The whole truth and nothing but the truth…..
This is my story, this is my truth. This is a look into the worst moments that turned into the best moments. My darkest times. This is an open book as it gets. I wrote this story to share with people recovering from all types of eating disorders. If you struggle with an eating disorder I truly hope my story and my experience gives you hope. I hope it leaves you feeling like you want more from your life. I hope it lets you know that you are not alone. Everyone’s story is different, but every story is important. Your story is important. You matter, and you deserve to get help. Please reach out.
As I look around this room today, I see myself, my old self. I was exactly where you are sitting. I remember hearing recovery speaker after recovery speaker. I would hear their words, I would sympathize with their stories, and I would be in awe of their courage. I could imagine myself being recovered, I could envision myself standing up here one day, but I couldn’t feel how amazing recovery felt, until I did it. I had to take over, take charge, but in all reality, I had to lose control.
My name is Brenna and I recovered from anorexia and bulimia. I was a dancer since the age of 4, so I was up close and personal with my body as well as the bodies of the girls I danced with. From the age of 8 I remember comparing my body to the other girls and feeling like I didn’t look as good, and I remember comparing myself to my mom who has always been on the smaller side, but for years I was able to be a “normal” kid. I had friends, I was happy, I was social, and I didn’t let anything or anyone bother me.
Some years later at dance class, I remember it like it was yesterday we were looking at costumes for the recital, the whole class was interested in a costume that happened to be white. My ballet teacher looked at us (not at a specific person) but I felt like she was speaking right to me. “You’re not thin enough to wear that costume, only skinny people can wear white.” I can still hear those words now, and they still cut me like a knife. That was the beginning of my downward spiral. The beginning of the real disorder. The beginning of HELL.
My family wasn’t the healthiest when it came to eating. My mom under ate, my dad over ate, my brother was always naturally thin and could eat whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted. No one before me was officially diagnosed with an eating disorder but there was plenty of anxiety, depression, and a dash of bipolar with in my family. My parent’s marriage was never “picture perfect.” and they were certainly not happy. We will get more into that later. My dad worked a lot, and my mom pretty much did everything with my brother and I. We hardly ever had family dinners, and meal times seemed to be crazy and chaotic, we ate many meals on the go, in between homework and activities. I understand now that the problems between my parents were not my issues, they were theirs, but I still felt the need for my dad to be there more. I couldn’t help but wonder what was more important than us? Was I not good enough for him? What was I doing wrong that made him not want to be around?
I started dieting, working out, health kick after health kick, really paying attention to numbers and labels. Like most people with eating disorder this is how it starts. We think we have everything under control, until all of a sudden you are in a downward spiral that you are unable to weave your way out of. The summer after sophomore year of high school I went away to overnight camp for 7 weeks. At first, I really didn’t like the food so I wasn’t eating much, but then I was feeling the effects of not eating and I liked it, I liked feeling like I didn’t need food, and everyone else did. It almost felt like a super power. Every day, I ate less and less until camp was over and my parents picked me up. To this day, I will never get over the look of heartache, disbelief, and worry on their faces.
I’m lucky because I have wonderful parents. Parents who couldn’t get along with each other, but could put that aside and do what needed to be done for me. Parents who are smart, parents who would do anything for me, parents who rushed me to my pediatrician. I went from camp, to the doctors, and right to Children’s hospital. That was the start of 20+ hospitalizations, treatments, and residential programs. Every time I was released, I would claim I was “recovered”. Sometimes I actually convinced myself that I wanted recovery. I was tired of having 2 separate lives. I didn’t want to spend another holiday, birthday, or special occasion in a hospital. I missed my friends, I missed my bed, I missed my freedom, and I was determined to never sit through another group, supervised meal, or drink another Ensure ever again . I was so over having to ask someone to unlock the bathroom for me. But truthfully, treatment centers were comfortable for me. It was safe. I knew the rules, nothing was a surprise, there was a schedule, and I knew what to expect. I hated being there, but I liked the calmness, and the feeling that everyone in treatment knew how I was feeling and what was going on in my messed up brain. We were connected in ways I’ve never felt with anyone else, and I still needed that, I wasn’t ready. Believe it or not, I am still close with one girl I met in treatment and she is currently an author of 3 books which are being published this year, 2 which are about eating disorder recovery. How about that for a success story?
In between treatments, I was being monitored so closely by my entire treatment team that I had to become sneaky, and deceitful. I was lying to my family, my friends, and myself. I had become someone that I didn’t even recognize. Everyone was trying to control how my life was going to be, but I had other plans. My eating disorder was going to come first. My eating disorder let me control everything (or as I thought). I missed so much of my Junior and Senior year that I don’t even know how I ended up graduating. Even now when my friends and I will reminisce about high school there’s so much that I don’t remember, because I wasn’t there, sometimes physically, but mostly mentally. I was just a body. I had no energy ever and I was tired all the time.
