Beutiful, from its humble beginnings 4 years ago, has brought me in contact with more wonderful people than I could have ever imagined. Through incredible timing and fate, the Beutiful twitter connected me with Amy Barbera, an inspirational singer/songwriter from Florida (check out her music here!). I’ve said it on twitter and I’ll say it again…the best word to describe my reaction to Amy, her music and her words is IMPRESSED. Not only is Amy an extremely talented singer and writer, but she is also a genuinely beautiful human being that uses her music to bring positive messages of love and compassion to the world. Amy also has such an inspirational and insightful story to share about her journey to recovery from Anorexia. In the following paragraphs, Amy shares – in her own words – her experience with the eating disorder and how she found peace. It’s an amazing story and really goes deeply into how and why eating disorders can develop. Absolutely worth a read!
To begin my story, I would like to share how I define Anorexia. Anorexia is not about food at all as many believe; it is a way of coping with pain and emotions that are stuffed so deep inside. It is like a dark, deep pit of sorrow that never ends and takes over one’s mind. In my case, my Anorexia stemmed from a dysfunctional childhood. I want to stress here that although I had dysfunction in my family, my parents are two very loving and caring people. However, they themselves had wounds and brokenness from their childhoods that carried into their marriage and in turn carried into my life.
My story really begins with my mother’s own bout with Anorexia. As she was growing up, her mother and her Aunt Betty put so much emphasis on outer beauty, weight, and achievement. Because of this my mom grew up thinking that she had to be perfect in every way. At a very early age, she started to become obsessed with her appearance and weight. My mother first started showing signs of the disorder at the age of 12 years old.
At the time, (in the 1950’s) Anorexia was a mysterious disorder. They did not know much about eating disorders at that time. Her condition worsened each year and by the time she was 15 years old; she was close to 70 pounds, taken out of high school, and her family doctor told her parents that she only had 3 weeks to live. Her body was actually eating itself internally due to her self-inflicted starvation. Her parents were told that she needed treatment immediately or she was going to die. At that time, the only hospital that knew anything at all about Anorexia was Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, MD.
While my grandparents drove her to Johns Hopkins, my mother fought them the entire drive. She did not want to go; but they had no other choice. When arriving at Johns Hopkins, they found that Anorexia was a rare disorder and not much was known about how to treat it. My mother was one of the first real cases they had ever seen. Her treatments consisted of insulin shock treatments (to shock the mind in breaking a pattern), tube feeding, and deep psychiatric counseling. It was a long and painful road to recovery. But after a full year at Johns Hopkins, and many treatments later, my mother overcame Anorexia. Even after leaving the hospital my mother continued her counseling.
Although she overcame her eating disorder, she battled mental illness and depression throughout my early childhood. During the first five years of my life, my mother was in and out of mental institutions and my father, although a great provider, was not emotionally present. When my mom was home my parents had a roller coaster marriage that caused a lot of stress and instability in our home. Even though they fought with one another, I never doubted for a moment their love for me. They were just coping with life the only way they knew how.
As a little girl, the only way I knew how to deal with the instability in my home was to stuff my emotions. I was a very fearful and insecure little girl; but at the same time, I was highly creative and I loved to sing. I often expressed my pain through music and art. I hated school in my early childhood years and I dreaded going to class. Because of the unstableness of my home, I never felt normal and was very shy. The feelings of fear and insecurity carried on into my middle school years.
During those years, nothing changed in my home and I learned to stuff my emotions even more. I was hitting puberty at that time and started to gain a little weight. I was nowhere near fat, but I was a little chunky. The boys in my school started teasing me about my breasts calling them “boulder holders.” My insecurity and self esteem worsened as adolescence set in and I felt out of control in my home environment. The combination of an unstable home life, an insecure body image, low self esteem and puberty setting in were the factors that caused my anorexic journey to begin.
My eighth grade year ended; and summer had finally arrived. At this time, puberty had set in full force and I started my menstrual cycle. My emotions were haywire and I had gained a little more weight; and so my obsession with body image and outer appearance became my main focus. I started to exercise just to lose a little bit of weight; but as the pounds started coming off, I became addicted to the thrill of weight loss. It started off as an innocent exercise regimen but quickly spiraled into a mind altering compulsion.
I began obsessively exercising, counted every calorie, weighed myself constantly and spent hours in front the mirror fixated on what body part was imperfect. As each pound came off, the fun and bubbly Amy disappeared. The girl who used to laugh, sing, and who loved to go to out to eat and socialize with friends and family no longer existed. I slowly started to withdraw from all those around me. I avoided any form of social functions that involved eating and went into a state of deep denial. As those around me started questioning my obsessive behavior, the further I went into denial.
I thought I was Ok and that those who questioned me were just jealous. In just a matter of months, I went from 115 pounds to 85 pounds, by starving myself to death and compulsively exercising. I was strictly anorexic; I never vomited or took any form of laxative to lose weight. I would look at myself in the mirror, even at 85 pounds and I would think I was fat. My food intake consisted of a 500 calorie a day strict diet of only a few choice crackers, chocolate, non-fat frozen yogurt, eggs, sugar-free pudding, and a few fruits and vegetables. The obsession with calories and food consumed my mind. I would go 12 hours straight without eating and would only eat at specific times. My menstrual cycles ceased, my hair grew brittle, my skin was very dry, my eyes and cheekbones were sunken in. I was constantly cold, tired, hungry, and angry. My life had spiraled out of control and although I thought I had control of my weight and emotions, I was living a lie. I was really killing myself.
