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by Katelin Carter
For Liann, may you always have freedom from ED. And for my Mom and Dad, thank you for always loving me not matter how crazy the thoughts in my head may get.
n a warm day in April 2005, I awoke from my nap. The afternoon light poured into my bedroom window inside my family’s large suburban house in Carmel, Indiana. I got out of my bed, letting the blanket I had wrapped myself in fall to my feet. My stomach growled reminding me that the last food I ate was from my morning breakfast. I had left my lunch untouched at school, which was easy to do in the busy cafeteria full of thousands of students. I walked down the hall to the yellow bathroom I shared with my three sisters and closed the door staring at my reflection in the mirror. I was 15-years-old, and a freshman in high school, my tangled brown hair throw up in a ponytail on the top of my head. I searched for the old white scale in the closet and pulled it out setting it on the tile floor. I was alone for the first time all day -- a rare moment in a house of six. I felt weak as I stepped on the scale to check my weight. The number was lower today and I let out a sigh of relief. My mind began plotting what number I could get to next. No matter how low the number got, I knew I could do better. I had carefully planned out my weight loss plan in my daily planner I used at school. The numbers were marked in the upper corner small enough so that no one else would notice them. I began shaking and ran down the two flights of stairs to the basement. My mom stored extra snack food down there in a small white cabinet under one of the counters. I ripped open the bag of cupcakes and chips began binge eating. I couldn’t stop myself, as I tasted the saltiness of the chips I had cut out of my diet. The rich chocolate melted in my mouth as I quickly devoured a cupcake. I lost control as I opened another cupcake package, making a promise to myself that this was the last one. My mom
would notice if there was too much food missing. I carefully placed the leftover food into the cabinet, trying to make it look as untouched as possible. I stepped over the books and childhood toys that covered the carpet in the basement to the small corner bathroom. I shut the door and the loud fan kicked on drowning out any noise from outside the small room. My mind was consumed with the amount of calories I had just eaten. I began to shake as I walked back and forth across the tile floor of the small basement bathroom. I paced the three steps it took to walk to one end of the bathroom and paced three more steps back to the other side, stopping every few minutes to stare at the shape of my body in the mirror. I lifted up my shirt to study the shape of my waist and noticed the bones sticking out. I felt relief in the fact that this was something I could control. My palms started to sweat as I went and stood over the toilet. I shoved my fingers down my throat to get rid of the food as fast as I could. My face reflected in the clear water as I caught a glimpse of what I looked like. My face was thinner and that made me happy and relieved. My eyes had become bloodshot and vomit dripped off my fingers as I stared down at the water. I couldn’t stop myself, head bent over the toilet throwing up, over and over again. After the fifth time I realized no more food from my binge was coming up. A wave of comfort and relief came over my body. The food was gone and the feeling of hunger had passed. No extra weight would be sticking to my bones, I thought. I shook off the dizziness that set in, splashing my face with cold water from the sink. I cleaned off the toilet bowl rim to remove any evidence of the vomiting from my family. I didn’t want them to know about my eating. This was something for only me to control. I closed the door and walked up the flight of stairs to sit on the front cement stoop outside my house. My house was on Main Street and a five-minute walk from the town’s high school. The city of Carmel was just north of Indianapolis, known for wealth and the attitude to be number one in both sports and academics. My street consisted of freshly painted houses in the older part of town. The houses were spotless inside and yards perfectly kept. The spring breeze hit against my body as I listened to the laugher of the children playing on our street. I sat outside, alone, watching and waiting for my family to come home for the evening.
Later that night, I sat on the old orange couch in the family room trying to work on my homework. My thoughts about calories had consumed my mind all night and I could barely concentrate on any work. I needed my eating disorder and without it I was worthless. The voice inside my head continued the repeated conversation going on. “You just need to lose a few more pounds.” Of the few things in my life I could control, my weight would be one of them. Down the hall, my father’s office light was on as he worked late into the night. My mom had gone to sleep a few hours before, along with my sisters. My mom was an elementary music teacher, who could fill a room with her warm and inviting personality. She was tall and thin with short brown curly hair. For the past fifteen years she had raised four quadruplet girls. She had an infinite reservoir of patience from dealing with me and my three other sisters, Abigail, Katherine and Elizabeth. I was the oldest by a few minutes and we all had fallen into our own roles in the family. Katherine was the youngest with blonde hair. Elizabeth had dark curly black hair and was the most like our mother. She kept everything organized and always knew what was going on. She played the violin in the orchestra at our high school. Abigail had red hair and was the peacemaker of the sisters. Most of the time she was the one giggling and joking, trying to brush aside our petty arguments with each other. Each one of us had a unique relationship with my parents. Over the years, mine had become more silent. I kept my thoughts to myself, keeping my sisters and parents out of my world as much as possible. I got off the couch and walked down the hallway to my father’s office. It was rare when I had alone time with my parents. My father was a larger man, dressed in his pajamas, an old soccer t-shirt, and black pajama pants. My father sat there, working on the computer until he noticed me standing in the doorway. “What are you doing up so late Katelin,” he asked. “I’m just finishing up some homework…I’ll go to bed soon,” I replied. I thought of telling him was really going on in my mind, about my eating disorder and the thoughts that accompanied it every day, but quickly shot down the idea in my head. He would be so sad, so ashamed of me, I thought.
