I’ve fretted for a long time about adding this page. Why? I’m afraid of judgment or hurting someone. I’m afraid that people will take advantage of my vulnerability. But, at the end of the day, I think it’s important – not for me, but for other people. If someone out there is reading this and is in the midst of an eating disorder, it’s crucial for them to know they’re not alone. Also, that shame about what we’ve done is an unnecessary prison we put upon ourselves.
When I was born, I weighed about the most average weight possible – 7 lbs, 15 oz. As I grew into an older baby and toddler, I quickly became large for my age. I had double chins, stomach and leg rolls – all the things that are cute on babies but resented as adults. As I was an average eater and breastfed, it was pretty apparent that my size was genetically wired. As my mother put it, “Us Doerflers (her family of origin) were always called Campbell’s Soup Kids for good reason!”
My mother was home with me, so I spent my preschool years with her. She is an innate developmental genius; she had me writing my name before I turned three. I was an intelligent, shy child who clung to my mother. So shy, in fact, that the Littleton School system had me tested to make sure I would “make it” in my school class and wouldn’t need to be kept back. I passed.
My mother once said, “Your children are your children until they go to school.” Boy, was she right. I remember the weight taunting starting fairly immediately after I started. In kindergarten, it started with my “best friend” who pointed out on a regular basis that I was bigger than everyone else. It started to intensify around 4th grade. I was made fun of because I wore tight leggings with a big shirt. A kid, who had been a neighborhood pal during preschool years, loudly exclaimed, “I’m not sitting there if fatty sat there!” Another student in my class mocked the way I tried to serve the volleyball. On a field trip I – in front of teachers – had to stand up and eat my lunch because no one would let me sit with them. And worst of all, my boundaries were violated by a student because he viewed my fatness as a weakness he could take advantage of. Honestly, my mother could probably detail a lot more, but I’ve blocked a lot of it out. I also was diagnosed with epilepsy around this time, which didn’t do much for the “I’m different from everyone else” facet of things. Junior High and the early high school years weren’t much better. I watched a male junior high teacher give me worse grades than the “pretty students”. One peer punched me in the face and subsequently nicknamed me “Turtle” because apparently, I was slow. (Now I’m a runnah, sucka.)
Now don’t misunderstand me – I don’t blame my eating disorder on the intense bullying I received. I do, however, believe it was a piece of the puzzle. During my childhood, there was some chaos in my home due to untreated mental illness and alcoholism, the details of which I will save for my therapist’s office. While I respect and love my family for what they’ve each been through individually, I know they are another piece of the puzzle.
During my freshman year, I got involved in a musical. I had been taking voice lessons for a few years – and man, could I sing. It would be my greatest confidence-booster and my greatest downfall. Why? It got me involved in a study that placed importance on my appearance. One day, while out shopping with my mother and uncle, I decided to stop in a health food store and buy dried apple rings. A funny thought popped into my head: what if the apple rings were the only thing I ate for the rest of the day? It seemed like a secret that was too good to be true, something I would keep to myself for the rest of the day. So I didn’t eat anything else. I found my old Skip-It, and clocked an hour’s worth of exercise on it. There, my eating disorder was born. On dried apples and a Skip-It in my parents’ basement.
Long story short, I dropped about 60 lbs in the spring of my freshman year (keep in mind I was only about 25 lbs overweight to start). Anorexia was my new best friend. She kept me company! In the morning, we poured orange juice down the drain together, so my mother wouldn’t think I wasn’t drinking it, and during school we ate about 5 mini rice cakes, and after school, we skipped dinner together and reveled in hungry feelings during musical rehearsals.
And the positive feedback that I got! Peers started paying attention to me. A “popular” kid in my class stopped me in the hall to tell me how good I looked, and a friend even told me I “inspired her.” I started to win leads in the school musicals. I dropped from a size 14 to a size 10 to a size 0. I stopped getting my period for 9 months. One gym teacher was alarmed by my weight loss, but I didn’t pay attention to her. I was only able to keep the strict starvation regimen up for so long, and during sophomore and junior year, I was on a pretty severe binge-and-restrict cycle. By senior year, I had gained a small amount of weight back, and didn’t like it. It was then that I turned to laxatives. I would keep this up for the next two years or so.
Initially I wanted to go to school for musical theater. I ended up going to the Hartt School and hated it with every fiber of my being. I ran into a bunch of catty, image-ruled classmates and professors. Plus, I wasn’t really ready for college at just-eighteen anyway. I dropped out during November of my freshman year. My laxative use got *really* bad when I went home; I thought I was a failure for dropping out of college.
