My Story Matters

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By Ann Christiansen, MSEd

In honor and loving memory of Emily Fischer

This is my very first blog post focused solely on my eating disorder recovery, and it began with so many questions.  How do I start?  What should I write about?  Is anyone even going to read this?  I decided it only made sense to start with the next step in my recovery journey:  sharing my story with the world.  Whew.  So here goes.

I was nearly 15 when I met a boy who told me I would be beautiful if only I could lose a few pounds.  I was also 15 when I was diagnosed with anorexia and bulimia as a result of a combination of factors including my disastrous relationship with this boy, my own perfectionism and anxiety, and a family with a history of unhealthy coping skills.  When my therapist ultimately “fired” me, she simultaneously assisted my parents in forcing me into inpatient treatment during my junior year of high school.  

I wish I could tell you that treatment sparked my recovery journey, but it didn’t.  I hated my therapists, and I hated my parents, and I hated anyone and anything that stood between me and my eating disorder.  I spent weeks aggressively resisting treatment.  The staff taught me skills and gave me tools, and I refused to use them.  I returned to outpatient counseling even more determined to fight the process of recovering.

By the grace of God, I stayed alive long enough to graduate from high school and then college.  But not without a continual downward spiral defined by my eating disorder, binge drinking, another abusive relationship, and subsequently a broken engagement.  I carried a lot of shame surrounding these years and the ones that followed.  I may have earned my bachelor’s degree by the time I was 20, but I also became a wife and a mom by 22.  In spite of the many years of self-destruction, I managed to maintain a healthy pregnancy.  But as soon as I was no longer responsible for the life growing inside me, ED returned with a vengeance.

When my daughter was around 18 months old, I remember thinking that she was now old enough to see and understand the unhealthy behaviors that consumed my days.  I don’t remember exactly how or when, but one day I realized she was my reason to live.  I knew had the knowledge and tools to recover, and I chose to start using them.  It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t linear, and it definitely wasn’t perfect or pretty.

The next 6 or 7 years, my recovery held steady, in spite of some significant trials.  Over that time, I became a mom to two more daughters, but my life still seemed shrouded in shame and secrecy about my eating disorder.  I had gained enough courage to start posting some educational and inspirational messages on social media that hinted at my history, but felt that no one in this “new life” could ever discover my dirty little secret.  I remained thriving and hopeful about finally living a life of full recovery.

Several years later, I was about to learn that my recovery, as strong as it seemed, still lacked several crucial elements.  It was Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2010, and an article appeared in our local paper about a young woman who had lost her life to anorexia.  Emily’s grieving parents spoke candidly and courageously in the interview that took place just a few short months after her death.  Their powerful words resonated with me.  I had never really viewed my eating disorder from someone else’s perspective, and now that I had daughters of my own, it pained me to think of the hurt I had caused my own family and of the devastation of losing a child to this disease.

I reached out to the Fischers through the news journalist and we met at an event featuring recovered author Jenni Schaefer.  It was at this event that, in the midst of tears and hugs, the Fischers and I connected with others who felt similarly called to educate and advocate for eating disorders awareness and prevention.  We eventually became known as founding board members of the Eating Disorder Coalition of Iowa (EDCI), and the organization earned its non-profit status in 2012.

Twenty years had passed since anorexia and bulimia tried to take my life.  It had taken twenty years for me to finally start opening up to my family about my struggles and, through my involvement in EDCI, to start disclosing my secret to other people.  Around the same time, I passed up a couple of opportunities to begin pharmacy school and instead settled on earning my master’s degree in school counseling.  It seemed only fitting, then, for me to tell my recovery story publicly for the very first time during the Iowa School Counselor Association annual conference.

I now realize, each time I share my story, I am not only inspiring others but I am strengthening my own recovery.  I’ve completed newspaper and radio interviews, spoken at several conferences and events, and mentored others along their recovery journey.  I even conducted a webinar and became involved in some local and legislative advocacy work!  I feel empowered each time I expose the secrets my eating disorder forced me to keep for so many years.  And now, as I write my first-ever eating disorder recovery blog post, I take another step forward in this journey and lend my voice to those who have been silenced by their eating disorders.  There is hope, and recovery is possible.  I am living proof.  I am grateful and blessed to finally be LIVING and not just SURVIVING this “second chance at life,” and I can’t wait to share more of it with you!   

About the Author: Ann Christiansen, MSEd, is a licensed school counselor from central Iowa.  Ann is a founding and former board member of the Eating Disorder Coalition of Iowa (EDCI).  With the support of Team BeYOUtiful, she is an eating disorder survivor who has shared her personal recovery story at a number of conferences and continues to nurture hope in those struggling through blogging, mentoring, and participating in panel discussions, media interviews, and other events.  As a school counselor, she specializes in promoting body positivity and advocating for eating disorder prevention.  She is a married mother of three daughters who inspire her to choose recovery and life every single day.  Follow her on social media @lilredcounselor

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