. I was constantly thinking about food and of ways to burn calories. Nothing I did was enough, so I had to restrict more and more and more. My swim coach was the first to notice something was not right, but neither I nor my parents believed him...we were all in denial. Although my parents soon accepted the reality of my illness, it took me months to finally realize that I suffered from anorexia. In my mind I was just eating really "healthy" and was exerting control. But I was so wrong.
I had lost all control. I was so meticulous about what I ate, how I ate it, and when I ate it. I was working out 12 times a week, and often I would wake up to run at 2:00 in the morning and get up again at 5:00 to do yet another workout. Everything I did was so manipulative, secretive, and deceptive. To everyone else everything seemed to be okay until the weight began to drop rapidly. At 5' 11" my healthy weight was 140, but within a few short months my weight had plummeted to 98 pounds. I hated myself and didn't know why, and the only way to deal with the pain was by continuing my eating disorder. It was the only way I knew to cope.
When my parents finally accepted that something dangerous was happening to me, they sent me to an intensive out-patient treatment program. While the program was very helpful, it was not enough. I was not ready to get better yet. I was afraid to let go of my coping mechanism, so the agony continued.
After a while I grew tired of starving myself and began to binge and purge. It was awful. I was afraid to go to bed for fear of binging. My mother would have to lay with me until I feel asleep, and all the while the secretiveness became even worse. I spent hundreds of dollars on food, and it would be gone within twenty-four hours. Then I would use ipecac syrup to induce vomiting and work out for hours. Looking back I can now see that there were angels around me. What I was doing to myself was so harmful and dangerous. My heart reached a resting heart rate of below 30!
In the midst of my physical mayhem a family tragedy stuck. My older brother was killed in a car accident. Dealing with his death, pressures from school, and my overwhelming guilt of what I was doing to my body caused me to irrationally reach out for help. After scribbling the words "HELP ME!" across my bathroom window I took a mixture of Vicodian and Adderall. As hard as it is to understand, I was not trying to end my life. It was the only way I knew to cry for help. Again the Lord was with me, and I survived.
It was at that time I finally realized that this battle was too big to fight the way I had fought it so far. With my familys support I spent two months in a psychiatric hospital, and it was there that my recovery truly began. The process was slow, frustrating, and terrifying. I was not sure why I was doing what I was doing. It was like letting go of my "identity." The clinical methods employed at the hospital enabled me to get closer to overcoming my fears, and it allowed me to start a new leg of my journey - the leg of real recovery. It did not happen overnight. I battled for almost three years, suffering another overdose along the way.
But my faith, family, and friends were there for me through it all. From start to finish my recovery took five years, but I am certain I would still be struggling if my coach and my family had not boldly confronted my illness. I will always be thankful to them for that.
Never underestimate the impact you can have. As a non-family member you may be the only thread of hope a young person has. There are so many signs, and the ability to recognize them could mean the difference for one's recovery. As a youth minister, you may be, just like my coach was, the only thread of hope. Know that this journey can have a positive ending. I walked through hell, being forced to deal with deeply routed tendencies that lead to my eating disorder. This battle caused me to confront issues that would have burdened me for years but now I clearly see that God used my battle for good, and not just in my life but in the lives of others.
If you've never been there, you may not know what signs to look for. The following information is based on my personal experience, the experiences of people I met in therapy, and the countless hours of education I acquired through therapy and readings. I have also included several websites and books you might find helpful.
Download the talksheet linked below for some resources on how to help students with eating disorders.