Inner Sustenance

Inner Sustenance

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Create Your Best Future

Inner Sustenance

Believing in yourself is one of the greatest things that you could ever do for yourself. But the greatest is loving yourself unconditionally.

~Edmond Mbiaka

All I ever wanted was to be popular. Have the coolest friends. Be in a hot rock band and date the best-looking men — simple wishes for a young girl. Some of my dreams even came true. I started a rock band. And the cutest guy at Melbourne High School even asked me out.

I answered yes of course, but within a week, he complained, “Your hips are too big. You need to lose weight to look thin like the other girls in your band.”

Immediately, I tried several different diets to lose weight. For one, I ate grapefruit and vegetables only. That didn’t work; I felt faint and had to eat. The second week I tried skipping breakfast and dinner. When I did that, I became so hungry by the time dinner came, I splurged and eventually started gaining weight. Ten pounds I added in a month trying to please my boyfriend. Instead of praising my efforts, he cut me down even more. “You look like a whale,” he said, making me feel not as pretty as my other friends who wanted to date him. I felt self-conscious and didn’t want to lose him as a boyfriend, so I desperately searched for another way to lose the pounds that were keeping him at bay.

I didn’t even think that he was the problem: just me, it was just me. Whatever I ate made me fatter. Whatever I wore, I looked hideous. I was now 110 pounds, a complete blimp!

One evening after a date, I got so angry by his “whale” remarks that I ate an enormous piece of cake. The guilt made me want to try something I had seen other girls in my school doing at lunch break: throw up. I went to my bathroom and without even thinking of the consequences, stuck my finger down my throat and threw up in the toilet.

All I ever wanted was to be as pretty as a model. I wanted my boyfriend to look at me the same way as he did those bikini-poster girls.

It was so easy. That cake I just enjoyed didn’t cost me any unwanted calories.

Once a day soon turned into three forced vomits. Becoming malnourished, I was constantly hungry, so I ate more, threw up more. It wasn’t until I strangely gained another fifteen pounds and tried to quit a month later that I realized I couldn’t stop. I fought to, for several weeks. As soon as I got up from the table, my stomach began convulsing. Now my own stomach somehow believed that’s what it was supposed to do. I had to run from the table. I was throwing up without even sticking my finger down my throat or even wanting to!

I wasn’t in control anymore. I was caught in a whirlwind. I thought bulimia would help me lose pounds but after the months of doing it, not only hadn’t it controlled my weight, but the purging had opened up the pits of hell.

I needed help. My boyfriend’s comments and my weight were the least of my problems now and I knew it. At age fifteen I didn’t know what to do. Desperate for a solution, I broke down into tears and confided in the only person I could trust: my mom. Unsure of how she would react and wondering if she’d stop loving me if she knew, I mustered up the courage to write the truth on a note and leave it on her dresser:

“Mom, I’m sick. I tried forcing myself to throw up to lose weight, now I am vomiting every day. I can’t stop. I’m afraid I’m going to die.”

I locked myself in my room the entire night. My mother knocked on my door several times. I could hear her crying. The next morning she pounded harder and told me she had made a doctor’s appointment for me. “Get out here before we’re late!” she said.

I opened the door. Instead of a hard and loud scolding, I received a hug. Being in her understanding arms, I had the confidence to go to the doctor with her.

The first meeting with the doctor, I’ll never forget. He told me that by using bulimia to lose weight I was actually retaining water, losing hair, ruining the enamel on my teeth and was now developing a very serious stomach condition called gastritis. He informed me I was mal-nourished and in danger of losing my life. He strongly recommended that I check myself into a hospital for treatment.

Knowing that I would be apart from my friends and my mother, I didn’t want to agree. Going to the hospital seemed to be a way of walking away from everything I’ve ever known. I was terrified about leaving home. I’d never been away from my house, my school or my friends before. I was wondering if anyone would even stay my friend or if they all would think I was a freak. I thought about telling the doctor I wouldn’t even consider it, but my conscience reminded me, If I don’t go I’ll be spending the rest of my days, however many more I have left, throwing my life away, literally down the toilet. I told the doctor I would go.

