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The Fight for Beauty- Chapter 8 – The Temporary Escape

I welcome you to join me as I share my story of my own fight for beauty!  I’ll be posting once a week a new chapter of my journey, from beginning to end.  I’m going to share the good, the bad, the ugly, and the embarrassing.  My hope is to remove the veil and misconceptions that people have about eating disorders while offering hope to those struggling that there really is a way out.

With that said, here is Chapter 8 of my story.  To read chapter 1, click here.


 

The first few days of my time in rehab were all a blur, and yet certain moments I remember with great detail.  I remember waking up after my first night where I was instructed to go to the nurses station to be weighed and have my vitals checked.  I remember sitting down to a plate of pancakes with calorie-ridden syrup and a cup of soy-milk.  I stared in disbelief and looked around at the other girls also reluctantly eating from their plates that were surely filled with food most would never dare to touch.  I remember sitting on the couch as I watched the other girls braid each other’s hair and laugh at whatever was on the television.  I remember laying in my bed feeling as if my emotions had been frozen.  I couldn’t cry. I couldn’t laugh.  I felt nothing.  I felt dead.

I tried to pray, but it felt as if my prayers would float into the air only to fall beside me.  I felt like I was praying to a wall.  Did God even exist?  Had I been deceived my entire life?

How did I go from the girl whose dreams seemed so close to coming true.  A life filled with photo-shoots and recording studios to a nobody who sat alone in rehab.

I quickly settled into my new routine that would be my life for the next 45 days.

6:30am: Wake up.

7am: Report to the nurses station where we were weighed and had our vitals checked. 8am: Breakfast

9am: Group therapy where we each had to read off a list of different emotions and say which 4 we related to the most.  The most commonly used emotions were sadness and loneliness.

10:30am: Snack

11am: Art therapy.

12:30pm: Lunch

1:30pm: Private therapy or your weekly doctor’s visit.

3:30pm: Snack

4pm: Chapel

6pm: Dinner.

7pm: Free time where you were allowed a 15 minute phone call.

8pm: Snack

10pm: Lights out.

I quickly grew to love my new routine.  There was a safety in it.  I was free from full-length mirrors and scales.  I didn’t have to worry about what my next meal would be.  I didn’t have to measure or weigh my food.  I didn’t have the temptation to binge or purge.  I felt safe.  I couldn’t hurt myself.  I couldn’t sabotage myself.

About halfway through my treatment, my family was allowed to pick me up and bring me away from the center for a day.  I remember the excitement I felt as we pulled away from the treatment center to head into the city.  I drove my own car and I felt a sense of freedom that I hadn’t felt in some time.  I was in control of where I was going.

As we pulled into the mall, a sense of anxiety began to overtake me.  I was surrounded by people whose day-to-day lives had remained the same over the last few months, unlike mine.  I realized that I couldn’t remember the last time I looked at a magazine or even heard what the latest song on the radio was. I had forgotten that a world outside of treatment existed.  A world that  was fixated on appearance and looks.  A world that didn’t care about my own safety or the condition of my heart.  A world that shamed you if you didn’t fit into a size two.

My family, along with my best friend Kainos, wandered through the stores with me.  My heart began racing as I couldn’t help but catch my reflection in every store window.  Photos of models and mannequins with perfect body shapes bombarded my view.

I’m not safe here.  I’m not enough here. 

As we walked into a Barnes and Noble store, I began to grab at my chest and tears filled my eyes.  My thoughts became jumbled and I fought for the words to say as my family looked at me with confusion.  My vision became blurry and all I could say was “Please don’t look at me. Please don’t look at me.”  I fell to the ground and crawled into the fetal position as I tried to catch my breath and make sense of what was happening to my body.

I didn’t care about the onlookers who looked upon me and my family with pity.  I could feel their stares burning into me and I could see one of my sister’s begin to cry. I knew that I was hurting them, but I couldn’t bring myself to feel anything beyond the pain I felt in the moment.

The pain of not being enough.  The pain of losing control.  The pain that came from realizing that I was no longer the strong and brave girl I once knew.

I laid on the floor that day.  The sound of my mother trying to calm me down, the sound of the shoppers around me and the sound of my sisters crying all were distant noises around me compared to the voice of bulimia that screamed at me in that moment. The voice that I had spent weeks being able to ignore.  It made sure I didn’t fully forget it’s voice.

You will never be enough. 


 

Stay tuned for the next chapter!

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The Fight for Beauty – Chapter 7-The Journey to Rehab

I welcome you to join me as I share my story of my own fight for beauty!  I’ll be posting once a week a new chapter of my journey, from beginning to end.  I’m going to share the good, the bad, the ugly, and the embarrassing.  My hope is to remove the veil and misconceptions that people have about eating disorders while offering hope to those struggling that there really is a way out.

With that said, here is Chapter 7 of my story.  To read chapter 1, click here.


 

“45 days?!? You dragged me to this place to stay here for 45 days??”  I yelled.

My parents and I sat in the office of Remuda Ranch where I was signing paperwork admitting myself into rehab.  My parents had told me I only needed to stay for ten days.

“Sweetheart,” the sweet lady helping us meekly spoke, “we don’t have a ten-day program.  Our minimum is 45 days.”

This is unfair.  Immoral.  Unjust.  My mind couldn’t wrap itself around the fact that I was going to be stuck in a treatment center and cut off from the world for the next month and a half.  I thought about my friends, how most of them didn’t know that I had left because I wanted to keep it hidden.  I thought about my dreams of music and the singing competition I was scheduled to compete at that I would have to miss.  I thought about how my stomach ached from all the bingeing and laxatives I took before coming.  In the days leading up to treatment, I felt as if I had to use all my bulimic behaviors as much as I could before it would be taken away from me.  Each binge and purge was seen as a last “hoorah.” I thought about how I got to this place. Rehab.

