Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Ithaca woman's message of hope

Caroline Brockner

When Caroline Brockner spoke recently to the eating disorder patients at Sol Stone Center, she shared a simple message: Recovery is possible.
But the 35-year-old Ithaca resident, who has been recovered since the birth of her first child eight years ago, also said it takes great patience, hard work and plenty of support to get there.
“It was a very long process,” said Caroline, now an executive assistant at Cornell University and a married mother of three children. “There were no magic moments. It was a combination of being tired of being sick, hanging around with healthier people and developing an internal drive to get better.”
Raised in Westchester County, Caroline first showed signs of an eating disorder in her early teens when she was training as a gymnast. By the time she was 15, she was struggling with anorexia.
At the start of her senior year in high school, as she moved from gymnastics to cheerleading, school officials took note of her medical condition and Caroline was admitted to a hospital in Westchester. She stayed for more than three months.
When she graduated from high school, she moved to Ithaca to attend Ithaca College and her struggle intensified.
From 1995 to 2002, living in Ithaca and then back in Westchester, she was hospitalized more than 40 times, which included a 1999 cardiac arrest, and she took at least 15 medical leaves from college.
Caroline was determined to stay healthy when she returned to Ithaca in 2002. She taught gymnastics and resumed her counseling with Carolyn Hodges Chaffee, the owner and CEO of Upstate New York Eating Disorder Service, which had started in 1998.
“Carolyn was a life saver,” Caroline said. “She was the one person I trusted who I went back to every time. I knew she cared about me and wasn’t going to give up on me.”
Caroline also met her future husband, Josh, in 2002 in Ithaca.
“I had always pushed people away from me, because that’s what eating disorder patients do, we prefer to be alone, but he was persistent, thank God,” Caroline said.
Later in 2002, Caroline was eager to finish college and returned to her parents’ home in Westchester so she could attend Hunter College in New York City while maintaining ties with Josh and Carolyn back in Ithaca.
There were no more relapses, she said.
She graduated summa cum laude in 2004 with a bachelor’s degree in English Language Arts. She was engaged to Josh and four months’ pregnant with her son by the time she finished school. She and Josh were married shortly after graduation.
“Two of the biggest factors in my recovery were getting married and having a baby,” she said. “People with eating disorders tend to isolate themselves, and I didn’t want to do that anymore. I had to eat healthy and take care of myself for my children.”
Caroline now has a 13-year-old stepson, an 8-year-old son and a 4-year-old daughter, and says she has been recovered since 2004.
She’s never been happier, and she wanted the patients at Sol Stone to know they can recover, too.
“It took me a long time to get to this point in my life, and I found the best way to do it was with baby steps,” she said. “You have to take it slowly and understand that slips are going to happen.
“It was overwhelming at first to think about changing, and I think that was part of why I kept relapsing,” she said. “I didn’t think I could take it all on. But once you realize you don’t have to change everything immediately, you feel great relief.”
In her Sol Stone talk, Caroline was quick to answer when she was asked whether recovery was worth the struggle.
“It’s so much nicer to live your life when you are healthy than to just be feeling sick all the time and worrying about your weight,” she said. “Twenty years ago, I wouldn’t have pictured myself having a family, owning a house and having a good job. It’s definitely been worth it.”

This story is included in the Winter 2013 issue of Food for Thought,  a newsletter published four times a year by Upstate New York Eating Disorder Service. To receive a free copy of the issue, or get on the mailing list for future issues at no charge, call 877-765-7866 or send email to