‘Please give me something to eat. I can’t do it anymore.’ My stomach was swollen. I felt weak and powerful at the same time.’: Model overcomes eating disorder, ‘I’m MORE than a label’

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Trigger Warning: This story contains details of sexual assault and eating disorders that may be triggering to some.

“Do you know the feeling when everything feels like it’s falling apart? Your heart, body, mind, relationships, school, job, all the things important to you are split into million pieces. I felt like that every day until I was 20 years old. I didn’t know about better things outside of my depression, PTSD, and eating disorders. It felt like I couldn’t even get outside of my head. My story isn’t just about PTSD. It’s about not listening to your demons, and growing personally no matter what anyone says and no matter what your brain is saying to you.

Everything started when I was extremely young. I grew up in a café my family owned at the time. As an only child, I’ve spent most of my life alone. Yes, I had some friends, but I kind of like to isolate myself and be alone. It helps me refuel my energy. You could say I’m an introvert. As I was growing up, I couldn’t fit into society’s standards, and children can be very cruel when you’re different. Loneliness just started to rise into a ball full of misery. Depression kicked in when I was 12.

The first couple of months of high school were extremely stressful. I would go to school one hour earlier, just to prepare mentally. There was a constant feeling—I just couldn’t stand the new surroundings, the new people. I felt like everyone was judging me and like I was all alone. Constant social anxiety made me skip classes. I went to school by side roads where no one could see me, and I started seeing therapists who didn’t know how to do their job properly. I started plunging deeper and deeper into depression. I started drinking too much and I didn’t care about myself at all. I couldn’t wait to get drunk again and again and again, just to forget about reality. At the end of the first school year, I met a guy who was finishing at the same high school. I fell in love, and we would go out and get drunk together. After a month of hanging out, we talked and agreed to stop going out because he was about to go to college after summer break.

At the beginning of the new school year, I really wanted to go out. Since my friend couldn’t go out with me, I decided to go alone. I’d found some acquaintances and we were drinking together. When I was half-conscious, he came. I was so happy because I hadn’t seen him in a long time. I took another drink and he asked me, ‘Will you come outside with me?’ We danced a bit more and went out. I wasn’t thinking straight and just thought he wanted to talk. As soon as he started kissing me, I screamed, ‘STOP! I AM NOT READY. I don’t want this.’ I was taken advantage of. As soon as I got home, I went to my room and started crying from the bottom of my soul. I threw all the clothes out immediately. My mom couldn’t believe it. She asked me what happened, but I couldn’t talk about it. She gave me a sleeping pill so I could calm down. I fell asleep beside her.

Courtesy of Kristina Kavran

Everything changed after that night. I unconsciously stopped eating and started training in a kickboxing club. I would purge before training and just work out on empty stomach. I lost 26 pounds in 2 months. Eating disorders are no fun. The only thing I could remember is thinking about food and staring at a laptop screen or wall for the whole day. Nothing seemed real to me. It was almost Christmas back in 2014—I remember going to a coffee shop with my friends, and I was too tired to be awake at 7 p.m. My legs hurt from walking, and I just went to my grandma’s house. I was lying down, feeling cold, empty, hungry, and weak. I wanted to go to the bathroom and almost fell down from weakness. My legs weren’t strong enough to hold me. I held the door frame and slowly went to the toilet and back. Eyes full of anger, sadness, disgust, and shame. Tears began to flow.

Courtesy of Kristina Kavran

I whispered slowly, ‘Grandma, please, give me something to eat. I cannot stand it anymore.’ I felt weak and powerful at the same time. From this low point, I was just moving up, even if I couldn’t see it at the time. In 2015, I had an opportunity to work as a model. My scout helped me with my first-ever runway show, and a few months after I traveled to Milan for work. Just before traveling, I ended up in the hospital. My digestion was too slow, and I couldn’t go to the bathroom for a month. Doctors gave me different kinds of laxatives and they didn’t work. My stomach was swollen, and it hurt so much I couldn’t sleep. My heart rate was getting lower and lower. The nurse told me, ‘You can’t go home until you start gaining weight.’ I gained weight on purpose just to travel to Milan, and my stepfather helped me leave the hospital after a week.

Courtesy of Kristina Kavran

At the time I thought, ‘No way! I am in Milan! As a model. OMG, what is happening? I am traveling alone. This is so awesome!’ It’s one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in my life. I was only 17. I had an awesome apartment with a beautiful view. We had our own gym, swimming pool, sauna, and we could go out together whenever. What a dream, right? Well, it was great, except my mind wasn’t in the right place and I couldn’t even admit this to myself. I refused to eat, and if I’d eat too much, I just threw it up when I was alone in my apartment. Journaling has been my thing since then, but the thoughts written inside were like my demons wrote them instead of me: ‘Everything is wrong. Why am I still here? What’s wrong with me? Why doesn’t anyone know how to help?’

