**Content warning: This is one person’s story; everyone will have unique experiences in recovery and beyond. Some stories may mention eating disorder thoughts, behaviors, and symptoms. Please use your discretion when reading and speak with your support system as needed.
My name is Carie Wille, and I am a 38-year-old wife and mother of a two-year-old toddler with our second baby due at the end of April. I own my own consulting business and I love staying active, especially running and waterskiing. I am also a sister, daughter, friend, Christian, and a bunch of other descriptive nouns I could continue listing, but we’ll leave it at that!
Although my family and I now live in Traverse City, Michigan, I am originally from Minnesota and spent my entire childhood and most of my adulthood up until last year there. I dealt with an eating disorder on and off since I was about 17 years old, although my disordered thoughts around body image and eating manifested at an earlier age.
Although I won’t say I’m fully recovered because I still have to watch for those pesky eating disorder thoughts, I do not actively use symptoms and am ready to share my story to potentially help others in their journey toward recovery after having time to look back and reflect on… So. Many. Things. So many aspects of not only my eating disorder journey, but also life after an eating disorder. I have always felt that there was a reason God was sending me through these difficult seasons of my life that centered around disordered eating and body image complexities; I just didn’t know why. Sharing my story through The Emily Program is just a start for me – I feel called beyond this, but I have to start somewhere! By being vulnerable and sharing my story, I hope to help others through what they are dealing with. And, shhhhhh, just letting you in on a little “non-secret” secret: It is helping in my own recovery as well.
I have learned so much about myself and what made me susceptible to an eating disorder in the first place, and I continue to work on this in therapy. I am a continued work in progress! For me, my eating disorder has been an almost lifelong journey through several seasons, including as a pre-teen, teenager, through my 20s and into my 30s, through several (failed) relationships and finally really being vulnerable with my husband, through pregnancy and the challenges it can offer to someone with a disordered eating past, into motherhood, and also as a runner/lover of moving my body.
Somewhere along the line, I became aware of trying to please others, keeping emotions in check, doing and saying the right thing, maintaining a smile on my face, and staying modest. These traits, along with a Type A, perfectionist personality and a tendency for anxiety, opened the door for my eating disorder to step in. This is the story of a journey with an eating disorder and continuing to find my true self throughout the voyage.
I can recall at a very young age being very happy with how food made me feel. I even recall a family member one time saying, “You seem to really enjoy food.” They did not mean this in a negative way, but as a sensitive kid, I remember that comment and it has stuck with me so many years later.
Even before my eating disorder made its first official “debut” with symptoms in my senior year of high school, I had thoughts and behaviors that started much earlier than I even realized. (By the way, for those that have not read the book Life Without Ed by Jenni Schaefer and Thom Rutledge, I highly recommend it! They describe Jenni’s eating disorder as a unique personality separate from her own. This technique was extremely helpful for me throughout my journey, and I will refer to my eating disorder as “ED” from here on out.) Looking back, I could see signs of ED wanting to creep into my life long before high school. He was a careful observer…a lurker in the shadows waiting for those perfect moments to pounce on a new victim when they were most vulnerable. I have memories in early adolescence eating and eating until I was beyond full. I would get so uncomfortable and feel physically ill; I didn’t know when to stop.
Was my brain responding to food in a slightly different way than others do? Probably. In my recovery, I learned that I was likely receiving slightly elevated rewards from food. Research has identified specific neurobiological differences in the brains of people with anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder, which affect how we eat, as well as things like mood, anxiety, personality, and decision-making. This knowledge was comforting to me in my recovery journey; it was as if I needed scientific research to help explain why I was dealing with something like this. So, I was dealing with elevated responses to food early on in life; using food to numb myself from uncomfortable feelings would come later.
Early in puberty when my body began changing, I didn’t like it. I didn’t understand it. I would look in the mirror at my changing body, and negative thoughts would come flooding in (in came the body image dissatisfaction). My sister and best friend didn’t experience changes in their body like that, why was I? (in came the comparison game). I would obsess over specific parts of my body; my thighs were getting bigger, my butt was rounding out, I was growing breasts. And the sad reality at the time was that I could do NOTHING about it.
Eating disorders can affect anyone, regardless of their gender or sex or life story. I had a wonderful childhood with very supportive parents and great friends. I did not experience a traumatic event. I did not have a difficult upbringing. I used to feel guilty for not having a specific reason to pinpoint for developing an eating disorder. It wasn’t until later in my therapy that I realized there is no one cause for eating disorders, and it involves a complex variety of biological, psychological, and sociocultural factors.