My feelings of comfort from the vomiting earlier turned into guilt. I felt alone as the voices in my head began running through the list of everything I should be worried about. I was alone with these voices and the comfort of my eating couldn’t erase them tonight. I had always wanted to please my parents, to be the best I could for them and my sisters. My parents had made my life as comfortable for me as possible. They loved me and had always been there for my sisters and I, providing for us in every way possible. Instead of telling my dad why I felt so alone, I quickly said goodnight and went up the stairs to the bedroom I shared with Elizabeth. I crawled under the covers, my mind racing to the rhythm of my eating thoughts, and drifted off to sleep. * * *
Two days later, my three sisters were getting ready to walk out the door, leaving me alone in our house. I was consumed only by the thought of throwing up the minute they left. I ran up the stairs to the bathroom, skipping each step and made my way into the bathroom I shared with my sisters. The walls were painted a light green and a picture of the four of us when we were younger hung above the toilet. I shut the door quickly, as an excitement rang through my body for this moment to be alone. I hopped onto the scale to check my weight for the day to see if anything had changed since the previous day. My weight was two pounds over. Panic raced through my body as the fear of becoming fat overtook my mind. The number on the scale was proof. I went and stood over the toilet, staring down at it. I lost control and began to vomit, over and over again until no food remained in my stomach. I washed my hands and flushed my face with ice-cold water. I stepped on the scale again to see if the vomiting had done any help to that number. It was the same. My heart sank; it needed to be lower for me to keep up with my weekly weight goal. I lost all sense of what was around me as I walked back in front of the toilet and began vomiting again, to rid myself of any food that remained. The door opened quickly and before I knew it my sister Katherine stood in the white doorframe. A look of shock appeared on her face. “What the heck is going on, Katelin,” she asked with worry. “I just got sick, I think I ate something that upset my stomach,” I replied,
hiding my right hand behind my back that was dripping with vomit. My lies filled the bathroom as she stared back at me, my voice getting louder and faster as I tried to explain what she had just walked in on. “Really, Katherine, I’m ok, I just don’t feel well,” I snapped back at her. “Ok, well, tell mom what happened, she would want to know if you were sick,” she said and walked out. I let out a sigh of relief as I watched her leave the bathroom, hoping she had not seen my finger shoved down my throat. I washed my hands and sat on the cold tile floor, trying to regain my composure before I left the room. * * *
Two days later on a Saturday night I walked out of the evening church service with my good friend Liann. She was 17 at the time, a senior in high school with long blonde hair. She had struggled with an eating disorder for the past couple of years. She had confided in me about her disorder when we first became friends. She was open about it and managed to have a hope that helped others. She had been getting help from doctors and was moving along in her journey to recovery. I hadn’t told any of my friends about my eating disorder. I was ashamed, weak and did not want anyone around me to know that I was far from perfect, but tonight I felt like I was going to crumble if I didn’t let someone know. “Liann, lets hang out here for a bit. I’m not ready to go home yet,” I told her as we sat in the larger entryway to the church. By now almost every one had gone and only a few people remained in the church. We went and sat down on the carpet by three large tables that surrounded us in a circle, providing a wall of privacy from the rest of the world around us. Tears flowed down my face as I stared at the carpet. I couldn’t look her in the eyes as I said the words aloud for the first time. “I haven’t been doing so well with food these past few months,” I whispered to her. “I don’t think it’s too serious of a problem, though, that my parents need to know. I’m just so tired from it.” Liann looked at me with tears trickling out of her eyes and held out her arms, wrapping me into a giant hug. I cried for the first time in months that evening. I explained how I constantly worked out the days I had to eat and how many times a day I purged. I felt comfortable telling Liann, knowing she understood all that I was telling her.
