A story of hope: I never thought I would be alive to see graduation

by Carly Stansfield

Carly Stansfield 18 years old
Carly Stansfield 18 years old

If I had to describe myself in one word, it would be fighter. Throughout my whole journey I have had to fight day in and day out to find happiness. I have had to fight for the one thing I have always wanted the most, full recovery.

For those who don’t know me, here is my story

I’ve always had insecurities and struggles–the biggest was separation anxiety from my mom.

In elementary school, I remember running to my mom who worked at the school, and clinging to her as my teacher pulled me off. I know now it was the start of my anxiety; even to this day I like to be around her because I feel safe.

On the other hand, I’ve never had the best relationship with my dad. He comes across like any normal dad– involved and supportive and I so desperately wanted him to be those things. This fantasy dad was a happy and loving person, when in reality he wasn’t.

I believe 100% that my eating disorder fed off of how he treated me

Not only that, my Dad’s treatment of me has made me feel unlovable and unworthy.

From a young age, I was never what somebody would consider “skinny.” And to be honest it never really mattered to me. I would occasionally get bullied, but for the most part I was OK with who I was. But that came to a halt in 7th grade.

This whole journey started with a case of whooping cough which lasted 3 months. Three months of coughing, 3 months of homebound, 3 months of being stuck at home with my thoughts. Then I lost my appetite.

For me, it turned into a cycle of eating less, and less, and less and I soon realized that by restricting my intake, I was losing the weight that I never previously had been able to do.

This is when the monster that is anorexia took over my life

If I thought 7th grade was bad, I could not have imagined the outcome of my 8th grade year. At the beginning, my parents were still together, which didn’t help the already troubled situation.

My father is a very angry person, something that really hurt my heart. It was so hard to come home because I never knew what mood he was going to be in. Sometimes it was good, other times it was bad.

My mom on the other hand is the complete opposite. She is an angel, only wanting the best for other people. As you could imagine those two very different personalities didn’t click well. I remember my anxiety and depression would be so out of control that I would just crawl into the fetal position next to my bed and cry.

One day after school, my mom told me to go straight to my grandparent’s house who lived only three streets from our house.  That was when I found out they were divorcing.

Living at my grandparents house was so much more relaxing than living with my dad. While that situation was looking up, my eating disorder was slowly grasping more control over me.

The restricting wasn’t the only thing I was dealing with.

Along with anorexia, I struggled with depression, anxiety, OCD, and self-harm

An average day for me was very different than my friends.

I would wake up, skip breakfast and head to school. My mom always packed me lunch but I would just throw it away. Then, after school, I would either go to the gym or run around my neighborhood.

Running and OCD are a deadly combination. The amount that I ran was never good enough. I would run 5 miles and my head would feed me the lies that I needed to run 6,7, or 8.

On top of that, my brain convinced me that when I ran around the neighborhood I had to touch every third mailbox (my OCD is very number oriented). I would come home and drink a zero calorie vitamin water and convince myself I wasn’t hungry.

Dinner was really the only meal I ever ate if I were to eat something. At one point, I was running 5 miles a day and eating a bowl of green beans, maybe every other day.

I would self-harm almost every night

My wrists were covered in cuts, but my head just kept convincing me that I deserved it. Convincing me that I was never good enough, pretty enough, skinny enough, or deserving enough of anything.

At this time my mom had made me start seeing a nutritionist weekly. I was so sick, I didn’t see any problem in my behavior. I remember asking my mom if we had fat-free peanut butter. She reluctantly said yes and my nutritionist said we needed to get the regular kind because it had what my body needed.

To put in perspective how sick I was, I ran out to my mom’s car and on the way home threatened to jump out. This is just one of the many instances that happened on a weekly basis.

During the 8th grade, we took a field trip to the Outer Banks, a trip everybody was looking forward to the whole year.

My mom packed me 5 apples and a can of chicken and I was convinced I wouldn’t even need that. For the most part I had a good time. By the second day, I still hadn’t eaten anything and thought I was going to pass out. That’s when I caved and ate the can of chicken.

That about ruined me. Then I realized my thoughts might actually end up killing me.

On August 13th, 2012, my friends called asking if I wanted to go to the pool. My mom said no.

I was a monster in this sickness and when she told me no, I went off. She came up an hour later and brought me a pill, telling me it was going to help with my anxiety.

Little did I know it was supposed to knock me out so she would be able to drag me to treatment. Later she came up and broke the news.

That pill did not help the first part of that trip at all

With my aunt driving, my mom had to hold onto me in the back seat as I attempted to jump out of the car and on August 14, 2012, I was admitted into the Eating Recovery Center in Denver, Colorado. That was the day that changed my life forever. I wasn’t expecting to meet people who actually understood exactly what I was going through. After my first night, I had created life-long friendships.

I was in inpatient for a week, and started seeing my assigned treatment team–a therapist, nutritionist, and a psychiatrist. We had appointments almost daily, 6 meal times, scheduled bathroom times, school, free time, and therapy appointments.

Meal times were extremely difficult, because I had to eat what seemed like an enormous amount of food. Wanting to get back home in time for the start of high school was what got me through those.

There were about 15 of us and it was like a sleepover every night. The best part about it was being able to support/be supported by people who understood. It was hard to be around people with feeding tubes because I so desperately wanted them to understand how worthy of life they were– something I didn’t think applied to me.

In therapy I was forced to deal with my thoughts and why I was thinking them, forced to cope without using self-harm, forced to not exercise because my body needed to heal. I had to go on a meal plan to gain the weight I lost. I had to learn to love myself.

