You are here: Home » Case studies

My Journey From Hitting Rock Bottom to Overcoming Abuse, Addiction, and Eating Disorder

“Then something happened. On about day 3 or 4, the group spoke and I realized that their way of thinking around food, their rituals, and their tendencies, were all the same as the things I would do. It was wild because I thought I had made these things up myself and here I was with a room full of people who did the same things.”

Hello! Who are you?

My name is Ella Shae and I am the author of the best-selling book, From Broken to Beautifully Broken. I was a teacher for 13 years until Covid when I resigned from my position. During Covid, I suffered from many mental health struggles. This led to also being a survivor of an eating disorder. 

Today my husband supports me and nourishes me on the days that can sometimes be a little challenging. Recovery from anything is not linear, so having a family that supports me is my greatest gift. My three children are my proudest accomplishments and every day I continue to learn and grow with them.

I continue to be the voice for the unspoken and the face for the unseen by being an advocate for mental health. I am a public speaker spreading my message through as many avenues as possible. 

Through podcasts, television, magazines, and being a keynote speaker for hospitals and colleges, I am emphasizing the importance of self-care, how substance abuse is often a coping skill for a mental health struggle, the early warning signs of eating disorders, and sharing my journey to freedom. 

I have an educational background in teaching and psychology, but what has made me the happiest, is telling my story and receiving messages from complete strangers that my story has helped them advocate for themselves or find the voice they needed to help themselves.

💡 By the way: Do you find it hard to be happy and in control of your life? It may not be your fault. To help you feel better, we’ve condensed the information of 100’s of articles into a 10-step mental health cheat sheet to help you be more in control. 👇

Cheat Sheet Download Thumbnail

Don’t Miss Out On Happiness

Find happiness with this 10-step mental health cheat sheet.

What is your struggle and when did it start?

Before I can tell the story of how I was finally able to find beauty in the things that broke me, I have to take you back to 1986. In 1986, I was in a nearly fatal car accident. I was four years old. I lost the entire right side of my face, nose, lip, and eye. 

I had over 500 stitches on my face and a broken collarbone. I needed reconstructive surgery to eliminate as much scarring or facial deformities as possible. I lived a beautiful happy childhood until 1996, when I was bullied due to the lasting effects of that car accident. It was my first true “crack”. 

There is no word to accurately describe the feelings a child experiences when they are being bullied every single day, for years. This moment is when my eating disorder truly manifested. I thought that If I could be really skinny and have a beautiful body, people would look at my face less. 

I began to limit my food intake, and I stopped eating lunch altogether for fear of being made fun of in the lunchroom. I skipped lunch every day during my freshman year. Throughout my young adulthood, I was surrounded by narcissists who crushed my self-worth. 

In 1999 I was in a domestically violent relationship and then again in an emotionally abusive relationship in 2001. I’ve struggled with substance abuse to silence my anxiety and depression. I’ve experienced divorce, the ups and downs of parenting, grief and loss…each event making me a little more broken. 

It wasn’t until I was 38 years old that all those “cracks” left me shattered. It wasn’t until I was lying on my kitchen floor, barely able to get up, that I had hit rock bottom. I entered an eating disorder program after being discharged from the Emergency Room. 

It was there that I was finally able to understand that my eating disorder was not the illness. It was a symptom of a much larger issue. It was a symptom of anxiety, depression, PTSD, abuse and so much more.

How did this struggle make you feel at your worst moments?

Ironically, at my worst moments in life, I turned to my eating disorder, which in turn eventually made life even worse. In my mind, I had control of something in a world where I barely had control over anything. 

In the moments of mental angst, my eating disorder struggle actually soothed my mental struggles. In the long run, we all know that this kind of coping strategy made my life entirely worse.

For years, I controlled the way I looked physically to distract the world from the scarring on my face from my childhood car accident. I never wore a bathing suit without shorts. I never went swimming. 

In fact, I would wear long-sleeved shirts and pants to the beach sometimes. When people would comment, I would always tell them the breeze makes me chilly, or I didn’t want to get burnt. 

I missed out on doing so many things with friends and as I got older my children because I was the one taking all the pictures and videos while someone else took them in the ocean or the pool. In the summer I didn’t wear shorts or short dresses. My legs were not something I would ever show, so I would sweat all summer long. It was miserable.

Being so hungry all the time, on top of anxiety and depression made me even more miserable. Nothing made me happy. Everyone and everything annoyed me. This is why I turned to substances to make my mental health issues silent. It was the only time I was happy and laughing and sometimes I even ate something!

I don’t think that many people noticed I struggled. In the 90s and 2000s, everyone was on a diet so, I was just another girl with a desire to be skinny. When people did notice, I would quickly shut them down or direct their attention elsewhere.

👉 Share your story: Help thousands of people around the world by sharing your own story. We would love to publish your interview and have a positive impact on the world together. Learn more here.

