Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Look Back: How Being a Camp Counselor Changed My Life

In the summer of 2002, my mom and dad drove me up to Tennessee and left me.

OK. It wasn't as dramatic as that but that's how I felt.

As a youth in church, I loved summertime because summertime meant one thing...youth camp. We tried several camps while I was in the youth department but my favorite one had been Quest Camp which was a part of Inquest Ministries. I knew from the my first camp experience that when I was old enough, I wanted to be a camp counselor. So my final summer as a camper we went to Quest Camp in Brevard, NC. I remember talking to a man who was in charge of the camps at that time and expressing my desire to become a counselor the following summer. After a brief talk, he told me to fill out the application and say that I had talked to him. And eventually, I did.

I was ecstatic to get the phone call in early 2002 that I had been selected as a camp counselor for the 2002 summer of Quest Camp at Hiwassee College in Madisonville, TN. So the time came for my parents to drop me off. I was nervous, excited, and scared. At 19 years old, I had never been away from my family for more than a week or so at the time. I was embarking on a nearly three month long adventure. And an adventure it was! It was an all around great summer. I learned and experience new things, became stronger in my faith and my discernment of spiritual things. But one thing happened to me that summer that changed my life over the next 9 years. I wish that I could say that it was some great spiritual revelation. But it wasn't. That summer started my downward spiral into food addiction and a growing weight problem.

Now, I must confess that I've always had a healthy appetite and a love for food. I can't say that summer was 100% to blame but I can look back at that time and see where the patterns and problems started. First of all, food was my comfort. I was miles and miles away from the people that loved me the most. Ryan and I were dating during this time as well, and I won't even tell you about the astronomical cell phone bill that I racked up!!! While I couldn't possibly be lonely, there were always tons of campers, and on the occasional off day or the few hours between campers leaving and more campers arriving, I was surrounded my some pretty great people...the other counselors. They were (are) a great group of people to spend a summer with. I love that Facebook has given most of us the opportunity to reconnect. But even with the friendships I forged that summer, I still turned to food for comfort. I had a dorm room to myself. Which is some ways was great. But at the end of a very long day, there was no one to talk to. I would call Ryan on the phone and after we hung up, I would feel lonely again. So, I would eat. I always had a good source of snacks in my room. And it was always so cold in there that I didn't need a fridge! Ha ha! But that wasn't the only time I ate.

Secondly, my life that summer was on an unrealistic schedule. I ate when I was hungry but I didn't make wise choices. As you know, I am NOT a morning person. So, I didn't always make it down to breakfast so I ate a granola bar on the way to morning worship. At some point, we had lunch. I have to say that for the most part, the food wasn't great, so it was a lot of chicken fingers, pizza, french fries, and honey mustard for me. Then I led several groups through a low ropes course. Afterwards, I had to grab supper early to have enough time to get a shower before heading to evening worship. Which usually meant supper at 4 p.m. This was usually followed by a snack of some sort during Late Night. My friend Jesse was usually pretty good at supplying me with hot, buttery popcorn during this time. After Late Night we were usually starving again and had things to do before we could start camp the next morning so some of us would make a fast food run. So my last meal would be somewhere around midnight. Just thinking about the fatty, greasy food consumed during those late nights makes me feel ill.

Third, us counselors, especially the girls, bonded over food. I remember two places we frequented often when we had the occasional free time. There was a really great Mexican restaurant that was fairly cheap and had yummy food. I think I have some pictures somewhere with a group of us standing out front. And then there was this other place. I can't remember the name of it. But they had the BEST club sandwiches and honey mustard of anywhere I have ever been. To this day, I still haven't met a club sandwich that came anywhere close to this one. (I even remember as newlyweds on our way up to Pigeon Forge, TN, begging Ryan to make a side-stop for a club sandwich at this place. But we didn't.) We frequented there so often that I remember Lauren and I trying to get one of the guys who worked there to give us some t-shirts.

I distinctly remember the day towards the end of the summer that I tried to wear a pair of jeans that had fit perfectly at the beginning of the summer. They were button flies, my favorite pair. I had grown accustomed to wearing shorts during most of the summer because it was so hot but I had decided to wear these jeans to evening worship. I think that I may have gotten the bottom two buttoned and that was it. I was astonished. How could these jeans possibly not fit? I hadn't even really noticed the weight gain but I had gained a fair amount in just a couple months time.

There was a gym there. Some of us had tried to work out whenever we could. And we were constantly walking everywhere and up hill most of the way. But alas, eating too much had won. I remember looking at some pictures from the last week of camp and thinking how fat I was. But that was only the beginning. I dropped a good bit of the weight when I came home. One from having good home cooked meals and two from no more late night fast food runs. But the habits that I developed there didn't altogether disappear. Even though I was back with my family and my boyfriend, I still turned to food when I was alone or stressed or upset. It didn't stop there. Eventually thoughts of food consumed me. If you remember a previous post, I already told you that I talked about food non-stop during home room my senior year. So, something that was a small thing back then had snowballed into something big in my life. The summer of 2002 just gave it all the momentum it needed.

There is more to this story so stay tuned for the rest of it at a later time.

PS. I wish I had a picture to upload today from camp that summer. But they are all packed up. I may try and get some out and scan them in and add them at a later time. :)

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