Episode 14 - Smashing Scales with McCall Dempsey
There once was a 14-year-old girl named McCall who didn’t know how to fit into her own body. Her resulting sadness launched a 15-year long journey through the pitfalls of dieting pills, along the cliff edge of weight loss at any cost, down the narrow path of making a choice to recover, and into the breakthrough of discovering an antidote to shame.
Along the way, we'll chat with Dr. Ovidio Bermudez about the dangers of diet pills, Adderall, and laxatives.
Ellie Pike: [00:00:00] That's the sound of two college girls surrounded by friends using massive sledgehammers to smash scales on the grassy Commons of Elon University. "Why?" you may ask. A quick search of YouTube shows a bunch of these scale-smashing videos. Obviously, smashing a scale is symbolic, but I wanted to dig in deeper and find the story behind that symbolism. What's the use in breaking a plain old scale?
Well before [00:00:30] the first scale was smashed, the first campus visited, or the first YouTube video posted, there was a 14-year-old girl who didn't know how to fit into her own body. Her resulting sadness launched a 15-year long journey through the pitfalls of dieting pills, along the cliff's edge of weight loss at any cost, down the narrow path of making a choice to recover, and into the breakthrough of discovering an antidote to shame. You're listening to Mental Note podcast. I'm Ellie Pike. [00:01:00]
McCall Dempsey: My name is McCall Dempsey. I am the Founder and Executive Director of Southern Smash. We are a nonprofit aimed at raising positive body image and eating disorder awareness but more importantly, actually most importantly, I am in recovery 7-year strong from a 15 year battle with an eating disorder.
Ellie: Can you [00:01:30] describe to me what you were like as a kid and how you would also describe your family?
McCall: Growing up, I was a really sensitive kid, and I wore my heart on my sleeve. However, at an early age, I didn't really understand just how sensitive I was and what it really took to honor and take care of that sensitivity and what a gift it is. I grew up with an older sister, Jessica, she's 18 months older than me, and my mom and my dad. My dad went to work every day my mom stayed home with us and just devoted [00:02:00] her life to us and raising two really strong, independent, and bright young girls, dinner on the table every night. I really couldn't have dreamed up a better way to be raised.
Ellie: It sounds like it was a really wonderful childhood, and you have a really supportive family. When did you start to shift your relationship with your body, and at what point did it become a little more tumultuous?
McCall: I remember, at an early age, being uncomfortable in my skin. [00:02:30] Whether or not it had to do with body image, I feel very doubtful of that, but it certainly dealt with some anxiety around not feeling good enough. I can remember, in third grade, telling a babysitter that I did not want a cupcake because I was on a diet even though I really had no concept of what dieting was. I just thought that that was something I should do. In fact, my mother never actually dieted. She certainly had some ineffective tendencies and [00:03:00] habits around food, but dieting and bad body talk wasn't one of them.
I can remember in probably around fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth grade is when I really started to show, internally, signs of depression and anxiety, crying a lot in my room by myself but never really reaching out to my family because I thought I had to put on that happy face and pretend like everything was okay, and maybe I was just weird and different. I think it wasn't [00:03:30] until high school that I really started dabbling and dieting and other things to try to lose weight and in hopes to find something that made me feel good about myself.
Ellie: When you say you started to receive some of those messages, did anyone actually say that to you, that you'll have more worth or belong more if you are a certain size, or was that something more internal that you internalized?
McCall: I think it was something more that I internalized, but I certainly [00:04:00] saw the messages on the outside in terms of those that are thin or that are beautiful or better they're more valued. I was this tall, gangly late-to-develop kid with frizzy hair and braces. I just looked at myself and said, "Nobody's going to like me looking like this." [00:04:30]
I can remember in eighth grade really starting to be aware of what I was eating, and I can remember also running in my room at night, not understanding what I was doing but having these impulses to run and exercise. As I went into freshman year into high school, I was thrilled to be leaving my middle school and start new friends and hopefully, find myself and my self-worth. I thought that was going to happen through [00:05:00] dieting. I started cutting back here and there.
I knew that if I got my hands on Adderall that that would jumpstart big weight loss because I could see it and the other girls at my school. I was able to get my hands on Adderall, and obviously, the weight started really melting off. I remember my mother was very aware of the side effect of weight loss and loss of appetite. I remember that the first day I took Adderall, she [00:05:30] got up and made me breakfast to take the medicine with it.
