It was a bleak, gray November day, the sky already tasting of the incoming winter, the ground hard as I walked with my teammates to the starting line of the 2009 High School Girls D1 Cross Country Ohio State Championship race. We weren’t allowed to wear anything underneath our uniforms, so we shivered as we stripped off our sweat shirts and warm-ups.

“I feel dizzy,” I remember muttering. But my coach and teammates shrugged it off, and why wouldn’t they? We all were nervous, understanding the significance of this race. As a senior, I had garnered the reputation over the years as someone who got more anxious than most, to the point that my coach advised college cross country coaches scouting not to talk to me before a race.

Planning to pursue a cross country career into college, I had no idea this would be my last competitive race. Despite the bleak conditions—heavy wind and a soft, slightly wet course from rain the night before—I ended up running my best race ever, breaking my personal record time, just barely missing the distinction of “All Ohio”, an honor reserved for the top 25 finishes of the state race.

I was hospitalized for the first time a week later. My mother, concerned that I was more lethargic than usual, insisted I see a specialist at the Cleveland Clinic. The doctor, upon taking my pulse, declared me bradycardic, insisted I needed to stay inpatient, and that, if I refused, there was a possibility my heart would give out. I was later diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa, a term which, at the time meant nothing to me.

The week that followed was possibly the most terrifying week of my life, and of my parents’ lives. At night my pulse dipped dangerously low. I was hooked to heart monitors, restricted to strict bed rest. Everything was monitored—from my eating to my bathroom trips to my weight and vitals. Ten days later, I was released. Though the social worker strongly suggested I be sent to an inpatient treatment program, my mother wanted me to able to finish my senior year, and I was sent home, along with my meal plans, from which my parents were ordered to prepare and monitor all meals for me.

Despite creating a team of a doctor, nutritionist, and therapist—all versed in the treatment of eating disorders—I quickly began to resort to my old behaviors. I threw out what my parents had packed for me, returned to my excessive exercise. Over the next five years, I would cycle in and out of hospitals, finishing one term of college and then being forced to stay home due to my poor health. I grudgingly attended an inpatient program in Ohio, a few minutes form my house. At this time I began to care about getting over my disorder, if only because I wanted to finish school, to continue with my life. I was tired of being scared all the time. I was tired of worrying about my weight and feeling lethargic and fighting with my family and shutting friends out of my life.

But that wasn’t enough. I had begun restricting my eating out of need, because I believed something was inherently wrong with me. Though I had always been sensitive and perfectionistic, it wasn’t until the year I turned sixteen that I truly began to hate myself. The stressors and disappointments of adolescence began to pile up, pressure with school, friends, and athletics. I gained some weight, as all teenagers do when they grow, but I felt ashamed. It was a deep shame, a shame that haunted me, that made me avoid mirrors and social events. I did the only thing I could do: I controlled my weight, earned straight A’s, and made it so that from the outside I looked like I had everything. But inside I had reached my lowest point, at times wondering what the point of living was.

I knew that no treatment program could help undo that pain, and I began to lose hope. The only thing that kept me going was my undying support by friends and family, my love for writing, and my faith in God.

By the time I came to Cielo House, I truly believed that I might not survive. The doctors in the hospital informed me that my electrolytes were plummeting, that they were not sure, but they would ‘do what they could’ to save me. God chose to spare my life, and I knew I had to do something different. While most of my family wanted me to stay close—understandably so—I finally accepted that I needed more intense treatment and searched for residential programs I came across Cielo House and instantly knew, despite it being across the country, that it was where I needed to go.

My time at Cielo was far from easy. There were days where I wanted to go home and give up. I felt scared, depressed, ashamed. I grew close to patients, only to see them leave. I had never been so far away from home for so long. While other girls had visitors and family nearby, mine could only call. But slowly, as I grew healthier, and my perspective shifted. Cielo was unlike any treatment I had ever tried before. We didn’t spend all our time focusing on meal plans and eating disorder topics—though this of course was part of it. We visited local beaches and participated in yoga and music therapy. We came up with games to play while we ate. We took walks and had dance parties and took trips to the local Goodwill. We lived.

I started to feel like myself, but more than that. I started to realize that I could have a life free of the judgments, a life where I made my own decisions. I reconnected with my faith, made friends I will never forget, and discovered a place whose beauty stays with me still.

Life is not perfect now. I still struggle with self image and still have days I feel discouraged. Recovery isn’t waking up one day and all at once feeling ‘fine’. It is learning to accept you are not perfect, to accept that recovery is not perfect. It is finding the ugly parts and the beautiful parts and making sense of them all. Cielo House literally saved my life, and I can never express enough gratitude. Today I am in a situation which I once believed impossible. I am a Master’s student in Creative Writing at Miami University, and my first novel was published this January.

Love, faith, hope, life. If nothing else, this is what I take with me. Accepting our flaws, life’s flaws, Cielo House has given me hope by reconnecting me to the things that matter most.

Written by Erin

We are honored to have Erin share her true story as this month’s #RecoveryRockstar! To read Erin’s wonderful work of fiction In Came the Rain, click on this direct link Barnes&Noble Online. 

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