A Winding Road to Recovery
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.
by Kristine Irwin, a wife, mother, and advocate for ending sexual violence. She is a full-time recruiter at Pittsburgh Mercy and runs a non-profit called Voices of Hope.
My eating disorder isn’t something that I usually talk about in great detail. I do, however, think it’s important to tell others about the barriers to eating disorder treatment I faced, the complicated healing process I experienced, and how my mom tirelessly worked to make sure I got better.
During the spring of 2002, I was 16. It was around that time that I began to feel insecure in my own skin. I can’t remember exactly what triggered this, but I was hospitalized for depression, and it may have started after that. Either way, I turned to a friend I knew from dance school and said I wanted to lose weight. She told me that she had started to purge what she ate to lose weight, so I thought I would try it.
My grandmother also passed away that spring, and that was when I began to binge eat and purge. I didn’t cry when she passed, so this was a way for me to grieve. There were times when I would binge eat and purge and leave the wrappers or containers under my bed to hide them from my parents. I also remember a time when I went and had dinner with someone, and then my current boyfriend wanted to make me dinner too. I didn’t want to cancel either one, so I stopped at a local grocery and purged in the bathroom so I could eat the dinner my boyfriend was making.
Slowly, I began to get careless and my mom put two and two together and figured out what I was doing. She knew I needed help but didn’t know where to go.
My mom took me to the pediatrician that I saw growing up. She didn’t tell me that they were going to examine me for an eating disorder, but they did. The pediatrician I saw said I had no signs of an eating disorder. Maybe this was because I hadn’t done it for too long? I am not really sure, but the only way I thought they would be able to tell is if I had scars on the back of my throat (which I know now is only one of many possible signs).
My mom then found a therapist in our hometown that she thought would be able to help. She took me there and she said I came out of that appointment so happy. I told my mom that the therapist said nothing was wrong with me and I was great. However, I was in complete denial. Why would I want to tell someone something so personal?
My mom was not convinced, and she spoke with her own doctor. Her doctor told her to distract me. So the summer of 2004, she enrolled me in a gym and we began working out. I became obsessed with exercise, and for a little while, the disorder faded away briefly.
Then I was raped. And because of that trauma, my eating disorder resurfaced again. No level of distraction or denial could make it go away completely.
Then my mom found The Emily Program. By finally working with people who specialized in eating disorders, I was able to gain an understanding of why I had bulimia. I knew that part of it was grieving for my grandmother, and part of it was the way I coped with everyday life. There were some body image/self-love issues in there as well. Although I never really lost weight from having bulimia, I knew I didn’t like how my body looked for a very long time.
I was eventually able to overcome my eating disorder. I credit the learning and self-acceptance I experienced with being able to love myself and open myself up to truly loving another person because I met my future husband around this time.
This was all possible because my mom fought for me. Even though I was in extreme denial, she continued to search for the correct help for me, and I will forever be grateful.