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208 pages
Nov 2003
Harrison House

Mercy for Eating Disorders

by Nancy Alcorn

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Laura痴 story

before mercy 覧覧覧覧覧

As I reflect on my past, many parts are blurry, and many are clear. The parts that are easiest to remember are the profoundly painful parts, and I remember them as if they were happening to someone else. It was like I had stepped out of my skin and could watch myself, similar to watching a movie. As I watched this movie of my past play out on the screen of my mind, many times I wanted to yell at the person I had become. I wanted to stop her, shake her very hard, and question her. I wanted to scream, 展hat are you doing? and force her to change her lifestyle. The realization of these feelings instantly led me to know what my parents were experiencing at that time. It is a hard reality to face when you feel you have caused great amounts of pain and frustration in others lives.

Have you ever watched a scary movie, knowing that the boogeyman is hiding behind the door? The young heroine is reaching for the doorknob, and as her arm extends, you yell, 泥on稚! Go the other way! Run! There is something scary behind that door! I want to yell those very same words when I look back upon my high school years and view what became the beginning of a devastating eating disorder. I see the person I was and I want to yell, 鉄top! There are other choices, other paths to follow! That path is horrible. Please, choose another one! But at that time, I was unable to see any other choices. The pressures and situations I was dealing with in my life led me to one path, which at the start seemed harmless. Little did I know the lifecontrolling, all-consuming effects that path would have on me.

I don稚 remember the exact day I chose my eating disorder path. Perhaps the pressure to be thin was so inescapable that it seemed the path chose me instead. I do know that food had always been important to me, and I overate constantly. I was over two hundred pounds by eighth grade. I never drank, did drugs, or had sex. But I ate! While I don稚 remember when the obsession with food began, I do remember the first time I made myself vomit. It was messy and horrible, and afterward I swore to myself I would never do it again, yet knowing in my mind that I would.


The summer before my junior year in high school, I was extremely unhappy. I had gained an enormous amount of weight and was beginning to feel that I no longer fit in with everyone else. I was involved and participated in school activities, but participation didn稚 mean enjoyment.

I was academically successful but emotionally void. To adults, it must have seemed that I had everything together except my weight. I had perfect grades and perfect high school activities to complete the ideal resume for college. But socially, I felt like an outcast. I had friends but not the close-knit circle of friends the popular students had. I didn稚 have a boyfriend because everyone knew that boys didn稚 date fat girls. I had started high school only slightly overweight, still believing that my personality was more important than my looks. I really didn稚 think I was fat or ugly, but other students quickly sent me the message that I was. Being teased was humiliating, and the more I hurt, the more I ate, until I had forgotten why I was eating in the first place.

Peers can be cruel, and my peers were no exception. In junior high, a teacher of mine started calling me 鼎huckles because of my bubbly personality and smile. This harmless nickname evolved into a cruel insult. My peers began calling me 鼎hunkles instead of 鼎huckles, and eventually it became 鼎hief Chunk. Walking down the hall brought 杜ooing from other students. Some were rude enough to say to my face, 添ou are too fat to wear that outfit. I dropped my lunch one day and another student kicked it down the hall saying, 添ou don稚 need to eat that anyway.

Riding the bus was always a nightmare. I would miss the bus on purpose, just to avoid the embarrassment I faced every time I stepped onto the large, yellow vehicle. I had the unfortunate luck of being one of the very last stops before the bus proceeded to school. As a result, the bus was always full, and I could never find a willing soul who would dare move over to give me a seat. One boy would serenade me as I slowly made my way down the aisle of the bus. It was not a love song he crooned but a sick version of 的 Get Around by the Beach Boys. Instead of the phrase 的 get around, he sang, 鉄he痴 big and round, so big and round. She could squash the town, because she痴 big and round.

You may wonder where my parents were during this time. They tried to help, paying for diet programs, rewarding weight loss, and forcing me to exercise. This was all they knew how to do. They were acting out of love and concern. They were concerned for my health and wanted me to lose weight. How could they know that in less than a year they would still be concerned about my weight, but not because I was so heavy, but because I was so thin? Instead of diets, they would want me to eat.