“Does anyone else know,” she asked. “Not yet. Katherine walked in on me the other day vomiting but I lied and told her I was sick. I also found her journal and she had written about catching me. I ripped it up though,” I explained to her. “It could kill you, it could kill the both of us one day you know. We need food to survive,” she said. “I don’t care if it kills me Liann, I just don’t want to be fat. That’s why no one can know,” I explained to her through tears. She promised she wouldn’t tell my parents as long as I tried to make an effort to get better. I slowly began to relax as she prayed over me that evening. She thanked God for giving me the courage to tell her and prayed that I would have the strength to wake up each day and face the thoughts in my head. * * *
I sat around the table at the restaurant with my family in January. Months had passed since I had told Liann of my eating disorder. Since then, we had begun to meet weekly. We shared our struggles and helped each other out. I looked over the menu of food as my family talked. I wasn’t paying attention as my thoughts started to tell me what I could and couldn’t eat on the menu. “If you are going to eat, you need to get something with low calories. If you eat, all of that fat will go to your stomach.” I tried to ignore them. Liann had told me to try and talk back to my thoughts in my mind. To tell them no and ignore them. I listened to my sisters go over what they were eating. As long as I ordered something less in calories then what they did I should be ok. That means I will be thinner then each of them, I thought again. I looked at the menu once again, this time telling my thoughts no. I would eat what I wanted tonight. Later that evening I went down to the furnace room where my parents had helped me create my own study area, complete with a large desk and bulletin board. This room was meant for a quiet place for me to study. Instead, I found a large purple bucket that I kept on the cold cement floor of the furnace room. It was a large bucket meant for food, but it became my makeshift toilet that I had used a few times before. I had tried to be more careful with vomiting in the house. I didn’t want another sister catching me, or worse my parents. No one bothered me down in this room and the
noise from the furnace drowned out any noise of vomiting. When I was sure no one was home, I’d cautiously walk over to the bathroom in the basement and pour out the vomit from the bucket into the toilet Today had been better and I had eaten most of my dinner at the restaurant. I promised myself that today I would keep the food down. In the past couple of months I had noticed my right fingers becoming calloused from all of the vomiting. My throat constantly burned each time I ate. Sometimes, without trying I’d have a vomit reflex by the time the food hit my stomach. I was alone and began calculating all the calories I ate for the day. I didn’t have time to work them off tonight, it was late and my parents wouldn’t approve of a run outside in the pitch black dark. The desire to vomit came over me as I wrestled with my thoughts. Why didn’t I just call Liann? It would be so easy. She had told me to call when this happened. But I couldn’t tonight. I had done so before, when I was on a verge of a binge or ready to vomit. By the end of our conversations she would have talked me out of it. I would have the strength to hang up the phone and not act on my desire to do so. I looked down at my phone. I should call her. I could pray. Tonight, I can’t keep the promise I made to myself. Instead, I vomited in the purple bucket. * * *
On a late Friday night in February 2006, I lay awake, seeking warmth from the old worn sweatshirt pulled over my body. I was in Liann’s, bedroom and could hear her breathing from across the room. She slept peacefully. I was cold and exhausted, but unable to escape the thoughts racing through my head. I got out of bed and walked down the hall of the large suburban house listening carefully for the sound of her parents. I reached the bathroom and closed the door. Now I was alone, and I looked at the reflection staring back in the mirror. I was 16-years-old, a sophomore in high school, worn and beaten down from the eating disorder that had taken over my life. Gazing straight into my tired, sunken eyes, I didn’t recognize the person staring back at me. My knuckles were swollen and my eyes bloodshot as the red veins stood out against the dark black circles under my eyes. I turned on the fan to provide a sound barrier between the
rest of the house and me. I needed this time to be alone, away from the people in my life that knew me. The numbness of the past year hit me in a wave of emotion, as I clutched the counter for support. My head began to spin. Tears spilled out of my eyes, rocking my body with sobs as my knees buckled and I sank down against the cold tile floor. Why me? Why have these thoughts taken over my body? The room remained silent. Of course, there was never an answer. * * *
I sat alone in a room at my church’s youth building waiting on a cold afternoon in February for Liann to join me. She walked into the room smiling. She sat down on the couch next to me and gave me a big hug. She was 19 years old now and we had continued to meet ever since I told her of my eating disorder. “You need to tell your parents,” Liann said softly. Her voice was calm, as if she had practiced the phrase repeatedly until it rolled off her tongue. Liann had told her parents when she was a sophomore in high school and had started counseling shortly after. I stood up, growing angry at the words that had just filled the silent room. Liann had promised me she would not tell anyone if that is what I wanted. I didn’t understand why this had changed or what had prompted her to say this. “What if they don’t believe me,” I asked. “Liann, no one has even mentioned to me that I look thin. And I definitely don’t think I’m thin enough to have a really serious eating disorder. Damnit, if I looked sick someone would have told me by now.” “If you don’t tell them, I will,” she said. “You know you’ve reached a point medically where you need help. So what if your parents know? I know them and know that they love you. It will be fine.” I was crying, pacing the room as Liann sat on the orange couch watching me trying to grasp the words she had said. Telling them meant this life I had created so perfectly in the past year could disappear. I needed to have control over my eating; I was helping myself not become fat. Tears spilled down my cheeks, as I stared down at my hands going over what Liann had just told me. I knew it was time to tell my parents, Liann was right.
