September 23, 2002
When Amanda Myers looks in the mirror today, she sees a blessed person.
Her assessment - void of any physical descriptors - is a major milestone considering the numerous trips to the mirror she made as an anorexic and bulimic sufferer a few years ago. Throughout most of the 1990s, Myers saw only imperfection in herself.
"I was not the best, the prettiest or the most popular," Myers said. "My perfectionism was self-imposed, and where that came from, there’s no telling. But I always liked to be recognized for doing something good."
Myers, a straight-A Maryville High School graduate, volleyball standout and magna cum laude graduate of Maryville College, will be recognized for doing something good on Oct. 1, when she shares the story of her recovery and reads from a recently published book Into the Wind: An Addict's Journey Toward Recovery.
The reading and book signing will be held at 7:30 p.m. in the Lawson Auditorium of Fayerweather Hall on the MC campus. The event is open to the public at no charge.
Myers, who has shared her story with several small local support groups already, said it's a little discomforting to become known by her imperfections, but if her story helps other people who are starving themselves to death, she can live with the discomfort.
The important thing, after all, is that she's living.
From middle school through high school, Myers obsessed about her weight. An athlete who played volleyball and softball in high school and stood a lean five-foot-10, she never believed she was skinny enough.
Slushies for breakfast and bread and butter at lunch were her eating routines.
"The way I dealt with stress was not to eat," she remembers. "I was too busy - I just played ball and studied."
A softball accident that left her with a broken, wired jaw helped her see how easy it was to lose weight. In five days, she lost 10 pounds.
Graduating salutatorian from her 1997 MHS class, Myers enrolled at Maryville College and began playing on the Lady Scots volleyball team. She continued to weigh herself daily and watch her caloric intake throughout her freshman year, but it was Myers's sophomore year when life began unraveling and, as she describes in her book, "anorexia and bulimia consumed my mind and dictated my actions."
"I hated having any food in my body," Myers said. "I lived with this horrible fear of getting fat, but it wasn't just that - it was not being perfect by my standards."
Myers said she didn't think of herself as suffering from an eating disorder because her weight never dropped below 100 pounds. But when her hip bones started to show and her spandex volleyball shorts started to sag, Myers' friends knew something was gravely wrong. They took their friend to Maryville College's Director of Student Health Services Cydna Savage.
Savage sent Myers to Blount Memorial Hospital's emergency room, where doctors and counselors urged her to go into treatment immediately. Myers refused treatment, returned to the College and continued to starve herself.
"That time in the emergency room was one of the worst moments of my life," Myers remembered. "I was mad at everybody for confronting me. I didn't think I was going to die. That happened to other people - not me."
After her first addiction assessment, Myers began to withdraw from her friends. A suicide attempt with muscle relaxers took her back to the College's health services office and back to Blount Memorial. It took more, however, to convince Myers that she needed help.
"Each morning I found more bald spots where my hair had fallen out during the night, my skin was dry, scaly, and covered with acne; I suffered from amenorrhea, the absence of menstrual periods," she wrote in her book. "Something had to be done."
Myers's road to recovery began the summer of 1999. Entering a two-month recovery program for addicts of all kinds, she slowly came to terms with her disease and her impossible standards.
Into the Wind is actually Myers' senior thesis. A requirement for graduation at Maryville College, the senior thesis is a two-semester, individual study that is guided by a faculty supervisor.
Following her treatment and recovery ordeals, Myers, an English major and Writing/Communications minor, entered her junior year at the College knowing that she didn't want to "do something traditional" with her thesis topic.
"This idea of using my story in my thesis wouldn't get out of my head," Myers said. "My thesis advisor, Linda Clark, agreed to help me with it as long as it didn't interfere with my recovery."
Myers's book includes four chapters, an introduction and acknowledgement page. As is typical of most senior thesis, the book includes research. Myers's defines anorexia and bulimia in her thesis, and gives estimations of the number of college women who suffer from anorexia and bulimia (25 percent and 19 percent, respectively). She collected anecdotal data from the personal stories she heard from other addicts in recovery.
The longest chapter of her thesis is entitled Treasures of Strength and Weakness. It is where she weaves the experiences of a Spring Break bike trip from Maryville to Savannah, Ga., into her recollections of treatment. Sponsored by the College's Mountain Challenge staff, the 450-mile bike trip took Myers (then a junior) and other college students through the mountains of North Carolina and the hills of upland South Carolina.
"That bike trip made such an impact on me," Myers said. "It was something I had never done before."
That summer, Myers decided that the bike trip needed to be included in her thesis.
"Recovery is just like that bike trip," she said. "Hard at the beginning - up and down, up and down - then you find your rhythm. When you get into it, it really balances out."
It was during another Spring Break Mountain Challenge bike trip that Myers met the future publisher of her book. In 2001, the cyclists biked from Maryville to Memphis. Stopping at Dickson Presbyterian Church outside of Nashville for a night's stay, Myers struck up a conversation with a church member, Bard Young, who was also an editor and publisher.
"Being a biker, I rode with Amanda's group of bikers on the leg of their journey that ended at our church," Young said. "During that time together, we talked about her thesis, and Amanda shared with me her desire to publish her work for the benefit of others who might be suffering, or might suffer in the future, from the syndrome that nearly took her life."
Young said Myers' story brought him to the edge of tears, over and over again.
"Into the Wind is not a handbook for anorexics, but a subtle mirror in which every human soul can see itself, learn how and why we are so flawed by how we handle our cravings, and come to admit and address our favorite weaknesses," Young said. "There is no judgment here; there is, rather, painful honesty and hope."
Young and other members of Dickson Presbyterian Church were so moved by Myers' story that they have included it in the church's curriculum for youth. Other Presbyterian churches may add it to their curriculums, as well.
Myers and Young spent nearly two years taking the story from manuscript to published book. The first copies rolled off the press earlier this month, barely five months after Myers celebrated her 23rd birthday.
Copies of Into the Wind can be purchased from Myers at a cost of $12 each. Not a penny is going into her pocket, however. Instead, the author is creating a fund entitled the Manna Recovery Fund. The fund will support treatment for other girls and women who are suffering from eating disorders.
Today, Myers is employed as a group counselor at the Helen Ross McNabb Center. She is also working on a master's degree in education. Some day, she said, she would like to get her licensure in school counseling.
She is still in recovery, still taking one day at a time, still counting her blessings.
Recently visiting former professors and staff members, especially those who taught and counseled her during her sophomore year, Myers said she is glad they can see the real Amanda.
"I wouldn't have wanted to be anywhere else and go through this," she said. "The professors, the staff, the coaches and trainers, the type of students who are at Maryville College - they're all so supportive. God put some pretty fantastic people in my life. They took care of me, and didn't let me fall through the cracks."
Maryville College is ideally situated in Maryville, Tenn., between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Knoxville, the state‘s third largest city. Founded in 1819, it is the 12th oldest institution of higher learning in the South and maintains an affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Known for its academic rigor and its focus on the liberal arts, Maryville is where students come to stretch their minds, stretch themselves and learn how to make a difference in the world. Total enrollment for the fall 2012 semester was 1,093.