“Two years ago, I was afraid of wanting anything. I figured wanting would lead to trying and trying would lead to failure. And now I find, I can’t stop wanting. I want to fly somewhere in first class. I want to travel to Europe on a business trip. I want to get invited to the White House. I want to learn about the world. I want to surprise myself. I want to be important. I want to be the best person I can be. I want to define myself instead of having others define me. I want to win and have people be happy for me. I want to lose and get over it. I want to not be afraid of the unknown. I want to grow up to be generous and big hearted the way people have been with me. I want an interesting, surprising life. It’s not that I think I am going to get all these things. I just want to possibility of getting them.” - Tyra | Friday Night Lights
Two years ago I was in the depths of my eating disorder and recovery was something I did not think was possible.
Everyone has a journey throughout their life which brings them to where they are now and where they will continue to go. Hobbies, work, family, traveling, relationships, and even personal struggles have helped me navigate this hard and beautiful thing I call my life. It has not been until recently I have been able to understand that each area of my life is not a separate unit, but individual pieces that blend together to create a mosaic. Without each piece, the image would not be complete. These pieces are not always positive, but crucial to your narrative.
My name is Amanda and this is my story.
I was born in 1991 and raised in Connecticut by of course my parents, but really by an entire community of people. My parents divorced when I was about two years old, and my mom remarried very quickly after that. It was in my mom’s second marriage that she had my younger brother and sister. I had a pretty rocky home life when I was younger, which forced me to grow up quickly, but also pushed me to find an outlet to escape the craziness at home and really allow myself to release. I began dancing when I was 18 months old, but it wasn’t until I was five years old that I realized it was something more than just a hobby to me.
At age 11, I booked a short stint on the national tour of Annie as an orphan, and it was then I was bit by the musical theater bug. I began singing and acting in addition to my dance life. During this time, however, I began struggling with what I later learned to be an eating disorder.
My family has always been hyper focused on body and appearance. Around this age I was constantly reminded that I was going to hit puberty soon, my metabolism was going to stop and everything I was eating was going to "go to my behind." At the same time I had one of my ballet teachers constantly telling his students in class they had sausage legs and were only meant for carrying babies, not for dancing.
He was a fantastic teacher but not always the most sensitive. So as you can imagine, I was under a lot of pressure in regards to my body.
I began skipping meals to cope with the pressure from myself and those around me to be perfect; and the feeling it fueled me with was addicting.
My freshman year of high school, when I was 13, I added competitive cheer-leading to my already rigorous schedule. Fast forward to age 14, out of concern that I was constipated one day on the beach in Florida, I went to the pharmacy to get laxatives with my mom. Slowly and gradually I became addicted to the release that laxatives gave me. It was instant gratification, but also a lot of physical pain. Laxatives were my new toy. My eating disorder spiraled out of control in high school and it was almost my best kept secret (although I had a few skeptical dance teachers).
All I seemed to have to care for me through my school years were my eating disorder and my dancing.
At 14, I was also diagnosed with mononucleosis and was forced to stop all activity for three months. I missed a lot of school but, worst of all, I was kept from the activities I was most passionate about and I began struggling with depression during this time. When I was cleared to go back to school and activities, I gave up cheer-leading and focused solely on the performing arts for the remainder of high school.
I became financially responsible for myself at age 17. I got a job at a daycare and, in addition to assisting dance classes, I would spend time after my own lessons in the evenings cleaning the dance studio to work off my dance expenses. I left my parents house at age 17 during the last couple months of high school and I lived with friends to finish out the year.
I was so excited to be on my own for my freshman year of college. I made the competition cheer-leading squad, was doing theatre, dance, and had complete freedom with my eating disorder. However, freshman year of college was my first hospitalization and I signed myself out after a day. I got through the year and ended up having a successful summer with the entertainment industry in NYC so I dropped out of college and moved to the big apple.
Getting my feet on the ground here in the city was incredibly difficult, but I managed to somehow pull it off. I moved to the city with just $400, clearly not enough, and struggled for a long time. I found myself working five jobs and not having time for myself or to do anything I loved doing. At this time Broadway Artists Alliance (a musical theater summer program I attended in high school) offered me an internship with their company. I accepted and that reconnected me with the real reason I was in New York City. I was hired as staff shortly after my internship finished and still work with Broadway Artists Alliance today.
My depression and eating disorder were pretty much consuming my entire life by the end of 2011 and I felt myself starting to lose the battle. In January 2012 I won a singing competition and part of the reward was $10,000. I was shocked and excited and a flame of hope was relit inside of me. I paid off my debt and decided to invest the rest of my money into getting healthy. It took a few months, but I eventually found my outpatient dietician and therapist through Balance, an eating disorder treatment center in New York City.
I slowly began to get my life back.