I walked out of the door with a piece of toast, and I said, "Okay, thanks, Mom, I'll eat it in the car." I tossed the toast down the sewer of our driveway and went on because I knew that I didn't need food anymore because this pill was going to be the magic way that I was going to find my self-worth. Sure enough, it spurred some weight loss and, of course, I was met with a lot of compliments. "McCall, you look so good, [00:06:00] what are you doing?" That was really validating. I'm thinking, "Yes, this is my key to happiness right here."
Then the compliments turned into concern because the weight loss really took off, and that was even more validating for that eating disorder mind that was forming, and I thought, "Okay, this is it, I don't need food anymore." I think my parents, at some [00:06:30] level, just thought it was a teenage phase because you don't want to think that your child has an eating disorder, but also, they weren't really educated on it, and then when it morphed into more of a bulimic pattern and the weight came back on, I think everyone just silently said, "Oh, it must have been a teenage phase."
Ellie: That phase never really faded away. Instead, McCall's obsessions seemed to grow alongside her as life progressed.
McCall: I was a [00:07:00] sophomore in college, and I was living in the Kappa Kappa Gamma House, having the absolute time of my life at Ole Miss. My college roommate, who is an amazing woman and a really talented artist, had diet pills. I remember seeing those, and my freshman year, I lost a lot of weight because I was so afraid of the freshman 15. As I saw her with these diet pills on her desk that she had had for [00:07:30] over a month and probably never even took them, I thought maybe that can help me get this weight "under control" because when I was in a bulimic pattern, I always felt really out of control and really ashamed.
I actually stole two or three of the pills and took them for a couple of days and then I stole a few more and a few more and then I decided, "Well, I guess I should get my own" because I started to see how they were working. I also started to feel the effects [00:08:00] of them in terms of heart palpitations and dizziness, but I ignored all of that. That eating disorder voice was so strong, and to me, heart palpitations and dizziness signaled that it was working, signaled that I was losing weight, just these really lethal pills that are really passed off as just commonplace ways to diet.
I really didn't see a problem with them, but deep down I knew I had a problem with them because I carried those pills with me everywhere I went. [00:08:30] I remember the first time I started dabbling in laxatives and diuretics was probably my senior year of high school in my parent's medicine cabinet. After that, I started to use them regularly, and my eating disorder was never really landing in one specific symptom category long enough to say, "Wow, I really have a problem." [00:09:00] I would take gobs of laxatives and then the next week I was back to restricting and just ping-ponging between all of them.
Ellie: I think this part of McColl's story is fairly common, especially for college girls. I both remember it from my days in undergrad and have seen it in the years I've spent as a college professor. You may have even done a similar thing, but the risks of diet pills, Adderall, and purging behaviors are nothing to be cavalier about. Dr. Ovidio Bermudez will clue us in on some of the [00:09:30] health risks associated with them.
Ovidio Bermudez: My name is Dr. Ovidio Bermudez. I serve as Chief Clinical Education Officer and Senior Medical Director for Child and Adolescent Services for Eating Recovery Center. I've been with Eating Recovery Center for eight years now and in the field of eating disorders for three decades.
Ellie: What are the health risks of using any of those pills or laxatives?
Ovidio: Well, first of all, Ellie, I think it's really important to come at it from [00:10:00] the point of view that it's not just the behavior that matters, it's how and why. We know that people can become really hooked, for example, on over-drinking water. There is no doubt that water is necessary for humans to exist, right? We cannot simply stop our consumption of water, and yet there is a condition called psychogenic polydipsia in which we become obsessively focused, over-focused, [00:10:30] if you will, on wanting or needing to consume water.
It becomes a compulsive behavior that can lead to excessive intake, decreasing of sodium levels. That can lead to a seizure. A seizure can lead to aspiration, and aspiration can lead to death. To me, when we talk about the consequences of eating disorders behaviors, it's really important to understand that any behavior done in the wrong way for the wrong reasons can really become [00:11:00] dangerous to a human being.
