My mom flew with me to the rehab centre. It was miserably cold, so we had to stop [on the way to the airport] at a thrift shop to buy an old coat, as I didn’t have one. I wrapped myself up tight in it while I cried in the passenger seat. That first day at the treatment centre was the scariest of my life.
As I lay in the tiny, bare room, crying and clutching a stuffed lion that Mom had given me, I worried what people would think. I was battling an eating disorder – but I knew people would assume I was here for other things. Sure, I’ve written songs about partying, but my dirty little secret is that I’m actually incredibly responsible. I take my music and career very seriously, and certainly didn’t land in this situation from partying. But I was cut off from the outside world and I imagined people making up stories at a time when what I really needed was support.
But what had landed me in here? Well, I had just got home after ending my biggest worldwide tour to date. It had been a long, amazing year of work, so I was understandably exhausted. I had felt like this before, though, so at first I took it all in my stride. But this post-tour exhaustion felt different, and it wasn’t going away. For weeks, I barely had enough energy to get out of bed. My body was shutting down, and I knew why.
I’ve always tried to be a crusader for loving yourself, but I’d been finding it harder and harder to do personally. I felt like part of my job was to be as skinny as possible, and to make that happen, I had been abusing my body. I just wasn’t giving it the energy it needed to keep me healthy and strong. My brain told me to just suck it up and press on, but in my heart I knew that something had to change. So I made the decision to practise what I preach. I put my career on hold and sought treatment. I had to learn to treat my body with respect.
I wasn’t always this way. We moved around a lot when I was young, and I learned my outspoken and eccentric ways from my mother. It was when I got to middle school in Nashville, Tennessee, that I started to become aware of just how much I didn’t fit in.
Ever since I can remember, I got bullied at school because I was different. Normal girls in the normal neighbourhood where we lived were supposed to be pretty and quiet, and look perfect. At home, my mom told me not to worry about what other kids thought and to be proud to be myself. But that’s easier said than done.
To cope, I dedicated myself to my music, working on it every day until, when I was 18, in 2005, I was signed by a record label. Suddenly, it was OK to be different. I had fun with my style. I wore my hair in a mohawk and did my make-up like Alice Cooper. If someone called me pretty, I’d sneer and smear more glitter on my face. I didn’t want to be just pretty – I was wild, crazy and free. I talked about sex, about drinking. When men do that, it’s rock and roll, but when I did it, people assumed I was a train wreck. I played confident but still felt like an outcast.
The music industry has set unrealistic expectations for what a body is supposed to look like, and I started becoming overly critical of my own body because of that. I felt like people were always lurking, trying to take pictures of me with the intention of putting them up online or printing them in magazines and making me look terrible. I became scared to go in public, or even use the internet. I may have been paranoid, but I also saw and heard enough hateful things to fuel that paranoia.
So I stood up for myself the only way I knew how: through my music, writing songs like We R Who We R, Warrior, and Love into The Light. At some point, though, those words didn’t ring true to me any more. I felt like a liar, telling people to love themselves as they are, while I was being hateful to myself and really hurting my body. I wanted to control things that weren’t in my power, but I was controlling the wrong things. I convinced myself that being sick, being skinny, was part of my job. It felt safer somehow.
My closest friends saw I needed help. I knew I needed help too, but didn’t know how to ask for it. My body wasn’t taking it any more, though – I was mentally and physically exhausted. So finally, on a cold December day, I called my mom in tears from a gas station. I told her I just couldn’t do it any more. She had only been mildly aware of what was going on – rehab had been in the back of my mind, sure, but it was only on that day, at my lowest, it became a reality.
So on 2 January 2014, I went into a rehabilitation centre. I got up at 5:30am every day. There were no phones, no cameras. It’s all part of the process: in two months of alone time, I started getting to know myself again. In therapeutic groups, I talked through my most intimate details with total strangers, excavating traumatic events and working through them. I was terrified, and vulnerable. For the first week, I barely spoke. One day, I felt brave enough to start participating. Slowly, the load was being lifted from my shoulders.
I was there for two months in total, and during that time I began to feel a shift in my mentality and really started to understand my own self-worth. I started to not worry as much about what other people thought of me. I could focus on my music and my happiness and not what I looked like.
I knew I was ready to leave when I’d gained enough confidence to get on a plane knowing there would be paparazzi at the airport at the other end. I was right – they were there. But this time, when I saw the pictures, I felt OK.
This is an uncomfortable story for me to share but if one person seeks help after reading this, I’m happy I have. I feel stronger now. Strong enough to admit that I needed help, and strong enough to have faced it head on. I’m not fully fixed – I am a person in progress, but I want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. Even I need to be reminded that we are who we are. And when I say that, I f*cking mean it, now more than ever.
If you, or someone you know is affected by an eating disorder, go to b-eat.co.uk