Her long and winding road to recovery

The first eating disorder myth is thinking it’s a phase. These psychological disorders are complex, life threatening sicknesses with serious psychological and physical consequences, that take months or even years to treat. But when Carly Miller pushed away her first slice of pizza, and gagged at the thought of the oily, melted mozzarella cheese, the consequences weren’t of concern.

Instead, this college sophomore dreaded the calories lingering in the first small bite that awaited her. While her friends scarfed their food down like they had never been fed before, Miller simply stared. She thought about what those calories might do to her body, and the visions made her sick to her stomach. Rather than enjoying her pizza, she got up from her seat, went to the bathroom, and vomited.

“My worst point was probably when I returned to Towson for my second semester sophomore year. Looking back on it now, probably the very end was what I would consider my rock bottom. Everyone hits that at some point. It’s when I realized that there was no way I could live my life this way. I was killing myself,” said Miller.

A star soccer player from the time she took her first baby steps, Miller strived to be the best she could when it came to sports. She was a stand-out student athlete in high school, with a competitive nature and natural drive to succeed. These two qualities were likely contributors to her eating disorder, which developed at the age of 15, the peak of her athletic career.

“Being an athlete, I was always told that the smaller you were, the faster you went, and I really stuck by that idea. In college, there were so many changes going on and I just felt like I needed something that I could have control over, and I chose my weight,”  Miller said.

She continued, “Additionally, there were some extremely negative experiences that I felt a lot of anger about, but was too scared to vocalize it, so I turned the anger in on myself and abused my body instead. I was always a slight perfectionist. I strived to be perfect in every way, and felt like the perfect  body had to accompany the perfect me. Which, obviously no one is perfect, but I thought if I could just have the perfect body, I would be perfect too.”

This is a common quality of eating disorders. Those affected are more likely to judge their worth as a person by their appearance and weight. Kate Clemmer, the Community Outreach Coordinator at the Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt explains the complex psychological nature of an eating disorder.

”When they look in the mirror, they’re seeing things that are completely different from what their body actually is. So, regardless of what size they are, they’re seeing themselves as overweight and fat,” Clemmer said.

Miller realized she had a problem after confiding in a few of her friends at Towson. They told her to seek help immediately, but that’s when the real struggle began. She started treatment on an intensive level on an outpatient program in the Baltimore area, so she could still attend Towson as a part-time student. When that didn’t work, she signed up as an in-patient in her home town of Philadelphia. After three in-patient hospitalizations and three intensive outpatient programs, Miller’s parents decided to send her to a long term facility in Toledo, Ohio.

However, her road to recovery was certainly rocky.

“I was constantly in and out of hospitals in between hospitalizations for things like dehydration. I missed a year and a half of school on the road to recovery, and when I finally found the right treatment center, things still didn’t fall into place like I thought they would. There was a good year where I was recovered, but it was still a constant up and down battle. Every day was a new difficult obstacle.”

Recovery is a struggle for most people affected with an eating disorder. For Brianne Widaman of the Revolution of Real Women, her recovery came naturally when she essentially created her own media to look at, instead of being intimidated by society’s standards of perfect.

“I started RRW when I was in the early stages of my own recovery from anorexia and bulimia. It was really a way for me to create the media I wished to see to celebrate the messages I thought women needed to be hearing instead of the ‘airbrush-this’ and ‘lipo-that’ talk,” said Widaman.

Like Widaman, the media also contributed to Miller’s disorder.

“I would sit watching TV every night and compare every girl on the TV to me. Whether she was bigger than me, smaller than me, or the same size. I looked at models in magazines and I strived to look just like them. I knew they were airbrushed, but I thought if I just worked harder than them I could look better than they do in real life,” said Miller.

Kendra Sebelius, who also struggled with several eating disorders, said the media does contribute to negative body image issues, but is not entirely at fault. She said that people really need to become aware of the images they are seeing.

“Ideal beauty does not exist, and children and people should start critically thinking about the messages they see on a daily basis,” said Sebelius.

After years in rehabilitation, Miller can differentiate fact from fiction. No longer is she the manipulative girl that sat in front of her TV with a tear in her eye. No longer is she the girl that becomes repulsed by the thought of calorie intake. Carly Miller has become a strong, fearless woman. Instead of succumbing to the darkness, Miller has battled her way to the top, and as she explains, she never gave up.

“It’s frightening as hell, but it is completely worth it. If you put all the work and effort and time you put into your eating disorder into your recovery, and you really really want it, then you will get there.”


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