‘Do you ever worry about dying? You’re killing yourself.’ She was right.’: ‘Misguided teenager’ credits her unexpected pregnancy for saving her life after ‘horrible’ eating disorder

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“I entered high school a typical scared, shy freshman. I had just started working out with my dad to get in better shape, drop a few pounds and get ready for basketball season. By the end of my freshman year, I had lost around 30 pounds and felt great! I was strong and healthy. By my sophomore year, I had entered a very emotionally abusive and toxic relationship where I never felt good enough or pretty enough. I spent years trying to live up to what I thought perfection was, wondering how I needed to look and act so I would feel like I was good enough.

I was struggling with family issues too. My brother who was my best friend had just left home and I felt like my life was spiraling out of control with nowhere to turn. Dramatic? Maybe a little, but I was only 16 and I was scared. With everything whirling around me I needed something I could control, something that only I was in charge of. I felt helpless and like I was never enough. I would look in the mirror in pure disgust. I felt worthless, no wonder nobody wanted me. The only satisfaction or temporary happiness I would get was when people would tell how good I looked now that I had lost weight, or how pretty I was. Maybe I wasn’t pretty before when I was heavier?

Woman takes a mirror selfie at the gym, showing off her abs
Rebekah Dibartolomeo

I started to restrict all ‘bad foods,’ no sugar, no carbs, no fats, no nutrition. I ate a bowl of rice with hot sauce (hot sauce boosts your metabolism) every day. Maybe some lettuce with hot sauce. I weighed my food, whatever it was, then stuck my finger down my throat and weighed that to make sure I got it all out. I remember the cold bathroom tile on my knees, the sound of the water running to hide the sound of me, I remember the tastes in my mouth, I remember the cold toilet seat on my face when I felt like I couldn’t get up, and I remember popping blood vessels in my eyes when I would gag so hard I couldn’t breathe. Just a few more pounds then I’ll stop. 140 pounds — just a few more pounds and I’ll stop. 135 pounds — just a few more, a few more, a few more… 115 pounds. Will I ever stop? The compliments turned into ‘are you sick?’ ‘Does Bekah have cancer?’ ‘Is Bekah dying?’ It should have scared me to hear those things, but it didn’t. I fed off it. I fed off those terrifying questions and all I heard was, ‘You’re getting skinny.’

My parents, my sweet parents, oh the hell they endured due to their struggling, hurting teenage daughter. They started to crack down, they didn’t know what to do or how to handle it. They loved me so much and questioned it like any parent would do. Why was I like this? What could they have done differently? Where did they go wrong? They stuck me in therapy during my junior year for bulimia, anorexia, and body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). My parents didn’t allow me to use the bathroom after a meal, they took me completely out of my toxic, damaging relationship, and my therapist made me keep a journal of compliments to myself. I panicked. What would I do if I gained weight? I can’t gain weight. I’ve worked so hard to get here and I’m still fat, I can’t gain weight.

Woman battling body dysmorphia, eating disorder takes a photo in sports bra and gym shorts
Rebekah Dibartolomeo

I started keeping empty water bottles in my room to fill with vomit then would hide them in my closet. I drank Epsom Salts like it was water and ate diuretics and laxatives like they were candy. I looked in the mirror and saw the same childhood girl I had always seen, no difference, no weight loss, she was a failure, I am a failure. I found myself even more lost and depressed than before. I was miserable and deep down I wanted to make a change, but I wasn’t ready. I still just wanted to be skinny, pretty, happy… I pretended to put in effort in therapy, all I had to do was gain 10 pounds to graduate. I did it, I gained and graduated and had the 10 pounds off within 2 weeks!