My mom sat across from me at the round wooden table, one week after my conversation with Liann. She caught my eye and could see my mind going far from the discussion at the table. “You need to eat your pasta,” she said, motioning to my plate and the food that lay untouched. I shrugged, rolling my eyes. “I don’t feel well and had a large snack after school,” I snapped back. I was fixated on myself, analyzing the calories I had already consumed that day. I had been to the gym, but had not accounted for the food I would eat at dinner. I couldn’t eat; I didn’t want that food entering my body. I excused myself from the table, complaining of all the studying I had to do. I ran down the stairs, as panic kicked in. I wiped the sweat off my forehead making my way to the bathroom and locked the door behind me. I had to get rid of the food in my stomach as quickly as I could. I did, catching a glimpse of my face in the mirror afterwards. My eyes were bloodshot and face flushed bright red. I heard my mom yell my name from up the stairs. Annoyed, I headed back up, hoping to answer her quickly enough that she wouldn’t think anything was wrong. We stood in the middle of the family room, her hands full of dirty dishes from dinner. The question came and the smile left her face. I stopped and stared, longing for a different question than the one I was just asked. My stomach felt queasy. “Katelin, how is your eating?” she asked. It was the first time my mom had ever mentioned my eating to me. “It’s fine,” I answered hoping to erase the five words she had said. “No, you don’t look fine. I’ve suspected something going on but have never asked. Katherine had mentioned your eating to us was very worried about you.” Tears rolled down my mom’s face. I hardly ever saw her cry. She sat down the dirty dishes and walked over to me. We stood in silence, staring at each other. She had never asked about my eating before. I had tried so hard to hide any sign of weight loss by wearing sweatshirts and sweatpants. My mom hugged me and I fell into her arms. “Let’s go for a walk,” she said. With her arms around my back, we walked outside down the street. It
was a rare moment, just my mom and me with the streetlights guiding our way, as we clung to each other in the dark night. “How long has this been going on, when did it start,” she asked. “A little over a year, ever since soccer season ended,” I answered. I didn’t want to tell her everything and didn’t want her to worry. “Did you throw up your meal tonight,” she asked looking at me. “Yes,” I answered, staring down at the cement sidewalk. “But it isn’t that bad. I can get it under control.” We walked back up our driveway, my mom still crying. “I can’t go back inside mom. They will wonder what happened. Dad will ask questions. They’ll know something is wrong,” I explained, becoming anxious at the thought of my sisters finding out that I wasn’t the perfect older sister. “Please, just let me go to Liann’s house. We can talk more tomorrow,” I pleaded. She agreed and gave me a final hug, walking inside our house. I reached down for my cell phone and called Liann. * * *
“I’m not thin enough to have an eating disorder,” I explained to the curly haired doctor as she walked into the room. “I’ve read the brochures and I’ve seen the charts. I don’t even fall into the low weight category. According to them, I’m almost at a healthy weight.” The doctor looked at me and answered, “It’s not about a number on a scale or whether you look thin. It’s about control.” Two weeks had passed and I was at my first doctor’s appointment in Indianapolis. Since the night I had told her of my struggle with food, she had filled in my dad as the two of them began their search for the best medical treatment for me. Life was different in my house as my mom began to monitor my meals, and hardly let me out of her sight. I became frustrated with them as my parents slowly began to mess with my control. My parents had decided I would go to an eating disorder treatment center, the same doctor that Liann went to on the west side of Indianapolis. She had prepared me for my first meeting with them. “They’ll ask a lot of questions, just answer them honestly. And don’t worry, you’ll see all shapes and sizes of girls and boys in the waiting room.” I was sitting in the exam room with stale white walls facing my doctor. She had a clipboard in hand reviewing the documents I had filled out
explaining how long I had struggled with eating. “How many times a day do you vomit,” she asked. I became angry, I didn’t want this woman in my life and didn’t want her to know everything. I remained silent, staring at the tile floor. “Katelin, you have to talk. It’s not just about surviving from this. It’s about living, she said. “And given the opportunity, your eating disorder will kill you. You have to share so I know the best way to help you.” “It depends on the day. Some days I vomit ten times, others only three,” I answered. More questions came and I began to hate the doctor more with each one. She must have only one plan in mind, I thought. She was going to make me fat. * * *
The next evening I sat in my dad’s office with my mom and dad, with the door shut so none of my sisters could hear our conversation. I couldn’t look them in the eye. I wasn’t used to all of this attention from them. “What did you think of your doctor,” asked my dad. “I can’t go back,” I said, surprised by my own words. “They aren’t going to help me dad, they are just going to make me eat and then I’ll gain weight.” I stood up and walked to the corner of the room next to the closet doors. I squeezed in between my dad’s desk and the wall. I couldn’t leave the room, but I could try my best to put myself far away from them. “You don’t understand. It’s a waste of your money,” I said, again, hoping this time they would listen. “I can’t go.” I was yelling at them, my voice angry and full of hate. I started to cry hysterically. I sank into the carpet and tucked my knees up to my chest and wept. I couldn’t breathe and couldn’t comprehend how I had come to this point. My mom crawled down next to me, wrapping her arms around my legs. My dad held my hands as we rocked back and forth crying. I felt so young and not in control. My mom’s voice rose amid my tears and she began praying over me. I was wrapped in my parents’ arms as she prayed for my mind and for a desire want to fight this eating disorder. * * *
