“Take the leg off below the knee. She’s young, she will adjust. Otherwise, you face years of somewhat experimental surgery where the leg could end up being amputated anyway”. Welcome to my 3-year-old wake-up call to the harshness of life by the local Portland, Oregon orthopedic surgeon in 1969.
After much agony, my parents decided that they simply could not live with themselves if they chose to amputate my leg if the length discrepancy could be resolved by surgery. So, we embarked upon a 10-year journey of extensive and invasive surgeries, traction, wheelchairs, casts, and crutches.
One big problem though, the guru orthopedic surgeon, Paul Lipscomb, resided in California and my family was in Oregon. The solution was to ship me off to the California hospital, at age 4, and for my family to largely remain in Oregon.
Jacquelyn and The Surgeries
So at age 4, I had my leg broken in two places, 8 pins inserted with connecting mechanisms on the outside of my leg, I was put in traction for 3 months, and a team of doctors executed a daily excruciatingly painful leg-lengthening procedure for 90 days in a row. My parents would fly down to visit for a few days but were largely back in Oregon supporting and caring for the rest of the family.
Then we repeated this same leg-lengthening procedure again at age 7. It was the same drill of family staying in Oregon and me on my own for the 3 months in the California hospital.
Additional surgeries followed, all designed to help lengthen the leg or correct the inevitable mistakes that were made in these well-intended, but somewhat experimental techniques.
Finally, at age 14 the surgeries ended. I could stay home for good and be with my family. I did not have to live in casts any longer. I could finally relax and be a normal kid. But, as life goes, I then hit adolescence and began to try to process all that had transpired for me physically and emotionally over those long, painful years of surgeries and extended recovery times.
Coping With “Suck it Up”
Our brains are not fully developed until about age 25-28, so imagine the potential for error as I sorted through these painful experiences and tried to make sense of it all. I had not had any counseling at this point, and conventional wisdom at the time was you just “suck it up, get through it, and make the best of it”.
So, this is what I did while also drawing some fundamentally erroneous conclusions about myself and life:
- I am not loveable enough, or my family would not have left me alone in California to go through this by myself
- I am defective
- I am very expensive, and a hassle, to raise as I have all these “special needs”
- God abandoned me and allowed this to happen to me, so I am not as worthy as others
- I cannot compete with my peers because I cannot run and jump like the others
- Life is difficult, painful and to be endured – enjoyment is rare
So, with this “tarnished” view of myself and life, I embarked upon a very shaky and unstable adolescence. I carried these faulty convictions about myself into the highly judgmental, competitive and sometimes downright mean world of young adulthood.
The Perfect Storm
My low self-esteem coupled with my genetic tendency toward anxiety, depression, perfectionism, and people-pleasing created the perfect storm for my eating disorder to develop.
The following 14 years I struggled with various forms of eating disorders, instability, and failure. I would pull it together for awhile, but then, sink right back into the eating disordered behaviors and watch all that I had built up come crashing down around me. This sad, destructive pattern continued for years.
Eventually, I found treatment, medication and ongoing therapy that helped me to unravel my past trauma, and reframe the unhealthy and destructive conclusions I had drawn. I haltingly began to normalize my eating and exercising and became healthier and stronger.
I went on to accomplish my educational, career and family goals. I became a therapist and founded Eating Disorder Hope and have the joy of watching our online community support each other and pursue their own recovery.
Coupling Trauma with a Predisposition Towards an Eating Disorder
My trauma was surgery, abandonment, and pain. It was ongoing over years. My personality, predisposed toward a set of personality traits ideal for the development of an eating disorder came first, met the trauma and Voila, I developed an eating disorder.
This trauma is no one’s fault. My parents are to be commended for seeking out excellent medical care for me and for the many sacrifices they made to ensure my leg was effectively treated and that I could then go on to have the best quality of life possible.
The decision to leave me alone in the hospital for such long periods of times was a mistake. But, we did not know then, what we do now, about the bonding and attachment needs of children. Nor did we know that my highly sensitive nature would perceive this as profound abandonment.
The Path Towards Compassion
We have no control over the personality traits and genetic makeup we are born with. Many of these very traits that contributed to the development of my eating disorder have also been my greatest gifts. The sensitivity to others, desire to perform well and deep introspection actually facilitated much of my personal, academic and career success.
So, perhaps the trauma component of my eating disorder was not so much a “curse” as simply part of the unique path I have walked in my journey of humanity. Perhaps the subsequent eating disorder was also part of the path to my greater enlightenment and compassion for others. Perhaps God’s blessings sometimes come disguised as suffering, but in time, end up being gifts for those who seek meaning in their suffering…
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Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on October 20, 2017
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com