Was there a moment when you started to turn things around?

There was a moment when I started turning things around, but it wasn’t until I had struggled for 23 years and it wasn’t by choice. Multiple doctors and therapists had warned me during our Zoom meetings during covid, that I had begun to look malnourished. 

After having bloodwork done for something completely different, it was determined that my body was in danger of organ failure. My family had an intervention, I went to my local emergency room and from there was admitted to a facility for an eating disorder program. 

This was 100 percent not a result of my actions. This was forced and the only reason I agreed was for my husband and children. I needed to be around for them and because they asked me to do this, I had to give it a try. 

Then something happened. On about day 3 or 4, the group spoke and I realized that their way of thinking around food, their rituals, and their tendencies, were all the same as the things I would do. It was wild because I thought I had made these things up myself and here I was with a room full of people who did the same things. 

Once I felt that connection with the others in my group it made coming to treatment easier. Before I was officially diagnosed, everyone kept telling me to “just eat”. What they didn’t understand was that the eating disorder was a symptom of something larger. It was a symptom of PTSD. 

It was a symptom of anxiety and depression. It was a symptom of abuse. Until those traumas were addressed, I could not “just eat”. Being in treatment I was able to connect with people who understood my food rituals and eating tendencies. They understood that it was a piece of a bigger picture. 

Having people around me who understood that, allowed me to open up old wounds, revisit the traumas and heal from them. Recovery and healing were 100 percent on me. I had to choose that. I had to want that.

What steps did you take to overcome your struggle?

The road to recovery is absolutely attainable but it’s not linear. We need a network of people to guide us and help us. Who I surrounded myself with during recovery was crucial. Those who didn’t get it or didn’t believe in “mental health illness” impeded the process of healing on my journey. 

Contrary to that, those who understood, those who believed in me and helped me in any capacity, accelerated my journey to being my best self. Most days my therapists always peeled back a new level of awareness, but some days were brutal. 

Refeeding syndrome, hypoglycemia, digestive issues, headaches, and the level of tiredness that you feel while recovering mentally and physically is unlike any tiredness I can describe. But I made it. I made it through 4 months of therapy and was discharged at a healthy weight with a completely new mindset, all because of this department of people.

Without my treatment team at Robert Wood Johnson, I may not have been here today. While they taught me the right way to eat again, they also got to the root of why I had an eating disorder. RWJ helped me dig deep and find the larger hidden issues at hand, or in my case many larger struggles. 

Not only did they hold my hand through my body’s aches and pains of getting back to normal, but they also changed my perspective on life. It was because of the self-confidence they gave me that I was able to look at myself through the lens of empathy. 

It was because they taught me accountability, acceptance, and boundaries that I was able to become the best version of myself. I shed the skin of this old life I had for 38 years and I grew into something beautiful.

For years I was a victim of my traumas. I allowed them to control my life so much so, that I was in an emergency room close to organ failure before being admitted into the eating disorder unit. Having a safe space and someone to rely on when those days seem long and hard, is what’s going to change the narrative of these stories. 

Aside from finding our safe space to heal, I also believe we as a society need to be proactive instead of just reactive. While it’s absolutely a necessity to help those in current need and help those suffering, I think it’s also necessary to educate society as a whole. 

Someone’s mental health is health and the more we learn about mental health the more we can prevent outcomes like mine. I’m using my voice for those who may not be ready to use their voice. 

The greater the support system we can build for those suffering in silence, the greater the chance that they will use their voice to change the narrative, become the best versions of themselves, and thrive. 

For me, every day is a struggle. My “addiction” so to say is different. While other addicts have to avoid their addictions, I have to surround myself with mine 3, 4, 5 times a day. I have to eat a meal, the right way, every single day, multiple times a day. It’s hard! Essentially my coping skills became behaviors because, let’s face it, they needed to be. 

My husband took the scale out of our bathroom. I work with a dietician who holds me accountable. I work with a therapist. I have more visits with my general practitioner than the average person. She takes note of my appearance, conversation, my weight. 

Another one of my major coping skills is having a community. Having a support system who knows my triggers, who knows my struggles, and who knows when things don’t seem right.

I practice self-care. I make sure that at least once a week I am doing something that makes me feel better or that betters me as a person, without guilt! I try to take a few minutes at least every night outside of my husband and three kids to relax, drink some green tea, and do nothing for anyone else but myself. 

In the months leading up to being admitted to RWJ, I stopped taking care of myself altogether. We were in the heart of COVID-19 and I needed to be the support system for my husband and take care of my kids, physically, mentally, and emotionally. I quit my job as a teacher, to take care of my children, who had to be homeschooled. 

Once I had no job, once I had no reason to leave the house so I stopped getting dressed. I stayed in my pajamas all day. Then I stopped talking to friends. I had nothing exciting to talk about. My life was the same every single day, what did I have to say? 