I numbly signed the papers and we walked into the main building where I would be spending the majority of my time for the next 45 days.  As I walked inside, the room was warm and open.  Wood panels lined the walls  with photos of horses and the Arizona desert.  Girls ranging from all different weights and backgrounds lined the tables and filled the rooms.  The overly-skinny girls, the girls everyone secretly wanted to be, had feeding tubes coming out of their noses.

My parents tearfully said goodbye and they left.

I sat at an empty table while I waited for a nurse to come take me to begin running tests on me.  I looked around at the girls that filled the room and couldn’t help but feel out of place.  Many of them were frail and thin.  They were adults, yet it was as if they retreated back into children as they sat around the tables with coloring books and activities in an attempt to help them escape from the torment of their own mind.

I wasn’t really sick.  My bulimia had made me gain weight at this point.  I wish I was as skinny as these other girls. 

I quickly learned that despite the fact that we were all there because our lives had been taken over by the monster of an eating disorder, everyone’s body types and stories were different.  Some developed anorexia after being sexually abused, others fell into binge eating when their husbands left them for younger woman, and some became bulimic after a friend mentioned that they seemed to have been gaining weight. The stories were all different.

The only thing we all had in common was our eyes.  Everyone had a certain sadness in their eyes.

“Hi, I’m Samantha.”

My thoughts were quickly interrupted by two blonde girls who joined myself at the table.

“I’m Megan,” Megan quickly added.

“Hi.”  I quietly responded. I couldn’t be bothered to socilize. I didn’t want to be here and I didn’t want anything to do with these girls.

“So, what are you?” Sam asked.

“What do you mean?”

“You know, what are you?”

I stared back in confusion.

Sam chuckled to herself as if she could see the confusion plastered on my face.

“What are you? Are you anorexic? Bulimic? A binge eater?”

“Oh…” I mumbled.  “Um, I’m bulimic.”  I paused as if waiting for a reply before adding, “I don’t want to be here.”

Both of the girls laughed.

“No one does, honey.” Megan confessed.  “But let’s be real…you get great accessories to spice up your outfit” she joked as she pointed to her feeding tube.

I forced a laugh for her sake, but the reality of where I was suddenly laid heavy upon me.

Images of the last few years began flooding my mind.  The first bottle of exlax I purchased, the diet pills, the feeling I had when I was singing on stage, the music I had yet to create, the nights I spent in my basement devoting mile after mile on the treadmill, the nights when I would wake up from nightmares of bingeing.  It all came to a screeching halt in that moment as I sat surrounded by nurses and girls who knew the hell I had been living in for so long.

“Rihanna, I’m ready for you” a young nurse called as she entered the room.  She was young and didn’t walk with the same confidence and ownership that the other nurses did.  I came to find out that I was her first patient she had to do an intake evaluation on.

I was led into a back bedroom where they had a doctors station set up.  The intake is all a blur now in my mind but I remember being cold and being asked detailed questions about my disorder, my food intake, exercise habits.  They took my blood, tested my heart, and I kept laughing throughout the intake as the shock of where I was kept hitting me.

“I’m sorry,” I apologized. “But if I don’t laugh, I’ll cry.”

I later was led into a room where I would sleep until a bed opened up for me.  The nurses gave me an ambien to help me sleep.  I laid in bed as my mind raced.

Where am I?

What am I doing here?

45 days?

My mind began to drift off to sleep and I saw images of myself sliding down a long and twisted slide. It felt like a waterslide that I often went on as a child in the summer. Except everything around me was dark.  I kept expecting it to be over soon and to find myself at the end smiling and laughing.  But it never ended.  I just kept sliding deeper…and deeper…

I just want it to end.

 


Stay tuned for the next chapter!

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Thirty and Single

I’ve never been the girl who dreamed of her wedding day.  Don’t misunderstand me, I always imagined myself married and as a little girl I practically lived with a soccer ball tucked underneath my shirt as I played out being a successful career woman who is expecting her next child.  In my nine-year old make-believe world, I was married but I was the breadwinner and my husband (Jonathan Taylor Thomas) was the stay-at-home dad.

In high school, while all the girls were boy-crazy and dreaming of getting married straight out of high-school, I was dreaming of getting out of my home town and making a name for myself.   Don’t get me wrong, I had my fair-share of boys that I thought were “the one” while in HS. We both like music and we both want to save the children in Africa…it’s meant to be…swoon.

I dated in my twenties and found myself engulfed in the devastation of a heart-break.  I drank  and cried my way through it with my friends and eventually found the healing that I needed.  Overall, I’ve enjoyed being single and I’m not the girl who weeps into her pillow at night wondering where Mr. Right is.

However, I never imagined that I would be thirty and single.  Being single in your twenties is not uncommon.  It’s often times encouraged.  Being single in your thirties, people begin to treat you differently.  You become the target of ill-witted jokes from family members, friends, or co-workers and your personal life is seen as an open canvas for anyone to come and draw their opinions on.

Maybe you’ll get the senior citizen discount at your wedding.

Maybe you just need to start dating girls since you can’t get a guy.

It will be a modern-day miracle if you ever get married. 

I love the smell of cologne, Ri do you even know what that smells like?

The remarks, however intended, eventually begin to wear you down. It begins to make you question your own worthiness, beauty, and future. Not to mention, it’s sexist in nature. I have yet to see a man in his thirties be questioned for being single. 

Here’s the reality:

  • There’s nothing wrong with being thirty and single.  I’ve lived more life than many do at my age.  I enjoy my freedom and this season where I can focus on myself and exploring the depths of who God is.
  • There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be married.  We live in a culture that shames women who want to be married because they should enjoy their single years.  It is possible to enjoy the season you are in while anticipating the next. It doesn’t mean you’re desperate.  That doesn’t mean you’re any less independent.  It means that you recognize that you were created to be in relationship and in community.

 

The truth is, my life isn’t sad.  I don’t need another person in my life to make me feel fulfilled like so many others do. 

