Little Girl, Get Up! Mary-Ava Poole

“The Lord your God is with you,

the Mighty Warrior who saves.

He will take great delight in you;

in his love he will no longer rebuke you,

but will rejoice over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:17

Do you vividly remember days from long ago? What you were wearing, the smell of the air, your surroundings? It is almost as if someone is playing back a movie and you are the star. There are days I remember and some I would rather forget, and if you are anything like me, you can relate. One day in particular changed my life forever. I can see myself now, cooking in my college apartment, making a meal I had made a hundred times before. Comfort food! Can I get an Amen? Angel hair pasta, feta cheese and little olive oil; it may sound like an odd combination, but to me it is truly delicious. I am part Scottish and Irish but I can’t help but think some of my ancestors had to be Italian because I have never met a carb I did not like (can I get another Amen?). However, today, the food did not comfort me at all. My usual emotions, anxieties and fears came over me and I did what I had been doing for the past three years: I made myself throw up. The reason I remember this day so intensely is not the pasta or throwing up, this day was different because for the first time my bulimia was brought to light. I did not know that my roommate’s boyfriend was home or that he heard me from the other room. A light tapping on the door signaled life, as I knew it, was finally over. I know God sent him to me that day; he was gentle, understanding, supportive yet serious about me getting help. He encouraged me to call my family and call a therapist. Anguish and relief washed over me like a gentle wave. I did not intend to give up binging and purging and I was not motivated to get healthy, but God intervened. It was an incredibly long journey to total recovery but I am happy to report that Jesus delivered me from anorexia, bulimia and body dysmorphia. For the past two years, I have come into a place of complete healing and I would like to share my story with you.

Growing up I had an idyllic childhood filled with love and support from both sets of grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and family friends. I come from a family that does not know divorce, addiction or disease and for that, I am very thankful. My parents raised me in church and gave me constant support, unwavering love and every opportunity under the sun including supporting my love for art and travel. I was a happy and heathy child! However, I was always a little different; more sensitive and emotional than other children and I grew up with incredibly debilitating anxiety, depression and OCD. If there is one thing you need to know about emotional and mental disorders it is that they do not discriminate. They do not care if you come from a loving family, if you are rich or poor, what your background, gender or culture may be or anything else: mental and emotional health issues can happen to anyone. Even a little redheaded girl from small town Owensboro, Kentucky.

Since I have spoken on memories, it would only be right to mention the first time I encountered my serious eating disorders. In high school, I can remember thinking I was a very heavy girl but looking back at pictures I was incredibly thin, only a size 4 or 6. That’s what body dysmorphia can do to you, it tricks your brain into seeing yourself differently than others see you. I can remember feeling self-conscious constantly and often I was on edge. One day in the lunchroom, I decided to get two pieces of pizza. I was hungry! A growing girl and already about 5’10 my junior year. I hid one piece under the other so no one would see; I was so worried about what others thought about me. Someone did see my two slices that day and saw their chance to point it out. “Are you seriously eating TWO pieces of pizza? Be careful, you’re getting fat.” Those words have cut me deep and obviously so because I remember them as a 27-year-old woman. These two girls tormented me regularly. Have you ever experienced that kind of shame or bullying? We say sticks and stones may break our bones but we forget the tongue is a weapon. In hindsight I should have just stood up for myself, had confidence in who I am and was and poured milk over their heads! Okay, maybe not the last one….I don’t think Jesus would have appreciated that strategy specifically, but you get the point. That one comment sent me into a downward spiral. These girls did not know my emotional and mental struggles and had they known maybe they would have taken a step back. We never know what others are facing depending on what they show on the outside. I was the queen of faking it until I made it but sadly, I could not control my feelings, I could not control the hateful words of others so I decided to control what I ate.

I began starving myself, counting calories, working out for ages, even going as far to calculate the calories in a small granola bar and then calculating how long I would have to run to burn it off. I became a walking skeleton. I thought I was finally beautiful but to others I looked emaciated; you could count the bones in my body. My family tried their best to support me and they even tried to play into my interests by bribing me to eat with the promise of going shopping (if you know my love for fashion you know this worked!). Nevertheless, the bribing only lasted for so long; I reached my “goal” size and I felt more emotional and out of control than ever before. That is what an eating disorder does to you, it convinces you that if you just looked a certain way or attained a certain size that you will finally be happy. Then again, eating disorders are liars. No matter what the numbers on the scale say, unless you tackle your own mindset, you can never be fulfilled.  After months of struggling, I broke down and started taking Prozac while attending counseling sporadically. I was not in recovery even though I appeared to be and before I knew it, it was time to go off to college. I did not have the heart to tell my parents I was not ready and I wish I had.

