Recovery Story – Alicia Nickelson
I remember the fascination I felt when food labels started being posted on many different items in grocery stores. It was the precipitating point of interest in a world that was soon to spiral out of control. As an only child who was extremely sheltered from the basic happenings of childhood and adolescence, looking back, it is no wonder that something larger-than-life would eventually consume me. Around age 12, I began limiting sugars and fatty foods. It was easy for me, made me feel like I had accomplished something out of the norm, and I received much attention from these behaviors and changes. At the private school I attended, I was considered odd by my peers’ standards so this newfound interest didn’t change that perception much. I was a late bloomer but by 15 I was starting to really hit puberty. My mom was not supportive of these natural changes. Again, I had no control, but I also had no support or basic understanding of what was going on with me. Very quickly self-loathing became a way of life. I quit wanting to take care of myself. Even basic hygiene was something I felt I could do without. In a matter of a few months, I had shaved off many more food groups and convinced myself and my family that this was the new planet we lived on. For a while, everyone basically buried their heads in the sand and my anorexia really took flight. I wasn’t officially diagnosed til age 15, but I can date the behaviors back to age 12.Thus began the arduous never ending journey that went on for about 10 years. I lost all common sense during these times. My life was lost in a haze of doctor’s visits, counseling sessions, and lots of begging and pleading. All of this felt like an attack, and I retreated. I was adamant about not giving up the one thing I had mastered. It was a “high” for someone like me, who so obviously had grown to loathe herself and her appearance. I was one of the fortunate ones in that I had a family who was persistent and sought out the best treatment facilities for me. Looking back, I had every chance to take a proactive turn, but I was a master manipulator and a stunning actress and liar.Before too long, though, I lost so much weight I couldn’t lie anymore. So I wore 2 and 3 layers of clothes to buy me time, started back eating certain foods just to impress people, and played the part for a while. Then the guilt and shame that comes from eating pushed me into my next phase…compulsive exercising. I would sneak out of the house to go run around the neighborhood and did sit-ups and push-ups in my room at night when I was supposed to be sleeping. I spent the summer of my 16th birthday in a residential treatment center for eating disorders on life support. This was followed by at least a dozen more hospitalizations and even court-ordered commitments to mental facilities. My disorder cost me the completion of my high school education. I was an excellent student. This was a tremendous blow. When I would get discharged from these places, I inevitably fell right back in to the same patterns. I felt like such a failure, which only compounded things. What I didn’t have was a reason to live, or a desire to live. To live meant I had to change, and I was terrified of what that meant. I feared I would be an awful person if I let go, and worse yet, I feared it would estrange my parents from me. To this day I have a strained relationship with them, and it isn’t because I didn’t finally get better. It’s because they have their own issues, and they tend to project their pain and blame it on me.Like many stories, mine is not a fairytale ending. It took a composite of many things coming together for me to decide to try to adopt a new way of life. Even when I did gain some weight, be it by tube feeding or on my own, nothing in my life seemed to change like people said it would. One of the things I heard which helped me out initially was “to act as if.” In other words, I learned that if your actions changed your emotions would sometimes follow. Slowly but surely I came out of my shell. I reached out, cried a lot, and opened up. I gained a sense of humor and a sort of liveliness that was apparent to others. I got noticed, for all the ‘good’ reasons. It was still a rocky road, but in 2003 I was discharged from my last facility and slowly but surely re-entered life. I went to college and had some love relationships, with the usual stories of success and disaster. I was able to work and gained confidence over time. I took control of my life in positive ways.I had knocked at death’s door, fought perfectly good help, and found safety in a way of life I would wish on no one. I grew sick and tired of being sick and tired. Life is good now; not perfect, mind you…but I definitely want to share my story in the hopes it will touch someone. I know I wanted someone to ‘understand’ me when I was going through my private hell, so I want to be that microphone to anyone who might need the same. I have even done a couple of public speaking arrangements on college campuses! Take one day at a time and do the next thing that lies before you. Be kind to yourself. There’s only one of you out there, and chances are good someone else wants to see the light you have inside!!