The truth is, I’m tired of the jokes.  I’m tired of being made to feel less-than, but I had to come to the conclusion that their cutting remarks reveal more about their heart than mine.

 

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The Fight for Beauty- Chapter 6- Living with a Monster

I welcome you to join me as I share my story of my own fight for beauty!  I’ll be posting once a week a new chapter of my journey, from beginning to end.  I’m going to share the good, the bad, the ugly, and the embarrassing.  My hope is to remove the veil and misconceptions that people have about eating disorders while offering hope to those struggling that there really is a way out.

With that said, here is Chapter 5 of my story.  To read chapter 1, click here.


“I don’t know what you’re so worried about. I mean, I can see your hip bones through your shirt” my co-worker said to me as I looked over the menu of the cafe we worked at.

It had been two months since I met with Jeff and I was about to fly out to Atlanta to record a new demo.  Despite working out for three hours a day, I was only able to lose a few pounds.  I counted every calorie and was careful to not exceed 500 calories per day.  In fact, I still remember my exact diet day in and day out.

Breakfast: 1 Cup Decaf Coffee with Sugar Free/Fat Free Hazelnut Creamer and 3/4 C Special K Cereal.

Lunch: 1 slice of ham on lettuce with 1 tbsp of fat-free Italian dressing.

Dinner: A can of green beans. 

Despite my limited diet, I became even more obsessed with food.  I loved watching other people eat and I found great joy and satisfaction out of cooking and baking high calorie meals for others.  I would bring home shakes from the cafe I worked at for my sisters and watched them as they drank it.

“Is it good?” I would ask.

“What does it taste like?”

It was as if I was overwhelmed with living vicariously through them, wishing I could eat what they did while at the same time being disgusted by them for taking in so many calories in one sitting.

People at church began noticing my weight loss and simultaneously praised me for it while secretly asking my mother if I was okay.

I was tired, yet the attention I was receiving for my weight loss made me feel more alive than I had felt in years.  Perhaps ever.


 March 22, 2006

Here I am in Atlanta.  I can’t believe I’m going to record with Mariah Carey’s producer! He’s so nice.  I went to his house last night and I think we are going to record tomorrow.  I’m excited but at the same time I’m scared.  What if I don’t ever become a famous singer? After I left his house I went to Walmart and I bought a huge bag of almond M&M’s and I ate the whole thing in the car. Then I went to Chikfila and ate waffle fries.  I bought water pills and ex-lax.  Now I feel sick to my stomach.  I hate myself soooooooooooooo much. I’m so disgusting.   I wish I could just be like a normal person and never eat sugar. Lord help me not eat bad foods and help me lose weight so I can be a singer. 


They say that everyone reaches a breaking point. Mine was in Atlanta.  I made the trip alone and I stayed there for about a month driving back and forth from where I was staying to the house I was recording at.  From 12am- 6am we would record. I’d sleep from 8am-2pm where I would then awake and be forced to find ways to occupy my time.  My days normally consisted of working out and then fighting the urge to binge.  The first few days, I was successful, however it became clear that my body had lived in starvation mode for long enough and it was retaliating by giving me urges to eat everything in sight.

It’s hard to explain what it’s like.  To be out of control of your own brain, your own body, your own actions.  Most people who have never struggled with an addiction don’t understand that you can’t just stop.  You can’t just “not do it.”  When I would confide in friends or family members who’s only token of advice was to just ask God to help me stop, I would want to scream, “DO YOU THINK IT’S NEVER OCCURRED TO ME TO PRAY? DO YOU THINK THAT IF I COULD JUST STOP THAT I WOULD? DO YOU REALLY THINK THAT I LOVE LIVING FEELING LIKE I CAN’T CONTROL MY OWN GOD-DAMNED BODY? DO YOU THINK THAT I LOVE WAKING UP FEELING AFRAID OF MY OWN SELF?”

It’s hard to explain to someone that you feel as though someone else, something else has taken over your entire body.  Your mind becomes fixated on this one thing it wants.  Just one more time. Just once.  And everything else around you fades into existence until you can get your hands on this one thing.

For some it’s drugs and alcohol. Others it’s sex.  Mine.  It was food.

It goes without saying that going to Atlanta did not catapult my career of being a famous singer.  It’s hard for me to look back on that trip without flinching as I remember the days and the nights where I drove around crying because I felt out of control of my own body.

I came home from Atlanta, broken and depressed.  I continued to spend my days fighting the urge to binge and purge. I woke everyday with food being the first thing on my mind.  I would have dreams about working out at the gym only to ruin it by eating large amounts of pizza.  Each day started and ended with a promise to myself to do better next time. I never did.  I began smoking because I read that cigarettes helped curb your appetite and make you lose weight.

“What are we going to do about Rihanna’s eating disorder?” my best friend asked my mom one night.  The anger and annoyance I felt was only overshadowed by the fact that I secretly loved that she thought I could possibly have an eating disorder.

She was wrong.  I didn’t have an eating disorder. I wish I had an eating disorder because those girls are beautiful and are so thin that you can see their rib cage! I could only wish to be that thin!

A few weeks went on and my family and best friend both pleaded with me to get help. I finally agreed to begin seeing a therapist who later insisted to my parents that I needed more help than she could provide.  My mother, knowing that I would not agree to go to a treatment assessment, told me that she had arranged for me to meet with a dietician who would give me a meal plan that could help me lose weight.

Finally!  Finally someone was willing to help me the way that I needed. A little self-control was all I needed to get back on track.

I drove to a little office where I met with a middle-aged blonde woman who gave me pages of paperwork to fill out.  She seemed to watch me as I filled everything out, and not in a way I was used to.  It was as if she was studying, analyzing me.

When I was done, she took me into her office where I was excited to finally go over a list of foods I can and can’t eat.  She began asking me questions and I felt comfortable around her.  I confided that I had recently learned how to make myself throw up and how I seemed to have lost all control when it came to food.