I started controlling my food because I had lost control over every single other thing in my life. I could not even control what happened to my children and I’m their mother! They missed milestones, and I felt helpless. 

My grandmother became sick during COVID-19 and remained sick as the world began to open up again. I became her caretaker. Another person I was caring for. I would take care of my infant and 2 older kids, then head to my grandmother’s. 

Often, I would have to rush there at night due to some sort of issue. It took a toll on me, but I loved the moments with her. The problem was, I really really was doing nothing for myself. I wore the same outfits all week, took 5-minute showers, and hadn’t touched my makeup since my son was born. I started losing weight at a rate that is unlike I ever had. I lost 70 pounds in 1 year. 

When I started treatment my pants were falling off of me. At a certain point when my friends began gathering again, I would decline every invitation. 1. If they went out to eat, I had to come up with a million reasons why I wasn’t going to eat, or push my food around or lie and that all seemed exhausting. 2. If they saw me, they would know I was sick, and I didn’t want anyone taking my control away. 

I still had a few pounds to lose and I didn’t want anyone getting in my way. I was accomplishing a weight I loved and I didn’t want anyone stopping me. Many friends stopped calling and most came back around when they heard I was in treatment.

Some friends never called again, taking my actions personally. I lost so much due to my illness and I don’t want anyone else to feel that loss. I don’t want anyone else to suffer that battle in silence. It’s an exhausting battle and If I can help even one person with my story, then this was worth every moment of vulnerability and openness

Ella Shae

Have you shared any of this with people around you in real life?

For most of my life, I never spoke about my mental health struggles or my eating disorder due to shame or embarrassment, for fear of judgment or lack of understanding. Once I saw that other people were similar to me in treatment, I felt comfortable opening up and telling my truth to heal. After treatment, I decided to turn my journal entries into a book. 

Currently, I am a published author of my first book, From Broken to Beautifully Broken by Ella Shae. I am speaking at community events, colleges, charity galas, and substance abuse prevention programs. I am in numerous magazines, publications, and television!

I am on several podcasts or live interviews. Sometimes it is hard to retell the parts of my life that were particularly traumatic, especially over and over again. To rehash those moments to write my book, sometimes took months. The chapter would sit there unfinished until I could safely revisit those moments in my mind again. 

When I started publicly speaking about the things in my book, they started to become a little easier. My life is not perfect, but I found the beauty in the brokenness and you can too. 

Starting your day with a positive thought can change the entire trajectory of your day. For me, they are usually related to my body and acceptance outside of societal expectations. My favorite coping skill…dancing in the kitchen with my kids at any random moment. 

If you could give a single piece of advice to someone else that struggles, what would that be?

Self-love is something that is often overlooked, but critically important. If you can not love the person that you are, then it is very hard to set a standard on how others love you. 

In order to know what is acceptable in relationships you have with people and what is not, you have to first love and respect yourself. It’s not selfish, it’s not self-absorbed, it’s knowing your worth. It’s knowing what you should allow in your life and what needs to be eliminated. 

It allows you to understand who sits at your table and who needs to walk away. It ultimately will create a sense of peace and calmness when you establish the boundaries you’ve created from your self-love.

When you understand yourself on a deeper level you understand your needs, your wants, your boundaries, your triggers, your expectations, etc. Knowing all of these things will help you to evaluate who has the ability to fulfill your needs, who has the capability to meet your expectations, and who will trigger you and leave you feeling unsettled. 

When someone meets these expectations, you find yourself valuing and respecting them greatly, which deepens your connection. Contrary to that when someone upsets you and you’ve spent the time understanding your triggers, it will be much easier to eliminate contact with this person before you become attached and in a possibly harmful relationship

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, YouTube channels, or other resources for you?

To be completely honest, I find the most helpful or influential resources for me are not podcasts or books… They are conversations with people who I have commonalities with, people who understand my story, have the same visions as I have, the same morals and values, people who want the same thing for the future. I become enlightened when I speak with others who open my eyes to things I may not be able to see.

Where can we go to learn more about you?

To learn more about me and my journey you can visit:

💡 By the way: If you want to start feeling better and more productive, I’ve condensed the information of 100’s of our articles into a 10-step mental health cheat sheet here. 👇

Cheat Sheet Download Thumbnail Clean

This Cheat Sheet Will Help You Be Happier and More Productive

Thrive under stress and crush your goals with these 10 unique tips for your mental health.

Want more interviews?

Continue reading our inspiring case studies and learn how to overcome mental health struggles in a positive way!

Want to help others with your story? We would love to publish your interview and have a positive impact on the world together. Learn more here.

Hugo Huijer AuthorLinkedIn Logo

Founder of Tracking Happiness, with over 100 interviews and a focus on practical advice, our content extends beyond happiness tracking. Hailing from the Netherlands, I’m a skateboarding enthusiast, marathon runner, and a dedicated data junkie, tracking my happiness for over a decade.

Leave a Comment