There Is Freedom: Castlewood Alumna Shares Her Story of Recovery on the Katie Couric ShowIf someone had told me five years ago that I would be a guest on the Katie Couric Show to discuss my journey with an eating disorder I would have laughed. In fact, if anyone had told me I would be healthy rather than plagued by the intense fear of gaining weight or consumed by thoughts of negativity, I would have laughed. I don’t think that words can do justice to the depths of the darkness that I, or anyone else who has experienced an eating disorder, lived in daily. But I hope that the experience that I had in April can serve as a beacon of hope to those in the place I once was. I was approached by the Katie Couric show through Castlewood to see if I would be willing to speak about my journey. The details were vague, but I knew that it was something that I couldn’t pass up. Three days later, I was in New York City about to have the experience of a lifetime. The show was about dangerous dieting trends and the producers had invited a panel of girls in high school to speak about the reality of these trends in their school. I was able to speak about my journey and how the media can negatively influence body image. These fad diet trends such as “thigh gap” and “bikini bridge” are dangerous and create an image of what young girls feel they should look like. Oftentimes, however, these ideals are unattainable and lead to dangerous diets used by young women in sheer desperation to achieve perfection. I could connect with the pressure to look a certain way. My eating disorder started with just trying to “lose a few pounds” and “get in shape,” and I began to restrict certain foods from my diet and work out. As time went on, the exercising became compulsive and I started eating less and less. This is so often how eating disorders begin, a small thing that spirals downwards into a deep dark place. My world began to change drastically. The once social, active, outgoing, happy girl I had always been was now isolated, lonely, and hopeless. I didn’t want to see anyone, I didn’t want to talk to my friends or family, and I felt like no one understood. No one “got” what I was going through. I was in serious denial that I had a problem, and I continued to participate in eating disorder behaviors. People began asking my parents if I was ill because I looked so sickly. Eventually, my parents and I decided that I needed to go into residential treatment at Castlewood Treatment Center. The details of my eating disorder are not things that I necessarily think are all that important. What is more important, and what people who have eating disorders and their loved ones can relate with, are the feelings of hopelessness and helplessness that become overwhelming. Once I finally accepted that I had a problem, I began to realize that if I wasn’t willing to surrender my eating disorder I might lose my battle as so many other women and men have. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. The gravity of that statistic hit me like a ton of bricks. I was only sixteen years old. I didn’t want to miss out on the rest of my life. There is so much freedom in being able to eat a delicious meal with my family or friends and be okay with it. And it’s a freedom that people without eating disorders take for granted.Recovery was hard from day one. I fought, I cried, I screamed, because I wanted out. I wanted to be a kid again, I wanted to be free to laugh, to smile, and to live without constant negative thoughts flooding my mind. All along, my family stood by my side and cheered me on. They held me up when I couldn’t stand alone. They gave me the strength to continue my fight, to continue the battle against this beast. After a month or so of inpatient treatment I got word that I would be able to move to intensive outpatient. I don’t think I’ve ever had such a flood of emotions as I did that day. YES! I get to leave, to sleep in my own bed, to see my dog! That excitement was soon followed by the fear and worry that I wouldn’t be strong enough to stay in recovery once I returned to the outside world, but months of outpatient treatment went by and I was finally feeling happy again. I was finally able to be a “normal” teenager (if there is such a thing). I slept in late, stayed up later, and for the first time in years I could go out to eat with my friends and simply get whatever I wanted on the menu. I didn’t have a constant internal dialogue asking if I would allow myself to eat this, and if I did, how would I work that off? There is so much freedom in being able to eat a delicious meal with my family or friends and be okay with it. And it’s a freedom that people without eating disorders take for granted. That’s just it, though. There is freedom in recovery. I was finally happy, truly, completely happy. And the best part about it? I knew I deserved this happiness and no one could take that away from me. Fast-forward four years, to the Saturday in April that I got the email telling me I might be on national television. I was with my parents and we all looked at each other in disbelief and laughed. Honestly, I knew in that moment that I was the luckiest girl alive. I had an opportunity to send a positive message to such a diverse audience that I knew I could make a difference. I cannot express how empowering it was to speak, if even for a few minutes, to such an iconic journalist, Katie Couric. More than that, it was impressive how passionate and genuinely interested Katie was in the cause of raising awareness about the negative influence the media can have on young men and women. The stigma that surrounds eating disorders needs to be lifted and it all starts with things like that. We have to get this conversation started. My trip was incredible. I was able to experience New York City for the first time with a woman who helped me reach recovery, Nancy Albus, by my side. We got to stay at the hotel from Gossip Girl for goodness sake! We walked through the city, ate at amazing restaurants, and got to sit in the green room at ABC studios all morning! Not to mention, getting to be part of an incredible conversation about the dangers of dieting and the influence the media truly has on body image. To say that this experience was wonderful would be an understatement. It was the most influential experience I have ever had in my life. If I could only send one message from this experience, it would be that recovery is possible. I want the men and women who are in the grips of an eating disorder to know that there is freedom. There is a life that is possible that is full of happiness and relief from the constant voice of an eating disorder. Something that needs to change is the stigma that surrounds eating disorders. The only way that can change is through awareness. If sharing my story helps one person understand that eating disorders don’t discriminate and that it’s not a choice, it’s worth it.
I am incredibly thankful I have had this experience, and I am forever grateful to the staff and the treatment I received at Castlewood Treatment Center.