Everyone has moments in a year they will never forget. Here are a few of mine from 2013.
150 beautiful faces staring back at me as I led my first informal meeting as executive vice president (EVP). My best friend and sister offering her home and support when I was kicked out of my abusive boyfriend’s and my apartment. Another sister calling me one morning and saying “I know what’s going on. I’m here to help you get the help you need.” The looks on my roommate’s faces the day I drove out to inpatient treatment. The feeling of hope I had when I opened my sister’s letters each week. 150 beautiful, supportive faces staring back at me as I told them all where I had been.
Let’s backtrack a little bit. In the fall of 2013, I was diagnosed with an eating disorder. September of that year, I went to a treatment facility and stayed for a total of 48 days. While I was there, I had no contact with the outside world aside from mail we received a couple times a week. Privacy did not exist. We were in therapy sessions all day. When we weren’t in therapy, we were eating prescribed meals. At night we had an hour and a half of free time to read, write, or watch part of a movie. All material had to be approved by nurses or therapists. When I talk about it now, it feels like a bad dream that happened to someone else. It was the most difficult experience of my life. One I might not have had the opportunity to go through without my sisters.The most common symptom of any sort of addiction is denial. Over that summer, I lost as much weight as someone on a healthy weight loss regimen would in six months. I spent evenings going through my food and dividing them into individual snack bags, counting every calorie. I went through clothes like a toddler. I would go to the gym for hours until my legs felt like jelly. I would go out drinking until I forgot how miserable I was.
Over time, friends started to notice as I dodged dinner dates, got noticeably weaker, and disappeared for days at a time. Sisters began to reach out to ask if everything was okay. I buried myself in my EVP role and my summer classes to distract everyone and myself from what was going on. All the while, I insisted that nothing was wrong. But it all caught up to me eventually.
Interventions are a lot like they look on TV. There’s a lot of crying. A lot of disappointed, helpless looks. People get angry. People get up and leave.
Interventions are a lot like they look on TV. There’s a lot of crying. A lot of disappointed, helpless looks. People get angry. People get up and leave. After each confrontation, I sat with my knees against my chest on the floor of the shower for about 45 minutes, hoping that the shame might wash off me and I could emerge a stronger person. There were days I was so physically weak, I couldn’t get out of bed. Sometimes after meals, I would curl up in a ball and cry as a sister held my hand. Eventually, I started looking at therapists and treatment centers but everything was more than I could afford on my own and I refused to tell my parents what was going on.
One night, I asked a sister to drive me to urgent care at 9 p.m. because I thought I was having heart palpitations. I had to ask my dad for money to cover the trip and he started calling me over and over to ask why I had gone. After a few taps of the “ignore” button, she finally grabbed the phone and forced me to answer and tell him what was wrong. She sat with me in the car for an hour while I cried incomprehensibly to my dad about what I had been doing to myself and how bad it had gotten. That night changed everything. I finally had the financial support I needed; I just had to commit to recovery.
I spent weeks trying to barter with the treatment facilities. Insisting I only needed the lowest level of care. That I could get better in a couple weeks. That I didn’t have to drop out of school. That I didn’t have to leave my apartment and my friends. One of my closest sisters was one of the recruitment chairs that year and sat me out of the rounds because I couldn’t stand for more than 10 minutes at a time.
Only three people knew the extent of my problem. They insisted that I couldn’t avoid it anymore and that I needed to admit myself to serious hospital-level care. Finally, I broke down and submitted my papers to Remuda Ranch. On the last day of recruitment, we all stood in a circle and recited the “Sigma Kappa is…” poem while joining hands under soft lighting with sore feet. Every year when the long weekend is over, people start crying for joy and relief, excitement for the year ahead, gratitude for the bonding experience recruitment had provided. I looked around at all those lovely girls who I would be leaving and began to shed tears of my own. People gazed in surprise because I wasn’t known for being the most sentimental person. My heart pounded heavily with all the things I was leaving unspoken.
People started putting together the pieces when I resigned from my position as EVP. My cover story was that I needed to go back home for a while to take care of some things. I was overwhelmed by the response of sisters reaching out to ask if I needed anything and assuring me they were there for me. September 21, 2013, I packed my bag and drove out to Wickenburg, AZ. My roommates and my best friend hugged me and texted me until I arrived. Within a few days, in my darkest times, I received my first letters from them. In a place where I was so suffocated but felt so alone, it was the support I needed to make it through another day. I keep those letters to this day in my nightstand as a reminder of the strength of that sisterhood and how it had very literally saved my life. My best friend even came and surprised me with a visit one weekend. It was one of those cheesy moments where you start crying and running towards one another in a huge embrace. That’s another one for the list of moments I’ll never forget.
Every day was hard. I felt worse before I felt better. There were days that I sat at the meal table and just sobbed the whole time. There were others where I couldn’t fathom the energy to cry, or even to speak. There were days I felt nothing and others where I felt everything so severely that my entire body shook. There were things I saw and experienced that would seem ridiculous even in a fictional novel. Every morning I had to wake up and remind myself of the reasons I was there and the people back home who believed in me. In my weakest moments, Sigma Kappa gave me the compassion I couldn’t give myself.
Every morning I had to wake up and remind myself of the reasons I was there and the people back home who believed in me.
Forty-eight days later, I was in my car driving myself back to Tempe. I ran into my bedroom, locked the door, and cried because I was overwhelmed at all the new responsibility I had to take care of myself. My two closest friends/sisters offered to take me grocery shopping with a meal plan list. If they hadn’t been there for me, I probably would’ve walked into the store, had a panic attack, and walked right back out. One of my roommates often sat and talked with me while I ate my meals at home. When I felt comfortable enough to go to chapter events, no one crowded or questioned me; they let me readjust on my own terms. I’m not sure if many of them know how much that meant to me.
Being in Sigma Kappa also gave me the opportunity to help others. I got to speak to chapter members about the reality of eating disorders and warning signs. I inspired another sister to seek help, which definitely made all the fear of being open and honest completely worth it. To know that I had a role in helping someone else get healthy and get the treatment they needed makes every day of recovery a little easier.
And now I get the opportunity to share my story with all of you reading this blog post.
It’s been a little over three years now since I came back from treatment, and it’s been a rocky road. There have been moments when I wanted to fall back down. Some days, I still have to take every hour as it comes and count little triumphs. While many of us have moved to different places and have taken up different paths, I will never forget the support that Sigma Kappa gave me through the most difficult time of my life. If any of my Theta Omicron sisters are reading this right now, even if we aren’t in touch anymore, I want you girls to know how much I appreciate you all and I’m grateful for the strength you helped me find.
To anyone out there who thinks they might be struggling with an eating disorder, please reach out to a friend, a sister, a family member, a doctor, or anyone else you trust to have your best interests at heart. Help is out there and you don’t have to suffer alone. You are beautiful and you are strong and you deserve to live your best life. The road to recovery is long and far from smooth, but so worth it.
The National Eating Disorder Association provides several resources for seeking help, as well as guides for concerned parents, teachers, and friends.
Ashleigh Yallaly graduated from Arizona State University in May of 2015. She recently moved back to her home town of Kansas City where she works full time as a property manager. She enjoys the arts, spending time with her dog, and is passionate about removing the stigma from mental illness.