February 2, 2014, is a day I’ll never forget. I had just gone to my Varsity Ball and my mom had pointed out that my bones were sticking out. That comment brought so much joy to me but I knew there would be a weigh-in the next morning. I woke up that morning, ate 8 pancakes, chugged 4 or 5 bottles of water, and the scale read 12 pounds over what it should have. I hurried to the gym afterward so I could spend 45+ minutes leaning over the toilet, tears rolling down my face, in pure misery. I would then run, run, run, and run some more until I felt so dizzy I thought I might pass out. Why me? Why am I the one with a weak mind? Why am I killing myself to look a certain way? There was no end goal, I just kept killing myself to reach this imaginary idea of what I thought I should be.

Woman smiles big for a photo with her collarbones and shoulder bones protruding
Rebekah Dibartolomeo

My senior year was spent trying to enjoy my last year of sports and friends. But it didn’t work that way. At this point I was done puking, but only because I constantly felt sick, to the point where I couldn’t even eat anymore. My body was rejecting food. My parents spent my senior year worried to death my 2-inch thick arms were going to snap in two. I could barely keep up. I wanted so badly to get better but I was so far in, how could I ever get my life turned around? I thought about going to an eating disorder retreat, but my biggest fear was to be the fattest one there. How humiliating would that be? A girl my size going there claiming to be anorexic when I am too fat to be anorexic. I kept going and the days seemed like a blur. I could smile on the outside but I was slowly dying on the inside. My hair had become frail and would fall out by the chunks. I wore hoodies in 90-degree weather because I didn’t have enough fat to keep myself warm. My skin was dry and had started to form a small layer of hair to keep itself warm. My teeth were wearing down and I was pale as a ghost. Is this what I wanted?

Woman smiles for a photo with her basketball teammates in matching hoodies
Rebekah Dibartolomeo

I didn’t even know what I was looking for anymore. I remember it was close to graduation and I went shopping with my very best friend. We hadn’t talked much about what I was going through, well really not at all. I kept it to myself as much as possible. I remember this day because in a moment of silence she looked me straight in the eyes and said, ‘Do you ever worry about dying? You are slowly killing yourself, do you even care?’ The words cut right through me and I had no answer. She was right though, but of course, I didn’t really take it to heart. Because that wouldn’t be me, it couldn’t. I would stop before it got that far, right? But the truth was, I couldn’t stop myself even if I did want too. I was on the verge of death and I didn’t even have the energy to care anymore. The rest of my senior year went too quickly. I was down to about 110 pounds, I only ate when my parents said I had too and still then I never let my body process even a little bit of it. I graduated 6th in my class and planned on college at Marshall University. I was sad to leave my friends and family but excited for this next adventure.

Young woman smiles for a photo in turquoise button-down shirt and black pencil skirt
Rebekah Dibartolomeo

College was tough, to say the least. There was no one to monitor me or make me stop. The disorders continued and it was more of a way of life than anything else. I had a new relationship but he didn’t know much about what I was still going through. Being away was hard on me and I picked up new habits. I started starving myself for weeks at a time, then I would binge eat until I was sick then puke it all up. I remember like it was yesterday, I would lay in my room all day and not move, then sleep all night. I was depressed and my anxiety hit an all-time high. I hated getting dressed because I would have a full on break down if something didn’t fit. If my size 00 didn’t fit loosely anymore the world was ending.

I attended college for a year and a half then moved in with my boyfriend, now husband. Living together made it hard to hide my issues. He started to notice I didn’t eat or when I did I ran to the bathroom right after. He and everyone else were so confused why someone so talented and beautiful felt that way about herself. I wish I saw what everyone else saw. I wish I could remember what happiness felt like. I got small glimpses of it and I was happy with other people, but never with myself. We had ups and downs, fought it out, just like I did with my parents, but no one ever understood how I felt.

