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Ashleigh's Story: Finding Freedom From This Gripping Dysfunction!

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… From the struggles of a broken home, turning to food for comfort, and finding herself totally obsessed with her eating—to finally finding freedom from this gripping dysfunction!

My Life in a Skeletal Frame

I would like now to share with you an experience of mine—one of which, I would say, was definitely the most difficult aspects of my life I have had to deal with. This experience has been the most dominant factor in my life during its time, and it is something I have suffered for the best part of 5 years.

By now you are all sure to be wondering just what the heck I am talking about! Well, let me enlighten you! I have been victim of both a physical and psychological illness—that is, an eating disorder. Eating disorders can exist in many forms—for example, in terms of compulsive overeating, anorexia, and bulimia. These are but a few of the likely forms, and I have chosen to give these examples as, in my case, these were all the combined behaviors of my own eating disorder.

At the age of 17 I developed anorexia and bulimia, which then led to compulsive overeating, which was the most difficult habit to overcome when battling to heal myself of this illness. This was something I didn't bargain for under the circumstances of my eating disorder developing in an attempt to starve myself! My life at that point seemed to have taken a turn for the worst, and all the events that were taking place were out of my control. All of my life, in fact, seemed to be one drama after another. It all started when my parents separated when I was 4 years old. I loved my dad so much, and I could not accept the fact he was gone from my life. My mum remarried, we left the town we were living in, and I lost contact with my dad for 8 years—until I was 15 and my mum divorced the man she married after separating from my dad.

To cut a long story short, I grew up in a family that lacked the common love and affection that is required by any child growing up. My mum and I developed an unstable relationship due to the fact I was crying constantly to have my dad with me. This obviously caused problems with her new husband, and I witnessed some terrible physically and verbally abusive behavior being carried out against my mum in the process. My mum then remarried again when I was 16 and left the country to live and work in Pakistan with my younger brother and new husband. To let you know, I actually come from Scotland. I was born and brought up there and moved here to Montreal 2 years ago. When my mum left the country, I was finishing school in preparation to begin university the following autumn, which did not happen! I was unable to support myself financially and had to leave my studies to work as a dish washer in order to pay my bills in my apartment I had moved into alone. It was during this time my eating disorder began. My whole life had consisted of nothing but pain and misery, and I felt like I had nothing to live for. All my own dreams of studying towards a career were shattered, and my family had been destroyed. I felt lost and alone in the world.

As a child, and as a result of all of the family problems, I grew up to become a quiet, withdrawn, and nervous child who had no self-confidence or self-esteem. I believe this is why I developed an eating disorder. The 5 years that followed were the most horrific years I have experienced until now. My thoughts, energy and time consisted of planning my diet and my next binge. I would starve myself all day long, and when I left work, I would go shopping for as much food as possible for my evening binge sessions. All of my time was spent in planning binges—what I would eat, how I could cover it up so people wouldn't notice. In the beginning they didn't, but eventually they did and it began to affect my work. I worked in a restaurant where I was surrounded by food; I just couldn't help myself. I would smuggle food into the toilets and store room and would leave my work place and go to binge, then vomit. It was terrible, and I was in severe trouble at work. This was not acceptable, and what made it worse was I was working in a kitchen which was very strict in terms of hygiene laws. My boss took me to the doctor, where I was signed off as being depressed for a month. I refused to talk to a therapist and denied my problem, so they could do nothing to help me.

This carried on and grew to become worse over the 5 years that followed. My binges became more frequent, and my health deteriorated in the process. I could barely stand up and walk as my stomach and back ached so much from vomiting. My face was swollen, my eyes were red and blood shot, my skin was turning yellow, and my hair was falling out in big clumps. It is only recently that the bald patches have begun to grow back! So you see I was hardly the picture of beauty that I thought I would be with being able to shift "just a few more pounds!"

During the entire spell of this illness, I lost track of being the person I was—even though I had no clue of whom I was to begin with. I had no life—only food. I lived in a mind prison and was obsessed with eating and binging. Although I began with anorexia in the beginning, I learned how to binge—as I just had to eat for comfort, company, and to feel a sense of what I thought was reward. I was only fulfilling a gap of something that was missing in my life. During the spell of my life, I had developed no real sense of identity. I was very bad in forming relationships, as I had been shown no good example of this as a child after witnessing so many broken marriages, fighting, and arguments in my family. I reached out to food in an attempt to fulfill my internal emptiness but only suffered more pain in the long run.

