Live to Inspire: Emily's eating disorder recovery journey


Emily Miller’s life motto is “live to inspire.” But Emily would be the first to tell you that for many years, she did not live up to her motto. Instead of living to inspire, she was barely surviving.

Feeling Empty 

The trouble began in high school. 

“I was sexually assaulted when I was 16,” recalls Emily. “That is when the downward spiral started.”

Following the traumatic event, Emily began restricting her eating until she eventually developed a severe eating disorder.

“I felt so disgusted with myself,” says Emily. “I think I developed the eating disorder in phases. I started not eating.

I felt that feeling of emptiness. It was a way of numbing out. Then it turned into other issues of binging and purging and working out to the extreme for up to five hours per day. Controlling my eating helped me feel the sense of control that I lost as a result of the assault.”

Gradually, Emily’s eating disorder began robbing her of the things she used to enjoy. While she continued to play basketball and run track in high school, her malnutrition caused her to suffer repeated injuries and nearly pass out during practices. 

Emily’s lingering trauma from the assault and the symptoms of her eating disorder also impacted her relationships. 

“I ended up not talking to my mom for a couple of years,” Emily admits. “I have always had my family’s full support. But I was just so deep in the eating disorder, I was just like ‘leave me alone.’”

Emily left home to attend college at Fairmont State University in West Virginia. After a night of partying, she woke up in the hospital. Given her low body mass and perpetually empty stomach, she couldn’t metabolize as much alcohol as her peers. She had developed blood alcohol poisoning. Emily’s resident director connected her to a counselor whom she saw off and on for about four years and eventually referred her to The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt.

Inspired to Change

As an inpatient at Sheppard Pratt, Emily remembers how tough it was at first to confront her eating disorder.

“I was angry once I got to Sheppard Pratt because I wasn’t fully ready,” Emily recalls. “I remember sitting there at meal time and not eating. I didn’t want to feel full!”

Eventually, Emily started to make progress. She began to open up and appreciate her group therapy sessions. She began ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) to try to curb the depression that she had battled since her teens. She also began to appreciate and connect with the encouraging staff members she encountered at Sheppard Pratt.

“No one at Sheppard Pratt was ever degrading or demanding. I knew they all truly cared and wanted what was best for me,” she says.

But after Emily left the supportive environment at Sheppard Pratt, she found herself succumbing to the demands of her eating disorder once again. Within less than a year, she was back at Sheppard Pratt for another inpatient stay. 

“It’s very common to relapse once or even several times through the recovery process. Recovery isn’t linear,” explains Elizabeth Haldeman, a Senior Occupational Therapist at The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt. “When our patients first come in, they are at their lowest of lows. But Sheppard Pratt’s comprehensive treatment team has the breadth of resources and levels of care to help them make progress. Patients are getting care from a multidisciplinary team that includes a psychiatrist, psychologist or social worker, dietitian, expressive therapist, and an occupational therapist.”

For Emily’s second stay at Sheppard Pratt, she was finally fully committed to recovery.

“I was like, ‘I’m not going to keep going through this!’ I went deeper into the counseling and discovered more coping mechanisms. I was ready to find healing,” says Emily. 

Living to Inspire

Today, Emily has reconciled with her family and is thriving as the mother of her toddler son and working as a certified nursing assistant (CNA), with her sights set on completing nursing school to become a registered nurse. 

“There are still days where I have to work harder at being positive about my body. But I don’t let that bother me,” asserts Emily. “I have a healthy baby boy, and I need to take care of myself. I know that there are so many people who struggle with self-worth and body image. I encourage them to take each day as it comes. Life can be tough, but it’s worth living! Find something positive in every single day and try to help as many people as you can.”

Live to inspire, indeed.