Freedom Friday- every Friday I am going to free myself from a burden, either an old embarrassing story, a secret phobia, a lie I told and got away with, a fear I can’t win, or something else to be determined. I want to free myself from secrets to end those nagging moments when I can’t sleep at night, or those random thoughts that pop in my head for no reason other than their need to get expelled from my conscious. We all need to free ourselves from self-recrimination, to open ourselves up and vulnerably face our fears. Freedom Friday is my attempt to do that, and in turn take ownership of my guilt so it doesn’t eat me alive anymore.
I was precocious, funny and athletic. I was an A student and a rabble-rouser with a cause. I was active in my church, successful at dating, award-winning at dancing and playing woodwind instruments. I was also forcibly vomiting multiple times a day. Disordered eating patterns are common in middle class, white girls. The generalizations I read about this disease, its causes and effects, makes me feel equally livid and more understood. I don’t want to see that I fell into a pattern that made sense, that there existed predictability of my own self-destruction. It is humiliating to see that this horrific problem I simultaneously fought valiantly against and willfully submitted to fit a recognizable pattern.
I’ve freed myself on here regarding my lack of skill in making and maintaining friendships (you can check that confession here, http://twinkletoesandninjaboy.com/2013/07/16/on-friendships/). My disordered eating issues did not help with this issue when I was a kid. I had this trick I would do when I was in grade 9—I would eat a piece of bread very, very slowly while imagining that it was a piece of extra-cheesy pizza, grease pooling in the center as I folded the slice to fit in my mouth. I imagined the way the first bite felt as I bit into the bread, willing myself to pretend that I was eating this decadent treat. I would take bites the size of pennies, savoring the fantasy food of the moment as I carefully chewed each piece.
At this time I was also in the school plays in the fall (rehearsing before school), the school musicals in the spring (rehearsing before school), the wrestling team (practicing after school) and my church’s youth group (meeting in the evenings). Most days I could pretend I was eating breakfast at school, skip lunch, and pretend I ate a snack with friends after wrestling. This would leave me with only dinner to force myself to endure. I would do my best to eat next to nothing, and that worked for a while.
Sometimes people expect you to eat, though, and that is when I realized it was easier to let myself have the experience of eating, it satisfied me more than fantasizing, but I knew I had to vomit when I was done. This slide into bulimia made so much “logical sense” to my hungry brain that it felt completely natural to start this awful and terrible cycle of abuse on my body. It makes me sick to think about how normal I thought I was, and how little I worried about my eating issues.
I remember one time a friend was over and she and I split an entire box of macaroni and cheese. She made me promise not to throw up. My solution? I went to the furthest away bathroom, pretended I needed to shower, and then puked in the toilet while the water was running. She knew, it was obvious what I was doing, and our friendship sort of soured after that.
Another time I was at the mall with a different group of friends. A girl wouldn’t let me go to the bathroom by myself until 30 minutes after I finished eating. When she finally let me go to the bathroom on my own I vomited, then came back to the group and proudly told her my stomach was so jacked I didn’t digest food that fast anymore. She looked at me like I was nuts and said “and this is something you are proud of?”
Even with these two friendship incidents, I continued spiraling. The locker attendant for our swim class caught me vomiting once and didn’t believe my lies. She told my wrestling coach, who then threatened to kick me off the team if I didn’t get my act together. I stopped for a while, but I never really addressed the bigger problem and I started restricting my calories, even though I worked out intensely for three hours a day as well.
The real turning point came when my friends, concerned for my life, went to my parents and told them what I had been doing. My parents picked me up from a sleepover and asked to take me out to breakfast. I told them I had already eaten (lie) and they just started laying into me in the car. My mom was so angry, I cannot remember anything she said, just the tone of voice she used when she said it. My dad told me he was disappointed in me. That phrase from my dad changed my life’s direction. My dad has always been my hero. He had never been anything less than proud of me, and his three word statement was enough to make me burn with shame.
I went to the doctors that week and told my pediatrician that I was fighting bulimia and needed help. She looked at my chart, told me I was at a healthy weight and even gaining pounds, and told me not to worry about it. Sitting here, typing that, I can see her face as she looked me up and down, appraising my figure as if that was the measure of eating disorders to trust, I can hear her words and see her tap her pencil on her clipboard, too busy to help a 15-year-old in distress.
Disordered eating patterns remain with me, even after 16 years of getting better. I like to work out or run in the morning without eating anything first because it makes me burn more fat. If I am in the mood for bad for me food I will hide it away, waiting until I am alone to devour it. I will catch myself eating extremely fast to make sure I get enough food, a knee-jerk reaction that started happening when I started eating food again. I have scars on my fingers, cavities in my teeth, and a raging anger at knowing just how much self harm I inflicted on my body.
I started this post by saying I hate that my pain and struggle was predictable according to demographics and location. I hate it because my first step down the rabbit hole was so innocent, the tumble felt completely unpredictable, and I still don’t quite understand what landed me in that place. If I was a typical disordered eating person, why did everything that happen feel so out of control and non linear?
I struggle with my weight now. I was a size 8-10 most of my young life, reaching a size 12 after my daughter was born, a 16 after my son was born. I have gained and lost the same 30-50 pounds 5 times in the last 4 years. When I fit back into my size 12 clothes I start having thoughts about all the things I can do to stay at that weight, get overwhelmed at all the work moving past average and into thin would be, then lose my motivation and climb slowly back into my size 16 or size 18 pants. Right now, thanks to a foot injury that stopped my running training for a few months, I am rocking a size 16.
I know the damage I caused my body during its fragile development years is irreparable. I rarely tell people of my struggles with food for fear of people giving me the up-down once over looks that bring me right back to my pediatrician’s office when I was a scared 15-year-old girl. My struggles were real, though, and I need to own this part of my past and come to terms with it before my own children are at the vulnerable stage of life where disordered eating can begin.