That summer, my mom took me for an evaluation at a center for compulsive eaters.

They recommended inpatient treatment for one month, and I was willing to go. I wanted to lose weight because I believed losing weight would solve all my problems. But our health insurance wouldn稚 pay for it, so I didn稚 go. I did, however, begin to see a counselor.

Medication was recommended, but my parents were unable to admit that their daughter could be sick enough to need antidepressants.

I began my junior year and continued to eat my way through the daily pressures. I was so unhappy. I couldn稚 concentrate, and all I thought about was my weight and how no one liked me because I was fat. I felt alone and unpopular様ike a social outcast. These feelings began to interfere with my academic schoolwork. I couldn稚 concentrate on school. I began to fail my math class and dropped to a C in my history class.

Success was not an option; it was a demand. My father would inquire at the dinner table, 鄭re you getting all As this semester? A negative answer was not acceptable. He would also compare my performance to my sister痴. She had received two Bs during her high school career and, as a result, was one percentage point too low in her class rank to receive a full scholarship to an award-winning school. My father constantly reminded me of this situation and encouraged me not to make the same mistake as my sister.

My father痴 motives to drive me to succeed were well-intentioned but misguided. When I understood his reasons, I felt a deeper bond with my father and realized his great love for me. But during high school, all I felt was pressure to be the best in everything, at any cost.

At this point, my memory begins to get a little fuzzy, and this is where I step out of my body and watch myself. I was seeing a counselor at this time and she had recommended a teen meeting of Overeaters Anonymous. My mother would drive me forty-five minutes to these meetings once a week. There, a group of adolescent girls would sit and talk about dieting, eating, laxative abuse, vomiting, and other destructive behaviors. An adult was not present to monitor the discussion. I am still not sure how these meetings were supposed to help me. But I faithfully attended and made quite a few friends there. One of the girls that I met eventually became my bingeing buddy. We would spend every dime that we had on food and then vomit.

Our parents ended our friendship when we were caught shoplifting laxatives from the local grocery store.


I was beginning to see that to lose weight, all I needed were a few 鍍ricks, and then I could be skinny. But the weight loss seemed far away and distant, and the unhappiness took over every area of my life. I was soon suicidal, seeing no point in continuing a life that was so painful and meaningless. I engaged in self-injurious behaviors, slicing my arms with knives and razors. I had learned about 田utting in the group I was attending, and it seemed like an answer to some of the pain I was feeling. My counselor found out about it, and I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital that very same day. Luckily for me, or so it seemed at the time, I was placed on the eating disorders unit, where I could continue to focus on food and dieting and learn more tricks to weight loss.

I don稚 remember much about my first stay on the 'eating disorders unit, other than it was pretty useless.

As I said, I did learn about vomiting and laxatives. I don稚 really remember what the therapy consisted of. I was placed on medication immediately after being admitted to the hospital. The pill in the morning caused sleeplessness, and the pill at night made me tired. I guess the doctor figured they would cancel out each other. We were all weighed every morning, in a hospital gown, with our backs turned to the scale. Our meals arrived, prepared for us by a dietician, and we had to eat the entire contents while being watched by a nurse. After a meal, we could not return to our rooms for two hours. Between the three meals and three snacks per day, we went to our rooms very little.

It always amazed me that on a unit where the staff is trying to teach you how to focus on your feelings and emotions rather than food, the main emphasis of every day was food. The constant chatter centered on when the trays would arrive, what nurse was eating with us, what would be served that day, how we could hide what we didn稚 want to eat, and how fat this food was going to make us. Ironically, at that point in my life, I did not think I had an eating disorder.

It is difficult to recall the exact order of the events of this time because of the medication I was given.

Eventually it progressed to the point that I was on three or four different medications at a time, and my hands would shake as a result. This experience was painful, and as soon as it was over, I tried to forget about it. Now as I try to recall, the events seem misplaced and scattered.

