By Shannon Woodworth
I’ve been very open about my struggle throughout high school with anorexia and what it means to me to have overcome it. Mostly, I’ve been inspired to share in hopes that it can validate someone else’s story, or at least help them gain perspective and insight into the mind of someone who’s been through it.
Unlike many, my eating disorder came mainly from me wanting to lose weight for high school versus something like depression or self harm. I was going to a new high school with new people and I didn’t want to be the chubby girl anymore. I had always had friends in middle school (my best group of friends are now the bridesmaids in my wedding), but bullying was brutal, as I’m sure it was for a lot of you, and I didn’t want to carry that into a new environment.
If you know me, it’s no secret that I have an obsessive (borderline OCD) personality. It’s just who I am and I’ve really learned how to own it in my 20s. That being said, when I started dieting the summer before high school I became obsessed with numbers; calories in food, minutes on a treadmill, hours working out – any and all numbers were logged in a notebook that I kept in my purse. It seemed like everyday was another chance to beat myself from the day before – less caloric numbers and more minutes working out. As the days went on, the pounds went down and suddenly I was 5’6 and 80 pounds soaking wet.
There are photos yes, but digitally, this is a part of my life I decided to delete. Not because I’m embarrassed or ashamed. Honestly, I think having an eating disorder made me an ultimately stronger woman who feels like I can tackle anything, but because as a confident 27 year old woman, it’s hard for me to look at this baby girl who had no clue how beautiful she was or what she was doing to her own health and body. I now see what my friends and family saw everyday. Back then – the narrative was different.
I feel like I was a different person back then. My personality changed completely. Imagine always being hungry. That’s the level of grumpy I was 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It wasn’t only the lack of nutrition and constant hunger pangs leading to those mood changes either; my hormones were all over the map by me basically stunting my growth system at a key time in my life as a developing female. My family and best friends got the brunt of that and I’ll be forever apologetic to them. Some of the people closest to me became the ultimate enemy because I hated being hovered over. To me at that time, it was suffocating and now I couldn’t be more grateful for it. I’m not sure I’d be here today if my best friends didn’t “rat me out” when I didn’t eat lunch to my parents, or my Mom and Dad didn’t sit with me until I finished every last bite on my dinner plate.
I remember being so fixated on food that there wasn’t a single restaurant I liked. Seriously, not one. Social events had to be planned out so strategically so my family thought I was eating there and my friends thought I ate with my family before. My entire life was so complicated. Nothing was done without thinking about food (or lack thereof) in some kind of way. I was so exhausted from lack of nutrition that I took a nap everyday after school until dinner and would look up songs about eating disorders, or write my own, to try and find some kind of connection with other girls out there who felt the same way. In a life full of so many supportive people around me, I felt completely alone.
At the end of the day, I would still look in the mirror and pinch what was left of my stomach, wondering why I wasn’t losing weight like I wanted to. It honestly makes me sick thinking about it all now and I never thought I’d see a time where all of that felt so foreign to me like it does as I write this. I feel like I’m telling a story I watched somewhere and not my own. Maybe that’s me disassociating from it a bit. Then again, maybe that’s what I had to do a long time ago when I decided to recover.
It was the night of my 16th birthday. My family sat down around the dinner table with my requested meal (grilled salmon and spinach). Earlier the same day, my mom woke me up with a sash she made for me to wear to school, my dad was singing “sixteen candles” and my little brother drew me a card. The whole day at school something just kept hitting me. I was hurting myself. Bad. But I had been hurting them too. I was in and out of the hospital more times than I can count. So many blood tests. So many IVs. So many dizzy spells and mood swings and un-enjoyed life – for what? My family who loved me so much, was so hurt and it showed every time they looked at me. I’m tearing up now just writing that because being so far past it, I can’t believe how truly self-consumed I was where it took two years to notice.
I had been in and out of a treatment facility very quickly the Summer before because it was the worst experience of my life. And the only good that brought was knowing I needed to overcome this on my own (with the help of those around me).
Anyway; night of my birthday, eating salmon, and I went up for seconds… and then thirds!!! I requested angel food cake earlier that week because it had the least calories and my parents, at that point, would’ve gotten me any kind of cake as long as I promised to actually eat dessert on my birthday. I had almost half the cake! I didn’t think twice about it. All of a sudden I realized I had been less happy & fulfilled than ever before, even if I was skinny. The Britney Spears song, “Piece of Me” always played in my head; “first she’s too fat, then she’s too thin.” I realized the weight I was trying to lose was never really for myself (enneagram type 2s are ya with me?) I wanted to fit into everyone’s mold of what “perfect” was and totally lost myself in the process. Once I realized that, I wanted to gain weight. I wanted to be healthy. I still remember the pure joy on my family’s faces when I kept eating more cake. We must’ve sat at the dining room table for two and half hours talking and laughing and for the first time in so long I felt like myself again.