She left the room for a bit and when she came back, she sat across from me and said, “Rihanna, it’s clear that you need impatient treatment.”

My head began to spin and my heart started to race.

“Wait…why?” I asked.  “I thought I was here so you could give me a meal plan.”

She explained how my behaviors and my food obsession were not normal.  How girls who use laxatives as much as I do often times end up with colostomy bags. She went on to say how it’s not normal for people to weigh themselves multiple times a day.  She explained how I’m not normal.

I drove home with a rage inside that I hadn’t felt before.  My ears burned and my eyes welled with tears as I thought about having to go into inpatient treatment.  I didn’t have an eating disorder.

“Ten days.”  my mom pleaded. “Just give us ten days and you’ll be done.”

Ten days.  I agreed to ten days.  I packed my bags, got in the car and blissfully began my journey to inpatient treatment.

Ten days, I thought to myself.  All of this will be over in ten days.  Little did I know that the journey was just beginning.

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Stay tuned for the next chapter!

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The Fight for Beauty- Chapter 5 – The Hollywood Dream

I welcome you to join me as I share my story of my own fight for beauty!  I’ll be posting once a week a new chapter of my journey, from beginning to end.  I’m going to share the good, the bad, the ugly, and the embarrassing.  My hope is to remove the veil and misconceptions that people have about eating disorders while offering hope to those struggling that there really is a way out.

With that said, here is Chapter 5 of my story.  To read chapter 1, click here.


When I arrived back home to Arizona, my head was spinning with possibilities of my dreams coming into fruition.  I was about to record my first demo at Paramount Studios and my promotional photo shoot was scheduled to be done at the same time.  My manager and I went back and forth as far as what my “look” should be.  Every big artist had a look and image that they had to stick to market themselves. Starting out, I stood firm that, unlike other artists, I wanted to actually wear clothes when I performed.  However, he convinced me that sex sells and before I knew it I was 100% willing to use my sexuality as a way to promote my career.

However, I still needed to lose 10 pounds off my 130 pound 5’7 frame.

My mom had read that juice diets were all the craze in Hollywood and were becoming more and more well-known for helping celebrities drop weight quickly.  I was game.

We started our three-day juice cleanse and I remember the first sip of juice I had.  I wanted to immediately vomit.  There was no way I was going to be able to force myself to drink this for three days.  I instead lived off decaf coffee and fat-free creamer.  The first two days were a complete blur.  I was starving, tired, and achy.  I forced myself to walk on my treadmill for at least an hour each day.  I put up photos on my mirror of Britney Spears in case I was tempted to break my fast and eat.

I woke up on day three and before I could even make it out of my room, I blacked out.  I woke up to my mom standing over me.  I had passed out from lack of calories.

I still refused to eat and insisted on completing day three.  In my mind, passing out was a win.  A sign of victory.  In a sick way, it motivated me even more to complete my fast because it said to me that it was working. Also, I was over ten pounds down in just three days.  I was on cloud 9.

I soon arrived back in LA, proud to show off my new figure to my manager.  He was impressed that I was able to drop weight so quickly but mentioned how I needed to focus on toning up. I was shattered.  All I wanted was affirmation from him.

I remember driving up to Paramount Studios with  my mom.  I felt like a celebrity when I had to give my name to the security team and they saw me listed on the schedule for a recording session.  The next few days consisted of writing and laying down tracks for my demo.  I arrived for my photo shoot and it was just like the ones I had watched on MTV and VH1.  My favorite music playing in the background while I changed outfits and had a hair and makeup team fixing my hair and appearance.

Eventually, things between my manager and I began to become strange.   Tensions began to arise as he was obviously not fulfilling his part of our agreement.  He seemed upset that I would never travel or go to his offices alone.  I was always with my mom or my best friend, Kainos. I later found out that a few years after I stopped working with him, he was convicted to jail time for raping his female clients.

Through a series of networking events, he introduced me to a man named Jeff.  He had obvious connections in the music industry and had agreed to meet with me.  We met at a mall in LA along with my best friend, Kainos.  He asked me what my goals were and said that he was impressed with my demos that he had heard.  He said that he wanted to arrange to have me record with Manual Seal, a Grammy award-winning producer out of Atlanta who was the most well-known for producing hits for Mariah Carey.  It came with one condition, of course.

“Listen, you have the talent but you don’t have the body.  Where you come from, guys might think you are cute if you’re wearing something skanky and you’re in a dark club and he has a few drinks in him. But in Hollywood, you’re nothing.  You’re competing with the Britney’s and the Christina’s now.  If you’re not working out at least three hours a day for the next  month, don’t even bother contacting me again.”

Kainos’ mouth dropped open (thank God she was there to witness it because otherwise people would assume I was exaggerating what he said to me).  Looking back, I can see how broken I was because I never even questioned what he said.  He spoke truth to me.  He was right.

I would do whatever it took for my dreams to come true. If it took dying to get there, so be it.


Stay tuned for the next chapter!

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The Fight for Beauty- Chapter 4- From High School to Hollywood

I welcome you to join me as I share my story of my own fight for beauty!  I’ll be posting once a week a new chapter of my journey, from beginning to end.  I’m going to share the good, the bad, the ugly, and the embarrassing.  My hope is to remove the veil and misconceptions that people have about eating disorders while offering hope to those struggling that there really is a way out.

With that said, here is Chapter 4 of my story.  To read chapter 1, click here.


 

I remember waking up the day after I first binged.  My head was pounding and my entire body felt lethargic, however no feeling was greater than the shame I felt.  I laid in bed as I looked at the magazines besides my bed that were filled with photos of pop stars and celebrities with tiny waists and a thigh gap.  All the messages I had received since childhood told me that my worth was little to none if I didn’t have a perfect body, and I felt the closest I had ever felt to worthlessness in that moment.

I made a promise to myself that I would never let it happen again.

I made a lot of broken promises.