I watched from the window as my dad’s car pulled out of our driveway. Adrenaline kicked in. It would be my first time in a week since I had thrown up. I ran up to my parent’s bathroom, skipping the steps. I closed the door quickly. I didn’t care about what my doctors or my parents would say. I didn’t care about the money my parents were spending on doctor visits and my counselor. All I knew was that I needed to vomit in order for me to feel better. I opened the toilet lid as my bare feet felt the cold tile floor. I knew that since I had been seeing the doctors, I had to be fat now. I stood over the toilet and began to vomit, repeatedly. Five minutes later I was curled up in a ball next to the toilet, with my eyes closed and my legs pulled up against my chest. I felt so dizzy. I lay there until the spinning in my head stopped and I had the strength to get back up without feeling lightheaded. I got up and looked in the toilet I had just been vomiting into. It was full of blood. “Good,” I muttered to the empty bathroom. Blood had to mean that the food was gone. Fear filled my body, not from the dark red blood, but instead a fear of not having the chance to be alone again. Not being alone to vomit. I had to keep going. I leaned over the toilet one more time, trying to vomit anything that remained. I heard a ringing sound in the back of my head. At first I thought it was just a ringing in my ears. It kept going, as I continued to vomit. The ringing continued until I finally realized it was the doorbell. Someone was here and I was a mess. The rings became more persistent. Why won’t this person leave? I cleaned up the bathroom, as the doorbell continued. I made my way down the stairs and noticed how slow my body was functioning. The door opened, and there stood Liann. “What are you doing here,” I asked. “I was just by your neighborhood and wanted to drop off this,” she said, handing me a card. “But I have to run now.” She was gone in a flash. I was relieved that she didn’t recognize the state I was in. If she had, I’m glad she didn’t mention it. I looked down to the card she had handed me. On the front were two young girls in white summer dresses in a beautiful field outside dancing. I opened up the card and in it Liann had written: “One day we’ll feel the same freedom as these girls.”
I folded it up, trying to fight back the tears. Despite all the help people were trying to give me, I didn’t feel any freedom from the eating disorder. I walked up to my room and pushed the card into the journal that was tucked away by the side of my bed. I decided to sleep. I couldn’t be awake for any more of the day. * * *
The next day I sat in the exam room of the doctor’s office for my weekly appointment. My doctor walked into the room, looking at her clipboard of papers and began with the questions she asked each week. The answers came quickly. She wanted to know how many times I vomited and what I had to eat each day, to make sure I was following the meal plan the nutritionist there had me on. I got to Sunday and began to explain the day’s events to her, counting the number of times I vomited on my hand to keep track as I told her. She interrupted me. “Katelin, I need to go get your dad,” she said, before I could finish the details of the previous day. “Medically, you’ve lost all confidential rights. You need a parent in the room.” I was confused. I didn’t understand why it was so important that he needed to be there. She went and got my dad and he joined us in the tiny room, sitting in the chair next to me. My doctor looked at both of us, filling my dad in on the situation. My dad stared at me, while the doctor told him all I had done. “You know with the amount of times you vomited yesterday you could have easily had a heart attack. If you had thrown up anymore, you could have died. Katelin, you almost killed yourself,” she said to me, in a serious tone I had never heard her use before. “What made you stop? What caused you to stop throwing up that day,” she then asked. I went through the previous days events. It was Liann. The doorbell! Had her stopping by saved my life? She proceeded to tell the both of us that my dad would have to take me straight to the hospital afterwards to get blood tests done, to make sure I had not done any serious damage to my body. “This is serious, Katelin,” she continued looking at me, making sure I was making eye contact with her. “You got lucky, but next time, you never know,” she said. She called ahead to the hospital and my dad and I left her office. I didn’t
want him to ask any questions. I didn’t know what to think. We rode in silence most of the way to the hospital. When we arrived, I stepped out of the passenger seat. As I opened my door, a mini van was in the spot parked next to us. There stood a young mother with two little boys. I made eye contact with one of them, and he smiled back at me. I walked on past them into the hospital next to my dad. A sense of how close I had come to death fell over me. I had almost died from my own actions as a result of the eating disorder that I let control my life. I told my dad that I needed to go to the bathroom, promising him that I was not going to vomit. I escaped into a stall and sat, praying. I prayed for a first time in a while that day, sitting in the hospital bathroom stall, out loud to God. I had pushed him out when the eating disorder began; wanting to just rely on myself but that was not working. I couldn’t do this alone. I prayed for the strength to finally break free from my eating disorder. * * *
Liann called me on a Saturday evening in May. “You can still meet, right,” she asked. “I just want to make sure we can talk tomorrow.” I told her yes, confused at why she would call and make sure I would be there. I was always there. I walked into the youth group on Sunday afternoon, into the room where Liann and I agreed to meet. Liann was already there sitting on the couch. She was crying. “I need to tell you something. I haven’t been doing well...with my eating. It really is out of control,” she said. I looked at her confused. I knew she was still seeing doctors but in all the times we met and hung out, it was about me. I assumed that she was on the way to recovery. “I’m going away for at least a few months. It is a recovery house, for girls with eating disorders. But, we won’t be able to talk that much, Katelin. They won’t let us,” she explained. I stared at her, sitting there on the couch. She was supposed to be the strong one helping me. Now she was going away. I wanted to hate her, to yell at her for leaving me. I needed her help to get better. “How long have you known? Why have you never told me that you were doing this bad,” I asked. “I didn’t want it to trigger you, to get in the way of your own recovery.
