A Recovery Story

Happy woman in the sun

**This is one person’s story; everyone will have unique experiences on their own path to recovery and beyond. Some stories may mention eating disorder thoughts, behaviors or symptom use. Please use your own discretion. And speak with your therapist when needed.

Heather Coulter is a full-time mother of two who works in her spare time to spread awareness and understanding around eating disorders and disordered eating habits.  Heather has a passion for advocacy and is part of several local grassroots advocacy groups and has served on local NAMI committees. Heather hopes her story will remind those who are struggling that it’s okay to ask for help and that the topic of vulnerability is a strength, not a weakness.   

Hi my  name is ED Hi, my name is Heather and my eating disorder no longer defines me thanks to The Emily Program. It took 26 years, 10 months and 1 day for me to recognize that my life, body, and soul deserved more and that I matter. On April 14th, 2015 I sat in the Anna Westin House parking lot staring at the doors in fear of the future. I was ashamed, scared, guilty, skeptical and felt unworthy of the path ahead. The day I walked into that house changed my life forever and for that, I am eternally grateful.

The days leading up to my admission into the house are a blur however the one image that stands clear is my 10-month-old daughter crying for me outside of the bathroom as I began my purging ritual. This was the moment I realized that my daughter deserves a mother and that I needed help. My battle with bulimia started in 1999 when I had gained a significant amount of weight in three months and was formally diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome. Not only was I traumatized by my drastic weight gain, but I was also told that I would never be able to have children. My friends no longer accepted me, my body was a stranger, my heart was broken and in that moment, I felt I no longer deserved to be loved. 

As the years passed my eating disorder manifested itself into a demon that I, Heather, could no longer control. My entire life revolved around counting calories, taking diuretics and laxatives, obsessing over food and planning the next binge. The thought of not being able to purge, missing a diuretic, not being able to weigh myself several times day caused so much anxiety that the eating disorder began to isolate me away from those closest to me.  My body began to slowly show signs of the abuse I was putting it through and I no longer knew who I was. I did not feel like a mother, caregiver, hard worker, artist, writer and the witty person I once was. I felt like a zombie waiting to be eaten alive by my own self.

I remember being at work one morning and my blood pressure fluctuated so much from just walking up a set of stairs that it caused severe dizziness, feelings of palpitations and tightness in my chest. The thought of anyone in the workplace knowing that I was doing this to myself was embarrassing and horrifying. Realizing that I could not continue to work a coworker drove me to the emergency room after I said I was feeling sick. I went through the admissions process, was brought into a room and soon after a physician I knew from work walked in. My anxiety was the highest it had ever been. I felt busted and I felt vulnerable. He looked at me with an inquisitive look on his face, said my name while putting his hand on my leg and asked me how long I had been bulimic. By running one test he knew. My electrolytes were off, my hands were bruised, my skin was pale and my cheeks were swollen.

He looked at me with no judgments and said “Heather, if you continue to do this your kidneys will fail. Your body is shutting down and it cannot take any more abuse. You deserve more than this.” I unfortunately only heard, “You’re not trying hard enough, you failed, don’t feel so sorry for yourself.”  He told me I was so dehydrated that I needed IV fluids and I refused the treatment out of fear that I would leave there gaining weight. I walked out of the emergency room that day with no medical treatment and The Emily Program’s phone number in my wallet in denial that there was a problem.

I did not use that number until three months later and my intake was scheduled. Being transparent and vulnerable about your life, feelings and trauma is challenging and is something that nobody can prepare you for. It takes time, strength and healing to be able to take steps towards being comfortable with who you are and being vulnerable with those closest to you and those who want to help. My intake, admit day and time at the house is a blur and the memories come back in stages. After leaving the Anna Westin house in 2015, my life revolved around being a mother, following meal plans and finding myself again. A part of finding me again was figuring out how to bring back things in my life that I used to enjoy that my eating disorder took away from me.  I was able to actually enjoy life and enjoy the time spent with family and friends. I was able to meditate without intrusive thoughts, paint without constant judgment and write without fear.

After several failed treatments The Emily Program was a breath of fresh air. The Emily Program therapists and program staff helped me recognize my strengths, find my voice and provided solutions to managing the stress and anxiety of life with new ways to cope with my urges.  My relationship with food is still a work in progress and my preoccupations with my body image ebbs and flows. I have bad days and I have good days. I am not perfect and perfection does not exist. The voice I hear will never completely go away and when life gets difficult the voice becomes loud to try and take control, to take advantage of the temporary weakness I am facing, but the difference between before and after recovery is that when it gets loud I have the ability to recognize I need help and am able to obtain the support of family, friends and The Emily Program.

Being able to acknowledge that you need help, take a leap into the unknown and be transparent with strangers is scary, however, I am proof that the feeling of vulnerability is only temporary when your life is not. Being in recovery is lifelong and as long as we all have the support of those around us, and each other,  I know we all can continue to be successful in recovery.

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