I spent the entire next day eating nothing except for decaffeinated coffee (I had read an article that said caffeine prevented weight loss) and fat-free creamer. I tried going for a run in my neighborhood but quickly lost my stride due to lack of food and energy.

The next day I allowed myself one bowl of Special K cereal with skim milk.  I was beginning to feel more in control of myself and I went about my day as though I was walking on air.  The feeling of hunger made me feel hopeful about my future.  It gave me a strange sense of euphoria where I felt as though I could accomplish anything.  Saying no to food meant saying yes to happiness.

I could only go a few days eating little to nothing before I would eventually break.

Binge. After Binge. After Binge.

Starve for two days. Binge for one. Starve for three days. Binge for two.

I felt out of control.

As the days turned to months, I slowly began putting on weight from all the binging.  I became depressed and being anywhere in public gave me anxiety. One day as I sat in the girl’s locker room at school, I overheard two girls gossiping about one of their friends.

Have you seen how skinny Christina is now? I heard she started taking exlax, water pills, and taught herself how to throw up. She needs help.

Maybe this was my answer.  To be honest, the thought of taking laxatives was nauseating but I was desperate at this point.  I’d do anything to lose weight.

Within two weeks, I could tell I was losing weight.  Others would make comments which only gave me more determination to continue losing weight.  I convinced my parents to buy me a treadmill for Christmas and I would spend hours in our basement running mile after mile.

I finally was able to stop bingeing so often and limited my calories to 500 per day.  As I continued to lose weight, people would approach my parents to ask if I was ok.  Hearing their concerns didn’t scare me, but instead made me feel on top of the world.  Peers would ask me for weight loss advice and praise me for my obvious triumph.

I was a girl obsessed.  If I ever felt tempted to eat a “bad” food, I would write with a sharpie on my hand “You are fat! Do not eat!” I kept photos of popular celebrities like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera taped to my mirror to help motivate me and discourage me from eating if tempted. For the first time, I felt in control of my own life.


Two weeks after my high school graduation, I packed my bags and moved to Denver, Colorado to work with my vocal coaches and pursue my dream of music.  Arriving in Denver was exciting and helped fulfill my need for adventure.  After my parents helped get me settled in, they drove away and reality hit.

I didn’t know a soul there.  I kept myself busy working and practicing at the music academy I was studying at and while I made a few friends, I found myself spending much of my time isolating.  My obsession with my body grew even more as I entered into a music competition that would take place in LA.  The mix of my own self-induced pressure and the loneliness I had from being away from home threw me into another cycle of binging and purging by spending hours at the gym.

When I finally arrived in LA, I was met by my mother at the hotel.  She was always supportive of my dreams and so she thought that helping me stay thin would only help me.  Her intentions were good, however damaging.  Every time we would eat, she would comment on my food selection if she felt it was too fattening.

Rihanna, you’re going to regret eating that and you’ll feel sad when you have to perform tomorrow. 

She was right.

While in Los Angeles, I was approached by a talent manager who wanted to represent me.  I remember driving to his private office and meeting at a long conference table as he looked at my head shots and listened to a few of my demo recordings.  He continued to name drop a few of his clients and friends in the industry.  During our meeting, he mentioned that he had just missed a call from Kevin Federline, who in 2005 was widely known for his ill-intentioned marriage to Britney Spears. He kept saying that I had a marketable look and good talent and then asked if I could drop ten pounds in the next two weeks and be back in LA for a photo shoot and a recording session at Paramount studios.

My mom and I looked at each other in amazement as I shouted, “YES. I won’t eat for two weeks if that’s what I have to do!”

He laughed and joked about how I just needed to do whatever it takes because I was headed for the big time.

As we drove home, my head was spinning.  My dreams were actually going to come true.  The only thing that stood between me and my dreams was ten pounds; and I wasn’t going to let that happen.


Stay tuned for the next chapter next Wednesday!

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The Fight for Beauty – Chapter 3 – Hello Bulimia

Being a teenager is a no easy feat.  The transition from child to adult is forced upon us during a time when everything from our bodies, minds, friends, relationships, and hormones are changing on a daily basis.  We go from being a carefree middle-schooler whose greatest concern is who she’s going to sit next to at lunch that day to suddenly being forced to make life-altering decisions about everything from our career paths, colleges, and which member of N’Sync we would give our hand in marriage to. (JT, obviously).

I still remember my first day in high school. All my life I had been attending a private, Christian school where my class size was 15 students and the most controversial event was an 8th grader bringing a Playboy magazine to school.  He was immediately expelled and no one dared talk about it except for whispers in the hallway where rumor had it that once he was expelled he tried pot.  If it wasn’t in the Bible, it wasn’t to be discussed.  I remember being openly chastised in front of the class because a teacher overheard me telling a story where I said the word “bra.”  She claimed that I had no class and was disappointed that I would use such a word in front of my male peers; as if a bra is something every young girl should feel ashamed of.

Now, here I stood amount 1,500 peers who openly discussed sex, drugs, and their wild weekends spent passed out after drinking wine coolers in their parents basements.  I couldn’t tell you about my classes or my teachers even if I wanted to because all I remember is being consumed with the fact that I didn’t fit in.  I knew nothing about what the world was like outside of my Reformed-Presbyterian school background where even uttering the word “damn” would get you sent to the principal’s office.

Walking the halls felt paralyzing to me.  The girls at my new school were different from my friends before.  They were beautiful, confident, and they all wore Abercrombie which was the epitome of cool in 2001. I would watch in awe as they easily drew attention from guys as they flirted and laughed at their terrible jokes. The message was loud and clear that in order to get attention from a guy, you needed to show just the right amount of cleavage while being easy and flirty.  Which was unfortunate for me because the most intimate thing to happen between me and a guy was receiving a candy gram on Valentine’s Day and I was only a size A cup.

If I couldn’t be like the other girls, maybe I could at least try to look like them.

