Among shelter dogs, finding the strength to fight bulimia

Story highlights

  • Shannon Kopp battled bulimia for eight years before finding unexpected help
  • Now, she tries to help other women and the animals who loved her unconditionally

Shannon Kopp is an animal welfare advocate and author of the book "Pound for Pound: A Story of One Woman's Recovery and the Shelter Dogs Who Loved Her Back to Life."

(CNN)For the past five years, my number has been listed on an eating disorder help hotline, the same hotline I called years earlier when my boyfriend, who found me hunched over the toilet and rocking back and forth on my knees, said he couldn't be with me anymore. I was desperate and hopeless and out of options, but somehow, I made it through.

Every few months, I'll get a call from a person, usually a woman, who believes she can't go on. Sometimes she is calling from the bathroom floor, or from the bed she can't bring herself to get out of, or from her car after devouring a few super-size meals.
    By the time she's dialed my number, she has tried therapy and devoured and puked up every self-help book she could get her hands on. Maybe she's tried Weight Watchers, gastric bypass, personal training, a lap-band, too many diets to name. She might have an encyclopedic knowledge of nutrition and how to recover from an eating disorder, but she can't apply what she knows to be true.
      Shannon Kopp says an unexpected and transformative kind of healing took place at the San Diego Humane Society.
      Inevitably, she will find herself in the one place she swore she'd never end up again: kneeling on the cracked tile floor with two fingers in her mouth. Living off of black coffee and baby carrots. Running even though she sprained her ankle. Scooping out peanut butter and cold pasta salad with her bare hands in the middle of the night.
      At times, her frustration and shame will pulse through the line and touch something very familiar and tender in my own chest. I know, through firsthand experience, that the disease has blinded her to her own sacredness.
      For the most part, I stay quiet and listen, but when she starts to berate herself for being a bad mother or daughter or sister or partner or friend, I have to interrupt.