Candy Barone, 41, can’t remember her late twenties.
It was during the worst part of what she describes as self-sabotaging behaviors that consumed her life from her early 20s to early 30s: emotional binge-eating, working out for hours at a time, drinking and compulsive shopping.
But she does remember the childhood that would set her on this destructive path. Her father, a social alcoholic who “couldn’t coexist with other people” without a drink in his hand, was mentally, emotionally, and at times, physically abusive toward Barone, her mother and brother, but not her little sister.
Barone would position herself in front of her mother and brother, trying to draw her father away from them. This would cause Barone to put herself in toxic environments and relationships later in life because she believed, “if I can survive this, I’ll be tougher.”
Early on, she was taking on a protective parental role in place of her childhood. Her parents divorced when she was 12. Barone’s mother, suffering from depression, put herself in the hospital when Barone was 15.
After that, Barone never stopped working. She was determined to put herself through school, and worked full time through her teens. Toward the end of her college years, while she was working three jobs, Barone looked back on her life with anger. She felt like her childhood had been taken away.
But once she graduated and took a job in the corporate world, Barone had extra income for the first time in years. She could do what she wanted. That’s when her dangerous cycles of self-sabotaging behaviors began.
In order to achieve instant gratification and make herself feel better, Barone would indulge with food, eating an entire pizza in one sitting. Then, out of guilt, she would hit the gym for an intense, three-hour workout. After three weeks of working out for three hours nonstop each day, the gym wouldn’t let her check in. They were concerned that she could harm herself with such intense behavior.
“I didn’t want to take responsibility for anything,” she said. “Instead of dealing with all of the fear and the stress I was feeling, I was overcompensating and looking for satisfaction through these behaviors.” Her weight waxed and waned as a result of her behavioral cycle. When her weight would balloon, Barone turned to fat burners and detox supplements, overusing them at times.
She was also shopping all the time, whether it was online or walking in a store and spending $500. Her shoe addiction was out of control. “Yet, the more I gave into the compulsions, the emptier I felt,” she said.
The stress of her job, which was demanding 80- to 100-hour workweeks, mounted on top of her compulsions until Barone found herself in the hospital with severe chest pains. Her massive anxiety had triggered a sliding hiatal hernia. After increasing weight gain and five surgeries while going to graduate school, Barone had finally had enough. At 35 she decided to take stock of her life and turn things around.
She began to ask herself questions: “Why do I want this? Is it just a craving or is this coming from an emotional place? How will I feel about this later?”
The litany of questions guided her through her behaviors and Barone really started getting to know herself for the first time: who she was, what she really wanted in life, how she had created her habits.
Barone left the corporate world and its stresses behind. She started eating a healthy diet that would fuel her energy and positivity. She trained and exercised to achieve her best fitness level without resorting to extremes.
Over the course of her career, Barone had found comfort in working with youth programs. The idea had never left her entirely. She knew there were other people out there like her who found it hard to stop the cycle of self-sabotaging behaviors. By sharing her story, maybe she could help others.
Now, Barone has her own business. You Empowered Strong helps others identify their goals, knock down internal barriers and “destroy the noise” of negative self-talk and fears. She has transformed herself into a certified master coach, CEO, trainer, speaker and author.
But when it comes to overcoming the behaviors that had such control over her life for so many years, Barone said the struggle isn’t over. “I still have to be present and honest with myself to avoid these,” she said. “I call myself a recovering perfectionist and control freak.”
Taking charge and helping others has helped Barone achieve a place where she feels like she’s living her best life. Her friends have also noticed the shift. Lisa Goodpaster, who has known Barone for 30 years, is happy to see that her friend has more peace on the inside these days.
“Candy has always been very intelligent, and what one might refer to as a type A personality: very organized, very passionate and knew what she wanted,” she said. “I think the Candy of today is still very much all of those things, but she has used these traits in a positive way to move herself forward, instead of working against herself and self-sabotaging. She now isn’t just as successful on the outside, as she always was, but her success is coming from a deeper place on the inside as well.”
Sarah Koenig, who became fast friends with Barone when they began working together in 2008, was a witness to Barone’s transformation. Before Barone published her children’s book, “Dream Star,” based on a story she used to tell her sister, Koenig was reading a copy of it to her daughter.
“When you are with Candy, she is energy,” Koenig said. “She has harnessed that energy and is doing so much with it to inspire others. The energy was always there, sometimes working for her, sometimes against her. But once she cleared the noise and eliminated the self-sabotage, she harnessed that energy and now uses it in ways that truly serve her community, herself, her clients, family, friends. It’s a powerful, positive force.”