 

A few months into high school, I was finally becoming adjusted to my new social circle and I didn’t openly flinch every time I heard someone swear. You could say that being in a public school had its own effect on me because I was even becoming more rebellious as I secretly purchased my first non-Christian cd.  It was Avril Lavigne’s debut album Let Go and I’d sing Complicated at the top of my lungs as I drove to and from school.  Man, did I feel like a badass.

However with the new-found rebellion and freedom I found, I also found myself more entrapped in my eating disorder. I became even more obsessed with dieting and attempting to lose weight.  I would eat as little as I could while the feeling of hunger made me fantasize about all the things I could be or do if I was skinny.  The hunger pangs would motivate me to resist more food even more as I imagined my new, skinny self just ahead.  Skinny Rihanna wasn’t intimidated by the other girls in high school  Skinny Rihanna had a boyfriend and was the envy of all the other girls. Skinny Rihanna was smart, funny, and popular. Skinny Rihanna’s dreams were just in reach and she had the support and encouragement of her friends and family. Skinny Rihanna didn’t spend hours in the front of the mirror pinching and squeezing her love handles wishing she could just do away with them altogether. Skinny Rihanna was happy.

Eventually, I broke.

It was a Friday afternoon and I was driving home from school.  I was exhausted, starving, and had just majorly failed an acting audition.  I remember fantasizing about everything I wanted to eat.  Cookies, cereal, peanut butter, icecream, you name it.  When I got home, I was alone and I found myself standing in the kitchen.  I paced around the kitchen island as I fought with myself as to whether I should eat or not.  One little snack couldn’t hurt.  I’ll stop after just one granola bar.  I went into the pantry and quickly one granola bar turned to two, which turned to the entire box. The shame I felt was overwhelming and the only way to avoid having to feel it was to keep eating.  Entire boxes of cereal, half a gallon of icecream, pasta leftovers from the night before.  I ate until I felt sick and I could no longer even look at the sight of food.

I binged.

I was so naive to the world of eating disorders that I had no idea that there was even a word for it.  I stood in the bathroom, hovering over the toilet trying to make myself throw up everything I had just eaten.  I had heard of girls who could eat whatever they wanted and they were able to stay skinny by making themselves vomit immediately afterwords. But I couldn’t.

I remember crawling into my bed that night, overwhelmed with shame, guilt, and disgust over what I had just done.  Just as the feeling of hunger made me feel powerful, the feeling of indulging made me feel worthless.

As I drifted off into sleep, I swore that it would never happen again.  Little did I know that my journey had just begun.


Stay tuned for the next chapter next Wednesday!

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The Fight For Beauty – Chapter 2 – Beware of Men

I welcome you to join me as I share my story of my own fight for beauty!  I’ll be posting once a week a new chapter of my journey, from beginning to end.  I’m going to share the good, the bad, the ugly, and the embarrassing.  My hope is to remove the veil and misconceptions that people have about eating disorders while offering hope to those struggling that there really is a way out.

With that said, here is Chapter 2 of my story.  To read chapter 1, click here.


“I think Reed likes me. Kristin said he’s going to ask me to be his girlfriend.  My mom will kill me but I’ll have to keep it a secret.” Helena confessed to me as we sat in the backseat of my grandma’s car on the way to the mall.  It was my thirteenth birthday and she was taking us out for an all day shopping trip to celebrate. It didn’t surprise me that Reed had a crush on her.  It seemed that every guy in our class did at one point.  She was the type of girl that guys seemed to be drawn to and she loved every second of it, even though she pretended not to.

As our day of shopping came to a close, my grandma needed to make a quick stop at Target.  Helena and I wandered off into the jewelry department where we tried on sunglasses and bags.  Eventually we began wandering the store in the hopes to meet up with my grandma.  As we turned into an aisle, my heart stopped. I took a quick step back and pulled Helena by the arm as I tried to get out the aisle without being seen.

My heart was racing as I quickly walked through the store to find my grandma.

I have to leave.

I can’t be seen.

Don’t say a word.

When I found her, I lied and said I felt sick and needed to go home immediately.  She quickly paid for her things and we left.

The entire car ride home, I began to actually feel sick to my stomach.  Anger rose within me as I could feel it burning in my chest.  When we got home, I ran into my room and laid on my bed as my mind replayed over and over what I had seen.

My grandpa, hand in hand, with another woman.

I knew who she was.  We all did.  My poppa, try as he may, was never successful with hiding his affair.  He would sneak to the backroom of their house multiple times a day where he would call her.  Sometimes, I would stand by the door and try to make out what he was whispering to her.  He would lie to my grandma and say he was taking us grandkids out for breakfast.  When we got there, she would be there waiting to join us.  I remember seeing him reach across the table to grab her hand.  My stomach would knot up and my heart would break as I thought about my grandma sitting at home alone.

She was young and blonde and had a Russian accent so thick that I normally would just smile and nod as she spoke because I couldn’t understand what she was saying.

That night, my parents were taking me out for my birthday dinner and my grandparents were joining.  As we waited for my grandpa to arrive, everyone was growing increasingly frustrated and concerned because he was over an hour late. They couldn’t imagine where he could be, but I knew.  He was with her.

When he finally arrived, we all went to dinner.  I remember feeling like I was betraying my grandma as I watched them sit together because I knew he was about to leave her. At the end of dinner, he and my grandma began arguing about something where he made a jab at her weight.  My heart stopped.

Is that why he is cheating on her?

I don’t remember the exact timeline, but shortly after my thirteenth birthday, my grandma came home after work and all his stuff was gone. I couldn’t help but feel as though I had let her down. I kept this secret from her.  I knew he was preparing to leave since the day I saw them purchasing pots and pans at Target.

I remember seeing my mom and my grandma cry.  It was a scene that I had seen played out time and time again.  Uncles, family friends, and now my grandpa leaving their wives for a younger, more attractive woman.  These women in my life, who I viewed as beautiful and powerful, suddenly became broken and used all because someone failed to see and treasure their beauty.  If they couldn’t keep a man, how would I be able to?

