Natalie Esarey did not grow up in a Christian home. Her dad believed in a world full of light and darkness but no Jesus, and her mom was raised in a very passionately Catholic family.
“I grew up in a very loving family,” she said. “It’s just that Jesus wasn’t the center of the love—it was very human love.”
However, Natalie did not have a good relationship with her father.
“I had this longing for a father, and there was this hole in my heart that I tried to fill with a lot of things,” Natalie said.
When she was in eighth grade, her parents filed for a divorce, and Natalie and her two brothers were shocked. The separation caught her completely off guard, and she began to battle depression.
“I kept thinking that I had this beautiful life, I shouldn’t be sad,” she said. “But that made me more sad because I wasn’t appreciating it. I felt ashamed for not feeling grateful for my life and that made me more depressed.”
Shame and guilt buried deep within Natalie’s mind, and after her first day of high school, she went home and self-harmed. This act started a domino effect of struggle and hurt. She began to scar her body with terrible lies that she believed about herself.
“I scarred ‘worthless’ into the side of my arm,” Natalie said. “I felt empty because I didn’t feel like I was worth anything. I took on this identity of worthlessness, and I stopped trying to find worth in myself because I thought there wasn’t any.”
During her sophomore year of high school, one of Natalie’s best friends—one of the only people who was aware of her struggles—passed away in a tragic car accident. This event caused a downhill spiral. She was traumatized and didn’t know how to cope.
Without Natalie’s knowledge, her mom called the school and requested that a grief counselor connect with her. “My best friends were talking behind my back,” she said. “People accused me of self-harming for attention, and I was searching for any way to numb myself.”
Natalie’s counselor assumed that, because she struggled with depression and self-harm, she had an eating disorder as well. She had never struggled with a food relationship before, but that set something off in her head.
Natalie went home that same day and made herself throw up.
“I think there was a part of me that was so relieved that someone was worried about me that I was scared that if I wasn’t sick enough, if I was getting better, then the counselor would stop caring,” she said. “I was so miserable that I thought the only way to keep someone caring about me was to be sick.”
Natalie’s illness progressed quickly, and she found herself eating and purging about 15 times every night before bed. She lost weight quickly, lost friends suddenly and lost herself completely.
Around this time, her best friend Karina was diagnosed with a mitochondrial disease, and within a year of her diagnosis, she passed away.
“She was a big part of why I agreed to get help,” said Natalie. “The last time I talked to her she made me promise that I would keep fighting after she was gone. I promised that I would.”
Natalie started running away from school, failing all of her classes and pushing away those who were trying to reach out to her. She held onto her brokenness and fell into the trap of self-loathing and darkness.
The summer before her junior year, Natalie lost a significant amount of weight. Her skin was grey, she was losing her hair and it hurt to sit because she was so bony. Natalie finally broke down and admitted to her mom that she needed help.
But it seemed to Natalie that life kept throwing obstacles in her way. She was in a car accident on her way to school on morning in October, a serious crash that caused her car to flip four times and land on its side in a field. Everything had fallen out of place when the car had flipped, and as she fell from her seat into the windshield, a cross from her rosary was lying amidst the broken glass by her head.
When she fell into the windshield, she immediately saw the cross, held onto it and felt comforted. Her mom believed this to be a miracle and they decided to go to church.
Around this time, Natalie and her mom decided that she would go to a Christian treatment center in Anderson, two hours from her home in Greenville, Ohio. It was there that she found a feeling of life beyond her pain and beyond her disorder. She felt hope and had an amazing experience, but when she left treatment, she relapsed almost immediately.
After being pulled out of school, Natalie found herself in the ER for self-harm and a suicide attempt. She then went to a couple other treatment centers, missing her entire senior year and finishing classes online. With incredible support from her teachers and community, she was able to graduate on time.
Natalie decided on a whim that she would attend Ball State University after graduation, but she was still in a completely unhealthy state of mind. After attempting suicide again, resulting in a three-day hospitalization period, she went to a Christian treatment center in Florida for 10 weeks.
The center took Natalie to church and loved her well. “I believed that God was real, but I didn’t think I deserved him and didn’t give my life to him,” she said.
After she moved back to Ohio, she attended therapy in Pendleton, IN, two hours from her house. On her way back home from therapy one day, she was flipping through the radio and heard someone announcing that a traveling ministry, Time to Revive, was hosting a week-long event in her hometown.
“I knew I needed to go somewhere and do something in order to keep myself on track after my counseling session,” Natalie said. “I wasn’t in a good place that day, so I decided on a whim just to show up.”
After watching people worship and pray, she felt uncomfortable and promised herself that she would never go again. But the next day, not knowing why, she went back.
That night, they played a video of someone talking about his former drug experience. Natalie felt like she able to relate to his brokenness. Randomly, amidst the crowd of people, she felt the urge to find the man from the video. She walked to the lobby and saw him standing alone. Not knowing what to say or why she felt drawn to him, she just started talking. He then introduced her to some people who worked for the ministry and called over a man who spoke to people specifically about healing. He had a session open the next day and invited her to talk to him.
“I felt pulled,” Natalie remembers. ”I kept going to something I hated, and I didn’t know why. I wasn’t in charge of my actions that week. It was the most incredible thing.”
During her meeting with the ministry worker, Natalie asked God questions. One she specifically remembers asking was: “If I give my life to you, if I give you everything including my eating disorder, what are you going to give me in return?”
Incredibly, she heard, “A father.”
They prayed with Natalie and asked if she wanted to give her life to Christ. She did and was baptized that same night.
After attending another semester at Ball State, Natalie felt weighed down and decided to transfer to AU where, on her visit, she felt peace and hope.
“Anderson was where my healing journey started, and I wanted it to come full circle here, too,” she said.
Within a week of applying, she was accepted and came to Anderson after winter break.
“I have a long way to go,” Natalie recognized. “I don’t always live in that ray of hope, but I will never stop chasing it.”