I was overweight and used food as comfort, but my daily focus was not on food. My stay on the eating disorders unit shifted that focus. Professionals told me that my eating disorder was about feelings and the inability to express them. But I saw an eating disorder as a logical way to solve my main problem in life洋y weight. I was being tortured in school because of my size, so the logical solution was to conform to the standards of my school and become a socially acceptable size. It seemed rational to me.

All throughout the struggle with the eating disorder, people would tell me that what I was feeling was not factual or true. I knew that my father would not disown me if I got a B in school, but it felt true.

My reality was based on my feelings and perceptions. I was often told that I was not fat, but in the mirror, I saw a fat person. If I looked in the mirror every day and saw a fat person, am I going to believe that I知 not, simply because someone told me so? No. I was acting on my reality, and in my world the eating behavior was logical and made sense.

I returned to school at approximately the same weight in which I had entered the hospital. I rapidly began to lose weight as the year progressed. I never ate lunch at school and began bringing my breakfast to eat during my first period class. Breakfast consisted of a raw tomato or green pepper. I slept through many classes, too exhausted from the lack of nutrition to stay awake and focus. Teachers knew of the problem yet never commented. If any comments were made, it was on how great I looked or I was asked how I had managed to lose that much weight. Can you imagine the distress these questions brought? How do you answer a question from a teacher on how you lost so much weight? 展ell, Mrs. Smith, I lost this weight by ingesting nothing but celery and coffee for the past three months. Would you like a copy of my diet plan?

I don稚 think that answer would have gone over too well. Why were they asking questions like that when they knew that I had an eating problem?

I started my junior year wearing a size twenty-six and ended the year in a size sixteen. Not one teacher warned me of the dangers of fast weight loss or questioned my methods. One teacher even commented cheerfully in my yearbook, 的f you keep this up, we won稚 recognize you after the summer!

My senior year is a blur. (I began to keep a journal the summer before my senior year, and entries are dispersed throughout the rest of my story.) The school was air-conditioned, and I would always be freezing in class. One teacher let me keep a blanket under my desk to cover up with when I got too chilled. This teacher would tell me, 添ou need to eat, and I would respond, 的 can稚.


Even before school started, I had lost a lot of weight, and my body began to rebel. I could no longer survive on the few calories I was eating. It was then that the bingeing and purging began. This is a natural progression. A human body can only tolerate starvation for a period of time before you are forced to begin eating. The binges were small at first, just normal-sized meals, but progressed into evening-long marathons into grocery stores and all-youcan-eat buffets. I often wonder what the employees at these restaurants thought of me. I could eat more than a man twice my size, leave for the bathroom, return, and eat again. None of them ever commented, but they did look at me strangely. I learned to eat at self-serve restaurants to avoid the glances from strangers.


While I was starving myself, I didn稚 feel that anything was wrong with me. I was in control, just on a diet; no problem here. But when the bingeing began, something in my brain clicked, and I realized that I had a serious problem. How could I not be forced to face the fact that something was seriously wrong when I was spending time every day staring at my reflection in a pool of vomit in the bathroom toilet? Making myself throw up was not a pleasant experience, yet I continued to do it every day.

It became automatic, just a normal part of the eating process. What goes in must come out. I also added laxatives to my new weight-loss plan. Laxatives are disgusting, no question about it. To this day, I get nauseous just thinking about swallowing a laxative. After taking an entire box of laxatives, I would be up the entire night with cramping and vomiting. I would be extremely dehydrated, but I felt thinner. At school I would have to urgently leave in the middle of class and run to a bathroom, praying that I would make it to the stall in time.


Along with the bingeing and purging came a new ability to lie. I lied to my parents all the time. They were concerned and would question my eating habits, but I always lied. 鄭m I throwing up? Of course not, Mom! How can you think that? All the while I would be praying, 撤lease let her believe me; please let her believe me.

