Living Life to the Fullest

starsBy: Amy DiPaola, Project HEAL North Carolina
Hi, my name is Amy, and I suffered from an eating disorder, whom I call Anamia, for almost 9 years.
First of all, understanding that eating disorders are never about the food is so important. People are so quick to judge those who are considered too thin or too overweight. People believe they should just eat more or less, like it's that simple. Well I hate to burst society's beliefs (wait, actually I am rejoicing), but it's not that simple. There is always something deeper than the mask (a.k.a. Food) which is used as a cover up for something much more personal.
I can remember the desire to be perfect as young as four. In second grade I cried in front of my classmates because I received a 98% on a spelling test...I felt like I just wasn't good enough. I "should" have received a 100%, I thought. I beat myself up over little things, like not looking perfect in a photo, missing questions on tests, and not achieving the top grades in my class. I look back at that now and can't help but feel sorry for little Amy.
At nine my dad passed away. I believe this is what pushed me down the wrong path. My mom retreated back into alcoholism and anorexia, leaving my younger sister and brother, and I alone (at least that's how we felt). As the years passed, my mom worked as much as she could to provide for us (which I am so grateful for), and I took on the role of "mom" at home. I watched the kids, worked with my mom (at 13 I was working as the head cleaner at a bed and breakfast), went to school and competed in sports. I had this desire to do everything and be the best as well. Try being top dog in gymnastics, cheerleading, dance, and track all while trying to take care of a family and go to school. That's just insane! (And I was only 10-13 years old!)
My mom was remarried when I was 13, and it was around this time that I started engaging in anorexic behaviors. On top of my mom remarrying, my track coach expressed disappointment with my weight. He claimed I needed to lose weight to stay on the track team. I couldn't take the pressure to be perfect and on top of that I was lonely and scared of failure. This drove me into Anamia's arms. I lost my friends, my love for sports, my strength, my desire for life, my motivation in school, my creativity, and my passion for people, but the worst part is I lost myself. The happy, athletic, spontaneous, creative, fun Amy was slowly being pushed away. That's what eating disorders accomplish.
I met my amazing husband, Colin, when I was 17. I hid my eating disorder from him for almost 5 years. When I finally told Colin all I could do was cry. I knew I needed help and if I didn't receive it I was scared that my life would be cut short. This was one of the hardest steps I took towards recovery, but I realized support is crucial to getting better.
We moved two months later to Wilmington, North Carolina where I began out patient treatment. Financially, inpatient just wasn't an option for me, but nothing was going to get in the way of my recovery. I worked hard, I stayed motivated, and I never gave up. This was my one chance at recovery. When my nutritionist gave me food goals I completed them. When my therapist asked me to open up and be honest I was. I stayed focused on my goal of recovery. And to be honest, there were days when I felt hopeless. I felt like it was impossible, but my support team helped me push through. I truly believe that if you have the motivation and determination to recover you can!
At the beginning of my recovery I learned to separate Amy from Anamia. Anamia could do what she wanted but Amy had the choice to follow her or defy her. I had to choose and eventually I always chose to defy her, so much so that her voice slowly went away and I instinctively knew what the right thing was to do. Every morning I would read quotes and positive thoughts that helped set me up for an Anamia free day. I would watch videos that Colin took of me when I was high on life and recovery. These videos reminded me of what I truly wanted. I even kept a calendar that I began January 2013 and ended December 2013. I used gold stars to represents days without Anamia, silver stars for days without Anamia that I completed on my own without Colin, blue stars meant I was meeting nutritional goals, and red stars (and after I ran out of red they turned into green stars) at first meant I was defying what Anamia wanted for me; as time passed, they represented doing things for myself. In January I had two gold star days. In December I had 31.
Today, I consider myself fully recovered! My life is amazing now. I don't have eating disorder thoughts, I don't act out eating disorder behaviors. I love my body and I love myself. I am passionate about living life to the fullest! I have discovered who Amy is and what Amy likes. I love to read, learn, write, bake, cook, garden, and ride bikes. I enjoy nature and being outside. I am passionate about animals and I love helping others. These are all things that I never enjoyed during my eating disorder. I couldn't even sit down a read a book for longer than 10 minutes without my thoughts being directed towards food.
I also have relationships now that Anamia is gone (yes, real authentic relationships)! I enjoy my husband's company, I have friends, I love talking to people. I can actually listen and engage in conversations when before that wasn't possible.
Eating disorders are rampant in today's society. The media's portrayal of women and men is completely unrealistic. Each one of us is unique and has imperfections, and that is why we are all beautiful. Embracing those imperfections and recognizing we are all human is what helped me overcome feeling inadequate and not good enough.
Recovery is amazing! I know many people fear recovery. I did. Not knowing what could happen is terrifying, but realizing what could be is exciting and worth every moment. Recovery is something no one can ever take away from me and I am so grateful to have attained it.