Fast forward to college and I will give you the Reader’s Digest Condensed version of my experience. I experienced the lowest and deepest depths of depression and anxiety I had ever felt and instead of seeking help I joined a sorority, I began experimenting with marijuana, I drank all of the time, I dated and had relations with men I had no business being with, I had broken relationships and broken engagements. I also started gaining weight and decided to start purging; I was desperate to fill the hole in my heart with anything I could get my hands on. I was an emotional atomic bomb. I was in so much pain and I needed to numb it and fast. I could not understand why this was happening to me. Why would God leave me here? Why would he allow all of this to happen? How much longer did I need to experience this pain? I was in survival mode and as a result I had become a horrible friend, student, daughter, and in my eyes the worst child of God. With no other perceived option, in my deep despair, I renounced my faith all together. I did not pray, I did not read my bible and I most definitely did not go to church. Almost any negative thing you can imagine happened to me in a seven-year period. I can remember lying in bed and thinking to myself “If I died today that would be okay, the world would be better off anyway.” What a sad girl. I think back to that time in my life and it is hard to believe that was actually me. I actually endured these things. So badly, I want to go back and change it. So badly, I want to believe that was someone else’s story. However, it is mine and for the first time I have clarity with the “why”.

A few years ago, I had a friend who could see what I was going through. She prayed for me, invited me back to church and took me in as a part of her family. I always say God appointed her the one to pull me out of the pits. She mentioned something about a women’s conference in my hometown and invited me. Of course, I said no but she did not take no for an answer. Reluctantly I decided to go, and remind you I had not been in church or talked to God in years. That weekend I encountered God for the first time in a while. His spirit spoke to me and he said, “Just come home.” That weekend I came back to Him. I call it my prodigals daughter moment. That is not to say I was now perfect, free from messing up or sinning, but I was again a follower of God. That brave, faithful and obedient woman who rescued me was Cheryl Goss, the founder and leader of Connecting Women’s Ministry. If you told me years ago that I would attend Connecting Women’s Ministry and now be writing a blog sharing my story, I would never believe you. I am so thankful for this opportunity and most of all I am thankful for God’s love, mercy and grace.

After years of trying medication, working with a dietitian, counseling, therapy, working through past issues with family and friends, the unwavering adoration and support from my parents, brother and grandparents,  finding God and becoming involved in Christian community I can now say that I am fully recovered. I am not immune to bad body image days, but I no longer hate myself or am trying to change who I am. I am healthy and for the first time in my life, I am happy with what I see in the mirror.

I hope my story has touched you and has brought you hope. I know there are plenty of women and men out there who can relate to what I have gone through. That is my “why”. I know I have gone through these trials to become stronger, to rely on Christ to lead my life and to share my testimony with others. If you are struggling with eating disorders, anxiety, depression or any other mental or emotional issue please know healing, comfort and restoration is waiting on you from the Father. He truly is a good, good Father. For so long I viewed Him as an angry judge in the sky but that is not true. He is your Father, He rejoices over you! He is the perfect image of a loving Father: He choose not to rebuke you or point fingers when you come back to Him, He holds you and sings over you. He is gentle, He is kind, forgiving, and merciful and He is in the business of refining. He is a rescuer and He has saved me more times than I can count and He will equip and provide for you resources and people in your path who will help you on your journey. One of my favorite things about the Lord is that He takes the most broken and unlikely people and he uses them to paint life. In our weakness, His strength is made perfect. He uses stories to change the world. So I ask you, what is YOUR story? It is not over yet and if you did not like the beginning, I urge you to led God start writing the rest. He has a plan for you, to prosper you, protect you, deliver you; all you have to do is call out to Him. Surrender to the Lord and watch Him change your life and use your story for the betterment of His kingdom. Someone out there needs to hear your story because you are on divine appointment. Are you ready to share?

NEDA Helpline for eating disorders

(800) 931-2237



About the Author:

Mary Ava is an Elementary Art Teacher from Owensboro, Kentucky. If she’s not painting or drawing, you can find her traveling the world or sipping coffee with friends. She loves Jesus and her family above all else.