I was consumed by feelings of anxiety and dread. I would try to focus on school, friends, fun . . . but eventually it all returned to feelings of food, weight, and unhappiness. My life was revolving around the ability to binge, purge, and purchase laxatives.

    Threw up two times today. Stayed up until 1:00 A.M. and binged while Mom and Dad slept. I was scared they would catch me but they didn稚. I really want to lose a lot of weight. I need to look better. I feel like I致e been fat forever and will never look good. Everyone looks at me and says 努hat a fatso or 都he痴 so ugly迫they never say it out loud but I know they think it. If only I could stop bingeing or stop eating entirely. I think I am going crazy. My mind is all jumbled, and I can稚 figure out what痴 going on. One minute I think I知 okay, and the next I am going to cry. I want everything to just stop so I won稚 have to deal with anything.

    Personal journal entry, August 15, 1993


The school year continued with me bingeing and purging every day. I was sleeping in class, rushing to the bathroom because of laxatives, and crying at the drop of a hat. My hair was starting to fall out, and I had very little energy. I was still making straight As and was president of the Key Club, a service organization. I was also in the National Honor Society and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. I was a teacher痴 aide for a teacher who had been a nurse at the state mental hospital, and she recognized what was going on. One day I told her that I was having difficulty sleeping and that I didn稚 want to live.

    Bad day! Mrs. Baker called Dad because I said that at 3:00 in the morning I wanted to kill myself. Do I still want to die? Who knows? I have to see Judy (my therapist) tomorrow. Will I end up in outpatient? Mom and Dad are going to watch me really close now. They keep trying to get me to eat, but I don稚 want to gain weight. Today I had an apple, some pretzels, two maraschino cherries, and two mints. Is that too many calories? Probably. Feeling very lonely, worthless, like a major failure in every aspect of my life. I can稚 do anything right. I can稚 even take control of my own life.

    Personal journal entry, September 1, 1993

At that point, I reentered counseling. The therapist instructed my mom to choose all my meals, and I was supposed to eat them. Thankfully, this didn稚 last very long. I think my mom realized it was a futile effort that only drove a bigger wedge between us.

    Today was my last day of work. Hurrah! I was so sick of that place! I know I am getting worse because today I lied to the attendance ladies and told them I was going to the library to get a book, but I went to the store and got laxatives instead. I can稚 believe I did that. I am very emotional lately.

    Personal journal entry, September 30, 1993

I continued to lie to the attendance secretaries so that I could leave school and buy laxatives or go throw up. I hated vomiting at school and would drive to a gas station to vomit in the rest room there. I couldn稚 understand why no one could see the pain that I felt. I imagine that I hid it pretty well, continuing to smile and laugh. I always did my schoolwork and excelled academically, so the teachers must have thought that there was nothing to worry about. I was writing morbid stories in my creative writing class about people committing suicide and dying from starvation, but I guess it didn稚 cause any alarm.

I was leaving school early at least once a week due to migraine headaches, stomach pain, or just the need to get home and vomit. I would go to the nurse right after lunch and ask to go home. The nurse didn稚 notice the pattern. One teacher did yell at me for missing her class so often. Her class was in the afternoon, and I guess she took it personally that I was always gone.

    Gurgle goes the stomach. Pain in heart and stomach, but especially my mind. My heart is crying because I know I hurt my mom. I thought I could get better. I get up in the morning, and I will think I look okay, but that thought is chased away by demons in my mind, and the good becomes as small as a grain of sand. Why am I so fat? Why can稚 I lose weight? Why do I always disappoint everyone擁ncluding myself? Does anyone understand? I don稚 know anymore. I am really confused and walking on eggshells. I don稚 want to confront Mom and Dad. I know I致e hurt them. I wish they could understand that I don稚 do this on purpose to hurt them.

    Personal journal entry, March 9, 1994

I knew that I was hurting my parents, but what I didn稚 realize was the damage I was causing myself. I knew I was in pain, but I had reached a point where I didn稚 think the pain would ever end. I didn稚 want to die, but I couldn稚 continue to live with the agony.