Then, I went to UMass Amherst two years later. My time spent at UMass was like a bright light in the midst of my life. I instantly felt at home and made a ton of friends; I was connected. I didn’t need my ED symptoms anymore, and they vanished for a good three years or so. I ate wings and fresh baked cookies from Sugar Jones at three in the morning carelessly. I made huge salads at the dining commons and didn’t skip dessert. My roommate and I ate goodies sent from home. I joined a theater group and ate and drank plentifully with them. Although I had some other depression symptoms at times, my college days might as well be filled with unicorns and puppies. It was that good.
Until the beginning of my senior year. I had been engaged to a runner at the time, and this is where I discovered running. Before, I thought I was such an unathletic oaf that could never have run. But I did, and I got really good at it. So I, naturally, started to eat a Slimfast bar for every meal. I dropped about 15 lbs. Fortunately, that ED phase simmered down as quickly as it began.
I broke off the engagement in my senior year and jumped into another relationship. Because of the nature in which it happened, I hated myself. I started to engage in self-sacrificing behaviors and took down everybody near me, especially my boyfriend at the time. My behaviors were the destruction of our relationship. Depression reared its ugly head and rendered me out of control. It was a really dark time.
Thankfully, I scored a job right out of college. Where was it? Yep, you guessed it. At a residential eating disorder center. Since I hadn’t had a severe ED flare-up in some time, I thought I was healthy enough to counsel others in the area I had struggled in. And I honestly was healthy….for awhile. I made friends with a group of girls who worked there, and established good therapeutic relationships with clients. I led group therapy. I also was living in my first apartment at the time, in artsy Somerville, MA. Things were good until my boyfriend (read: the relationship I destroyed) broke up with me. Then – you guessed it – my eating disorder struck again. And this time, with force.
I remember a few things about the summer of 2005. One was that I spent a lot of time in my bed, alone, not willing to get out of bed for fear that I would binge on food in my kitchen. Another was that I was a tornado, once again engaging in self-sacrificing behaviors that alienated everyone around me. I remember running a lot this summer; I ran in 90 degree temps, stomach growling. By this time, my best high school friend had started to give up on me, and I didn’t blame her for it. The deceit that went along with my disease was too much for her. Quite frankly, she had seen too many scary things, and she needed space. I would have too.
Needless to say, my flareup of combined starvation and laxative use made me as sickly as I was in high school, and led to my resignation at the residential center. I had lost it all. I had lost love, I had lost friends, and I had lost my job. I spent my time lying on my bed after gallon-sized ice cream binges, not knowing what to do, and feeling petrified to sit with myself. Finally, I knew, I had to go to treatment.
Walden Behavioral Care was like a godsend, even though I felt like Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in “The Departed”. I was supposed to be on the other side of things, taking care of others. Instead, I was put on a meal plan, and began the refeeding process just like everyone else there. I loved the structure. I loved the groups. I loved reflecting on my feelings and thoughts. It felt self-indulgent. It was safe. Even though it was just three weeks, it was exactly what I needed.
When I left treatment, I sat through carefully-measured meals at home. I stuck to the plan strictly and spent a few unemployed months getting to know myself again. I saw a great nutritionist, and tried to let up on exercise. I walked down Highland Ave in Somerville and tried to simply enjoy the view. I got a job at a clothing store, and then as a nanny. I got involved with someone I was very in love with at the time. I started to make a plan to attend grad school for expressive therapies. My boyfriend moved in with me. Things were looking…up. More adult-like. More stable.
But sadly, the pattern continued. I engaged in self-destructive behaviors that again helped to destroy another relationship. The breakup, however, enabled me to sit with myself and examine some other things in my life that were holding me back. During this time, in 2009, I gave up some other behaviors once and for all, and was able to make some permanent changes. This time was a breakthrough. Instead of always thinking I missed the manual on living life, I began to live it. And mess up. And get back up and enjoy it again.
I was lucky to keep my burgeoning therapeutic career during this tumultuous time in my life; it proved to be a constant. Helping and focusing on others assisted me in not being so self-centered. I joined a self-help group which proved to be a saving grace. I started to align my “insides” with my “outsides” – i.e, I didn’t walk around saying everything was OK when it wasn’t. I made friends there who I still hang with, because they’re the kind of friends who aren’t afraid to talk about the messy parts of themselves. They’re also not afraid to support me, even when I haven’t used the best behaviors. I started to *really* use therapy, even though I had been going for five years prior. And I was introduced to a man – the type I never thought I’d be with – and here we are, three years later, with a baby.
Life is NOT perfect – far from it. But putting down my eating disorder – and other self-destructive behaviors – have given me an opportunity to examine my motives, build my confidence, and attempt, on a daily basis, to look beyond myself. And all I can hope for is another day with the sun in the sky and the ones I love.