Ellie: Thank you for that clarification. I think you're exactly right in saying it might not be about taking a substance but about any kind of behavior that's maladaptive and understanding why it's there, that it can perpetuate something really negative in the long run.
Ovidio: Absolutely. As we talk about specific substances or specific behaviors, sure. I think that there is a list of more common or better known consequences that may put somebody's [00:11:30] health or life at risk because of these behaviors. At the end of the day, the other important aspect of this is that I think, as you said, is a poor compensatory behavior. It's a risk-taking behavior that clearly has consequences, both from a medical perspective but also from a psychological and psychiatric perspective.
Ellie: Can you provide some of those consequences from the psychiatric perspective as well as the medical perspective?
Ovidio: Sure. Certainly, [00:12:00] from, let's call it the behavioral perspective, I think the real concern with a compensatory behavior is that really, it's a way of coping with a set of emotions or circumstances that in some way becomes the default mode. Rather than an individual being open to searching for constructive ways to deal with a situation or a set of emotions, it becomes the default mode.
The challenge [00:12:30] is that a lot of compensatory behaviors really work. There is a decrease in the amount of dysphoria or negative affect that the person is experiencing, and in the short-term, they certainly can and often do bring short-term relief. The downside of that is two-fold, as I was alluding to. One, no incentive for their brain to yearn or search [00:13:00] for a better coping strategy and then the medical consequences that could come about because of these behaviors.
Whether you're talking about a compensatory behavior like laxative abuse, or self-induced vomiting, or diuretic abuse, the more traditional things that we think about when we think about [00:13:30] a purging behavior, "getting rid of the calories," or you talk bout things that keep you from eating or suppress appetite or modulate, in an effort to regulate your eating, so that you can "control your weight." In either side of that equation, you have, certainly, a price to pay, and sometimes a dear one.
Ellie: Can you describe what a compensatory behavior is and why it's called compensatory?
Ovidio: Sure. [00:14:00] Typically, a compensatory behavior refers to a behavior that an individual utilizes in the context of their eating disorder to compensate or undo often the guilt that came from either normal eating or what is called subjective binging, consuming an amount of food that maybe to the outside observer may not be a large amount of food [00:14:30] or more than normal, but the person experiences it as a very large intake or what is called an objective episode of dysregulated or overeating, i.e, binging, in which the person would consume an amount of food that even the outside observer would say, "Yes, that was a large amount of food."
Regardless of how the person gets there, I think their [00:15:00] rationalization, in a way, what the intended consequence for a compensatory behavior is to get rid of the food, get rid of the calories. I think at another level, one can say they're also making an effort to get rid of the guilt, to get rid of the negative emotion that having coped by overeating, real or perceived, may bring for the individual.
Ellie: What do you do for somebody when they want to stop those behaviors, whether it be diet pills or laxatives, [00:15:30] the whole list? Is this something that people can just come off of on their own, or is medical help the answer for everyone or just some people?
Ovidio: I think the most important thing is to stop. Ideally, I think a person would do two things, make sure that they're doing it in a way in which it's medically safe, what kind of consequences are there from what has already been done, and what kind of medical consequences can happen from coming off [00:16:00] of this medication?
Ellie: Right. For example, if people were to come off of stimulant laxatives, there can be side effects, correct?
Ovidio: Absolutely. You should come off, and yet it's best to do that under medical supervision. That, to me, is really important. The other side of that coin is you need psychological support in order to do that, not only in the sense of is it achievable, otherwise, can you quit "cold turkey" otherwise? [00:16:30] Also, it leaves your vulnerabilities right where they were. Whatever led you to start those behaviors is still in the mix.
It becomes really important to actually go into a search, a process of change, a process of looking for better-coping alternatives than simply saying, "I'm not going to do this anymore" because that leaves your psyche in the precarious situation. "Now, how do I cope with my anxiety? How do I cope with my guilt? How do I cope with my low self-esteem? [00:17:00] How do I manage?" I think that both from a medical perspective and a psychological perspective, the path to success is to stop and stop in a context of professional help that can support a process of change that actually ends up being safe and positive.
Ellie: I think that that relates back to what you were talking about with drugs. There is this behavior that's happening, and there's a reason behind it, but you do have to stop. [00:17:30] If you just stop without understanding the reason that it was there in the first place, you're left with nothing. Understanding that this behavior was a coping mechanism and then learning a new coping mechanism and really learning to address those underlying psychological issues makes a huge difference in the long-term success.
