This blog isn’t about my story. It’s about all of our stories. It’s for anyone who has ever looked at themselves in the mirror and said, “I’m not worthy,” or “I’m not good enough,” or “I’m hideous.” Anyone who has kept their secret far away from everyone they care for, to try to hide the shame and embarrassment. Anyone who looks at a stranger or a celebrity who is thinner and thinks how undisciplined I must be, because I couldn’t help but eat/binge/purge/cut/hit today. That’s me. That might be you. We’re not alone, and we’re not freaks.
Recently my dietician (“D”) gave me a list of what it means to be a healthy eater, and I realized that almost all of the behaviors were foreign to me. Was I always eating disordered? It’s hard to remember a time when I didn’t feel revulsion toward my body, or that eating was a treat, or that feeling full was a sign that I was an untrustworthy pig. But it was when I was in high school, going through puberty, and I didn’t fit in (I never fit in), that I learned of a secret a lot of girls at my school did to stay skinny. They either didn’t eat, or they ate whatever they wanted and threw it up. I’d seen the Afterschool Specials, I’d read about Karen Carpenter, but that wasn’t me. I wasn’t crazy thin. I was athletically built in my mind, but I wanted to be thin, pretty, and popular. One day, feeling particularly disgusted with myself, I slipped into the bathroom at school and purged. It took me a long time, and I didn’t feel better. I didn’t lose weight, but what I found was that when I purged, I felt cleaner. And soon when I purged I felt a rush, almost a pride. I was strong enough to beat my body, and no one would ever know.
And I was careful! I’d always been sneaky – I had an older sister who was perpetually in trouble, and an alcoholic brother (who I didn’t find out about his drinking problem until years later), and I had another sister who was a giant tattletale. I became exceptionally good at being the perfect daughter, the perfect student, and essentially the perfect bulimic. I didn’t ever really binge, I would just purge – now and then, so it didn’t “count.” I never got caught, and no one knew. I didn’t get thinner, which angered me, but I had my secret, and my secret comforted me.
In college I purged less (I suppose the natural consequence of living in a crowded dorm) so I needed a new outlet. I would take long runs at night in not-safe neighborhoods, and when that risk wasn’t enough, I started to run hard and slam my feet on the ground in an attempt to blow out my knee. After my mother died suddenly my freshman year, I was in a fog so deep that even the pain from running or purging wasn’t enough to break through the despair. The following year, my grief was a blanket of blackness so dark I couldn’t see out, and I began to plan how I could take sleeping pills and just not wake up. I played squash against myself, and whenever I missed a ball, I’d hit my shin with my racket. Scared by my thoughts, and scared by the way my boyfriend looked at me when he saw the bruises, I saw my first therapist for four sessions. She hugged me – I’m not a hugger. She had me talk about my father – when I was grieving my mother. She pressured me for my father to pay the co-pay (which was a lot in those days) when he and I just didn’t talk, especially about money. It was more stress for me to see her than it was to ignore the whole thing, so of course I chose the latter.
I read a ton of self-help books and convinced myself that my flailing around could be managed if I just controlled my thoughts. And for a long time, it worked pretty well, except that I took a high profile job working 80 hours a week and living in hotels all around the world. If you think you feel alone now, imagine how it feels to not eat all day, work like a maniac, go out and have a huge meal and drinks with the client (all men, by the way), and then be stuck in a hotel room in London with only a laptop and bad TV. My bathroom became my best friend again, and Mia was back in full force. After nearly a decade of this, of crying on Sunday nights with my husband because I had to leave again on Monday morning, I quit and watched Law and Order reruns for a few months. I saw a new therapist who told me I had an eating disorder for the very first time. After nearly a year of therapy and working with a naturopath, I was pregnant, not purging, happy, and balanced. I was cured, and all was good.
Happily ever after, right? I’ll tell you the second chapter with my friends Ana and Mia another time. In the meantime, if you stumble across my blog, if you connect with what I say, please comment. If you’d like to write a bit about your story, PM me. This isn’t my story, although it’s based on my experiences. We’ve hidden too long in shame, and it’s time to own who we are. We are not bulimics, anorexics, or bingers or EDNOS’s… we’re people who are doing the best we can. We’re working to go somewhere, to be somewhere better, whatever that means. But most importantly, we reach out and help others along the way. Because who knows this struggle better than we do?