I can still recall comments made regarding my body shape when I was growing up, and even regarding others’ body shapes that I personalized. They were said in innocent fashions, but the fact that I have carried the comments throughout my life is indicative of my sensitive personality: “You’re built like a sprinter, not a long-distance runner.” “College runners come in all shapes and sizes.” “Your sister is so thin.” These were comments made so incredibly long ago, and yet I can still remember who said them to me and where I was at the time. I don’t mention this to shame whoever made these comments; it’s more as an awareness.
I would not learn until later in life that I was developing generalized anxiety, as well as mild obsessive-compulsiveness, throughout my adolescence before ED really reared his ugly head in my life. “Common co-occurring issues” was the proper terminology I would later learn. I was a worrier as a child: I would project my worries onto my loved ones, including my sister. She used to say in a teasing manner, “I don’t need a second mother.” My anxiety began manifesting itself in physical forms as well: pinching the skin on my arms and biting my nails. For those who deal with nervous habits like these, you often don’t even realize you are doing them at the time; they become automatic and seemingly out of your control.
Although I experienced some compulsive actions like checking the oven three or four times before leaving the house, it was more in the form of obsessive thoughts. For instance, I can remember running through the streets of my hometown with my cross-country team and counting house address numbers to see if they were divisible by three. But the obsessive thoughts grew beyond quick arithmetic in my head…I worried what others thought of me, my low self-esteem charging ahead: Was I saying the right thing? Was I doing the right thing? Was I being too “bossy”? Was I getting good enough grades? Was I choosing the right major in college? Does this guy like me? Why won’t he call me back? Did she just look at me in a weird way? Does my boss like the work I’m doing?
My high school years were spent heavily defined by the sports I played, the activities I was involved in, and the good grades I maintained. The busier I stayed and the more accepting smiles I could gather from others, the happier I was. Or so I thought.
My love of sports began at an early age. I would try any sport—volleyball, soccer, softball, tennis, etc. Eventually, I would land on my two loves: basketball and running. This happened after following in my older sister’s footsteps. She ran cross country and track? Okay, I’ll try those! She played basketball? Okay, I’ll try that! I was hooked. I loved being part of a team. I loved moving my body. I loved working hard. And I loved that hard work paid off. And I was coachable and a good student of the game, no matter what sport it was. If there was a club in high school, I joined it. Student Government. Yes. National Honor Society. Yes. TARGET. Yes. Peer Helpers. Yes. Key Club. Yes. Choir. Yes. Okay, that’s not entirely true—I did not join theatre or the debate team. They should be happy I refrained from those.
Things began shifting toward the end of high school. I was tired. I was tired of being involved in everything, I was tired of trying to be the best at everything, I was tired of trying to prove something to myself and other people. And then my world as I knew it at the time came crashing down when I tore the ACL in my knee at the end of my senior year basketball season. What was I going to do now? Sports were my life, and not only could I not finish my basketball season, I was out for track as well. I was maybe even going to try out for the basketball or cross-country team at the small college I was planning to attend the following year.
So, here we had a people-pleasing perfectionist with a tendency for anxiety (unidentified by myself at the time), teetering on the brink of something, who just lost what was a major part of her world: sports. In came the eating disorder big time. ED promised to save the day! I began controlling what I ate and restricting in a major way. I withdrew from friends. I stopped doing the things I liked to do. My grades began slipping. I didn’t know what I was looking for, but ED helped me not deal with the emotions I was feeling. It also brought me a sense of control after feeling like things were slipping between my fingers.
College brought on a different sense of anxiety for me. I had no idea where I wanted to go. I thought I wanted to be a physical education teacher, so I decided on a small public college in Wisconsin. It was only an hour and a half from my hometown, my parents, my high school boyfriend, and my best friend was going there. A safe choice. I didn’t feel I was mature enough or independent enough to even consider going to a school farther away. At a time when the world was my oyster and I should have been exploring everything, I was anxious about driving back to college on Sunday nights in snowy and icy weather because I went back home every weekend. I settled into what I felt was a comfortable existence.
During my freshman year, I decided I wanted to try architecture as a major. This brought on a transfer in my sophomore year of college to the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities campus. Here, I found myself both a very small fish in a huge sea, but also a big fish in a small sea once I settled on my major, which happened to be very small. I avoided specific eating disorder symptoms until my junior year of college when I dove into bulimia. I thought I had my roommates and family fooled. Leaving the room after meals to go into the bathroom. No big deal. Turning on the shower to mask any noises. They wouldn’t even notice. It turns out I was wrong.
Read the second part of Carie’s story here.
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