I booked my first professional theater gig as an adult in the summer of 2012 and performed in Hairspray at The Ivoryton Playhouse; a professional equity regional theater on the shoreline in Connecticut. Although my career was beginning to pick up a bit, my eating disorder continued to run my life. Throughout the two years I had been with my outpatient team, residential treatment was suggested here and there.
I always had an excuse. I couldn’t afford it. I had rehearsals. I had a show. I’m going to lose my job. The list goes on.
But the biggest obstacle was really the financing, everything else, although not easy to do, could be worked around.
In the fall of 2013, I had a small procedure on my scalp, I did not get cast in my dream role for a musical I was in final callbacks for and had foot surgery for a bad mole on the side of my foot which took me out of dance for six weeks. I was healing alone in my apartment and couch bound, it sucked! It was the perfect storm. I had no one to turn to but my eating disorder, the one thing that has always been there for me. During this time I booked my first off-broadway show, Angelina Ballerina the Very Merry Holiday musical and I also went on to do the first national tour. This was helpful in terms of instilling a glimmer of hope in me, but my eating disorder took off running and I was too far in to get out on my own. My outpatient treatment team kept pushing me to go in to higher care. I refused due to finances and not wanting to miss out on performing opportunities or have to leave my first New York City contract early.
Dipping My Toes In Recovery
I remember my dietician emailing me a with a document of organizations that helped those with eating disorders get treatment. She said start with Project HEAL. I opened the document, rolled my eyes, thought to myself 'yeah right' and went on with my day. Her email sat in my head for a few days and I finally decided "what the hell I have nothing to lose by just applying."
I sat down, filled out phase one of the Project HEAL scholarship application, submitted it, and went on with my life. I pretty much forgot about it as I had started rehearsals for Angelina Ballerina... until I came home one day to an email from Project HEAL letting me know I had moved on to Phase 2 of the application process.
I still cannot believe it, but against what seemed like so many odds, I got an email from Project HEAL a few weeks later offering a scholarship to Monte Nido EDTNY. Scared shitless I knew I had no more excuses to give my outpatient team; although I won't deny I definitely had some valid ones still in my pocket. I take pride in my independence and I hated that I, Amanda Lupacchino, needed help from someone because I was struggling. I am pretty sure it took me a solid week or two to make the decision, but I finally accepted Project HEAL and Monte Nido's treatment offer.
Although it was an extremely difficult decision, it was the hardest and best decision I have ever made.
Due to the support from Project HEAL, not only was I able to go to treatment, but also obtain help with my rent and bills while I was in treatment so I wouldn’t lose my apartment.
Terrified, I had an admittance date of January 6, 2014, the day after my show closed. I was going to have to give up the one thing that has supported me my entire life. Although a large part of me was so ready to let go of this manipulating disease, there was also a part of me that was scared of what life was going to be without my eating disorder. I cannot express the emotions that were flooding me in the days leading up to treatment and the first day walking in, but I am sure those here that have been through that experience can very much relate.
My support system was limited with no family behind me and I had to rely on my outside team, Project HEAL, and the very few friends that knew about treatment for support. It was quite horrifying. However, as much as it was so hard to step foot into EDTNY, it was even harder to step out and not because I wasn't ready to be out on my own, but because the family that had surrounded me at Monte Nido for three months gave me something I never had before and the last thing I wanted in the world was to let go of that.
I still don't want to let go of that.
EDTNY is an experience that was meant to be for me. It was one of those right time, right place circumstances. My team at EDTNY will always remain near and dear to my heart. Not a day goes by that I don't spend a few moments thinking about and appreciating them. Thanks to the support from Project HEAL, my time at EDTNY and my outpatient team, I was able to take time to solely focus on recovering from my eating disorder without having to worry about keeping a roof over my head or working eight jobs in order to buy groceries.
I came out of treatment feeling on top of the world, but I was also prepared with the tools to handle any curve balls life may throw at me without taking it out on my mind and body. I have definitely been thrown some curve balls, but I have been able to get through them without falling back into my eating disorder. I was not only able to do so much personal growth during this time but I am now the healthiest I have ever been.
I continue do a lot of public speaking and fundraising events for Project HEAL. I enjoy volunteering my time with them because it allows me to help inspire others struggling with eating disorders and to help give back to an amazing organization that helped me in incredible and tremendous ways. I have learned many lessons over the past couple of years that will be beneficial to me for the rest of my life. The most important for recovery being that allowing my eating disorder to control all my thoughts and actions does nothing but keep me from doing what I love.
Life without ED is an amazing journey, even with it’s imperfections. I am who I am because of every experience and opportunity I have opened my heart up to, regardless of the outcome. I have learned to follow my gut and my heart and not allow others to sway how I live. I encourage anyone struggling with an eating disorder to give recovery a chance; there is a whole other wonderful, beautiful world that you need to experience. It is not an easy road, but if I can do it, so can you.