Reasons Alumni contribution by, Ashley
We are grateful for the contributions and courage of our alumni to share their perspectives on the 2019 National Eating Disorder Awareness Week theme “Come As You Are”. We want to highlight the importance of validating stories that may not fit the stereotype of who has an eating disorder. We hope that as you read this, you will be encouraged and find hope. Perhaps it is time for you to share your story or seek treatment, or connect more deeply with others – whatever it is, we hope that you take a step toward connection, hope, and healing.
What does it mean to you to Come As You Are?
“To come as you are means to be who you are despite what anyone else thinks. It is to be confident in yourself and to see your beauty and uniqueness. Come as you are means accepting yourself; your flaws and your strengths. For me, come as you are meant claiming my truth and coming out as a gay woman. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done and it cost me my family and some of my friends but it also was one of the biggest pieces in setting myself free from the eating disorder that had gripped my life for over 20 years.”
What has it been like for you to be someone who perhaps does not fit the stereotype of someone who struggles with an eating disorder?
For the majority of my struggle, I fit the stereo type of what people typically think of an eating disorder client. On the outside, I fit the picture; white, upper-middle class woman with a slim figure. However, inside I was holding secrets that were keeping me sick. Growing up in Georgia, in a strict Christian community, surrounded by southern expectations I found myself constantly feeling like I didn’t fit the mold of a “good” southern girl. I was outgoing, a bit of a rebel and I demanded to be heard. I was not the quiet little southern belle that my mom wanted me to be, instead, I strived to be different. I wanted to make an impact on my community and to not be stereotyped as a “typical” southern woman. On the outside, I was put together, proper and cute but on the inside I felt like I was screaming to get out. I felt like no one really saw the real me or could understand me. I did everything “right” yet I felt so out of place. I made good grades, excelled at sports and had a lot of friends but still I was lost. It took me moving away from the south and struggling for years bouncing in and out of treatment for me to finally start to embrace my true self. I had to fight hard to let down the masks I had worn for so long to finally find and embrace the real me. It is still a work in progress as I believe we are always learning and growing but I have finally gotten to a place where I really love the woman I have become and I’m very proud to be me!
How are mental health/eating disorder issues treated in your community (family, social groups, etc.)?
I was born and raised in a Christian community of north Georgia just outside of Atlanta. When I was diagnosed with an eating disorder as a teenager it was looked at by the community as a spiritual problem. I was told that I was not a strong enough Christian and at one point was told by the dean of students when I was in college that “the devil had taken me over” simply because I was struggling with an eating disorder. I was appalled and disgusted and I knew in my heart that what I was being told was CRAZY but it still hurt. I was ostracized from my community and lead to believe that something was truly wrong with me. I had no support from my family and was on my own throughout my whole treatment experience.
What would you like people (friends, family, or treatment providers) to know about identity and eating disorder recovery?
Honestly, I have surrounded myself with people who love and accept me just the way I am. They are people who look at what I have gone through with my recovery as a strength and not a flaw. They are people who lift me up everyday and inspire me to be the best woman I can be. I no longer feel a desire or need to link my identity to an eating disorder. I feel empowered to be able to find my identity in who I am today as a strong, independent, loving women. Therefore, I would like to share a message with those currently struggling with eating disorders. Surround yourself with people who encourage you, people who are not interested in gossip or bring others down but more interested in building each other up. Choose people who make you happy to be who you are and challenge you to continue to grow. Surround yourself with people who do not care what your race, nationality, sexuality or gender, is they accept you just as you are, no changes required! Most importantly, accept yourself! Be proud of who you are and what you have gone through. If you are gay, like I am, claim your truth without shame. Do not let others tell you that you are wrong or something is not ok about you! Choose to hold your head high and be proud to be uniquely you!