This has been something I've wanted share for a long time. Each time I've begun writing or even considered sharing this publicly, a voice held me back telling me I would be judged. For a long time I have kept hidden the real reason I was so sick for so many months last year. Though it was partially due to health problems, there was another reason. And I've been ashamed to share this story until now. But fear will get me nowhere, and perhaps this can help another person from going through so much pain.
This is the story about how I developed an eating disorder, battled it for nearly 9 years, and how I conquered this demon. Eating disorders are not just "getting skinny" or skipping a few meals. They are serious. They can kill people. It is critical we help those who suffer with this. We cannot keep losing so many beautiful souls. I know I cannot save every person who chooses into an eating disorder, but I can share my story so you know you are not alone, that you can reach out, and that you can conquer this and have a bright life.
From the day I was conceived, I was never wanted. I was an accident. I've been told my own biological mother never wanted to even hold me. My first four years of life, I lived with my biological parents who were extreme addicts until the State removed me from their care and put me into Foster Care. So from a young age, I already had to grow up a lot, lost a lot of control, and experienced a lot of heartache. Foster Care wasn't any better. I bounced home to home, my families were mean to me. I was finally adopted at the age of 7 years old. But with that family, a hell of it's own began. I experienced some form of abuse every day whether it be physical, sexual, or emotional.
My teen years were the worst. I was pushed to extreme's to be the "best" at whatever sports, academics, extra curricular my adoptive parents pushed me to do. Instead of being grounded from my phone or grounded like a normal teen, I lost the privilege to shower, eat, have a door on my bedroom when I lived as a teen girl in a home full of men and teen boys. I lost basic human rights. My adoptive mother controlled every aspect of my life, she put me down constantly, alienated me, abused me and put me in abusive situations. My adoptive father would constantly poke at my tummy telling me I needed to do more sit ups. At the time I truly believed I was fat though I was actually UNDER weight and what he was pointing out was normal skin and the normal pooch all females have. My mother and one of my sister-in-laws constantly told me how ugly my skin was despite all I did to keep my skin clear. Boys at school called me "pizza face". I was beaten, raped, molested, belittled by adults and others I should have been able to trust as a child and teen. I didn't recognize it yet, but I began developing an eating disorder around the time I began high school. It started by having my foo controlled by my parents. I was sometimes starved or I would only be given a few bites of veggies while everyone else got a whole meal and were allowed to get second servings. And then at one point, I began choosing into the behaviors myself without even realizing what was happening.
Sometimes I wouldn't eat for days. I was in Dance and on the High School Cross Country team. I wanted more than anything to have my parents, teachers, coaches, etc. to be proud of me. I wanted to be the best, and good enough to be accepted. So that meant I had to be skinny enough too.
I kept this pattern up for years. I'd go through times when I'd be "normal" and have regular eating habits as to not lose too much weight so others wouldn't notice. In the summer of 2015, I suffered a great loss which spiraled me back into my old patterns. But not only did I starve myself now... I also began making myself throw up whenever I did eat, even drink. But I continued to keep myself at a weight that was just "healthy enough" so people wouldn't catch on to what I was doing.
In the Spring of 2017, I told myself I was going to stop once and for all. I was miserable. So I started to "eat normal". But something started happening. My body began rejecting food and water because of the damage to my body caused by my eating disorder. I kept it quiet for as long as I could until it started to scare me. I was dropping more and more weight, I got dizzy and faint all the time, I was sick. I finally confided in my therapist, friends, and family as well as my doctor. Though they were all sad, they were supportive and wanted to help me get through this. I was immediately put on an at- home IV treatment for over 3 months to help me stay hydrated while my body healed. A nurse came to home to change my IV site every 3 days and I received fluids every day. But I kept getting sicker.
I finally had to be put on a feeding tube so my body could slowly learn how to receive nutrients again. I didn't think I was THAT sick though. In the photo below, I weighed a little under 80 lbs (I dropped to 70lbs), and I'm 5ft 2in tall, and I was 23 years old. I passed out all the time. I couldn't even walk or ride my horse, do normal household chores, work, run errands, without getting dizzy. I hated myself. I was so so so hard on myself. I was sad, angry, empty. I was carrying so much of my past and what others had done, had said to me, with me. I was letting it eat me alive.
A few days after this photo, I visited my friend, Katie Jo. She is clairvoyant, as well as one of my closest friends. She looked me in the eyes and told me "I love you so I must tell you this...you only have 30 days to live if things don't change." Part of me believed her, but didn't at the same time. There was no way it was that bad. Besides, I was doing everything my doctor told me. What else needed to change? A few hours after that, I had a doctors appointment and guess what he told me...? I had 30 days to live if something didn't change. I was beginning to go into heart failure, I was now 70lbs, and my body was giving up.