Young woman takes a photo with a friend while doing the peace sign
Rebekah Dibartolomeo

I felt lost, out of control, crazy, lonely, and miserable. I forgot what it was like to look in the mirror and be proud. To try on an outfit and feel good. I forgot how it felt to eat real food with great people and enjoy it. I couldn’t remember what it was like to not see worry and pain in my parents’ eyes every time they saw me. I couldn’t remember the last time my body felt normal or the last meal I actually ate and let nourish my body, it had been years. I was terrified of food, I was terrified to be healthy and look healthy, I was scared of what that might do to my ‘image.’ But I was tired and sick. I was sick of being this way. I was tired of passing out on the bathroom floor from vomiting too much. I was sick of not feeling good enough. I was tired of skipping cake on my birthday every year. I was tired of missing outings with my friends terrified I would have to eat something. I was tired of hurting my mom and dad, they tried so hard to help me. I was sick of my throat constantly hurting and being raw. I was tired of spending most of my day laying over a toilet. I was sick of measuring my thighs and arms to make sure they hadn’t grown any. I was tired of having no energy. I was just sick and tired of being sick and tired. I prayed and prayed for a way out, a saving a grace, a reason to stop. I love my friends, family, and all those close to me, why wasn’t that enough? Why didn’t I listen when they all told me how beautiful I was? Why couldn’t that just be enough? Why didn’t I just listen and never start this? I wanted to be enough, good enough for them, but I couldn’t be.

In June 2016 I found out I was pregnant. I was confused with shock and happiness. I was happy and felt so blessed, but I was so scared. How could someone like me, who can barely keep herself alive, care for someone else? I didn’t what to do. I couldn’t even give myself nourishment so how was this small baby supposed to get any? I struggle to find an answer, I struggle so bad. I was breaking down, I was driving myself crazy wondering how this small life was supposed to live if I couldn’t even live?

I had my first ultrasound in July and there weren’t any questions, there was no wondering, everything was crystal clear. I was going to make this small dot live, I was going to nourish her, and I was going to be there no matter what. It wasn’t about me anymore, it wasn’t about how I felt, or how I looked. It was about this small being inside me that NEEDED me. Not only needed me, but needed me to be strong, healthy, and happy. God chose me and my temple to carry this child and that is what I was going to do. My husband looked at me one day and said: ‘It isn’t just us anymore, it isn’t about us, and our little girl will never think that is how you are supposed to feel or think.’ And he was so right.

Young woman holds her small baby bump during photoshoot
Rebekah Dibartolomeo

On February 21, 2017, I gave birth to a 7 pound, 2 ounce perfect little girl. I had gained over 30 pounds during my pregnancy and glowed with happiness the whole time. She is now a year and a half and rotten as ever. I struggle every day but I overcome every day. I am the strongest and healthiest I have ever been. My daughter saved my life. What I went through was nobody’s fault, it wasn’t because of lack of love or attention, it was a small lapse in judgment, a lack of self-love, and a judging society that led a misguided teenager.

Single mom kisses her toddler daughter while taking photos by the river
Courtesy of Brittany Channel

I am thankful for who I am today and what I’ve overcome to make me the strong woman I am today. I do look back and wonder if I had the chance, would I change it? Would I have stopped myself and never started this never-ending battle? I don’t think I would have. As hard as this road has been and always will be, I am grateful. When I was struggling I wish I had someone who knew what I was going through, someone to preach to me self-love and what it truly means, someone, to teach me to overcome this horrible battle, but there wasn’t anyone who knew what I was feeling. So today I hope to be that person for someone else, that person that can open their eyes to the bigger picture, be their rock, and let them know they are not alone and that I DO know how they feel and I am here no matter what.

Fitness mom shows off her biceps in matching green sports bra and leggings
Rebekah Dibartolomeo

I spent years trying live up to what I thought was the ‘perfect girl,’ I thought those qualities were skinny, pretty, and tan. It turns out, perfection doesn’t exist and if it did the qualities would be whatever the hell we wanted them to be. Life is about more than a scale and a jean size, and life is way too short to live in a rut where you think that is what matters. Trust me, I know, I wasted almost 6 years.

Be strong, be healthy, be happy, and conquer today, better than yesterday.”

Mom smiles for a mirror selfie in matching black lingerie set
Rebekah Dibartolomeo

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Rebekah Dibartolomeo, 22, of Parsons, West Virginia. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

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