Recovery from both an eating disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder, PTSD, is possible. Here, brave Amie Shields shares her inspirational story of transformation. Amie writes about needing to get to the “roots” of her eating disorder. We all know what happens if we pull a weed up only by the surface, leaving the roots. Inevitably, it grows right back. To eradicate a weed as well as an eating disorder, we need to “pull it up” by the roots. In my life, this meant that I couldn’t hold onto any of the eating disorder. If I tried to hold onto just a little restricting, as an example, some eating disorder roots remained. I relapsed. For those with trauma that precedes their eating disorder, they might need to address PTSD. If you are struggling with an eating disorder and/or PTSD, hold onto hope, like Amie says. She writes, “There is so much joy ahead.” I agree!
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Bring Your Brokenness
by Amie Shields
I stood crying at the end of the long hallway of a residential treatment facility for eating disorders, surrounded by women like me – broken, hurting, and physically and emotionally unsafe to be on our own. The indescribable feelings intensified to the point it seemed my heart shattered in a million pieces. I didn’t think I could survive it.
Even though, in so many ways, that was one of the worst days of my entire life, it was also the beautiful beginning of the rest of my life. The treatment team literally held me up – mentally, spiritually, and even physically – as I began the difficult process of pulling the eating disorder out by its roots.
We started with the earliest time I could remember. Beginning with an abduction at the age of three, much of my life was stained by trauma and abuse. No one ever talked about it. Being sad was being silly. We never discussed negative emotions; someone always had it worse. I blamed myself for so much.
In my junior year of college, everything began to unravel, creating the perfect storm for an eating disorder. The unprocessed trauma, the abuse, the violations – all of it came to a head when a boyfriend blamed me for some of the incidents.
The catalyst was a physical education class which required documentation of all intake and daily workouts. Part of our grade included our BMI. That was all the eating disorder needed to sink its claws in and draw me into its horrific slavery. Over the summer, I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa.
I agreed to go to counseling for a couple of months. Unfortunately, I became really good at covering symptoms for the next two decades. I never reached the roots of the disorder. And the heavy baggage of messy life experiences was still strapped tightly to my back.
When I entered marriage counseling in 2016, I began processing my traumatic experiences for the first time. And the embers of the eating disorder that had hidden quietly all those years exploded in flame within me. After four months of extreme behaviors, it was determined that a higher level of care was necessary, and I was placed in an intensive residential treatment facility. Not once, but twice. The diagnosis was anorexia nervosa–extreme, PTSD, and major clinical depression.
Recovery has been a process of unpacking that heavy bag I’ve been carrying my whole life. Because I never acknowledged or processed trauma, I learned to push those disgusting, shameful, and dirty pieces way down in the bag, out of sight. I ensured the pretty pieces were arranged neatly on top so that everyone could see the part of my life that was all put together.
So my team and I dug down to the heaviest and ugliest pieces. Treatment was like sitting in the middle of the floor with the entire contents of my bag strewn all around me, covering the entire room. It was a mess. It was exposing. It was painful. It was scary. It made me vulnerable. It gave me anxiety.
We looked at each piece, many of them a lot more than once. Some were fine. Others had been mislabeled. Many were not my pieces to carry and shouldn’t have even been in the bag. Yet they were a part of the heavy load. Many were covered with such thick layers of guilt and shame that they were distorted and indistinguishable.
And, as we began to peel back those layers, hope emerged.
Hope had been there all along. His name is Jesus. But the eating disorder had filled me with such shame that I didn’t believe I was even worthy of hope.
Nonetheless, truth remains. I am worthy because of the price He paid for me. And He has been the glue that’s allowed us to put my broken pieces back together.
Today, I’m still on the floor with my team. We’re sorting, re-labeling, peeling, and gluing. But we’re making progress day by day.
Once God has restored the broken pieces, I’m tempted to put them back in the bag, hiding their imperfections. But my team challenges me to put them on a safe shelf, even while the glue is still drying, even if it means people may notice them. Every crack tells a piece of my story, and God is the Master of using broken things for good.
How beautiful it is when others see the brokenness and feel that it’s okay to bring theirs. They see that hope is possible because of God’s deliverance in my life.
Sometimes I slip up and make a mess again of part of our work, because recovery is far from perfect. But I get right back up and start in again, because hope allows for so much grace.
I’m amazed to look around me and see all that God has restored thus far. And as I walk this road of recovery, my eyes are being opened to the incredible sights along the way.
I’m learning to be present with my family. As I learn ways to survive the full impact of negative emotions, I’m simultaneously experiencing the full impact of positive ones. I’m feeling the wonder that comes from being fully present, being loved, connection, and even vulnerability. Relationships that the eating disorder destroyed are being restored.
The hope of all that recovery will bring strengthens my commitment.
God has given me a passion for writing which I’ve turned into a blog. He’s placed a dream in my heart to publish a memoir.
I’m going back to school to work on a counseling degree. I can’t even describe my deep fulfillment when God allows me to help someone because of my brokenness.
I want to be a recovery advocate. I dream of using the gifts of singing and educating God’s given me to travel the nation and share my story through word and song.
There have been many times in recovery over the last couple of years when my intentions were good, but my efforts were exhausting and futile. I valiantly surrendered my heavy bag on most days, but I always kept one hand on it so I could quickly scoop up all its contents and take it back when I needed its familiarity on the tough days. It kept me stuck. The ponderosity of the bag made me weaker by the day.
It was only when I relinquished the entire bag to Christ and took both hands off of it that the futility ended. That’s when He dumped out the entire bag for me, for good, and began the work of restoration. That’s when He opened my eyes to the truth that my treatment team had so desperately been trying to help me see.
One by one, He’s redeeming each piece in the pile, and in the redemption, He’s strengthening what once was so weak – my mind, my heart, my soul, and my body. His strength can move mountains. In Him, all things are possible.
That means that full recovery will be a reality for me one day soon. And it can be for you, too. No matter where you are, there is always hope. Don’t ever lose sight of it. There is so much joy ahead!