After my parent’s nasty divorce and the tragic death of my younger brother in a car accident, I realized that life was just too damn short and I was not ready to give up. I felt that I owed it to my brother, and to my friends, and to my family who had been by my side every single miserable day to get better. And that’s exactly what I did. I was in the “almost recovered” phase where I had good days and bad days, more good days, but still some bad days that I would hide or ignore. I did this for quite a while, until I found myself. My real self. I was ashamed of my disorder and tried to hide it as much as possible. I think I was even trying to black it out completely because it was such a traumatizing and difficult experience. It wasn’t until I accepted it, embraced it and confronted it, and become accountable for my disorder that I was 100 % recovered.
And then somewhere amidst all the chaos, I realized I did it, and I did it for me and not for anyone else. Every accomplishment, every good day, every bad day day, every smile, every tear, and all that fight. It was all me. I took my eating disorder voice and I shut it down, I shut and down over and over again. It wasn’t easy. It was painful and it was hard. It was actually terrifying, but this is all part of recovery. But like with anything, it takes a village. You can’t do it alone and you have to learn to let go and rely on people. I had to dig deep and remember things I used to like to do, I had to let my guard down and open up. I had to be honest. I went through a few different therapists, doctors, and nutritionists before I found people I felt comfortable with. I had to let go of the black and white, all or nothing mindset. I wanted to just be recovered, I wanted to snap my fingers and all of a sudden I’d be back to myself (who I didn’t even know anymore.) Once I rid myself of that mentality, and I was in the “If I’m really going to beat this, it’s going to take hard work and dedication.” mind set I was in a whole different ball park. I had to learn that one bad day doesn’t make you a failure, it doesn’t define you, and it doesn’t change you. I made lists and charts, and goals. Every day I would take on a new goal, from trying a new food, a different activity, or talking to a different person.
Unfortunately there were some people I met along the way who were not necessarily good for me or my disorder. I had just started believing in myself, things were on their way up, I was coming out of my shell, I was really social, outgoing, and i guess you could go as far as saying I was even happy. I got into a pretty serious relationship with someone who at first made me feel like I was perfect, beautiful, and amazing, the way I should always feel, but the real him was soon revealed. He had me feeling like nothing I did was good enough and that I could never do better than him, It tore me up, he tried to destroy me. I was back to many of eating disorder behaviors, they kept me safe, I didn’t have to think about anything else, I didn’t have to face how sad I was, and how unhappy I had become. I grew distant from my friends and family, but they knew something was up, once again they stepped in when they knew I couldn’t and helped me out of a really awful situation. I already had such low self-esteem and I needed someone bringing me up, not bringing me down. Getting out of that relationship was one of the best things I’ve ever done. I am done letting anyone make me feel like I’m not good enough, I don’t care who you are, how much power you think you have, I am important, I am a wonderful person, and I have a beautiful heart, and these are all things no one can take away from me. I do my best to bring people up, I try to be positive, and it’s okay if someone doesn’t like me, I like me, and my friends like me. That’s what matters.
Let’s fast forward to now, me, healthy me, recovered me. I am a mom to the 2 most beautiful girls you will ever see. Every day I look at them and I am thankful. I am thankful that I was strong enough to get better, because I was destined to be their mom, and I’m a great mom, it’s the best (and hardest) job I’ve ever hard, but I can tell you right now, I’d never be able to do it with my eating disorder.
At one point during my battle, I had heard I might have trouble getting pregnant. Sadly, while being so caught up in my disorder I didn’t really care. I thought it was another one of those scare tactics the doctors were using to make me healthy.
I wasn’t fully recovered, but I was really close when I found out I was pregnant, but I was ecstatic. And I knew I had no choice but to be fully recovered because I couldn’t wait to be a mom, I was already a mom. I couldn’t wait to have a little ballerina that was going to be just like me. Shortly after the shock and excitement started to wear off and I had some time to process all my emotions, I was horrified of what was starting to happen to my body, and what I knew was coming. There was nothing I could do to stop these changes.