Day and night, all I thought about was food and my weight. I remember buying teen and food magazines and spending hours cutting out pictures of food from the magazines that I desperately wanted to eat. I constantly compared myself to the girls in the teen magazines and wished I could be like them. It got to the point that I would go the whole day without eating and then at the crack of midnight, I would prepare a huge chocolate sundae so that I could quiet the hunger pangs. The funny thing is that during the day I would prepare meals for my family but I would not even eat a single bite of what I had prepared. I remember one night I had a horrible dream; I dreamed that I was a skeleton and that I was dying. I woke up scared to death. My sister, Julie would often cry because she said I had the look and smell of someone who was dying. My parents and grandmother did not know what to do.
The whole family was torn apart because of my disorder. My parents sent me to our family doctor and he was so concerned, he referred me to Johns Hopkins Eating Disorder Treatment Center. My family and I went to visit Johns Hopkins, the same hospital my mother had been admitted to decades earlier. Johns Hopkins Eating Disorder Inpatient Program at that time was so full that I had to be put on a waiting list to be admitted. I went home and started my freshman year of high school. The first day of high school for me at that time was a terrifying experience. I was close to 80 pounds and those that knew me from middle school were shocked when they saw how thin and emaciated I had become. There was a lot of whispering amongst those who knew me from middle school. Everybody seemed very worried about me. I wore very, very baggy clothes and hid myself from all those around me at school. I did very little socializing at that time and refused to eat in front of anyone in the school cafeteria. During gym class I had absolutely no energy to participate in any activities. I remember that my bottom side was skin and bones and it hurt so bad to sit on the hard gym floor. I was so miserable and afraid and I felt like a prisoner in my own body.
The only person I would talk to at that time was a girl named Tammie that I met in all of my classes. We became the best of friends and she really encouraged me to get well. I started to slowly gain my weight back and things looked like they were getting better. I joined the cheerleading squad, met my high school sweetheart, I sang in the choir and I started to socialize again. Throughout the rest of my high school years I became popular and lead a fairly normal high school life. It look liked my anorexic days were behind me but that was not the case at all.
During the first year of college my high school sweetheart broke up with me and things spiraled out of control in my life! That is when I met my second boyfriend Patrick. He was a real Godsend in my life and he helped me get over my high school sweetheart. We loved to go out to eat so much so that I started to gain a lot of weight and that scared me. This is when my anorexia came back in my life full force. You see I never got to the root of why I had anorexia in the first place so once the fear kicked in again my horrible disorder came back like a thief in the night. I obsessively started exercising again and all those feelings of insecurity and self judgment took over my heart and mind once again. The old anorexic Amy that I thought would never return came back to haunt me. My weight dropped drastically and all those around me were worried about my condition because they saw that I was going back down that horrible road.
Patrick, my boyfriend at the time, was like an angel in my life. Next to God, he was single most healing factor in my life. Patrick came from a very stable and healthy home environment. Patrick’s parents loved each other very much and there was little if any fighting in his home. He was very patient with me and he treated me the way he saw his dad treat his mother; which was with unconditional love and respect. This was something I never saw with my parents growing up. There was never really any healthy display of affection between my mother and father; so observing Patrick’s family really helped me in many ways.
During the lowest times of my anorexia Patrick would comfort me and cry with me and he desperately tried to understand what I was going through. I know it was very hard on him because I was an extremely difficult and a very selfish person at that time; but he stood by my side and encouraged me to get help. It was God’s love working through Patrick that made me realized that I had a problem and needed help to overcome my disorder one and for all. This is when my road to recovery started.
I started seeing a wonderful eating disorder counselor named Susan once a week for a whole year. Susan was amazing and I really mean that. She was another angel in my life at that time. The first few months of counseling consisted of me rambling on about food, weight, and calories but Susan would gently say to me, “Amy this is not about food and weight at all.” At first I was not happy when she said that to me but as I got more comfortable with her I realized she was right. This is when the real healing begin.
I have to say that when you begin real healing and dealing with those deep seated wounds of why you have anorexia in the first place it is often a very uncomfortable and an embarrassing place to be; but it is extremely crucial in the healing process. Since my early childhood, I learned to stuff all of my emotions and now for the first time, all of the emotions buried so deep inside of me begin to surface full force. I learned to acknowledge my feelings and desires, I began to talk about all the fears and dreams I had within me and most of all I learned how to forgive myself and my parents. I remember many sessions with Susan where I would just cry and cry and cry because all those feelings where being released for the first time. I would walk out of the session sweating and in tears but it was such a great feeling.
This is when the desire to starve myself ceased and my heart begin to change for the better. I started talking to God and searching for my true purpose in life. I no longer focused on my weight and I begin to focus on God and the dreams and gifts that he had placed within me. I was free to fly. I realized that although I did not have a perfect childhood or perfect parents, that was ok. My parents were imperfect humans just like me with fears and dreams and insecurities and they were doing the best that they could with what they had. I learned to forgive and accept them and I think that was the biggest catalyst in my healing. Anorexia is not about food and weight – it is about dealing with emotions deep inside yourself.
In order to truly heal from anorexia you have to face those emotions and learn to love and accept yourself and others and realize that you do not have to have full control of your life. Today I am free from anorexia. I am serving Jesus with my whole heart and I am doing what I love and that is singing, writing songs and helping others. I pray that I can be a blessing to you and encourage you during your recovery process. I pray my story and my music makes a difference in your life. I am here if you need to talk. I truly understand where you are because I have been there myself. Stay encouraged and never lose hope, for all things are possible with faith! Check back next week for our exclusive interview with Amy!