Enough to Eat
I have battled with my body my entire life. I have obsessed over food, counted calories, monitored everything that goes into my mouth for the past 42 years.
I started my cycles at 11, and began developing rapidly at this young age. My mom was very weight and image conscious and totally focused on my appearance; I think she was afraid I was going to balloon up. I went on my first diet at 12 and my mom would oversee my food. I was so ashamed; it was humiliating.
Now, my mom is a tallish, very slim woman, my sisters skinnie minnies (and I mean skinny!) and here I was, looking like an 18 year old at 13. Mom would pat my “trouble spots,” and talk about sending me to a diet doctor. The self hatred and shame about my appearance spilled over into every corner of my life. The incredibly sad thing is that when I look back at pictures of me, I wasn’t overweight at all! Not even plump. I saw myself through someone else’s mirror. I absorbed other people’s view of me. My mom projected her weight obsession and control issues onto me, and I scooped them right up. Now, my mom is a tallish, very slim woman, my sisters skinnie minnies (and I mean skinny!) and here I was, looking like an 18 year old at 13. Mom would pat my “trouble spots,” and talk about sending me to a diet doctor. The self hatred and shame about my appearance spilled over into every corner of my life. The incredibly sad thing is that when I look back at pictures of me, I wasn’t overweight at all! Not even plump. I saw myself through someone else’s mirror. I absorbed other people’s view of me. My mom projected her weight obsession and control issues onto me, and I scooped them right up.
My first bout of anorexia happened during my senior year of high school. I was responsible for financing my own education, I was working all the time, and I was stressed over the whole college thing,feeling alone and overwhelmed. It is true that eating disorders are not about food; they are about CONTROL. What I put into my mouth and how much I exercised was the only parts of my life that I could control.
When I settled in at college and felt reasonably comfortable I slowly put on a few pounds.I wasn’t quite as obsessive about my appearance, but I still carted my spin bike home with me on breaks and it lived in the hall at my dorm.
I used a little book to record my daily calorie intake. I lived by the scale. A skinny day was a good day; a fat day was unbearable. One particular day I was feeling especially ‘fat’ and I took nighttime cold medicine all day just so I would sleep and not eat. I did try talking to a counselor at college, but I felt she just didn’t get me. I did look reasonably healthy on the outside,ut on the inside it was a different story.
Once again, I felt like I wasn’t enough. When I was really skinny, I got approval. I lived for other people’s approval and hated myself for it.
My next episode of anorexia came after 9-11 and it was much more serious. My husband worked in the World Trade Centers, and although he made it home, thank God,that day was one of the darkest of my life. The event triggered a downward spiral for me. At the time, our kids were ages 5, 7, 8 and 10. My husband had his own issues, struggling with the unspeakable losses in his life and I was so worried about him. On the outside, I was the strong, capable partner who was holding everyone up. Inside, I was dying. Literally dying. Eating and working out were all I could control. I would walk 12-15 miles each day on my treadmill in the basement and aim for 70 miles each week. If I fell short of this ridiculous number, I felt lousy and I would punish myself by not allowing myself to eat.
I would allow myself 600 calories per day. When the hunger became unbearable, I would make food, chew it, and then spit it out. On top of the treadmill, I would go to the gym and did hard weights 5 or 6 days each week. I would look in the mirror and say, over and over, “I hate you.”
I lost about 30 lbs. My periods stopped. My hair fell out. My skin actually looked gray and I thought I could work even harder and lose a little more.
I remember one day: I was a wreck. The house was crazy and I was in the basement on my 18th mile. It didn’t matter that my life was in chaos, I did 18 miles. I remember feeling just so incredibly sad, that I would have to do this for the rest of my life — that I would never be able to eat a real meal again. I was so desperately hungry, I just cried. Hungry. Familiar word?
Right after that, my sister-in-law conducted an intervention. I believe that she really saved my life. She came over, physically pulled me off that treadmill, sat me down, and said she wasn’t leaving until we made an appointment that day to see a doctor. She said, “I love you more than my own sister and I don’t want to lose you.” I will never forget that day as long as I live. What I remember most is that she made me feel loved and worth fighting for.
At the doctors, I cried and cried. He assessed the physical damage I had inflicted on myself and hen set me up with an eating disorder specialist. Dr. Eating Lady, as I call her, said some really important things that I still refer to today.
There are times when we have to tolerate discomfort. We have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. We have to ride the wave. Bad, weird, uncomfortable feelings are going to appear in our lives. We all have something—an issue, an insecurity, whatever — and if we don’t address it, it will show up in unhealthy ways. Mine manifested in an eating issue. We can’t keep denying our feelings, pushing them away, stuffing them down, spitting them out, running away from them like I was trying to do on that dang treadmill. You can only hold your breath underwater for so long. You can deal with the painful stuff and hurt now, or you can push it away and hurt later.
I would always say, “I feel fat” but “fat” is not a feeling. What are you feeling?
Scared? Lonely? Overwhelmed? Inadequate?
We have to feel those feelings in order to work our way through to the other side! And we build emotional strength by feeling different feelings. I was starving myself. I starved my feelings. I starved my fear and anger. And most of all, I starved my neediness. I hated being needy. I thought I could kill my neediness by starving it out of me.
If I really felt all the feelings coursing through me it would hurt too badly. My crazy eating and working out was the perfect distraction from all the other pain and it was literally consuming me. I had a tremendous need to feel special and valuable to people because that need was never filled in me.
I was terrified my husband was going to get blown up and I would be left all alone. I felt like I had lost my anchor in life.
Don’t deny what you need. We need what we need! Be honest in defining your need. Don’t be afraid of it, because it is the very thing that will make you whole. And it is scary! What are you going to do with all the space where the need was? Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Ride the wave until it passes. Think about what you want to put in that space instead.
Dr. Eating Lady also said this: You cannot have a corrective experience with a dysfunctional adult. That one really helped me in dealing with my mom. I had to accept that I was never going to get her approval and move on. I also learned that an adult will be direct and ask for what they want and need, whereas a child will manipulate and play games. I made the decision that I was going to be an adult, which meant being uncomfortable, at times. I knew I could handle it; I was strong enough.
I have also come to accept the fact that if I only get from eating disorder to disordered eating, maybe that’s the best I am going to get. It’s not perfect, but it’s honest and that honesty helped heal me.
I am enough. Enough for the people who love me and that means enough for me, too. I am enough for me.