My name is Christina Marie Neville and I stand before you now as someone who has fully recovered from an eating disorder. Five years ago I was very sick with Anorexia Nervosa- let me share with you how I got to where I am today.
Anorexia was the worst thing that ever happened to me, yet I was able to use it to make my life into the best example of why a person should want recovery. But for five years this disorder took over and ruled my life. From when I was twelve till I was seventeen years old I was living, breathing, and existing for my Ed. It all started in middle school when I was still learning how to have a healthy body image and accept the person I saw in the mirror. At the time I also felt stress from an unhealthy home life. My parents argued all the time and I felt pressure to live up to the standards of perfection that I was raised on believing in my entire life. I felt that early on I had fallen short of those standards due to the fact that I had been mocked and made fun of a lot growing up, I seemed to always get As that had to be followed by a few Bs no matter how hard I studied, and even when I had switched schools to try change the negative self-esteem that I had, there were still areas of my life that I was extremely unhappy with. I would think to myself, “Why I am I never happy in my life?” “Is it because there is something wrong with me?” “Maybe if I can find out and fix whatever is wrong with me, I can take charge and have some form of control in my life, so I can say that I finally feel happy inside.”
Then an incident that I now know started the development of the eating disorder occurred. I was in a school play with some of my friends. At the time these were my first real friends and I thought had to do whatever it took to fit in with them. I would always make sure to do whatever my friends wanted to do when we all hung out and followed their lead. I felt accepted by them from behaving this way. But when I heard one of my close girlfriends at the time, behind my back, say that she thought I looked fat in my dress it crushed me. Not only at that moment did I realize that she was a terrible friend, I also could not believe that she felt that way about me. I had never looked in a mirror and thought I was fat my entire life. I had always been comfortable with my weight and for my tall figure. But in that moment I made a connection in my head that, “Maybe this is why I’m unhappy. If I’m fat and other people think and feel that way maybe I should change it. Maybe then I can fit in better and make my parents happier. Finally, I can be the perfect daughter and friend to everyone.” In that one moment of irrational thought I was sent on a five year journey of a struggle that was so painful. At the time I could not comprehend what was about to happen to me mentally and physically.
That summer I made the decision that I was going to lose weight. No matter what it was going to take, I was going to gain control of my life and believed that if I lost weight, I would gain control. I was determined and I put all of my time and energy into becoming thinner. I started off with skipping a few meals here and there. Then I would exercise every single day without fail for extended periods of time. Before I knew it, my behaviors had become an obsession. It got so out of control that in a few short months I had not only lost a significant amount of weight, but I also suffered from blackouts and feelings of fatigue frequently. I lied to my parents when they asked me if I was hungry and when my friends would ask me why I was so tired all the time, I would shrug it off as not a big problem. At that time the only thoughts that I could hear in my head was Ed telling me that I needed to lose more weight and that my efforts were not enough. By the time that summer was over and I went back to school everyone had something to say about the change in my change in appearance.
My friends and schoolmates came up to me in amazement at the weight that I had lost. All of this attention was overwhelming, but since no one was directly saying that I looked unhealthy, I perceived it as a good thing. People were talking to me more and I felt happy because I felt in control of my weight loss. But this attention was not enough, because no matter what people told me I would still look in the mirror and only hear thoughts of Ed, saying, “You need to lose more weight. You still aren’t good enough. Don’t eat that! It’s going to make you fat and then you’re never going to be the perfect skinny girl everyone likes.” The first month back to school when I went and had my physical, my pediatrician was shocked. She told my parents that she thought I had an eating disorder. But I told her she was crazy and ignored the attempts of my family and friends to get me to eat. When I stopped eating all together is when my image of being “little miss perfect” started to crumble and there was no hiding the fact that I had a big problem.
I will never forget the day that my parents had to take me to the hospital. I was lying on the couch, like I had been for the past three days, refusing food or water. I woke up one morning, stumbled downstairs, and from there refused to move. I was so weak and emaciated that I was unwilling to do anything. But I felt skinny, so I was okay with this. I had stopped caring about school, friends, and my family because I was finally now so close to my goal weight. But that particular morning my parents helped picked me up off the couch, told me to pack a bag, and said that we were going to the hospital. They told me I didn’t have a choice and that they couldn’t stand to see me this way anymore. So we drove to a hospital where I was placed in the psychiatric unit for evaluation. When the physician there asked me if I thought I needed to lose more weight I smiled at her and I said, “Five more pounds, and I will finally be perfect.” It was at that moment I realized that I had never been in control of this thing to begin with. I had given over my willpower to ED a long time ago and that my struggle was just beginning.
I stayed in that place for a few months and was released because the doctors there no longer had a reason to keep me for inpatient treatment. I had gained the weight because I had to and felt that I had tricked the doctors enough into thinking that recovery was something I wanted. But at the time I couldn’t wait to get out in order to lose all the weight I had just gained. When I went home I had supervised meals mostly, but I found ways to keep my obsessive habits going. It took me a year or so of cheating with my meals, getting caught in the lies I was telling others, and refusing to eat more, to get me to the point where another hospitalization was needed. I had a relapse in my weight and ended up in an all girls eating disorder unit. But this hospitalization was more significant, because it was this time around that I seriously decided something I was doing was not working for me in regard to my eating disorder, I needed a change. I realized that waking up miserable every single day was not what I wanted to do. I realized that being so thin and hungry all the time was actually making me a mostly angry person. I saw myself going on autopilot. I had let my eating disorder take over and run my life.