Ovidio: I would totally agree with that.
Ellie: Thank you. Thank you so much for your time.
Ellie: Getting back to McCall's story, she had a hard time opening up to people about her disorder, even her husband. [00:18:00] Nevertheless, she could feel the internal pressure mounting and needed someone trustworthy to talk things over with. That non-judgemental ear turned out to be a woman named Ann, her triathlon coach.
McCall: My husband was not the first person I told about my eating disorder. The first person I told about my eating disorder was Ann Shaw Hann. She was my triathlon coach and quickly becoming a friend. She felt safe. I had said I had been addicted to [00:18:30] diet pills for eight years at that point, and I knew I could not give them up on my own. I knew that because there had been a night when I had really overdosed on diet pills, and I had found myself laying on the bathroom floor, praying to God, "Let me make it another day, and I swear I'll throw these diet pills away." When the sun came up, and I threw the diet pills away, I went and just bought more three days later.
In Summer 2008 between the [00:19:00] extensive exercise with triathlon and the diet pills, I was starting to have some real health complications that were really shining a light on this as a problem. At that point, the eating disorder was really no longer working for me. I think we all get to a point in our journey where the eating disorder is no longer serving a purpose. I was really tired of it. I even, at this point, didn't realize I had an eating disorder, I just thought, "I just need to get rid of these diet pills."
I knew I had to tell someone, I needed some external accountability. Ann [00:19:30] became that person. I told her when we were in a car on our way to a training ride. I said, "Hey, look, it's not a big deal" because if you had to sum up my eating disorder, it would be, it's not a big deal. Thank goodness, she looked at me and she said, "I think this is a big deal. I think you should talk to someone."
Ellie: Obviously, McCall had a lot of ground to still cover, but now that she had opened up to Ann, the process began to move more quickly.
McCall: She said, "I really think you should tell your husband." [00:20:00] I said, "No, I'm not telling Jordan. He's just such a worrywart, he'll just blow it out of proportion." She didn't push the envelope too much that day, and we went on our ride. Then about a week later, coming off the diet pills was really difficult, and my mood swings were similar, I was suspect to manic, and Jordan figured it out.
I will never forget, he was sitting on our bed, and I stood before him, and he was crying his [00:20:30] eyes out, bawling. This man that I love, my best friend, my life partner, bawling his eyes out, and I stood in front of him without a single emotion or feeling in my body, I was so numb. The eating disorder, I had been numb for so many years, and I watched as this man that I love cried and cried and said, "You have to go talk to someone, if you don't do it for me, do it for our future family."
We did not have kids at the time, and I really wanted kids, [00:21:00] but I knew that there was no way I could take care of kids, I couldn't even take care of myself. After that is when I found some help and treatment through my friend Ann who found a place in Baton Rouge, where we were living at the time. She came with me to my first appointment in July 2008. [00:21:30]
Ellie: It sounds like 15 years of hiding it all, it would feel really terrifying to let that out in the open, not just with your friend and your husband but also with a nutritionist and a therapist and really starting to seek, "What does recovery look like for me?" What was that road like?
McCall: Well, when I made the appointment for the first assessment, Ann came with me to my first appointment, and the assessment was with the nutritionist. God bless all of our nutritionist [00:22:00] out there because they certainly get the wrath of our eating disorder. I sat across from this woman, who was asking me all of these questions that were my secrets, my eating disorder secrets.
This stranger is asking me, how many diet pills did I take a day? How many calories did I eat a day? How many laxatives? How many miles did I run? What was my workout routine? Then when she asked to weigh me, I got up and said, "Hell no" and ran out. I looked at [00:22:30] Ann and said, "You people are crazy if you think there's something wrong with me." I Always pointed to my body as if to reference and to prove that there was nothing wrong with me.
I would say, "There can't be anything wrong with me. I'm a successful marketing manager, I have friends, I am married, I eat dinner with friends, I'm fine." Ann looked at me with such compassion and said, "Look, you have your appointment with a therapist [00:23:00] next week. If you go and still feel the same way, I will never bring it up again." I thought, "Fine." The following week, I am sitting in this therapist's office and I'm going over in my head what I'm going to tell her.
