‘Our beautiful, once vibrant Sarah is now a shell of a human.’ I was spiraling out of control. A monster was being born.’: Young woman overcomes eating disorder, ‘struggling is not a character flaw. You are worthy of help.’

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“Hey there, I’m Sarah. I am a daughter, a sibling, a friend, a granddaughter, a university graduate, and many other things. I am also an eating disorder survivor.

For 7 years I lived shackled to the chains of my eating disorder. The kicker? Nobody knew I was struggling. I was struggling in secret, terrified someone would find out.

I don’t know why it started. And to be honest, it doesn’t really matter anymore. The fact of the matter was, I was slowly killing myself. Every meal I skipped, every extra workout I did was one step closer to my ultimate goal: to become small enough that eventually I would disappear. At first it wasn’t about losing weight. Skipping meals and restricting my food was a way for me to gain a semblance of control while everything felt utterly out of my control. Eventually my attention was directed towards losing weight, which of course was covering up a deeper issue; I didn’t feel like I was good enough.

Courtesy of Sarah Krestell

And for a while, it worked. As time went on, I shed the weight I was so desperate to lose. But it was never enough. I craved the feeling of safety and comfort, and my eating disorder provided for me. The most interesting part was no one seemed to notice. No one made any comments about my wilting frame. This fueled the disorder more as it appeared to me ‘no one cared’ and ‘I wasn’t losing enough weight.’

Inevitably, I started drowning in the ocean of self-hatred and loathing I created for myself and I needed help. Desperately. I was a university student living away from home left to my eating disorder’s mercy. What started as, ‘I guess I’ll see a crisis counselor just once’ to get my friends off my back, turned into multiple appointments weekly at an eating disorders outpatient clinic. Sessions with therapists, dietitians, and nurses were helpful as it got me to see how big of a problem this truly was. But this wasn’t sufficient. My eating disorder was thriving and bit-by-bit, Sarah was disappearing.

Courtesy of Sarah Krestell

I was spiraling out of control. No one and nothing could stop my intense desire and determination to get smaller and smaller. School no longer mattered, my relationships were crumbling, and a monster was being born. I was losing touch with reality, which included falling out of touch with some old friends and becoming distant from the friends I was surrounded by. Everyone walked on eggshells around me and I was unpleasant to be around. Then all of a sudden, the matter was taken out of my hands. My parents learned about what was happening and I was sent to residential treatment. They were shocked to say the least. They basically said, ‘We don’t understand how our beautiful, once vibrant Sarah is now a shell of a human.’

I withdrew from my classes, packed up my apartment, and moved into treatment in the span of a few days. It was a whirlwind experience, one I would never wish upon anyone.

The saddest part is I still didn’t think I was ‘sick enough.’ I was convinced I didn’t have a problem. What I didn’t realize is healthy people don’t have thoughts such as, ‘I’m not sick enough to get help.’ I was adamant in saying, ‘I am healthy and treatment is a waste of time, money, and resources.’ I resisted the idea of giving up what had been keeping me sane for years. I hated the thought of being stripped of my freedom and forced to embrace change.

I spent 4.5 months in a residential hospital. Did I want to be there at first? Absolutely not. Did I need to be there? 100%. These 4.5 months saved my life. I quite literally wouldn’t be here had it not been for the life-saving treatment I was fortunate enough to receive. One thing which was said to me by my therapist in treatment and is something I will hold close to my heart forever is this. ‘You don’t need to use your body to show you’re hurting.’ It is such a blatantly true statement, one which I now live by.

Courtesy of Sarah Krestell

Treatment taught me I could have a life worth living without my eating disorder. It taught me I could have meaningful relationships with wonderful people, as long as I open myself up to being vulnerable. I learned new ways of coping with emotions I had been avoiding for years. I understood I was worthy of healing, inner peace, and contentment.

Lapses and relapses come with the territory of an eating disorder. I’ve been lucky enough to not experience a full-blown relapse. That being said, I have hit some rocky patches over time. However, each time I was able to get back on track.

Coping with emotions looks a lot different for me now than it used to. Previously, I would use eating disorder behaviors to cope, while now I rely on the skills I learned and continue to learn in therapy. Deep breathing, visualization, and talking to my self with a compassionate voice help me to deal with difficult situations and emotions.

My pursuit for recovery didn’t stop when I walked out those treatment facility doors. My battle against my eating disorder and other mental illnesses has been an ongoing process. I’ve hit bumps and curves, but have managed to get back on track each time. I am fully committed to therapy and speak to my therapist on a weekly basis. I believe the work never stops. I’m okay to admit I still need help navigating life in recovery, and my therapist aids in this process.

Courtesy of Sarah Krestell

I created an Instagram page with the aim of a) bringing awareness to eating disorders, b) to share my experience with people in my life, and c) to connect to others in the recovery community. So far it’s been a hit! I love running my page and communicating my message with others along with giving an inside look into what life with an eating disorder and being in recovery looks like.

This account has brought me into the lives of many people who are living with an eating disorder. When I’m asked the question, ‘How do I do recovery?’ I always say the same things. ‘There is no shame in struggling. Having an eating disorder is not a character flaw. You are worthy of help. There is no threshold for how ‘bad’ it needs to be before getting help. If your instincts are telling you there’s a problem, LISTEN and seek help. Utilize the resources around you, whether it’s a public agency or organization, friends, family, counseling, etc. People care about you and want you to be healthy. When it gets tough, lean into the discomfort and keep going. It will be worth it, I promise.’

I’d be remiss if I didn’t give thanks to my support system and team who have kept me afloat these past two years. They have managed to keep me well enough to start living again. I am slowly coming back to myself, and that my friends, is a miracle in and of itself.”

Courtesy of Sarah Krestell

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Sarah Krestell of Toronto, Canada. You can follow her journey on InstagramDo you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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