Courtesy of Kristina Kavran

At one point, the light in my head turned on. ‘I want to be healthy. I cannot travel this sick. I don’t want to starve myself anymore. I love working out, but I am too exhausted if I don’t eat. I also want to help others with the same problem. I cannot help them if I’m sick, too.’ That was the final reason why I stopped modeling. My subconscious mind was telling me, ‘I am worthy of better things.’ It was a constant battle. However, I started going to the gym and set a goal to gain weight in a healthy way. One of the most beautiful moments was when my best friend told me, ‘It’s beautiful to see you eating again.’ At that moment, I knew she cared, as it was hard for her to watch me in this state. Every time someone close to me tried to talk to me, I couldn’t explain exactly how I felt. I suppose because I felt they wouldn’t understand. My mom told me we should get a professional. I cannot stress enough how important support is while recovering.

Courtesy of Kristina Kavran

Although I struggled with finding the right person to talk to, I finally found a therapist who listened to me and tried to understand my situation. It was in October of 2018. At the time, I was seeing her once a week, as well as attending an eating disorder recovery group. My therapist never pressured me to do things I didn’t want to. She gave me optional homework each week. One thing my therapist said, which is deeply cut into my soul, was, ‘You know, when I look at my calendar and see we’re having an appointment, I never think first of what happened to you. I don’t see you just as a raped woman, it’s not your label and etiquette. It is not your whole life. It’s a small percentage of it, and you’re strong enough to get life in your hands.’ This sentence, no matter how simple it was, gave me a totally different perspective on my life and myself personally. I wasn’t just a victim in my head. I am not just a survivor. I am so much more than a label.

Courtesy of Kristina Kavran

One thing I didn’t mention is exercise. The gym was my safe and not-so-safe place. I exercised too much, especially at the start. It was my escape—since I could only focus on training within those 1 or 2 hours a day, nothing else existed. Throughout my fitness journey, I realized how much space in progress the mindset takes up. It’s not just exercise and it’s not just nutrition. Everything begins in the mind of a person. If our mind is not a healthy and safe space, it will make a huge impact on our long-term results and happiness. During my recovery, I realized how much I want to help people. I’ve started to feel this intuitive sensation, telling me I was capable of so much more, and it’s my purpose to make people aware of their potential, too. Helping people is giving me a sense of fulfillment.

Courtesy of Kristina Kavran
Courtesy of Kristina Kavran

In 2019, I could finally sense a breath of freedom. Freedom from the constant pressure in my head. Freedom from obsession over things that do not matter. A great burden fell from my back, and I was finally able to stop crawling and run freely away from the chains of the past. ‘Surviving rape made you brave and strong’—the sentence which doesn’t have a negative connotation, however, it’s not a whole truth. People are strong and brave, even without abuse and rape. It’s not what made me strong. I choose to be strong every day. Rape happens no matter what a person is wearing, how she/he looks, or what her/his social status is. Stop blaming the victim. I can say this over and over again. I was blamed, too. People called me names because of what happened to me. Nobody believed me or took me seriously. It’s not shameful to be a victim, but you are certainly not just a victim.

Courtesy of Kristina Kavran

It’s not a label. It’s possible to live a quality life after a traumatic experience. It’s not just women who get raped and abused, it happens to men, too. These things happen all the time, no matter how unaware we are about them. Traumatic experiences can affect your whole life, mental health, relationships/social life, career, and so on. It’s painful and these things are not predictable. It’s not your fault! Your story is worth listening to. Your story is valid. Please don’t give up on yourself.”

Courtesy of Kristina Kavran
Courtesy of Kristina Kavran

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Kristina Kavran of Croatia. You can follow her journey on Instagram and Facebook. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

Read more inspiring stories from eating disorder survivors:

‘You’re embarrassing to be seen with.’ My BMI was too high. He told me, ‘I want to break up, I’m bored.’ I began starving myself for his attention.’: Woman urges ‘never let anyone determine your worth’ after nearly-fatal eating disorder

‘It’s nobody’s business!’ I’d tell myself. I was in survival mode. I dropped to 75 pounds. I thought I’d never wake up..’: Woman shares recovery journey from eating disorder, ‘I chose a life of fullness’

‘Half my bowel was coming out of my body. The doctor said, ‘Hannah, I have no idea what to do with you anymore.’: Woman survives life-long battle with eating disorders after trauma, ‘There is always hope for change’

‘No one else has the guts to tell you this, but you look like a crack addict.’ I was surrounded by a looming cloud of self-hatred.’: Woman beats lifelong battle with eating disorders, ‘I get up every day and fight for my life’

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