After insurance benefits ran out, I was discharged and sent to their outpatient program. Because we don’t live in Colorado, we got a room at the Ronald McDonald House.

My mom had been staying there the week that I was in inpatient and I joined her while I was in PHP, a day treatment. So just like inpatient, we ate meals, had support groups, went to school, and saw our team. We were given day passes to go out and explore Denver. We were also encouraged to portion and eat meals out with our family. That was VERY difficult for me. After 6 weeks at PHP, I was finally discharged and sent home.

Transitioning back home was very difficult, especially since I had missed the first month of my freshman year. At school, I had to eat lunch with a teacher (so I was monitored), was required to go to weekly therapy and nutrition appointments, and had to be watched over most of the day.

Everybody was very supportive of me and loved me through it. Freshman year was also the year I met my first boyfriend and it was pretty steady. I was maintaining weight and coping in healthy ways. My grades were pretty good and I had many good friendships. I thought I had gotten through the worst of it, but boy was I wrong. The summer before sophomore year is when the monster that is binging and purging took over my life.

The day my eating disorder switched forms

I was in my sister’s room and there was a bag of Reese’s cups.  I ate some and felt great! I finally felt like I was in control. However that quickly changed to feeling completely out of control.

I quickly ran to the bathroom and stuck my fingers down my throat, forcing it all back up. That was just the beginning of this seemingly never-ending cycle.

Just as quickly as the eating disorder started back up, so did the self-harm. I was self-harming just as much as I was binging and purging. It was a never-ending cycle, normally taking place at night when I was alone with my thoughts. I would go downstairs and just binge until I felt like my stomach would explode. There were nights that I didn’t even purge because the feeling of being full was so comforting.

This was a cycle that caused me to completely isolate, missing so many days of school because I was so ashamed of having gained over 100 pounds in a span of less than a year. I was still with my boyfriend at the time. It wasn’t until one of my friends flew out to the Eating Recovery Center for anorexia, that I decided I needed help. So for the second time, at the end of sophomore year, my mom and I flew back out to Colorado.

This time was very different than the first. Controlling binging and purging is so different than forcing somebody to eat food. Again, I was in inpatient for a week, and then outpatient for 6 weeks.

I had the same treatment team, which really helped. For the second time I was stabilized, put back on a meal plan, and sent home. Being back home this time was so much harder than it had been the first time. Because unlike restricting, it is very hard to keep a person from binging.

For the next year I had good days and bad days, never truly getting over the eating disorder. My boyfriend and I were still dating until around the end of junior year. We broke up and at first I was wrecked because I depended on him for everything.

But something in me just clicked, I realized I didn’t need to recover for him, my friends, my mom, my sister, nobody.

The only person I needed to recover for was myself

Once I had that revelation, my world completely changed. I learned to cope in new ways and was working out the healthy way. I lost weight and started actually living life and made new friends.

I had a pretty big medicine change in the beginning of my senior year which lead to a suicide attempt. It’s sometimes scary thinking about what my mind is like when I’m off medication, but right now I’m at a place where I need medicine, and that’s OK.

Other than that, I went to football games, work, prom, and was finally confident in who I was.

Recovery isn’t perfect

Recovery is full of bumps but it’s how you get over the bumps that define who you are.

There are days where I slip up and I’m honestly still struggling with balancing my meal plan, but I’ve learned that’s OK.

I never thought I would actually be alive to see graduation. But by the grace of God, I was there and walking across the stage was a moment of pure joy.

In December 2015, I started going back to church. After treatment the first time I had stopped going because I was embarrassed. Being back in church has been such a big part of my recovery. I finally realize that God’s plan for my life is so much bigger than anything I can ever imagine; all I need to do is have faith.

People often ask me if I regret anything about this journey or if I would change anything; and my honest answer is no. I sometimes regret taking certain people through the journey with me but I just remind myself that God is really good at orchestrating things happening for a reason.

Because of this journey and sharing my story, I have been able to help multiple people. I have a passion for helping people struggling with eating disorders. My goal in life is now to be an eating disorder therapist and help people who are in the place that I once was.

If I could tell anybody struggling it would be to never lose hope

There will be days that you feel there’s no hope. But I promise you that the most beautiful things always come from a bad storm. No matter how dark the tunnel, there is always light at the end. That no matter your situation, you always have the power to ask for help and get better.

Recovery is not a one-day thing, you have to want it every day, and it never gets a day off. So for all of my beautiful fighters out there, keep fighting the good fight because recovery is possible.

“I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
~Philippians 4:13

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6 thoughts on “A story of hope: I never thought I would be alive to see graduation”

  1. Wow! I have chills! What a strong and wise woman you are. I am 46, but my teenage years were very similar to yours. I did not have an eating disorder, but I had a mood disorder and OCD. You are strong and brave to open up. It fights the stigma that creates problems for people in terms of reaching out for help. God bless you!

  2. Our lives are quite similar, more than you would imagine. I’m so glad you’ve come this far and overcome your obstacles. I don’t know you, but I know that you are a very sweet and strong person. Never lose hope 🙌🏻

  3. You have been so strong and overcome a lot. Life has a way of continuously throwing challenges at us, and to see someone who continues to fight despite those adversities is inspiring. You have a wonderful life ahead of you.

  4. You are a remarkable person. I love the fact you are giving so much or yourself to help others. Your Mom loves you and your sister so much! She wants only the best for her girls! Through your story you inspire so many…❤️

  5. Wow! You are so brave to tell your story! I know you have and will help so many people. I don’t even know you and I’m very proud of you! Keep fighting and please keep talking!!!

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