"Here's your check. I'll take my receipt, have a nice life, goodbye." She comes to the door and takes me to her office, and I sit across from her, and she just oozed this kindness and compassion and empathy. Her name was Mary Munger. [00:23:30] For one hour, Mary made me feel that maybe, just maybe I did not have to live with this monster in my head. I still couldn't say the word "eating disorder," literally could not say eating disorder.
It took me many, many sessions before I could even realize that, "Wow, this is an eating disorder," but Mary gave me a safe space to land on for one hour, each week. As ashamed as I was to go to therapy every week, I really looked forward to [00:24:00] having that landing space, to have her couch, to really say, "This is what I'm going through, and I want my eating disorder back, I want my secrets back, I don't want to be here," yet I remained on her couch every week because I think deep down, I knew I deserved better.
Ellie: In this new chapter of putting both feet firmly into recovery, [00:24:30] McCall underwent a much-needed paradigm shift. One thing I really love about your story is that you've told me before that the eating disorder is not a choice, but recovery is. Can you explain that to me a little bit, what does that look like to choose into recovery?
McCall: When I was in treatment, I had a really difficult time understanding that the eating disorder was not my fault. I had a therapist there named Christie Rogers, and she was amazing. [00:25:00] She would constantly remind me, "You did not choose this. People don't choose cancer. People don't choose diabetes. You did not choose your eating disorder." I would typically bark back and say, "I chose to restrict. I chose to purge. I chose to take the pills." Over and over again, she would tell me that it wasn't my fault.
About a month and a half into my time in treatment, I remember feeling really, really stuck. I went into Christie's office and I said, "I've got to go. I miss my husband. I miss my dogs. [00:25:30] I need my home." She told me to sit down and she asked me, "McCall, what does recovery look like to you?" When I first entered treatment, the concept of recovery was mind-blowing, in fact, I just didn't believe it.
I just knew for certain that there was no way I could live with food in my pantry or have a friend call and say, "Hey, let's go to the beach" and just be able to throw my bathing suit and go. It wasn't in the cards for me. I think that what served me well, in my time in [00:26:00] treatment, is that I went with a willingness to become willing, a willingness to say that "I don't believe you right now, but maybe one day I will." I was beginning to realize, after a month and a half there, that recovery wasn't going to be this one monumental moment.
As I sat across from Christie, feeling really down and really stuck in treatment and she said, "What does recovery look like to you?" I looked at her and I said, "Recovery would be walking on the beach, in a bathing suit, with Jordan." For me, that just signified so much because [00:26:30] all of my times at the beach or in a bathing suit were just cloaked in eating disorder memories and behaviors and covering up and feeling ashamed and for the first time, I just wanted to live my life out in the open and not trapped in my head anymore with my eating disorder.
Christie said, "Okay." She drew a line and she forked it into two. She said, "Here you are, you did not choose to have this eating disorder. Now that you're here getting the help that you deserve and learning new skills, [00:27:00] you can choose recovery because you value this life with your husband and a life outside of your eating disorder more than continuing on this path with the eating disorder.
"You can choose to cover up or to use symptoms, to crash diet, to not go, letting the eating disorder win and letting life pass you by, or you can choose to get up, to go on the walk, knowing that it's going to be tough, knowing the first few times you're probably going to have a lot of anxiety and you're going to carry that with you and know that [00:27:30] it's going to get better every time. That choice is yours." That was just a really empowering thought for me that wow, no longer is my eating disorder in the driver's seat, that I am and that this life and that recovery it's up to me to make those steps and to make those small decisions.
McCall: My first night [00:28:00] on PHP, which stands for partial hospitalization program, where you stay in treatment during the day for the day programming and then you go to an apartment at night, the point is to really start to test your skills and learn how to use them out, living life outside of treatment. I was really excited thinking, "Finally, I'm out of treatment. I can go and do what I want at night, and it's going to be great."
I really had this notion that recovery was [00:28:30] going to be perfect just like life, it was just going to be all tied up in a perfect bow. Of course, that's not it, at all. I remember I Skyped with Jordan, and I made dinner for myself. I ate dinner and then I walked straight into the bathroom and purged, and I fell to the floor thinking, "Game over. I told these people I was never going to recover. I knew it. I'm a failure. I have wasted all of this money."