I talked to your mom last week. She knows I’m going away. Please understand, Katelin, it’s the best thing for me, and for you. Ultimately, it is only you that can make yourself better,” she said. Liann and I stayed as late as we could that night talking at youth group before she drove me home. “Are you nervous,” I asked. “No,” she replied. “I’m ready for this. I really think it is what’s best for me. And it’s not all intense the whole time. There’s horseback riding and everything.” Liann had a sense of courage that I still had yet to find. “I’m not sure what I’ll do without you. I don’t like facing this alone,” I said. “I know you’ll recover from this. You have it in you.” * * *
With Liann absent from my life, I felt lost without her. I would reach for my phone to call her and remember I wasn’t able to. A week after she told me she was leaving, I was at dinner with my family. My parents talked about an upcoming trip my grandparents had planned for my three sisters and I, along with two of our cousins, A.J and Sam. It was the first time we’d be going across the country without our parents, our first big adventure. The trip would be in June, and we’d be going to Yosemite National Park and then to San Francisco. In the few weeks before the trip, my doctors and counselors helped prepare me for a week away from them and my parents. They were all worried. This trip could be a disaster for me. I would need to show them that I was following my meal plan and trying to get better. I would look up photos of Yosemite National Park, sitting in front of the basement computer in our house, amazed, jotting down notes of different trails and places I wanted to go on when I was there. Yosemite looked beautiful. My mind began to fixate on this trip, on what was out there beyond landlocked Indiana and my eating disorder. Before I’d go to bed each night, I’d write in my journal, my thoughts about the day and written prayers to God. I think Liann was right, I wrote. I’m ready for this freedom from my eating disorder. In June, our parents drove us to the airport to meet up with our grandmother and granddad to catch our flight to California. My mom gave me a hug. “Call me any hour if you start to have problems, or talk to
one of your sisters,” she told me with a worried look on her face. “I think I’m going to be alright mom. I think I needed this trip, that it could help me,” I said with a new confidence that surprised even my own self. Here I was declaring I could be all right without a week of my doctors, parents and Liann. Our plane lifted off from Indianapolis as we began the journey to the west. My eyes stayed glued to the window as I watched the landscape change to the Rocky Mountains that came into view. I reached for my small digital camera, tucked away in my book bag, and began clicking away. I wanted to remember these mountains. My Uncle Joe and his partner Greg from Los Angeles met up with us before we drove into Yosemite National Park. Since my grandmother and granddad were older they would be joining us for the trip to go on the trails with my sisters, cousins and me. We were in a 12-passenger van as we drove into the Mariposa Grove, Yosemite’s largest redwood forest at the beginning of the park. The sequoia trees were giant and the sky painted a bright blue. We got out of the car, looking up to see just how tall the trees climbed into the sky. My granddad pointed out the different trees to us. I stood with a childlike wonder out at the beauty of the grove. It had been so long since I had let myself experience beauty. The thoughts in my mind with the eating disorder had not allowed that in the past year. Today was different as I walked around with my family, taking in all the sights and sounds. We got back in the car and kept driving further into the National Park. The van wobbled along the old dirt roads as we continued in circles along the mountains and valleys down to our destination, the Ahwahnee hotel. We passed waterfalls and so many rock structures. My granddad would point out different landmarks from the window. I sat in the backseat of the van as the sun began to set on our drive. I realized then that the day was almost over and for the first time in months, I had not heard the voices in my head speak about my eating disorder. * * *
The next morning we awoke in the beautiful Ahwahnee hotel. The floors were wooden and fireplaces burned on every floor. I looked out the window and the world seemed brighter to me today. My eating disorder thoughts remained silent this morning as a new thought crept into mind:
I didn’t need them for everything to be okay. Instead, I noticed the vibrant colors of the giant mountains and trees. I felt the rocks crunch and roll beneath my tennis shoes as I followed my family up to the waterfall, our first hike of the day. I breathed in the cool mountain air as I took in all the sights and people around us on the trail that day. I had a yearning to make sense of the adventure-seeking trekkers that would pass as we made our way up to the top of the waterfall there. They all seemed so free and alive and I wanted what they seemed to have. Water hit my face from the waterfall we were climbing up to. It felt so refreshing, mixing with the sweat and dirt against my body. We made it to the top of the waterfall and climbed out to see the rushing water crash against the rocks. The sound of a gentle breeze rang above the treetops as we gazed at the view before us. I had never seen so much beauty in one place. I wanted to continue with our hike, to explore more of this land that fascinated me. I grabbed my family and pointed to the trail guide. “Let’s follow that one,” I said, leading the way to the path up the trail. I walked two steps ahead of everyone with my camera in hand, snapping photos of the valley and the different creatures I saw on the rocky trail. We got to a point where there was a lookout