I made a vow to myself to never become like them. I would never allow my body to be the reason why someone couldn’t love me. I was never going to allow a man to hurt me in that way.  “Perhaps it’s safer to just never marry,” my thirteen year old heart reasoned.


Stay tuned for the next chapter next Wednesday!

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The Fight For Beauty

I’ve been putting off creating this series of blogs for a while now.  I came up with every excuse imaginable to avoid having to put in the time and effort, however I was recently challenged when I was praying one night.  I was asking God what my purpose was here.  What is my next step? Am I wasting my life away living day to day with no real goals or vision? The answer: yes.  After finishing BSSM and having to go through the process of grief after losing family members, I found myself just taking one day at a time.  For a season, that was exactly what I needed.  However, I’ve felt a shift and the Lord gently reminded me of a promise I made to Him when I first moved to Redding, CA just four years ago.  When I arrived, I was deep in my struggle with bulimia and couldn’t find anything about myself that I liked.  I lived guarded and insecure.  I would cry before God asking for freedom from this life-consuming disease and promised Him that if he would set me free, I would give my life to help others find their own freedom.  Since my recovery journey, I’ve had many great opportunities to share my testimony and see it give hope to others and my prayer is that the same continues.

I welcome you to join me as I share my story of my own fight for beauty!  I’ll be posting once a week a new chapter of my journey, from beginning to end.  I’m going to share the good, the bad, the ugly, and the embarrassing.  My hope is to remove the veil and misconceptions that people have about eating disorders while offering hope to those struggling that there really is a way out.

With that said, here is Chapter 1 of my story.

“What is it that you want?” She asked as she sat leaning on her worn-down desk. Her office always smelled of old potpourri and hand sanitizer combined.  The lights were always dim. I assume to give the person sitting across from her a feeling of comfort and coziness, but I instead always felt like I was sitting in a police interrogation. My eyes scanned across her walls and I briefly remember seeing pictures of her family, her degree set on display within in an overly-gaudy frame, and her bookshelf was packed with books entitled, “Family and Depression” and “The Monster Within.”  The monster within. I knew that monster all too well.  That monster is what got me here in the first place.

“Rihanna,” she interrupted as I stared blankly at her. “What do you want?”

“To be skinny.” I replied.

Her eyes grew narrow as she stared directly at me…or through me.  I couldn’t tell the difference.

Silence.

“What do you want?” She asked again.

What do I want? I thought to myself. I want to be skinny.  I want to be able to have a conversation with my parents without it turning into an argument about food.  I want my sisters to stop thinking I’m crazy.  I want to go out to dinner with my friends without leaving in a nervous breakdown. I want to eat cake on my birthday and not think twice about it. I want the dreams about working out and bingeing to stop because I can’t even escape this disease in my sleep. I want the kids at church to stop treating me like I’m a lost cause. I want my sisters to be proud of me. I want to sing and travel the world.  I want the sadness in my parent’s eyes to go away.  I want a boy to chase after me as if I’m the only girl he’s ever laid eyes on.  I want a friendship so deep that we finish each other’s sentences.  I want to be loved. None of this would have even happened if I could have just lost weight. None of this would have happened if I was skinny.

“Rihanna, bulimia is just a symptom of something lacking in your life. Now, I’m going to ask you again, what is it that you are looking for? What do you really want?”

The silence of the room was only broken by the sound of the clock on her wall.

“I want to be skinny.”

It didn’t start as a sickness.  It didn’t start as a disease.  I couldn’t honestly tell you when my obsession with my body began.  My earliest memories consist of watching my mom do Jane Fonda workout videos in our living room and overhearing conversations about diet and exercise.  My mom, aunts, and their friends always seemed to be strange around food. While serving us macaroni and cheese or grilled cheese sandwiches, they would comment on how lucky we were to be able to enjoy such a luxury while they had to endure celery sticks and rice cakes.  I never understood why they felt that eating cheese would be the end of their world, but I remember thinking that if their lives would be ruined if they wore a bigger size jeans, then surely mine would be as well.

I remember hearing my parents fight one night.  They seemed to always fight about money or the fact that my mom would spend hours on the phone at night with her friends and I guess my dad didn’t like that.  This particular fight was different though. I remember my mom yelling, “I’m sorry that I don’t look like Cindy Crawford!”  I remember my heart sinking as I wondered, “Does my dad not think my mom is pretty?” I remember thinking about the times when everyone would tell me that I looked just like my mother.  Ever since that night 21 years ago, I have yet to see a photo of Ms. Crawford without being brought back to that moment.

It was in the sixth grade when I made the first real effort to lose weight.  My friends and I all began noticing our bodies changing and while my friends were going shopping for their first bras, I was going shopping for bigger jeans.  I was developing curves and everyone noticed.  My friends started calling me “JLO” and I remember coming home from school crying because everyone thought I was fat. Since I didn’t have a clue about dieting, I decided to stop eating breakfast.  I loved the feeling of being hungry.  It gave me a sense of control and power.

As I entered into Junior High, everything began changing.  My friends, our bodies, our lives, our interests.  I never felt like I could fit in anywhere.  I desperately wanted to be accepted by the cool girls in my class, but everything felt off.  I remember sitting in Heather’s bedroom listening to Blink 182’s Enema of the State while she and Cara were modeling their new bras that they filled out perfectly and talking about the boys in our class that they wanted to make out with and eventually marry.

“Rihanna, who do you want to make out with?” Cara asked.

I immediately felt uncomfortable in my own skin because not only was I still stuffing my bra with toilet paper, but I wasn’t particularly interested in marrying anyone in the seventh grade. Don’t get me wrong, I had my fair share of crushes and had an undying devotion to Craig Johnson who made me weak in my gangly knees, but I’ve always had different goals.  Growing up, I fantasized about being a rich and famous singer who traveled the world but lived in my humble 20 acre ranch in Nashville, TN.  Boys always came secondary to my dreams of singing.  Although to be honest, I do sometimes feel that I have a better chance of joining the ranks of Taylor Swift than accumulating my MRS degree, but that’s for a different blog.