    I lay here and I wonder葉his is bizarre邑ill they miss me if I die? Will they sit and watch tapes of me and cry or will they be like熔h, she was a pain in the butt anyhow. If they only knew how I really feel. Who am I? I don稚 know the true me悠 am different for so many different people. Which one is me葉he one most people like I guess. Every person I pretend to be is fat耀o how could they like me? Am I psycho or what? Don稚 answer that! Just get in shape woman揚et yourself motivated get up and do it遥ou can lose weight. Keep thinking these thoughts and I will!

    Personal journal entry, March 31, 1994

I still thought that I could 努hip myself into shape. I figured that if I could just muster the will power, that I could make all of this excruciating pain end. I didn稚 realize that is similar to thinking that I could have single-handedly stopped a runaway train. In my parents eyes, I was a runaway train. I had turned into a person they didn稚 recognize. I don稚 think they realized that they were watching me die. Day by day, I was closer and closer to being a corpse, inflicting bodily harm on myself that could end up being irreversible. I still wanted to be thin, but it was more than that. The eating disorder had turned into my everything. My world was myself, my food, and my body. No one else existed in that small world. I still heard the comments and took the criticism, but I now felt alone and lost.

Who could help me when I couldn稚 help myself?

    Threw up once today. I wish I didn稚 feel like such a failure. I let everyone down. Even myself. Why can稚 I just try harder? If I put in more effort I could accomplish so much. Lonely, dark, despair, desperate? Words on a page謡hat do I feel? So confused that I really don稚 know. How can you love me when I don稚 even know who I am? Where am I going謡ill I fail? I can稚 even lose weight, so how could I do anything else? Why is everyone so much skinnier than I am? I am a cow. Mooooo! If only I could lose weight. If only I was pretty. My whole life is 妬f onlys. Can it ever be anything else?

    Personal journal entry, April 18, 1994


The downward spiral into the eating disorder continued throughout my senior year. I was extremely depressed and focused on food and weight. I turned in every assignment and got excellent grades, but my life was incomplete and empty. No one, or so it seemed, saw past the facade of a successful, smart, motivated young woman.

My comments to teachers always focused on how I looked, how much weight I had lost, or the newest diet to hit the media. I was pale, sleeping through class, dizzy, blacking out, and continually losing weight. Through all of the problems, I graduated high school tied with three others for valedictorian.

I had given my life to Jesus at the age of fifteen at a weekend retreat. I knew that I needed God, but I had always thought that salvation simply meant that you weren稚 going to hell. I didn稚 know that the Holy Spirit could help you overcome. The summer before I left for college, I attended church camp and recommitted my life to the Lord. I was determined to go to college and be successful, despite what my parents or friends thought.


My first semester of college was very difficult. The new freedom of dorm life led to increased bingeing and purging. My body was continuing to deteriorate, and one morning I went into the bathroom to take a shower and woke up on the bathroom floor covered in my own vomit. I had passed out for fifteen minutes, due to the forty-five laxatives I had swallowed the night before. I again entered treatment over the Christmas break. I saw a nutritionist and placed hopes of recovery in the meal plan I was given. Armed with the meal plan, I thought I could conquer school, not realizing that changing the outward behavior would not change my thoughts or my heart.

My college career became a never-ending cycle of therapists, doctors, and nutritionists. I switched schools twice, in the hopes of running from my problems. Most of the time, I looked successful. I was maintaining a 4.0 GPA, teaching Sunday school at a local church, and working a part-time job. But on the weekends, when my roommate would go home, I took the phone off the hook and binged and purged.

Eventually my facade cracked. I was forced to call 911 from my dorm room because of intense chest pain. When the ambulance took me to the hospital, I thought I was going to die, and honestly, I didn稚 really care if I did. I was scared, but not disappointed, when looking at the end of my life. I was given intravenous fluids and potassium to ward off the impending heart attack brought on by electrolyte imbalances. I dropped out of school because I couldn稚 get out of bed. I spent many months going in and out of the hospital for depression, suicide attempts, and the eating disorder.

