“No one can start over and create a new beginning, but anyone can start now and create a new end.” – Anonymous
The quote could not be more true for Brooke Warren. A few short years ago, Brooke almost lost her life to a drug overdose. A few days ago, she was working on a campus-wide display for National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. One might ask, “how does this happen?” You could call Brooke’s story miraculous, but she would probably say it just took a lot of hard work and the support of people who believed she could do it.
Brooke is only in her second semester at UNH, but already she has impacted many faculty, staff, and students in the community. At 24, Brooke is a presence; tattooed, fiery, and tenacious, with an infectious laugh. When speaking about her experiences leading up to her UNH college career, one can tell this is a woman devoted to her passions. Through her tattooed arms, one can read her story. “ I kind of put my life on my sleeve,” she jokes. Brooke certainly gives new meaning to the term “non-traditional student.”
Brooke started back to school part-time in 2007 after a few years off. She moved home with her parents to save money and attended Great Bay Community College. Amidst this new start, however, she was struggling with her health. Diagnosed with Fibromyalgia at fourteen, she was almost always in some form of constant pain. Along with this, her jaw became increasingly painful from TMJ disorder. A doctor prescribed Oxycontin, and it didn’t take long for Brooke to become addicted. In April of 2008, after just turning 21, Brooke overdosed and was in the ICU for a week. While in the hospital, she crossed paths with a young man who had lost everything because of his addiction to prescription drugs. The interaction hit Brooke hard, and she hoped she would be able to come clean. Soon after leaving rehab, a new problem arose. Although she was off of drugs, Brooke began binge eating and quickly became overweight. This time, however, Brooke realized what was happening, and took power into her own hands. In April of 2009, with nothing but the internet and her determination, Brooke began a healthy weight-loss plan and started therapy. She realized it was the first time she independently asked for help, allowing her to accept herself.
The gym became a safe haven for Brooke, and as she became more comfortable with herself, she opened up about her eating disorder. Other women at the gym were drawn to share their own personal struggles with Brooke. Brooke realized that binge eating was a silent disorder, but many women wanted to talk about it. She decided she would find a way to use her story as a platform to help others.
Upon transferring to UNH this past fall, Brooke was able to put her experiences into practice. She decided to pursue a Nutrition Major. Shortly after, she met Health Education’s, Suzanne Sonneborn, through an internship. Suzanne introduced her to the Fat Talk Free initiative and had Brooke lead student discussions on body image and eating disorders. Brooke recalls seeing the relief on women’s faces in response to her story. She knew she had made the right decision to use her story to help others. “All that I went through is worth it because I am helping people.” Brooke credits Suzanne for helping her see her goals. “If I had not met her, I might not have opened up as much. She had a big impact on me.”
Brooke is now an Eating Concerns mentor and loves it. She meets with students each week to talk about their progress, to share experiences, and to listen. By having this type of relationship with her peers, she has switched to Dietetics, and is now certain a Psychology PhD is in her future. “I want to inspire people to be the best for them,” she says with determination.
Brooke knows the meaning of unconditional love through her parents and younger brother, Sam, who is her best friend. The support from her family throughout all she endured was vital in helping her stay sober. In addition, her dear friend Mike, also her tattoo artist, has allowed her to get through painful moments using art. This support network has spread since her arrival at UNH. Brooke rowed crew in the fall and continues to be in touch with the coaches. She also knows everyone at Health Education and stops by frequently to say hello.
Another support source now comes from her local gym where she is training as a competitive powerlifter! Brooke never thought athletics was in her future. A friend invited her to try powerlifting in the fall and by December, she was entering her first competition. She wound up breaking a state record and taking first place. Brooke’s determination is driving her towards competing in July at the National level. Now, her Friday nights are “squat nights” with her lifting friends.
When asked what advice she would give to other students, Brooke says, “…follow your passion. Don’t do anything because people expect it. Do what makes you happy.” Brooke has done just that.