I had to be in control, I had to put my baby first. I brought up my concerns, my fears, and my past history to my doctor. I started back up in therapy and I saw a nutritionist to help me deal with my concerns and fears a bit better. I knew that something was going to be difficult for me, and I was pro -active. I am still proud of myself for that choice . I wasn’t about to let my hard work in recovery deter even the slightest bit. I had to be honest with my husband as well. It wasn’t easy. He didn’t understand why I was holding my pregnant belly in, or why I got tearful most mornings when getting dressed. I ate healthy, and gave into my cravings. I figured I’d deal with the baby weight after the baby. After giving birth (I had 2 C sections) one of the first things I did was feel my belly and I can remember feeling anxious that it still looked pregnant. I was so in love with my daughter. In between snuggles my eating disorder self would try to get me back with thoughts of how I was going to shed the weight quickly. I had some anxiety, but honestly once home and recovered from my c section life was just too busy to pay attention to my negative thoughts. I got rid of a lot of my pre pregnancy clothes when I found out I was pregnant so there was no pressure to fit back into them. It was January when I had Brooke so I just lived in comfy clothes, and took walks on nice days, I spent so much time visiting with friends and family, eventually I was back to a normal size without even trying and most importantly without using my disorder. Brooke didn’t care how much I weighed. She needed me to care for her, she needed me to be healthy, she needed my mind to be clear and mentally healthy. Being thin and unhealthy was not going to make me a better mother.
With my 2nd pregnancy, Cayleigh I was able to handle my body changing a lot better and I enjoyed and embraced being pregnant. I loved my belly, I was always taking selfies of my belly, and we did maternity pictures, Brooke was so enthusiastic about becoming a big sister. She loved my belly, and it gave me butterflies knowing that I was giving my girls the best environment I could. I didn’t need to see my therapist or my 2nd pregnancy, but I know if I feel like I am lost or confused, it’s okay to reach out. It didn’t make me a failure, it wasn’t a relapse, it was a gigantic milestone. My kids need 100% and even more of me. My Eating disorder would never share me with them, or anyone for that matter. It’s a full time job, and it’s a terrible full time job.
I feel extremely lucky because I had and still have a really fantastic support system, people that never left my side even when they probably could of. My best friends Stephanie and Diana who who have been by my side every single day since before I was sick. They were at every single treatment center I have ever been to. They don’t have eating disorders but they get it. They know what triggers me, they know what makes me uncomfortable, they know when I’m not being truthful and they aren’t afraid to call me out on it. These girls have played such an important role in my recovery. Talking to them, joking with them, laughing with them is one of the biggest reason I always have a smile on my face. We have the best time together no matter what we are doing. If I was still struggling I’d miss out on all the adventures and laughs with these 2, and I can’t imagine not having that chapter in my book. I have been able to ignore or put a stop to so many negative behaviors by surrounding myself with them.
My work friends didn’t know I struggled with an eating disorder until recently. I used to be ashamed. I didn’t want people judging me or thinking of me differently. I wanted to go out for dinner and drinks and not have anyone judging me for my food choices. I wanted to eat nachos and have a drink after work with friends, because I never got to do that when I was sick without people monitoring and watching everything I was or wasn’t putting in my mouth. Sharing my story has just given me more power, and it makes me want my nachos even more, because that’s what recovery is and that’s what I deserve.
Although I do believe in full recovery, I am not going to let you believe that it’s all rainbows and butterflies, because it’s not. I still have days where my body image isn’t great, and sometimes I still have days where I feel guilty after eating certain foods, but I will tell you these days are few and far between, and I will tell you that this is normal of even people who don’t struggle from an eating disorder. I do not follow a meal plan and haven’t for a long time. I eat when I’m hungry, and I eat often so that I never get to the point where I am super hungry. I know from all of my nutrition appointments how much I need to be eating and I am aware of portion control, your tools from recovery stick with you, and you utilize them daily, but you won’t always know it, it becomes second nature.
When I’m having a not so great day, I reach out to my support system to knock me and my negative feelings back into reality. Smiling is key, you guys. Even if you don’t feel great, if you just smile, I swear it changes your mood. I smile at everyone. I have always been told that I have an infectious and contagious smile, and I know it’s true, and I can honestly say when I am smiling, it’s a true smile, a true happiness.
Every day I am thankful for my parents who even went to court to get medical guardianship of me once i turned 18, so I would continue to get the treatment I needed when I was unable to see how badly I needed it. My brother took a back seat for so many years because everything seemed to revolve around me and my eating disorder, he never said a word, just supported me, I had the best brother in the entire world, and I know he would be really proud of the person I have become,
By opening up and sharing my story, I’ve grown my support system even more. Since I joined project HEAL, I have an even brighter glow to me, because I know how good it feels to be recovered, and I want everyone who is struggling to be able to feel the way I feel.
I want my story to inspire someone, and I want my story to mean something, and my greatest wish for all of you is that one day you are standing up here, or standing somewhere smiling and knowing that you are perfect and beautiful just the way you are, and that you are inspiring and strong. My mom and I love the song “I hope you dance.” by Lee Ann Womack and it’s sort of become a motto for me. I want to leave you with the lyrics “And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance.” Never stop dancing, Keep fighting, you are stronger than you think. Be open, be honest, be brave, and ask for help.