For the past 32 years Dena Connors was living with a secret that was slowly taking over her life.
The Marystown woman told The Southern Gazette during a conversation at a local coffee shop on Feb. 5, that at 12-years-old she developed an eating disorder.
“You were always hiding something,” she said. “So, you always had something on your shoulders, the weight of it, but you always tried to be happy and normal — carry on.”
A turning point in her life came almost two years ago while seeing a public health nurse.
“I was just filling out forms to get a needle,” she explained. “I don’t know if she noticed or if she just had an inkling, so she asked me about it.
“I don’t know why I gave in that day — I think I was just done — I was tired, it is very taxing on your life, it takes over your life.”
It was during that visit Connors found out about the Centre for Hope in St. John’s, a treatment facility for people with eating disorders. She travelled back and forth to the centre weekly for a year in order to take part in the program.
“I still suffer from eating disorders, ‘cause it is something that will never go away,” she said. “It's just that right now I have better tools and I have the knowledge to fight against it.”
Connors noted that during her time in treatment she learned to have a healthy relationship with food, and to not isolate herself from others.
“I was very good at isolating myself, I was very good at pretending everything was alright,” said Connors. “I learned it is OK to struggle with your food, and if I have a bad day it’s not the end of the world, I can start over again.”
She feels a traumatic event in her life triggered her disorder.
“I was sexually abused as a child,” she said.
Connors did not want to go into the details of what happened, other than to say that it occurred from the time she was five-years-old until she was 14.
"You feel like you don’t have any control over your life, so food was something I could control, how much I had, how much I didn’t have — if I kept it in or if I wanted to throw it back (up),” she said, “It was just something I had control over.” Connors explained that she would binge eat, but then feel guilty and force herself to throw-up— sometimes up to four or five times a day.
She recalled what her day would be like.
“I’d get up and I probably won’t eat for most of that day, and I probably hadn’t ate for about two days before that, or three,” she said.
Connors said she would often binge on whatever food she had available in her home, “...like pop, chips, bars and ice cream all in the one shot, as much as I could possibly get in my body, and then the guilt would set in, and knowing I was overweight as it was, I’d purge it all back, and then you get a release from it.”
She compared the feeling to that of a high from drugs.
"It would build up and build up and you’d feel so good after eating all that food and then you let it go — as soon as you let it all out, you’d come down,” she explained.
Connors said years of purging had damaged her teeth, “...it just takes a toll on your body.”
Connors said she stills has issues with eating, but she has a strong support system including her family and friends. She also tries to keep herself occupied.
“I go to the gym every day,” she said.
Connors started lifting weights, and through doing so gained a sense of power and control.
Connors took a cautious approach to the gym for fear it could turn into an unhealthy habit.
She added that structuring her days allowed her to be more in control of her life and not seek control by binging.
Connors said she has worked hard to get to where she is today.
“I have a lot of insecurities about myself and about my appearance, my weight, but you know I am getting better at it,” she said. “There was a time when someone would say, ‘Do you like yourself?’ and I would say, ‘Not at all.’”
“But if you ask me now, I’d say yes. I like who I am becoming — I like me.”