In the photo above I was at my lowest weight, 70 lbs (definitely not healthy for a 23 year old woman). In the photo on the left you can see the wrap covering my IV on my left arm. This is no way to live. But this is the reality of a serious eating disorder.
This shook me. I was genuinely scared. At first I let it turn into anger. I pushed others away, I decided that I was fine with dying because I wasn't good enough to be on this planet anyways. I went back to giving in to unhealthy behaviors until one of my friends and mother figures, Wendi, came down hard on me. She took me to the hospital and checked me in for a few days. I stayed in the psych unit, and got stable again.
While in the hospital, my brother, his wife, and my two nieces came to visit me. My 6 year old niece crawled into bed with me and cuddled me despite all the tubes I had on me and how scary I must have looked to a child. She and her older sister who was 11 years old, brought me cards they drew and had things written on them saying how much they loved me and how beautiful I was. This little niece of mine laid there with me, at my lowest, and made me feel more beautiful than I had my whole life. She told me how she couldn't wait for me to feel better, how I was the prettiest aunt she knew. She showered me with her light, her love, and so much praise.
And that's when it hit me. If this small child can see me in that light, is it possible all those things she believes about me are true? Maybe I could try believing what she said? So I tried. Even when I didn't believe her words, I would pull out her card and read it to remind me. Even Wendi left me a sweet note on a post-it that still sits on my desk to this day: "I love your brave." A few days later I was released from the hospital, determined to beat these demons.
And I did. It wasn't easy. To this day my body still struggles occasionally, but I keep getting healthier and healthier. I worked hard. I had to lean into the support of my family and friends. I am forever grateful for the inspiring women I have in my life who cheered me on, held my hand, and shook me by the shoulders when I was being a stubborn little shit. My brother, his wife, and his girls showed me the most wonderful unconditional love a girl could ask for. For awhile I used the love of these people to help me see my own light until I could see it on my own. Just like the quote by Ram Dass; "We are all just walking each other home." Every day, I had to listen to that little voice inside me telling me of my worth when the shadows wanted to swoop in and eat me up. But I did it. Even now there are still days that I struggle. We are all human, so this is normal. But I have to remind myself of my worth. I have to look back and see how far I've come to remind myself how strong and amazing I am. I have to see myself through my little nieces eyes.
During my recovery process, a message popped into my mind one day:
"As you keep your promises to yourself, the Universe will keep it's promises to you in return."
So I promise to choose myself and my highest good each and every day. I choose to keep going when it's hard. I choose only things that will strengthen me and beautify my life. And in return I am seeing the Universe keep it's promises to me. Since my recovery, my business has grown so much. I've found my tribe and true friends. I even found the love of my life. And he makes my heart so so so happy. He is definitely my mirror, I see so many amazing qualities in him, and he reflects back all of those things I needed to believe all those years. I truly don't believe any of this could have conspired the way it did if i hadn't chosen into healing myself from the inside out.
Photo by Maddie Jepson of Maddie Jepson Photography
Photo by Jaron Horrocks of Saans Photography
Now, I have a healthy relationship with food and my body. I am grateful for it and how it blesses my body. I've found other healthier ways to deal with negative emotions. I work out 5 days each week with a trainer. I focused on how I felt and being strong instead of being skinny or seeking approval. I can run, play, dance, ENJOY LIFE! I've gone from being 70lbs, to 105lbs, and I keep gaining more muscle each week! I feel stronger and more beautiful than I ever have. I finally BELIEVE those sweet things my niece said to me and I see myself through her eyes. And THAT right there was the change I needed to make. The photo below is Hannah now. She is strong, she is resilient, she is happy, she is proud, she is beautiful. I'm so proud of who I've become. It's not easy but I'm so glad I'm alive and I fought so hard.
One of the things that helped me the most was Lindsey Vonn's book "Strong is The New Beautiful" which you can buy on Amazon at this link:
I am also so grateful to my tribe, my friends, my family, my doctor, and my therapist that cheered me on and stuck with me through this! You know who you are <3
This is the same shirt I was wearing in the first photo almost a year later! Uhm and can we all just appreciate that booty and those guns?!?! ;)
But seriously, it's so worth it. You deserve to love yourself and have a happy, healthy, beautiful life. It's part of the reason why I love my job as a photographer so much. I am passionate about helping people see their true beauty, no matter how low they feel. Sometimes you have to see someone else's view of you until you believe it yourself. Please reach out if you or someone you love is struggling with this. I'm here and there are so many people who see you, love you, and want you to love yourself as much as they love you. You can do it. Remember, keep your promises to yourself, and the Universe will keep it's promises to you in return <3