on giant rocks to the right edge of the trail. We made our way out to them, carefully holding onto the edge as we scooted our bodies against them. My arms were trembling and a fear of heights kicked in. I finally was aware of how high up on the trail we really were. My cousin A.J, a year older than me let out a gasp and pointed. He was the first to see the view of the Yosemite Valley. I looked up, forgetting the fear of heights as my breath left me for a few moments. Before us were the most beautiful trees, flowers and mountains surrounding the entire Yosemite Valley. It was perfect, better than any picture I had seen. I was overwhelmed with a new happiness from the nature that was all around me. Sitting on that rock, I made a promise to God. Today, on June 24th I was going to stop vomiting. I was going to do whatever was necessary to take care of my recovery and myself. I smiled as my anxieties of the past year slowly faded from view, being replaced by this newfound beauty. I was going to be ok. * * *
It was July 2008, a month after my high school graduation as I sat in my doctor’s office for what would be on one of my final appointments before I headed off to Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana in the fall. I’d be leaving some of my closest friends I had made in high school and my sisters who had all decided on different Indiana state schools. “You’ve come a long way you know. Most people don’t just go cold turkey and then never vomit again,” said my doctor of the past two years, smiling at me. I couldn’t help it as a big smile appeared on my face. It had been two years since I had made my promise to never vomit again as I had sat on the rock in Yosemite National Park. By some miracle, I had kept it. My eating disorder was still hard some days and I struggled with following my meal plan. Slowly, I had begun to reintroduce the previous forbidden foods back into my life. If I felt like eating a piece of pizza, I could eat one. The thoughts that had ruled my mind just a few years before had quieted down. “College can be hard though, it is a new time of transition. I know, and studies prove that people that had eating disorders tend to fall back into their old patterns. But, I have faith in you though. I think you can do it,” she said. “I just want you to be prepared.” “I’m ready,” I replied. I had become more confident in the past year knowing I had overcome the hardest days of my eating disorder. Walking out of her office that day my doctor stopped me and gave me a giant hug. I was taken aback. None of my doctors had given me a hug before. “I hope you just come back to visit every once in awhile, but not for appointments,” she said to me. She had been part of my life for the past two years now, encouraging me through each step of the recovery process. “You know my mom, I’ll be seeing doctors the rest of my life if she had it her way,” I said, laughing. My mom found comfort in the doctors checking in on me. In the past few months they had decreased my appointments to once a month, but my mom had fought to have me see them more. As long as that made her feel confident in my recovery, I never objected. I said goodbye to her and the secretary, walking past the room of my nutritionist and another room where I had spent time in group therapy. I stepped out into the fresh summer air and looked back at the doctor’s office that had been part of my life for so long. With one final look, I got into my car and made the thirty-minute drive home.
It was February of 2011, the week after my 21st birthday, as I headed over to my friend Cristina’s house to celebrate her 22nd birthday. It was my junior year at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. I walked up to Cristina’s porch. The ground was covered in a mixture of ice and snow. It has been one of the coldest weeks of the year as an ice storm had hit all parts of Indiana. Our mutual friend David was at her house, with his dark wavy hair. I had been friends with him for the past two years. He was a senior Landscape Architecture student. I liked since the first day I met him. As the night went on, we all began to drink more. The weather forecast predicted even more ice later that evening and we all hoped for a school cancellation the next day. Cristina and I went into the kitchen, giggling as we opened the freezer to pull out a bottle of vodka. I didn’t drink liquor that much, but tonight I felt like going with it. Cristina and I passed the bottle back and forth, refilling the coffee mugs we were using as shot glasses. We lost track of how much we drank once David and some other friends joined us in the kitchen. They suggested we head to one of the local bars. Cristina and I, now both drunk, laughed as we ran out into the snow to make our way into the Village, which was the nickname of the college town’s food and bar locale at Ball State. While we were there I had lost track of how much I had to drink as the room around me started to spin. It was time to go as we headed out into the dark chilly night. David walked out next to me and I grabbed his arm for support. I looked up at him and started asking a series of questions prompted by my drunken state. “Do you still like me,” I asked him, my voice growing and wanting an honest answer from him. I knew it wasn’t the time, but I had a desire to know right away as we continued to walk down the icy street. “Katelin, no. This isn’t the time. You know I don’t like you anymore,” David said. I was crushed, even though I had known all along he didn’t like me as more than a friend. I just needed to hear the words out loud from him. A wave of anger came over me and I drunkenly hit him right across the face. It was my last clear memory. * * *