Insurance dropped me two weeks into my time in treatment, so my husband [00:29:00] and I basically emptied our bank account. My parents tapped into their retirement and it all went down the drain that night because I failed. I slept, I purged it's over, it's done.
Ellie: The next morning as McCall drove back to the treatment center, she said that all she wanted was to end the whole mess. She told me, she thought it would be easier if she just let her car drive off the road.
McCall: I got there and I left Christie a note. Christie came and got me, and I [00:29:30] fell on her couch bawling and I said, "I told you that this was not going to happen, I failed." I'll never forget, she looked at me and said, "I am so glad this happened." I thought, "What is wrong with you? You are the worst therapist ever if you're glad I just purged dinner last night." She said, "I'm so glad this happened because now you can realize that recovery isn't perfect and life isn't perfect, and you're going to realize that you can get up and do the next best thing." [00:30:00] [music]
McCall: In that moment, which has to be one of the most pivotal times in my recovery journey, Christie sat across from me and truly challenged me to speak out the shame. Even at this point, a solid two and a half months in treatment after a year and a half before that about patient treatment, I still could hardly say the word "eating disorder." I certainly could not say the word "purge." I was just drowning in shame around those words. [00:30:30] My best friend/author/we haven't met yet, but I know we're besties, Renee Brown, says that shame metastasizes in the darkness.
Shame grows in the darkness, and I could not think of anything true or when it comes to eating disorder. For me, that shame just continued to grow because I refused to shed light on it. As Christie sat across from me, she kept pushing me saying, "What were you thinking? What were you feeling?" My tendency would always be to say, "Oh, I don't know. I went on autopilot." [00:31:00] She would really push me, "What were you thinking? What were you feeling? What happened?"
As she really challenged me to speak to the actions and say what happened and shine light on them, I drove that morning wanting to drive off the road. I left that day with the sunroof open, thinking, "Okay. Let's do this again." I fell again and again and again. Every time I would write, and I would write it out, I would print it out, and I would bring it to Christie.
Then later, when I was back home, I would bring it to Mary and say, "This is what happened. This is what I was thinking. This is where [00:31:30] I can use my skills, and these were my red flags." Really, learning along the way and the best ways that I learned was that I continued to fall, but more importantly, I continued to get back up and really examine what happened and shine light on it.
Ellie: Not only did McCall take recovery seriously for herself, she also recognized a greater goal, making recovery into a way of life so that she could pay it forward.
McCall: After I discharged, I realized that [00:32:00] the big piece that was missing in my recovery puzzle as I went home was the empathy and the group part to sit next to other women who would say, "Me too. I get what you're thinking. I get what you're feeling." I started a blog and I titled the blog Loving Imperfection because my life had been just a sequence of just trying to always be perfect for everything and everyone.
I wanted to shine light on living an imperfect life. However, I did not share this blog with anyone, [00:32:30] even my husband because I thought so cliche, a girl comes home from treatment, starts a blog. I still had all those gremlins in my head telling me that I wasn't good enough, that I wasn't a good writer. I kept it to myself and I wrote on my blog for about a year. Then I decided to share it entry with my friend Anne about our relationship and how she helped guide me to the help and support that I needed.
As I sent her the link, she calls me and she says, "Oh my gosh, [00:33:00] you have a blog?" I thought, "I know. It's so stupid. I'm such a bad writer." She said, "This is fantastic. You have to let me put this on Facebook," and I'm like, "Hell, no. Then 1,000 of my best friends on Facebook are going to know that I'm crazy. I went to treatment. No." She bugged me all day long and then she said, one thing that did it then for me is that she said, "You don't know who you might help."
You see when I left treatment, I made a vow to pay it forward for Christie and Mary and Anne because [00:33:30] there's no way I could ever repay them or thank them enough. I wanted to pay it forward. When Anne said I didn't know who I might help by posting the blog, I said, "All right." The next morning, I woke up and thought, "Oh, shit, the blogs on Facebook." I grabbed my phone not knowing what to expect, and my inbox was filled with messages on Facebook. "Thank you, McCall, for sharing.