“Umm, maybe Troy?” I quipped.

“Well you better hope he likes girls with a fat butt like yours!” Heather laughed.

I immediately wanted to shrink away.

Fat.

Disqualified. 

Not good enough.

I walked home that night as those words echoed through my mind.  I vowed to not only cut out breakfast, but also lunch.  That will show them.  Then I’ll find a guy to like me.


Stay tuned for the next chapter next Wednesday!

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Six Things I Wish I Knew About Grief

It’s no secret that the last year of my life has been the hardest year that I’ve had to walk through.  Navigating my way through grief was not an easy journey and I still find myself having to ask, “am I doing this right?”  Looking back, there are a few things that I wish I knew about grief before I was forced to walk through it.

  1. It Hurts like Hell.  Losing my niece was to date the most painful experience I have had to walk through.  I remember the days following her death where I would grab my chest because the pain felt so heavy upon me.  My entire body felt like I was hit by a truck and simple tasks felt like burdens. Grief is so heavy that your physical body begins to ache from the emotional toll and there are moments when you don’t know if you’ll be able to make it through the day, but you will. You always will.

  2. It Can’t Be Avoided. After my niece died, my introverted habits suddenly disappeared and I found myself wanting to constantly be around people.  At the time, my current roommate and I were having to share a bedroom until we were able to find a house, so even then I wasn’t alone.  I found that if I was around someone that I didn’t have to face the pain that was raging inside of me.  After a few weeks of suppressing my emotions, they would surface without warning.  In the middle of the mall, the checkout line in Target, or at the bank while I was making deposits for work where I felt I would have to apologize to whomever was helping me and explain that my niece just passed away.  About a month later my grandpa passed away and I was now not only grieving the loss of my niece, but also my grandpa whom was like a second father to me during my childhood. It was then that I decided to embrace the pain, no matter how hard it felt, I had to give myself permission to be a complete wreck if I needed to be. I didn’t care if my sadness made other people uncomfortable because letting it out meant that I was giving my heart and my pain a voice.

  3. Grief Makes People Uncomfortable. As a culture, we’ve learned to look at pain as a bad thing. Have a headache? Take a tylenol.  Having a bad day? Go to happy hour.  We want a quick fix.  Unfortunately when it comes to emotional pain such as grief, the only way out is through and sometimes that can be a very long and dark road.  I found in my own journey that many people wanted me to bounce right back to normal and declare that “God is good” despite my sadness.  They didn’t want to know that I was struggling with why God allowed her to die or how to manage my anger towards Him.  They were quick to throw “spiritual Tylenol” as I like to call it at me and quote scripture about the goodness of God.  The problem with that is I felt like my process and my emotions were not being validated. It’s like saying to someone who’s crying because they broke their arm “Stop crying! Your leg is completely fine!” People don’t always know how to respond to other people’s pain and they may say things that hurt you.  Just know that at the end of the day, their heart is only to love and help you.  Sometimes they just need a little direction in how to do so. 

  4. There is No Right Way to Grieve.  I have a high D personality meaning that I like to be productive and I like to do things the correct way the first time.  It’s hard for me to not have a set answer or solution for something, so when first going through the process of grieving, I found myself constantly stressed that I was “doing it wrong.”  I found myself thinking, “It’s been three weeks, should I still feel this sad? Should I be in the acceptance stage? Should I be putting all my emotional distress into something more productive like working out or volunteering at a charity?? Why is it still a struggle to get out of bed?” The truth is, there is no right or wrong way to grieve and the cliché is true that everybody grieves differently.  I finally had to get to the point where I stopped over analyzing where I was at and just allowed myself to be wherever I needed to be in the moment.  Some days I needed to veg out on the couch watching Scandal for hours on end while saving the world vicariously through Olivia Pope, and some days I needed to paint my nails and go to dinner with my girlfriends. Whatever my heart needed, I allowed myself to be okay with that.

  5. Anger is Part of the Journey. I’ll never forget the moment that my mom called me to tell me that Abby had died.  It was a Friday afternoon and I had about an hour left of my shift at work. I answered the phone and the words, “Rihanna, we lost Abby” came flying out of her mouth and I calmly said “Ok” and hung up. It was a strange reaction, but I have a tendency to resort to becoming very calm when something scares or shocks me.  I grabbed my purse and as I walked to my car I began to violently shake. Anger, shock, and disbelief all came over me as I began to yell at God, “Are you f—ing kidding me? Is this a joke to you?!”  I felt like the world was spinning and the rage and anger just continued to pour out of me.  Although the initial rage soon subsided, I found myself still battling feeling anger and resentment towards God. The weeks following, I found myself at a church conference where people were being healed left and right from various illnesses. Anger began to rise within me and I knew that in that moment, I had a choice.  I could choose to partner with resentment or I could surrender my desire to understand and celebrate the healings surrounding me.  At first, I felt unauthentic but over time God began to heal that part of my heart that only needed reassurance that God still saw me. 

  6. God is Faithful in the Process. It’s been a little over ten months since Abby left us and 8 months since my Poppa joined her.  There were times when I felt like I would never fully heal or ever feel close to God again.  However, having to walk this journey has showed me levels and parts of God that I never knew existed previously.  In the times when I felt overlooked or forgotten, His sweet presence wrapped itself around me and carried me through.  I wish that I never had to walk this journey, but at the same time I wouldn’t trade the moments I had with God through this for anything in the world.  

Grief is painful.  It cuts us to our core and forces us to look inwardly and face who we are and what we believe.  If I could go back and tell myself anything before having to walk this journey it would be this: you’re going to make it through.

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If you liked this post, you may also like When I Stopping Believing in God and I Stopped Believing in Prayer