Courtney’s Ugly Duckling Story

she found life again - Ugly Duckling Story


Trigger warning: Eating disorders, purging, self-harm, drug abuse, suicide

I just want to start off by saying thank you to Ugly Ducklings Inc for giving me the opportunity to share my story with all of you. Through my crazy year and recovery I’ve learned so much from the words I’ve heard from others and I hope I can somehow impact one of you as well.

My name is Courtney Leigh, (I love my middle name way too much to just leave it out) and I was born in Moscow, Russia. When I was six months old, I was adopted and started my childhood adventures in Springfield, Illinois. I was truly the “little princess” of the household. I had two older brothers, and for three years it was just me. I had the childhood almost any kid could dream of.

I had parents who were well off, so anything I wanted I pretty much got at the drop of the hat. When I was three, I began ballet and had parents who supported me 100%. When I was four, my parents went back to Russia and adopted my baby sister. And even then with an extra little girl in the house, we always got what we wanted. My parents, my family, anyone who knew us instantly could realize we had the dream childhood.

When I was about five or six I began to be bullied. It was about weight, my hair, my chubby cheeks, I was tall, anything these kids could think of it was brought up. I never wanted to disappoint my parents and tell them about any negativity in my life so that’s when I started hiding things from them.

Courtney's ugly duckling storyI always thought if I never showed emotion I would never have to deal with anything. Really smart for a six year old in my opinion. I think when you are so small and you want to be accepted you will do what is necessary to convince yourself you fit in.

The more advanced in dance I got, the more self image and perfection took over my mind. I was eight and probably one of the most muscular girls of my age in the studio. So instantly that translated into “you are fat”. My costume sizes were getting bigger, my thighs were touching, and I was miserable. At nine years old I decided to stop eating. From such a young age I always saw food as such a negative thing. I did not see it as fuel or energy, but only as: ‘this is what makes you gain weight’. At this point, the bullying got to where I couldn’t go to school. I’d get so sick from starving and being so sad I couldn’t make myself go to school.

This pattern of no school, not eating, and being upset, continued into the sixth grade where it was brought up that I may in fact have an eating disorder. I was taken to a dietician once, and hated it. I pouted my way out of counseling. It got to a point of being so bad my parents switched me into the private school district in our town. Good idea right? Take the girl who’s been bullied for multiple years and move her into a school where her class size is only 20.

I ended up joining the cheer squad, (you’ll see how important this is later). Needless to say it was awful, I was bullied, I was starving myself, and then I picked up self harm and purging. I ended up telling the school I had mono for nine weeks while I stayed home because my malnutrition got to a bad enough point I couldn’t get off the couch. I couldn’t even walk up the stairs to my room. I somehow managed to pull myself together physically, and somehow made it out of there alive.

My freshman and sophomore year of high school I decided to try out for cheerleading, and I didn’t make it. I joined a competitive cheerleading squad and instantly fell in love with the sport, and I finally found somewhere I belong. Cheerleading was the one place I knew I could go and be happy. Then my junior year I somehow got the courage to once again try out for the school cheer squad and I made varsity. I also started drinking, smoking, my cutting got worse, and so did my eating disorder.

My senior year, and the summer leading up to it was definitely my rock bottom. At the end of my junior year I was 30 pounds lighter than what I was at the beginning of the year. I was at the gym every day for hours, I was tanning, it was the best I felt. I made the varsity squad again, I made the UCA All-American cheer squad, and then something happened. I fell harder than I ever thought I would. I never ever ever felt pretty. I went to buy diet pills for the first time and I took them like crazy. I was a few months away from performing in New York City. My mind was consumed with the idea of “you won’t be pretty until your thighs don’t touch and you can feel your collarbones”.

At this point in the story I would love to tell you all specifics on what happened, but after New York City everything is just a blur. I honestly don’t remember too much other than a few events.

Quote by Lana Parrilla. BreathLet me just say really quickly, this disease is awful, and I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone.

I am missing a good chunk out of my year, my senior year. I don’t remember my senior night, my cheer banquet, or even my dad’s birthday. What I remember for sure is I regularly purged three to four times a day. I started to overdose on any medication I could get my hand onto, I was cutting daily, and unfortunately this resulted in me trying to end my life twice. At one point, I also remember being told I had four weeks left if I didn’t get myself together.

In 2013, I spent 6 months away in a couple of treatment centers. I was diagnosed as anorexic with bulimic tendencies.

Was I ready to give up?

Absolutely not. I went to treatment for two reasons. One, to live to see my best friend’s wedding. And two, the ABC TV show Once Upon A Time. Like many of the ugly ducklings, this show has saved me. Every Sunday was my night to have one hour of peace. I didn’t have the crazy ED voices in my head telling me to purge. I wasn’t worried about going to the gym.

The first actor from the show I followed on Twitter was Lana Parrilla. She’s one badass queen! I highly recommend you follow her because she is very inspirational, and one of my heroes. Just like the show’s message is hope, that is exactly the kind of message I got from her. My favorite quote from her is: “You are where you need to be. Just take a deep breath.”

courtney-quote-2-duckling-storyn August of 2013 I was discharged and was able to come back home. And me, being the smartest girl on the planet, thought I could go back to doing what I wanted to do. And clearly that’s not how it works. I feel like God has played such an important role in my recovery, because in January 2014, during my worst relapse, he sent me one more person to attempt to straighten me out. God definitely knows how to find me and that’s through the TV show.

When I heard the announcement that Rebecca Mader was joining the cast I was like: ‘oh yeah cool, she is the super cute, and she is from LOST’. Never in a million years did I think she could’ve impacted me the way she did.

With the Once Upon a Time fandom there are tons of accounts that quote all of the actors and I happened to stumble upon one of ‘Bex’ talking about bullying and I was like “Are you serious?”…

The more I read, the more I cried, because I was the red head too who got bullied. And look at her now, she still has the red hair and I have dyed mine a million times so I’m not that red head everyone remembers. I instantly became a Bex Girl, and at that moment, my point of view completely changed.

Rebecca literally saved my life. And I get people throw that around a lot. But I am being completely genuine. If it wasn’t for her, I don’t think anyone could have stopped me from that relapse and I probably wouldn’t be here. So getting to meet her, and being able to share with her what she did for me was a dream come true. I never knew I would get the amount of support from her that I received.

One of the last things she said to me was, “You need to take care of yourself because I can’t always be there to look after you. Just promise me you’ll do it for me if not for you”. And I will forever keep that promise to her.

Life does get so much better. And it did. You really always are where you are meant to be, (thank you Lana). It took a while, but now I can proudly say I am three months without doing self harm, I’ve been consistently eating for six months, and because of meeting Rebecca this weekend, I had the courage to flush all of my diet pills.

Rebecca Mader supporting CourtneyIf any of you ever need any support or someone to talk to, my twitter is @mskourtneyleigh.

Thanks for taking the time to read this! Please remember you are all beautiful, and do not let anyone tell you differently.

– Courtney


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