By Alison Klosterman
Hello everyone! My name is Alison. The recovery story that I have chosen to share was originally written as a narrative essay for my English 170 class at Carroll University, and it has been further edited to eliminate any triggering content. Although there is a lot of vulnerability in sharing my story, my hope is that it would help others to see both the tragic reality of eating disorders and that recovery is always possible, no matter how broken or scared you feel. There is so much more to life than food and weight, and I promise you that to choose recovery is to choose joy. I’m not going to deny that recovery is immensely challenging, but that challenge is the perfect opportunity to grow: to discover who you really are, what truly matters in your life, and what your biggest dreams are. I hope that this story can resonate or touch you in some way.
I went to take a shower because I could not think of anything better to do in that moment. My thoughts were a whirlwind, repeating the heavy truth that my father had just spoken to me mere minutes before. My whole life was slipping away from me like grains of sand falling through my fingers, and I was just standing, watching them fall. The hot water rolled in beads down my spine, and I cried audibly, perhaps loud enough to hear over the bathroom fan and through the door. I was on the verge of losing everything: my college education, my athletics, and even my life. I felt insurmountable anguish. My whole soul was groaning for change. It was in that moment that I decided I could not live the rest of my life with anorexia nervosa. I had to recover fully and stop looking back.
This crucial moment finally occurred during the winter break of my freshman year of college, but I have lived with an eating disorder for the past six years of my life. Looking back, in some ways it seems paradoxical to me that I developed an eating disorder. I had a very loving family that valued education and hard work, and I was a smart and dedicated student. Yet, despite all the positive aspects of my life, I still developed an eating disorder. I had, I believe, a predisposed obsessive mentality: I was a perfectionist, and I always had to do everything the right way. Naturally, when I learned the correlation between food and weight at the age of thirteen, I also had to have the “perfect” diet.
At the time of the onset of my eating disorder, I was competing at a high level in the sport of taekwondo. My team traveled to tournaments around the Midwest, and every summer we went to Florida for Nationals. That year, I was also training for the U.S. Open, which meant extra workouts and an extra pressure to remain in my specific weight class. Although my parents were well-intentioned, they casually advised that I make small changes to my eating habits, so I did, and everything was fine for a while. It was not until after the Open that things started getting quickly out of hand. What started as an innocent act became an obsession with healthy eating and an ensuing obsession with eating as little as possible. The initial weight loss was an exhilarating ride down the steep slope of a roller coaster. It seemed so effortless and exciting on the way down. I liked losing weight, and I felt that somehow, in some bizarre way, my eating disorder made me special.
Our society values weight loss to such a high extent that people rarely think of all the physical and emotional baggage that comes along with it. When I lost weight, I lost more than just weight: I lost my friendships, my focus, my passion, and my ability to show love and kindness to other human beings. I was exhausted and deeply unsatisfied. The sole purpose of my life became to maintain my appearance.
Naturally, my parents were extremely concerned. They enrolled me in therapy and had me see a registered dietician, which eased my restrictive behaviors enough for me to gain some weight back towards the end of middle school. I entered high school in a much better place, and I quit taekwondo and started running cross country and track. Running became my new passion and my new talent. By my sophomore year, I was the top varsity runner on my cross country and distance track team. Counting miles and calculating splits became my new calorie counting, and for a while everything was okay. The eating disorder, however, was always present, and my obsessive nature only functioned as a fuel to my short-term success.
The weight began to creep down again. By my junior year of high school, my body was being exerted to the maximum. I felt an immense pressure to continue to perform well in races, and despite practically walking on eggshells between my restrictive diet and my relentless drive to run, for most of that year, I was able to pull it off. However, there came a point when my body could no longer physically keep up with the demands of my mind. My legs began to ache constantly; even on easy runs, it felt as though they were ablaze with lactic acid. My stomach always felt like it was shrunken, being pulled with a bungie cord against the back of my ribs. On the last practice I would attend of my track season junior year, I broke down crying in the middle of the workout. It was as if my body was revolting against all the years of undernourishment and manipulation; I hunched over with the force of my sobs in the middle of the track, the pain of my anorexia manifested plainly in the expression of pure anguish on my face.
Consequently, my parents pulled me from the track team, and being as profoundly exhausted and starved as I was, I felt a sense of relief more than anything. I started an intensive outpatient program, and for three hours every day after school, I would eat dinner at the clinic and have group therapy with the psychologist. My only job was to gain weight. It was dreadfully uncomfortable, but after months of therapy and weight restoration, I was finally able to run again later that summer and rejoin the cross country team. The year following my treatment was truly good. I qualified as an individual for the Wisconsin state cross country meet, applied to colleges, and went on vacation to Florida over winter break. Even after the initial impact of the COVID-19 virus, I continued to follow through in my recovery. I spent the summer before college working at the grocery store and training for my first collegiate cross country season. I was stronger and faster than I had ever been, and I was fiery with excitement to start school.
In many aspects, my first semester of college was a success. I excelled in my classes, made the Dean’s List, and ran surprisingly fast times throughout what we were able to have of our cross country season. I finished the semester as the top runner on the women’s team. However, at the same time, I was on my own for the first time in my life, and I was extremely isolated. Eating disorders thrive in such isolation, and as the semester progressed, my eating disorder surged. When I came home for winter break, my mom could hardly stand to look at me; she quickly realized I was not the same person that I was when I had left. I was depressed, reserved, and easily agitated. Without the pressure of school, my every waking moment revolved around food. Anorexia sucked the very marrow from my life. It was a demon that fed off my hopes and joys. It left me a hollow shell of my former self.
I felt more hopeless than I ever had in my life, but then something miraculous happened. I was standing in the living room, the fog of my eating disorder thick over my eyes and surrounding my whole being. My dad was on the other end of the hallway, taping the trim around the wall, preparing to roll on a fresh coat of paint. He abruptly stopped what he was doing and turned to me. He said, “You’re breaking my heart. Your whole life is slipping through your hands, and you’re just letting it fall. If you don’t close your fist on the last remaining pieces, you’re going to lose everything.” His words struck me to the core and left me speechless. In the ensuing hours, I made the decision to commit to recovery and to an intensive outpatient program.
Recovery from anorexia challenged me on every level. Not only was it physically and emotionally distressing to eat and gain weight, but it also challenged my identity and everything I had believed was valuable in my life. It was in this emotional turmoil of recovery that I found the love of Jesus Christ. Although I was raised in a Christian family, it was not until I realized how utterly broken I was that I turned to God. I became a member of a religious group on campus, watched online sermons through my church, and started to read my Bible every morning. I soon found that the deeper I dove into my faith, the more momentum my recovery gained. I began to develop new meaning in my life aside from my eating disorder and my athletics, and for the first time, I was overflowing with hope. Despite all my past treatment and therapy, none of it compared with the progress I made in the months following the discovery of my faith. I was broken, but with God, I found abundant redemption.
On a walk a few weeks ago, I realized that the years of prolonged suffering with my eating disorder had led me to find God. I am not naïve enough to believe that all my problems are suddenly solved; I am still in recovery, and I have accepted that I will likely continue to struggle with my eating disorder for some time to come. However, one thing I know for certain: following Jesus changed my whole perspective and competently changed the trajectory of my life. My eating disorder, even in all its strength, could not stand against the love of God. “For I am convinced that neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (NIV, Romans. 8.38-39).