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When an Eating Disorder Takes Someone You Knew

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Cancer, prayer requests, pediatric cancer, GoFundMe pages, accidents, untimely death. Facebook is often filled with such heartache. I’ve almost become immune to seeing tragedy between the political rants and the latest Rodan + Fields product.

What I will never adjust to seeing is another life lost to an eating disorder, a treatable illness that does not receive the coverage or research dollars it warrants. My heart always sinks at these posts, “Gone too soon,” “You were so beautiful,” or “Love you forever.” I hurt with every tribute, but most times, I did not know the person.

That all changed today.

Last February, I had the honor of speaking at the Alliance for Eating Disorder‘s Fifth Annual Celebrate everyBODY walk in Boca Raton, Florida. I met so many individuals who were in recovery or hopeful of recovery.

Of everyone I met, there were two young girls who left a big imprint on my heart. They were best friends and Veritas Collaborative alum. We spoke at length about recovery and how much we love Veritas. We laughed together, and I could see the lively spirit in each of them.

As the girls smashed the scales I brought, I chatted with their mothers. They shared with me the girls’ struggles and triumphs, as well as plans for recovery. I told them how much I admired their dedication to their daughters’ recovery.

Being a parent of a child with an eating disorder takes so much energy: appointments, meal time support, emotional support, medical support and every appointment in between. Everything in your life is altered to help your child receive the treatment they deserve. Houses are mortgaged and things are sold to pay for the massive gaps in insurance coverage.

I have thought about those two girls and their mothers from time to time, and even connected with one of the moms well after the walk. This is not unusual. Part of the reason I love what I do is because I get to not just meet people, but connect with them. I mean it when I say people stay with me. These two girls were not an exception.

As I sat down at my desk today, Facebook came up on my screen. Then, I saw her picture. That precious young girl with a future ahead of her. Gone. The young girl I met in February with her best friend. Gone. Just 14 years old.

My stomach knotted. My heart sank. I know her. I knew her. I secretly hoped my memory was wrong. This couldn’t be. I sent a few texts and soon realized I was not wrong. This was that smiling, beautiful soul I met on that gorgeous day in February.

My body is numb, and my heart is shattered. Tears fall on my hands as I type. I cry for her friends, her countless friends she met in treatment. I cry for her family. I cry for her mother. I cry for a full life that has been lost to this illness. I cry for myself and so many others who have struggled and know that hopeless pain where you feel like you’ll never see light again.

I cry because I want to scoop everyone up and say, “There is light! I promise!”

Don’t give up. There is light in this world. You are your own light even if you can’t see it. There is help that can guide you to your light, but you have to accept it. You have to reach for it. Reach for help, and know that you are never alone.

To the precious “Veritas” gang who loved her so, my heart is broken for you all. Please, take care of yourselves. In this time of grief and heartache, honor your friend by honoring your recovery. Take care of yourself. Allow the feelings of grief, sadness and anger to surface. Process with your team. Walk strong knowing you carry your friend’s memory and spirit with you. Let her voice speak through yours.

And to you, sweet Zoe, fly high and free. May you feel the freedom in the heavens and may you know how very loved you were and will always be.

 If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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Image via Thinkstock.

Originally published: December 8, 2016
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