After trying fifteen different medications, the doctor suggested ECT (Electro-Convulsive Therapy), commonly known as 鉄hock Therapy. He sat across the table from me and said, 的 don稚 know what to do with you.

This is a scary statement coming from a psychiatrist who is supposed to help you. He told me to apply for disability because I was never going to be able to finish college. I also applied for Voc-Rehab, which is a program that pays for school for disabled individuals, and I qualified because I was considered mentally ill by the state.

I had six ECT treatments, and I remember little of that time period. Most of the information from that time comes from the hospital records that I have read and my parents descriptions. I do remember continuing to binge and purge throughout the treatments, as it was the only lifestyle that I could remember how to function with.


I knew that I was going to eventually die. I knew that the eating disorder would eventually shut down my body and I would lose my life. Every time I would vomit blood, I would wonder, 展ill I die this time?

My heart would race and I would become clammy and breathless, as spots of black would race in front of my eyes. My electrolytes were out of balance, and my body was struggling to function. There was no question; I was on a path to death. No one told me that I could get off that path.


After six years of an eating disorder, I was ready for something different. I wanted to die, but I also wanted to live. I decided to let the part of me that wanted to live make decisions, and that part of me chose to apply to Mercy Ministries of America. Mercy Ministries was first introduced to me at a Point of Grace concert, and I tucked it into the back of my head, thinking that I would never need to go to a 鍍roubled girls home.

Who wants to admit that they are so messed up that they need to go to a girls home?

Years later, when I was reminded of Mercy, I knew it was the only place that could help. I received a newsletter in the mail that told the story of a young woman who had been set free from the bondage of bulimia. Set free! I had never seen the words set free and bulimia in the same sentence, let alone read a testimony of someone actually healed from the disorder.

I felt hope rising in my heart, and I decided to find out about this place called Mercy Ministries. That story convinced me to apply.

Afraid of dying, I was willing to try anything. I had already tried everything else! When I informed my counselor that I was interested in going to Mercy, the counselor told me that if I pursued that course of action, she would not see me anymore. This counselor told me that Mercy Ministries was not a reputable place because it wasn稚 a 鍍reatment center. I had been treated by three separate nutritionists, four different hospitals, five different psychiatrists, and five separate counselors. At this point, I really didn稚 care what any of them thought.

My parents were skeptical, but after years of treatment and no improvement, they were willing for me to do anything. When I proposed the idea, they were scared of letting me go so far away, but in their hearts, they knew that if I did not do something soon, I was not going to live. I will never forget sitting with them in my living room, showing them the brochures and then watching their eyes widen as I told them what I was going to do. I know that they made many phone calls, behind my back, to check up on the program and assure themselves that they were placing their daughter in capable hands. But we knew I needed serious help.

When we locked eyes, the unspoken communication confirmed that I was on the road to death, and if going to a home for six months was what it was going to take to change paths, I was going to do it. With these apprehensions in mind, I filled out the application, did the phone interview, and gathered all the necessary medical information. I found out I was accepted and arranged a flight.

The day I flew to Nashville, my mother took me to the airport, and we both cried as we waited for the plane to board. We cried because we were going to be separated, but we also cried because we knew it was my last chance洋y last chance for freedom and healing洋y last chance for life. The next time I tried to kill myself, I would probably be successful. My mom was releasing me to Mercy Ministries because she knew if she didn稚, she would lose me forever. It was the hardest thing I had ever done, leaving my family behind and heading to an unknown city in the hopes of healing.

The plane made its descent into Nashville, and I watched the city unfold before me. I said a silent prayer to God, 鏑ord, please let this be the answer. Please let these people know how to help me. I am tired of searching and digging for help. I am tired and weary, and I can稚 do this anymore. Show me the answers. As

I walked through the doors of Mercy, I knew. I had finished my search.