My Eating Disorder Recovery Story | by Tina Klaus
My eating disorder started as a young girl around the age of 10. I was one of those junior prodigy tennis players that practiced before and after school. All the adults in my life had big plans and a vested interest for my future as a professional tennis player. I felt overwhelmed by the intense outside pressure to live up to what they wanted me to be, and I didn’t want to play anymore. When I told my parents that I was retiring my racquet, they didn’t handle it very well, especially my father. It was like a bomb went off. He became enraged, and the result was a traumatic, life-altering event that changed the course of our entire relationship. After his initial explosive reaction, my father intentionally decided to ignore me. He refused to speak to me or acknowledge my very existence.
I can still remember with clarity the exact moment it took hold of me. I was watching The Mickey Mouse Club and eating a bowl of vanilla ice cream. I was relieved and happy to be home after school since that wasn’t the norm for me. It had been two weeks since I told my parents about my decision and the silence from my father had been loud and deafening. He walked down the stairs and stopped in front of me. The first words he uttered were, “So this is what you are going to do with your life? Sit around on your fat, lazy ass and eat all day?” I started sobbing, ran to the kitchen and dumped my ice cream down the drain. It literally felt like someone had reached inside me and flipped on a switch inside of my head. I stood there feeling guilty, shameful, humiliated, rejected, confused and angry. Meanwhile, he had already gone back upstairs, not giving a damn about what I was experiencing. Having no one to comfort me or allow me to express myself, I felt like I had been erased and that I no longer mattered.
I was an only child with a controlling father who viewed my accomplishments and who I was as a way to prove to himself who he was while at the same using me as a scapegoat from dealing with his own anger and sadness. I also had a mother who was sat by silently, scared and uncomfortable in her own skin that did not protect me. I was subject to a tremendous amount of trauma that included physical, emotional and sexual abuses that all left me feeling ugly, diminished and weak, flawed, less than and nothing but damaged goods. My parents were far too young and inept to have had a child let alone raise one. They were emotionally incapable of seeing and honoring me as a separate person from themselves. They were unable to take care of my kid needs and feelings. My emotional life was completely ignored, insignificant and ultimately obliterated by them. Therefore I did the only thing I knew how to do with what I was experiencing and feeling; I escaped into the solace and safety of food. What I did or didn’t put in my mouth was the only way I felt and had any sense of control on my life. As a result, I created what I thought to be a safe, protective and secret world that was all mine, allowing me to cope and survive the madness in the environment I lived in. Little did I know at the time how invasive and entangled the long-term grip that my eating disorder would have on my life, my relationship with food, my body image, my thoughts, my self-worth and in shutting down the bigness of who I was as a person.
When I was in my early 20’s I landed my first dream job as a graphic designer and was living in the New York City. From the outside looking in it appeared to others that I had it all together and was always characterized as a strong, self-confident young woman. The truth of the matter was that my life was spinning out of control. I was depressed, alone, scared and ashamed about the darkness that I was entangled in with my destructive eating disorder behaviors and thoughts. I tried desperately to keep it together because nobody new I was suffering with an eating disorder and in no way did I want anyone to find out. However, as the days and weeks passed I became to mentally drained, ill and consumed with ED thoughts. I felt that I had no other choice but to leave my job and move back home into the unpredictability of the lion’s den.
Two more years passed as I continued to appear to the outside world that I was happy and thriving in my life while simultaneously struggling and suffering silently with the pain of my eating disorder. Feeling desperate and out of control and with thoughts of suicide, I knew that I was in serious trouble. I placed a phone call to The Renfrew Center sobbing and asking for help. At the age of 26, I was officially diagnosed with having an eating disorder specifically bulimia nervosa and entered a 12 week residential stay at The Renfrew Center. My parents of course had no clue with what had been going on with me but I was not surprised by this fact. I knew they would not be supportive but I hoped and asked if they would drive me down to Philadelphia for treatment. In their predictable form they were both too damn busy with work to do this for me. I then asked a dear friend who was a mother figure to me if she would drive me to treatment. She hugged me and said, yes of course I will take you, don’t give it a second thought. My stay at treatment was necessary for my well-being and it was a positive experience. I felt cared for, heard and seen. However, I was naïve in my thinking and honestly believed that once I discharged from treatment my eating disorder would be gone. I’d be all fixed up and would return to my life and live happily ever after.
Fast forward the clock to 18 years later. There I was, still stuck living a small and meaningless life, feeling powerless and trapped by the grip that bulimia and binge eating disorder still had on me. I desperately kept trying to find my value and purpose as a woman by looking at the numbers on the scale. Going back to treatment never entered my mind. I seriously thought that you only get one chance at treatment and now I had to deal with whatever came my way. I believed that this was how my life was supposed to be since I had gone through treatment and there was nothing else I could do, so I carried on coping the way I knew. I did ok for a while but the eating disorder habits, behaviors and thoughts slowly crept back in like a poisonous weed.
Finally, I reached my rock bottom being faced with only two choices: I was going to choose to die from the destructive path I was on or get help and start living. One Friday I found the courage to ask my husband to help me get admitted into a residential treatment program. The following Tuesday I walked through the doors of The Eating Recovery Center in Denver, Colorado, completely in the dark about how drastically my screwed-up life would change.
I soon realized that I needed to confront my parents and tell them how costly their emotional weight had been for me as I constantly tried to live up to the daughter that they had envisioned. This decision was the most difficult and terrifying one I’ve ever had to make, but I knew it was my one opportunity to propel myself forward. Sadly, my relationship with my parents came to a painful end as a result of my honesty with them. Before leaving the treatment center, my husband and I decided to sell our house since we lived uncomfortably close to my now, daughterless parents. We walked away from the friends we thought we had and started over alone, but solidly together. My recovery has been a bittersweet journey. I had to lose so much in order to give myself the space I needed to separate from my eating disorder and finally give myself the chance I deserved to figure out what I wanted from life and who I wanted to be as a human being.
After a solid 4 years of recovery, I relapsed in 2014 and made the decision to return to treatment at the Eating Disorder Center of Denver. Now in my own continued recovery process I’ve accepted and acknowledged that my bumpy road to recovery takes as long as it takes.
What is your definition of recovery?
I noticed in my recovery journey that I started to compare my recovery process and where I was to others recovery and where they were in their journey. This was not helpful or productive. Ironically, I came up with my own definition of recovery to get me out of that mindset.
“Recovery is not a destination where one day I will wake up and feel fixed but rather it’s a slow mending process that follows an imperfect line where progress is made overtime. Along the way my eating disorder will make its presence known as it fluctuates between being very quiet or very loud. I will use this as reassurance that I am healing by the mere fact that I am aware of the sounds it makes and in charge of its volume” – Tina Klaus
What is your favorite recovery quote or resource?
I like Don’t Live Small the blog I co-author with my therapist Dr. Michael Maley, Ph.D. It’s about us speaking out together about the chaos of eating disorders and the realities on the bumpy road to recovery. It’s helpful, cathartic and healing since I get to write about what I’m going through and experiencing in my healing journey.
My favorite recovery quote is:
“The core of your true self is never lost, the pretending and the becoming you’ve done just to belong. Curl up with your rawness and come home. You don’t have to find yourself; you just have to let yourself in.” – D. Antoinette Foy
If you could go back in time and talk to your former self when you were struggling most, what would you tell her?
I would tell her that she doesn’t need to hide what she needs, who she is, and what she feels because these are what makes her human. I would reassure her that she is worthy of love and that I have her back and will never ever abandon her again.
Tina Klaus | Dr. Michael Maley
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