By senior year, I was the healthiest I’d ever been in my life. I was captain of the tennis team, ran more clubs then I can even remember, was always a lead in our school plays, prom queen, this list goes on… I’m not saying all of this to brag about my senior year, but I realize now that I did all of that because I was thriving off of a life I almost robbed myself of. I’m not as naive to think that recovery is like this for everyone. We all have our own stories. I can’t explain how my recovery came about. It was like waking up instantly from someone turning on the lights in the middle of the night; jolting and confusing and exhilarating all at the same time. But I do think that the moment I realized why I was starving myself and all of the negative it was leading towards, it wasn’t fun anymore. It wasn’t a game of competition. I liked the control anorexia gave me. But I grew to love the control I had to stop it.
That’s what I want people to remember who might be going through something similar right now. It seems so real. So all consuming. Like there’s nothing you can do to get away from the feeling in your head that you should be better than what you are; but it’s just that, in your head. You can stop it. You are the best there is. The best it gets. There is no one like you and where you are right now is exactly where you’re supposed to be.
Trust me when I say, I had gotten so used to IVs and trips to the doctor I banked on that being a part of the rest of my life. I thought that was all there was going to be. That I’d be avoiding social events forever, never tasting chocolate again, never have a relationship where someone could understand my eating obsessions or calorie tracking… there’s a light at the end, though. We all need to come to terms with our own stories in our own way. I came out so much stronger than before and I’ll forever be grateful to those around me who fought for that with me. My mom and dad and brother, Liam for spending so many long nights talking to me about the same things until they stuck. My grandmoms who were the strongest women I knew and helped me remember I had their fighter blood in me. My fiancé who met me in college when I was recently recovered and stuck with me to make sure I never looked back. My best friends Amanda, Jess, Katie, Steph, Nakoa, Alicia, Emmy, Rhianna (the list goes on) who texted my mom when they were worried, fought with me on my front lawn to eat a slice of pizza, cried to me after seeing me on stage and making me realize I was losing myself. My aunts & uncles & cousins who were so real with me and constantly supported me while letting me know they all knew something was wrong. My best friends in college, Courtney & Amber, who both always listened to my stories of what it was like going through anorexia and helped me stay on track if I ever wanted to lose weight. There are so many people I could talk about and my heart feels so full and thankful thinking about the support that I had during some of the hardest years of my life.
I felt like a paper doll back then. Fragile. No depth. Dressing myself in things to hide the fact that I could blow away at any minute. Now, it’s like I’ve got that doll secured safely in a scrapbook and I’ll always remember her, but there’s no need to take her out again.
Overcoming anorexia is one of my biggest accomplishments in this life. Coming out of it brought me into the most positive and driven space and I’ve continued that with me all the way to right now, writing this post. I think because I’m always so positive and smiling, people make assumptions that I’m okay and I’ve never been through anything hard. They honestly don’t know half of it. But the smile that’s always on my face is the reason I’ve overcome the things I have. I’ve always been able to find reasons to look on the brighter side of life and see the glass as half full, even in the hardest of times. I hope that if you’re going through something similar, it can help you to know that I understand you and your story is valid. But it’s your story. You get to make the ending and it can be whatever you want it to be.
Shannon is a wife, digital marketing manager, blogger, freelance writer, digital artist, wedding planner, and Pinterest chef from Philadelphia. She is a vibrant woman who lights up all rooms she walks into. Her optimistic attitude and cheerful smile reel people in and she captivates them with her understanding nature and beautiful heart. She is a lover of One Tree Hill, macarons, cooking, sweaters, color-coding, and helping others. She dislikes messy kitchens & marshmallows. By day, Shannon is a digital marketer working on all forms of social media in clever ways. She spends her free time freelance writing bios to help other people tell their story, doing custom art pieces, & wedding planning (helping dreams come true one place-setting at a time). Shannon is most recently a self-published author and illustrator with her debut children’s book “Paper Dolls Don’t Have Hearts” out now on Amazon.com! Shannon currently pursues this crazy list of hopes, dreams, and hobbies in Nashville, TN. Follow her journey on Instagram.