I have reached the conclusion after what I have experienced through having had an eating disorder that most people do not really understand just what it is all about! Whether it is your doctor, psychologist, your parents or friends and even yourself as the one suffering from the eating disorder, the fact remains that most of us do not understand the real truth behind the cause and effects—both physically and psychologically—of this illness. There are many factors existing when it comes to eating disorders, and for all I have come to learn and understand from my own experience with this, I can tell you right now one article is not nearly enough to cover even one of these factors in full.

The reason why I have decided to open up and share the truth of my experience with the world is mainly for two reasons. First of all, by my sharing the experience with you, this is my way of a release, closure, and a final stage of "letting go" of the experience—in terms of me being "the victim" of the eating disorder. I truly believe that, until we release an experience by becoming able to open up and talk with other people in a free and emotionally detached manner on the subject, we are never really "letting go" and allowing ourselves to heal completely.

The second reason is by no means less important to me than the first reason—that is, I really do hope that with my sharing the truth of what I experienced that I might be of help other people who are suffering from the same illness. I would like to aim particularly towards younger people and teenagers, as I wish to stress why it really is unnecessary to be punishing and torturing your body and mind in this way when there is nothing to gain but physical, mental and emotional hurt, pain and misery.

I will now take the opportunity to inform you all that I have recovered from this illness, and no it was not an easy task! However, I did succeed, and it has been almost a year since my last episode with the eating disorder. The following months were spent in trying to adapt my life, body, and mind into a "normal" way of functioning. This, in effect, was almost as difficult as the eating disorder itself, but this period cannot be disregarded, as it is an important part of the healing process and is really a critical time where you have to have patience, courage, and endurance to see it through. During my illness I received no medical assistance, treatment, therapy, or counseling. I managed to overcome it on my own. What was my reason for this? I knew I could do it! This is not impossible for anyone to do when you have a strong will and determination to heal yourself—especially when you know you are on the road to seriously damaging your health, even possibly killing yourself. I am not joking either! I think that with those concluding factors in mind, that should be enough for anyone to wake up and face the reality of the whole situation!

I have heard several times from a few different sources that an eating disorder is something that a person will have for the remainder of their life. So, what's my verdict there? Well, yes, if you allow yourself to believe that assumption, then of course you will be a victim of this illness forever by the mere fact you are listening to that conclusion and accepting it as being the case as it stands. On the other hand, what I believe is that nobody should be a victim of anything for the rest of their lives. I believe I do have the right to state my opinion on this as I have passed through many very difficult experiences since a very young age and I was capable to heal myself from the scars. It was not an easy task, but I managed in the end.

There is no excuse when it comes to dealing with our problems, regardless of the extent of the experiences. All it takes is strength, courage, will, and determination to fight your way toward healing your problems. Even if you don't understand fully how to do what you are doing, eventually you will, but you must first of all be determined to heal yourself and realize why you are going through with the task of your healing in the first place. SO why are you doing it? For you, of course—because you deserve to live the best, healthiest, happiest, and fulfilling life that you possibly can! That is why we are here after all!

For any of you who know me who are reading this and are in a state of shock and saying, "I never knew Ashleigh to be this way—being bulimic? It can't be!" Well, all I can say is that it is a fact, and of course you wouldn't have ever known until now. That is the whole point of an eating disorder—it is allegedly your best-kept secret. Even in the case where people in your environment are suspicious of you having an eating disorder, they will never know the truth and the extent of it unless you, being the victim, decide to reveal the truth.

I will leave you with these thoughts in mind for now and think about your life—where and who you are in accordance to that. The one thing I have learned from all of my experiences that is of ultimate importance is who I really am and the true value of that. The same stands true for all of us—if we cannot learn to love ourselves for all of who and what we are inside and out, then how can we possibly ever be happy in life—even under the best of circumstances? Think about it!

– Ashleigh Stewart

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