The first day and night were the hardest. Nurses gave me a study schedule for both educational and counseling activities. I would attend six different classes each day: math, English, science, group counseling, PE and a personal session with my doctor. All the people were complete strangers. Most of the patients my age weren’t there for eating disorders but for severe mental illnesses or violent behaviors. In my first class, math, I sat down and said hello to the girl sitting next to me. She turned her head and ignored me. I shifted in my chair and waved to the girl on my left and asked what her problem was. She didn’t answer and mumbled something about needing medicine. I quickly learned that the other patients were hard to relate to or on heavy medication. They didn’t seem to have any desire to make friends. That night, I cried myself to sleep, feeling more alone than I ever had.

The next morning, I was told that my blood work reported that I was not only dehydrated but also starving. The doctor said he wouldn’t release me until I was strong inside and out. Months passed like this and I continued attending classes with screaming, irrational kids. I felt so isolated. The doctors tried several types of medicines; none of them seemed to be working to keep my food down. They started feeding me intravenously. A needle was stuck in the top of my hand and stayed there, taped, twenty-four hours a day. It was so gross, having a big needle sticking out in my hand. Every morning they would attach a liquid-filled bag that dripped nutrients into my bloodstream. Each night they gave me pills that made me nauseous and want to throw up. I was becoming more and more discouraged. Will I ever be normal again? I wondered. Still, I wouldn’t give up. I knew what I had to do and I tried yet another medication.

When that didn’t seem to do anything, a nurse came into my room, took that morning’s medication out of my hand and suggested that I stand in front of the mirror one hour after each meal and repeat to myself these words, “Yes, I am perfect because God made me.”

I thought she was nuts! If modern medicine couldn’t work, how could saying a few words do the trick? Still, I knew I had to try it. It couldn’t hurt and if it got me off the feeding tube, it was worth it no matter how crazy it sounded. Beside, if it didn’t work, I could tell the nurse that it wasn’t the cure and that at least I tried.

The next meal, I said the words for several minutes. Religiously. I said them for an entire week extending the time every day. After a while, I realized I began saying them as if I meant them and I had been keeping my food down. My bulimia was becoming under control because my mind stopped focusing on throwing up, and started focusing on saying those words! Within a week I stopped needing to be fed through tubes, my stomach had stopped rejecting food and my compulsion to vomit ceased. My mind had been tricked into more positive thinking!

With the support of my counselors and nurses, I continued searching for ways to bolster my self-esteem, so that I would never again be so vulnerable to the judgments of others. I began to read self-esteem books and the Bible to further my self-image. By then, my boyfriend had dumped me. Most of my friends had stopped coming to see me. Even on the day I celebrated my newfound ability to keep my food down, I called my brother to tell him the good news and he said, “You’re making all this up for attention, aren’t you?”

I can’t tell you how much that hurt. Still, I wouldn’t let the outside world’s cruelty diminish my victory or my newly found self-esteem of loving myself no matter what my weight was. Finally, I realized with this new strength, I was well.

I began feeding myself and choosing to be full — literally, spiritually, emotionally and physically. My self-esteem strengthened as I ate, repeated those words, and learned to love myself. By gulping down food, I became the vessel God had created me to be. I was special regardless of what others thought. And, I saw that old boyfriend for what he really was: shallow, close-minded, inconsiderate, and not even worthy of my love in the first place.

It had taken months in the hospital with nurses and counseling to learn a lesson I’ll never forget. Being popular is just an illusion. If you love yourself you are in the “in” crowd. You are an individual gift from God to the world. It’s comforting to know joy comes from being who I am instead of trying to become somebody else’s perfect model.

My first day back to school, my ex-boyfriend actually came up to me and asked me out again. “Wow, you look great. You’re so thin! You want to go to the football game on Friday?”

“No,” I answered, without regret. “I’d rather date someone who loves my heart.”

Me! Accepting me suddenly became a daily celebration of life. I love me! Those three words sound so simple, but living them, believing them makes living so tantalizingly delicious!

~Michelle Wallace Campanelli

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