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Heather’s Story

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Photo credit: Courtesy of Heather Groves

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Written by: Bernadette BeckerFebruary 17, 2016

Heather Groves, a senior in the health and human services program at IPFW, has battled anorexia since she was 13 years old. During the following 10 years, she was in numerous hospitals and treatment centers, in and out of the foster care system and in California, Oklahoma and Indiana.

“I’m very lucky to be alive,” Groves said.

She has been on heart monitors over 30 times because her heart rate has been so low and weak. Groves collapsed during her first year of college in the TRIO services office, only to be diagnosed with the early stages of renal failure, yet another complication of her battle with anorexia.

Although visiting the hospitals almost weekly for the first few years of college, Groves said she managed to keep her grades up. Her turning point came when she realized “no one would keep [her] alive” but herself.

That realization came when she was emancipated at age 19 via a phone call during class and told to immediately leave her foster home. While it is customary for those in the foster care system to be emancipated at age 18, Grove said her health problems kept her in the system another year.

During her time in foster care, she was in between 10-15 foster homes. Meanwhile much of that time was spent in hospitals and institutions because, as Grove admits, she was so sick.

Her lowest weight was 75 pounds for her 5-foot-6 frame.

Groves said her eating disorder is rooted in her family’s dysfunction. Her parents divorced and remarried when she was young, and both marriages experienced difficulties, which influenced her eating disorder.

So,“I started acting out and being rebellious,” Groves said.

Her eating disorder started gradually. First she began just dabbling in dieting and not eating in public. Then Groves was moved to her mother’s house in Oklahoma and her dad relocated to Indiana. That provoked a depression as she realized her life and friendships in her hometown in California were over.

“[The eating disorder] started with depression,” Groves said.

Her weight began to drop as she regularly skipped meals. She was given a food plan, but when she continued to lose weight she was checked into a hospital in Oklahoma City and then into an eating disorder treatment center.

She was prematurely discharged, and  when abuse allegations against her stepfather were made, she was placed back with her father with no medical insurance.

Groves’ father tried to treat her at home, which eventually led to immense frustration and emotional and physical abuse when her situation continued to decline.

“That’s when I was placed in foster care,” Groves said, of when she told a school nurse the truth of her family situation.

The Department of Child Services would attempt to reunite Groves with her family multiple times.

Every attempt failed.

“I think I had so much trauma from everything that happened at their home, I could not be healthy there,” Groves said.

“It was this perpetual cycle,” Groves said. She would have a major relapse whenever they would put her back with her family.

Groves graduated from Gateway Woods, a group home in Leo, in 2009. She attended one semester and then was forced by her health issues to medically withdraw for treatment at the Selah House in Anderson. It is the only eating disorder treatment center in Indiana.

When Groves returned to IPFW she took on too many activities and was forced to slow down. It has been a battle to handle stress with her various health problems, she said.

Groves has been to Parkview medical centers around 35 times. She has experienced full-body paralysis around seven times, which she explained happens right before the heart stops because of critically low potassium.

Groves credits resources at IPFW with keeping her alive.

Along with counseling resources, Groves also received the Kirsten Hagland scholarship because of her battle with anorexia. The Kirsten Haglund Foundation was created by the 2008 Miss America and part of its mission is to help people with eating disorders.

As to the roots of the disorder, “for me it was about control,” Groves said. She shared that in her life, eating was the only choice she could make, since her father, the foster care system and others made most of her decisions for her.

“It numbed the pain that I felt inside emotionally,” Groves said, speaking of the abuse and emotional instability she suffered, including when her mother went missing.

Groves finally hit rock bottom and she thought, “I’m just gonna let the eating disorder kill me.”

At her darkest point, however, she realized that all she had left was God.

“God has put amazing people throughout my life,” Groves said. “I’ve never been alone,” even though she has been in many difficult situations.

Groves credits her boyfriend with creating a pivotal shift in her life.

“He demonstrated Christ-like love to me and through him …I was able to feel and accept love and learn to love myself,” Groves said.

Joshua Koehl, her boyfriend, has helped her reconcile with her parents as well. Groves’ mother is coming to town in May for her graduation; it will be the first time she has seen her mother in 10 years.

“That complete freedom did not really start happening ‘til about a year ago — ‘til I joined the Catholic Church,” she said.

Groves has been on the road to recovery for a while now, and as she explained, it’s a process but it is the same struggle for all eating disorder victims, whether people struggling with binge eating, bulimia or anorexia. She said that she keeps positive quotes and affirmations on the walls and mirrors of her apartment, listens to positive music and says that it’s really important for people to realize “you don’t have to carry this cross alone.”

Groves also shared there is a dark side of the web: pro-ana websites. They are sites that glorify and support anorexia (pro-mia sites are those that support bulimia). Groves shared that during some of the most difficult points of her disorder she would post pictures of anorexic people to aspire to around the house, which is not uncommon among people dealing with anorexia.

“It’s not worth it, you’re beautiful,” Groves said, to anyone who has an eating disorder.

Although, she has lasting health problems, such as malabsorption issues and other gastrointestinal issues as a result of her anorexia.

Still, “I wouldn’t change anything from my past,” said Groves, who feels that she has been called to share her testimony and help people. She feels though that she has been abundantly blessed.

“I’ve probably cut the life span of my life significantly,” as a result of her eating disorder, Groves said. But she still has a commitment to live life to the fullest, and now, instead of not eating, if she wakes up at night hungry she will eat. She hopes to write a book one day recounting her journey.

 

 

“Do You Have an Eating Disorder?

Respond honestly to these questions. Do you:

Constantly think about your food, weight or body image?

Have difficulty concentrating because of those thoughts?

Worry about what your last meal is doing to your body?

Experience guilt or shame around eating?

Count calories or fat grams whenever your eat or drink?

Feel “out of control” when it comes to food?

Binge eat twice a week or more?

Still feel fat when others tell you that you are thin?

Obsess about the size of specific body parts?

Weigh yourself several times daily?

Exercise to lose weight even if you are ill or injured?

Label foods as “good” or “bad”?

Vomit after eating?

Use laxatives or diuretics to keep your weight down?

Severely limit your food intake?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, your attitudes and behaviors around food and weight may need to be seriously addressed.” – 2016 Eating Disorders Resource Catalogue