I sat in my room the next day, trying to put the pieces of the previous evening together. I had called Cristina, apologizing over and over again. I was embarrassed by my behavior. I hadn’t heard from David yet. He had to hate me. I logged onto my computer and got a message from him. He recapped the evening’s events, everything I had said and done, including the slap in the face. I wanted to curl up in my bed and disappear. “Oh come on Katelin, its not the end of the world. Everyone does something stupid at least once in their life when they are drunk,” he said. I was surprised by how easy he took it, how nice he was being to me. “I also know that you’ve had a crush on me, but you know we aren’t right for each other.” I agreed, even though it hurt me. After apologizing even more, we ended the conversation. I was ashamed and hated myself for my actions. I was alone in my house. My two roommates were gone and I sat and replayed the events over in my head. I walked down the steps to the bathroom on the second floor of my apartment. Even though I hadn’t vomited in many months, the old behavior came right back to me. I was embarrassed and ashamed of my behavior and David’s reaction. I needed to feel control over something. I locked the door and went to go stand over the toilet. I stood for a second questioning what I was going to do, but then ignored any rationale my doctors had taught me. I vomited and continued to until I saw blood fill the toilet. My throat burned and I saw white specks in the room. Before I knew it, I was calling my parents. They answered on the second ring. I hadn’t prepared anything to say and at the sound of my mom’s voice I started to bawl. “What’s wrong,” my mom asked worried. “I vomited, mom. I lost control, but I saw blood,” I cried. “I don’t know what to do.” “We’ll be there in forty-five minutes,” she said. My mom and dad walked into my Muncie apartment that evening. I sat waiting for them in my living room area. They both gave me a hug and I fell into their arms. I felt so young and so disappointed in myself. “It’s going to be ok, Katelin,” my mom said. You aren’t back to where you were in high school. You called us! That is so good.” “What trigged you to do this,” they both asked. “I’m just stressed,” I answered. I couldn’t tell them the real cause of this,
what had made me vomit after so many months without doing so. “I’ll find you a counselor up in Muncie. You can’t ignore this relapse; you’ll need to get help right away. Sitting around and feeling bad about it won’t do you any good, my said. “You never needed to fight your eating disorder alone, Katelin.” * * *
I walked into an old restored house in Muncie, a few weeks later for my first counseling appointment. My mom spent time researching counselors that specialize in eating disorders in Muncie. I quickly realized that my mom was right, that finding a counselor would be the key to getting back on track. I liked my counselor right away. I told her my story, and she listened and jotted down notes. The first session went quickly. I left with a different feeling than I had in high school. I was excited to come back and work through more with her. I continued my sessions with my counselor, visiting her warm office each week. We’d practice breathing exercises and I would tell her about my love for the West Coast. “I just want to be around mountains,” I told her during one of my visits. “I feel so alive and free when I’m near them.” She smiled, and told me I would find a way. I needed to find an internship for the upcoming summer in order to graduate from the journalism graphics program at my university. She told me this might be way to the west, and with that, I began my search. * * *
In March 2011, I sat in one of my morning classes, an immersive-learning class with some of my closest friends from my major. The professor began talking about internships available in the Indianapolis area. I could easily apply to one of them, but I wanted to get away for the summer. One of my friends, Kelly, a senior with long black hair, who I had come to admire over the year, came up to me at the end of class. She also had grown up in Carmel, Indiana and knew of my love for the West Coast. She had interned the previous summer at YES! Magazine, located on Bainbridge Island, Washington. “I saw on Facebook this morning that they are still looking for an education intern. You should apply! I know you don’t want to be in Carmel
for the summer,” she said. I went home and quickly put together a cover letter and clips. I sent in my application that evening. I was filled with a similar excitement that I felt when I was in Yosemite years before. I wanted this internship. Four weeks later after having an interview at the magazine, I received an email from Jing, the advisor I could be working under. It read: “Katelin, If you could give me a call sometime this afternoon, I’d greatly appreciate it. I have something to tell you, Best, Jing My heart was racing. This had to mean I had the internship. I nervously waited until my class ended and then walked out dialing the number Jing had given me. “Hello...this is Katelin,” I said into the phone when she answered. “Katelin! How would you like to live on Bainbridge Island for the summer,” she asked. I accepted right away. I was going to Seattle. * * *
One month later, I was living in Washington for three months to intern at YES! Magazine. It was June; four years since the day I had made the decision to stop vomiting and get better. I was hiking in the Olympic Mountains with my boss Jing and another intern Taylor. It was my first time away from anyone in my life who knew about my eating disorder. We climbed up on a ridge of the snow-covered mountain to a fallen log resting in the snow that could seat the three of us. Carefree, I stared out at all the different peaks and once again became overwhelmed with the beauty of it all. The three of us sat on a log up in the mountains and pulled out the bags we had packed earlier, and we began to eat.
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