In this second hospital I could not believe that I had found myself here. Again, I was in such a low place. My Ed had taken full control and I was losing more weight. I thought, “Why was I not feeling happier? Shouldn’t this thing that I am essentially dedicating my existence to be making me feel happier and fulfilled? I have lost the weight but it’s still not good enough…it’s never good enough.” Then one night in my room, staring at the white ceiling tiles, I found myself starting to cry. No one could hear me and I had never felt more alone in my whole life. I had isolated myself from friends and family, pushed away any sort of help others had tried to give me, and I woke up every day with feelings of self-hatred. I couldn’t remember the last time that I had looked in a mirror and thought that I looked pretty. I could only hear Ed’s voice all day everyday telling me how to feel and what to do. I hated the person that I had become. It was here in that moment of weakness I finally realized that I needed to make a change. I thought that maybe if I could use the same determination that got me sick enough to the point of near death for the sake of my eating disorder, maybe I could use this same energy to get better and recover from this thing. I was scared. I realized it would mean that I would have to gain and maintain the weight that my doctors said was healthy, it would mean that I would have to change my way of thinking, and it meant that I would have to work a lot harder to recover to get out of there. But as soon as I made that decision it was like a switch flipped on in my brain. “Yes, I’m scared as all hell right now. Yes, I want to still be skinny. Yes, this might be the hardest decision in my journey with Ed that I’m going to ever have to make. But yes, I want this recovery more than anything if it means that there’s even a slight chance that I can get my life back, and that it might even be happier and better than it was before.” It was this belief that got me out of treatment in four months instead of six and made me realize that having a fulfilled, happy, and healthy life was far more important than my desire to be unreasonably thin.
Now this entire time while I was in the hospital and out of the hospital the main thoughts that I faced were thoughts of doubt. In the past four years my way of thinking was so narrow and my thoughts had been dictated for the most part by my eating disorder. I heard a voice constantly saying, “You can’t do this, you can’t eat all of that. Think of how fat that’s going to make you. You will be an even bigger failure then.” But it took time, it took determination, and it took will power. I believed that same energy that had gotten me into this eating disorder I could use to get out of it. So long as I believed this, even when some weeks with my weight or behaviors went better than others, I knew that one day I was going to be totally free from this struggle all together. I surrounded myself with supportive family members and friends to help take leaps of faith every day. In the beginning it was harder to fight off the thoughts and not use behaviors. But it eventually got to the point where I had to consider that, “Maybe Ed has been lying to me this entire time. Ed has only taken from me and not added anything positive to my life. I think that Ed needs to go.” It took about a year of me eating healthy, gaining and maintaining weight, and making changes in my exercise patterns as well as the people I surrounded myself with, but I finally got better. And it was the best feeling in the entire world. It was something that in the hospital I had only ever dreamed of.
I will never forget the first morning where I woke up and I knew that I no longer had an eating disorder. The sun was shining through my window. I got up and yawned like I always did when I usually woke up. But something felt different. It was as if a weight had been lifted off my heart. I was not in perpetual emotional sadness and pain anymore. Then I went and sat down at the breakfast table. Not only did I feel free to eat pancakes if I wanted to, but I saw that the world around me looked different. It was like when I had an eating disorder my world was a miserable, dark one and that is how I viewed everything else around me. But now I looked around and saw everything differently. The thought occurred to me that “Life is truly beautiful. And it is a gift that I have it every day.” I also realized moving forward, I really could live freely. When I traveled I actually took in the whole experience of a new place. By simply standing in one area, I could take in the beauty and appreciate things so much more. Anorexia made me weak at first, but looking back on it now I can actually say that it made me stronger. There are not a lot of chances in life that some people get the chance to combat their inner demons and win. That is what happened when I conquered my battle over Ed. I faced that problem head on, never gave up when things got tough, and I stand here today a joyful, happier person.
Now my life is much different, but so much better. When I have problems I am able to cope with them in a healthy way. I go on short runs and walks or grab a coffee with a friend, because I realize now that there are better ways to clear my head than refusing something my body needs, like good, healthy foods. Like I said before I enjoy traveling, I enjoy spontaneous adventures, and because I live on Cape Cod I certainly enjoy those long beach walks. Right now I am a full time employee, working two jobs before I go to Umass Amherst in September. But I am also practicing being a living example of just how free and happy a person can be without anorexia. I am talking to women wherever I go and sharing my story. If I still had Ed, I firmly believe I would either be in a hospital, living with severe health and mental problems. Or I might not be alive anymore. These realities, though harsh I know are the honest truth. Since I have recovered fully there are not setbacks. My mind has completely different ways of coping and handling problems now. I will never go back to the way things were, life is too amazing and good to settle for letting Ed run it.
If there is anything I could tell you guys today is that I have been where you sit now. I might not understand your exact individual struggles, but I have been in a treatment facility for my eating disorder, being forced to question a lot of things about life and about myself just like you guys. But I wish I had someone that could have been there to tell me there is 100% for sure a light at the end of this tunnel. All it takes is choosing to have hope, holding onto that hope with all that you are, and running with it. When life gets hard you can do one of two things: break down or have a break through. It is never too late to have a breakthrough even after a breakdown. So don’t let Ed tell you differently. If you want to fight this and win you can. I’m willing to do what it takes to help others win and find freedom in their lives from this. Thank you for your time and I hope that what I said here today can speak to each of you as to just how wonderful life without an eating disorder can be. Don’t give up!