"I struggle with anorexia. Thank you, McCall, for sharing, I struggle with bulimia, I struggle with [00:34:00] binge eating. I struggle with drug addiction, alcoholism. I struggle to be the perfect mom." My most favorite. "Thank you, McCall, for sharing all those years, we thought you had it all together, it's so nice to know you didn't." Because nobody wants to sit next to the girl that has perfect and everything's perfect, we want to see someone who is real and authentic.
There's nobody on this earth that glides through life without some kind cross to bear. While an eating disorder is a really shitty cross to bear, [00:34:30] it's easier to bear when you can do it with others and shining light on your shame and letting others know that they're not alone. I've never felt more real or beautiful or worthy than I do right now in my own skin.
Ellie: Can you tell me a little bit about how that journey of sharing with others has really shaped your passion and developed a whole nonprofit around it?
McCall: Yes. As I continued writing this blog, [00:35:00] a group at LSU called the Soul Sisters asked me to come and speak at one of their meetings. I had never shared my story, but I thought, "Something cool is happening. Maybe this is my pay-it-forward. Maybe I'll share my story this time, and maybe there'll be somebody there that my story will impact." I agreed to come. Then I called them back and said, "I have this really crazy idea."
They said, "Well, what is it?" I said, "Well, I was wondering that after I speak, if we could [00:35:30] do a skill smash." They said, "Well, what is that?" I said, "Well, it's smashing bathroom skills with sledgehammers." Thankfully, this group of girls were rock stars, and they were like, "Yes. Hell yes, we are in." Being their former sorority girl/marketing manager, I know that you can't do anything on a college campus without two things, and those are t-shirts and koozies.
I went home, designed the logo, ordered t-shirts, and koozies, named at Southern Smash, and Southern Smash was [00:36:00] born on November 16th, 2012. It is a sequence of activities designed to help participants free themselves from the perfect thoughts and numbers that weigh them down in hopes that they can live a more authentic life, and it has become a nonprofit. We have done over 100 smashes, which is crazy in this five-year period because I really just did it thinking, "Oh, I'll just do it this one time, and it'll be my little pay-it-forward event."
[00:36:30] Now it is my passion, my mission, and exactly why God put me on this earth. When I get messages that I get every day from people across the country saying, "I'm struggling with this. How do you take those steps into treatment?" "Thank you for sharing because that's me too." I did this to pay it forward to help others, and it has come back to me ten-thousandfold in ways that I could never imagine. I think it's also important to say that I don't believe that [00:37:00] Anne or Christie or Mary saved my life. What is even better is that they all gave me the skills and tools to save my own life.
Ellie: I was about to ask you, what advice you have for other people? I think that's it right there. You have your own choices, and as you let others in, they can help empower us to save our own lives. I think that that's [00:37:30] really, really powerful.
Do you remember how McCall's first big turning point came about by finally opening up about what's going on inside? It's one of the fastest ways to get out from under crippling shame and anxiety. Thankfully, you don't need to start your own nonprofit to do it. It's as easy as opening up to that friend, therapist, or partner about what's going on. Recovery is a choice, [00:38:00] and it begins with things like this.
Mental Note is sponsored by Eating Recovery Center and Inside Behavioral Health Centers. If you would like to reach out to someone about the path to recovery, they would love to hear from you, they have licensed professional counselors available for free consultations at 877-411-9578. Today's episode was produced by Sam Pike with editing and mixing by Meredith Turk and Erica Prather. I'm Ellie Pike. See you next time. [00:38:30]
[00:38:48] [END OF AUDIO]
McCall Dempsey, founder and director of Southern Smash (a program of The Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness), is an eating disorder survivor and passionate recovery advocate. After a 15-year battle, McCall sought treatment in December 2010. Since then she has made eating disorder awareness and prevention her life’s work and passion. McCall travels the country, sharing her story of hope and healing with audiences everywhere. From high school auditoriums to treatment centers to corporate meetings, her message of authenticity and embracing your inner-uniqueness transcends all ages.
McCall also writes the popular blog, Loving Imperfection. Her writing has been featured in various national television, print and online publications, including Today Show, Women’s Health, Southern Living and Huffington Post. A Louisiana native, McCall now resides in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, with her husband, Jordan, and her two children, Manning and Marjorie.