Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Anorexia: Abby's Long Climb to the Mountaintop

This week, the guest blogger is Abby who discusses how she overcame her Eating Disorder, Anorexia Nervosa. She is to be credited for her courage and honesty in sharing with us. Throughout the post, there are links which offer information and help.
It wasn’t until I weighed less than 100 pounds that I thought I was fat.  I grew up in a normal, healthy family.  We feasted on Hamburger Helper’s tuna tetrazzini, green beans, 2% milk, canned peaches and a rare bowl of ice cream.  Typical lunches were baloney and cheese sandwiches and breakfast was either Carnation Instant Breakfast with toast or Honey Nut Cheerios.  
I never remember hearing a single comment about my weight or anyone else’s.  Obesity wasn’t an “epidemic” yet and supper-skinny had lost its immediate appeal with Twiggy’s death.  As kids, my three sisters and I ran our hearts out playing hide-n-seek, building forts, climbing trees, playing softball, tetherball and driveway basketball.  We weren’t allowed to watch the “boob-tube” unless we had read an equivalent amount of time to the show we wanted to watch.  Sometimes, as a surprise Daddy brought home a family movie and we popped popcorn and laughed at PG humor.  
My mother was of average height and weight.  She and my dad both grew up swimming competitively and they taught my sisters and I the importance of exercise.  I jumped up and down to Jane Fonda with my mom, or took long mother-daughter walks around a nearby lake. 
So - what happened?  What insidious little lie wiggled its way into my head and told me I didn’t need to eat anymore?  What demonic disease deluded me into thinking that I had to exercise for hours a day, as hard as I could, that I could never do enough - or something, something unknown and unspecified, something terrible might happen.   I would cease to be. 
At age 14, I was elated to take my very own vacation to Wyoming.  My aunt and uncle lived there and my cousin, Angela, was going to visit her dad and stepmom.  I was invited and we planned a week of camping near Jackson Hole.  
Aunt Cheryl was beautiful and Angela was substantially cooler than I was - after all, she was a year older and had a boyfriend!  Aunt Cheryl was about 5’2” and might have weighed 100 pounds.  All ten fingers were immaculately manicured - at all times, against all odds and at any expense.  She was a perfect beach-blond and had the cutest wardrobe - curtesy of a closet the size of my bedroom.
When Angela and I arrived, Uncle Gary and Aunt Cheryl picked us up at the airport and took us to their gigantic home.  The first and starkest memory that I have of that whole trip was entering the kitchen and seeing a scale in the center of the floor, shoved up against the island.  
“Sorry about that, don’t trip,” Aunt Cheryl said.  “I just have that there to check my weight each morning.  Then I know whether I can eat breakfast.”  The next morning, Angela told me that she had to go for a 2 mile run.  “I have to stay in shape for track next fall,” she explained. 
The rest of the trip is a collage of memories: Who remembered to remove all the skin from their chicken breast, who could insist that they weren’t hungry the longest, who woke up earliest to go running.  Looking back, I wonder what my uncle thought as he watched three women compete for such a subjective, irrelevant prize.  
So, that’s how it started.  I came home from that trip and left for Eagle Lake Camp a week later.  The snowball was already rolling down hill and gaining speed.  Fear lunged up and wrapped its tentacles around my mind at every meal.  The camp’s mess hall wasn’t exactly known for fat-free treats.  I had a miserable time that year; I was obsessed with controlling my environment, my diet and my exercise.
Summer 1994 was the tipping point in my battle with anorexia.  Perhaps an equally apt description is that summer 1994 was my decisive move to control my world.  Control was the crux of my eating disorder.  By comparison, my parents were not overly controlling but that was my perception.  However, I realized that they couldn’t make me eat, they couldn’t keep me from exercising - it was my body!  
Starving also brought me recognition.  Instead of being the mature daughter who could take care of herself so that Mom and Dad could focus on the younger, needier children, I now needed constant supervision.  My illness became their constant worry.  They watched me, and counseled me, cried for me, yelled at me, hugged me and begged me to eat.  I guess on some level that’s what I wanted them to do. 
Another aspect of anorexia was my disappearing act.  I knew that I had become a financial burden once my family had invested in therapists, dietitians and inpatient treatment centers.  I knew that my sisters were becoming resentful of my parents’ constant attention to me.  Maybe, I thought, if I do this well enough, I will simply disappear.  Then I won’t be a problem to anyone. 
Finally, in all my retrospective curiosity about my issues and the factors involved in my eating disorder, I have discovered my addiction to productivity.  I think that’s how compulsive exercise became such an integral part of my anorexia.  If I was running, biking, exercising in some manner, then, even if I never accomplished anything important I at least felt tired - I felt like I had done something.  I worried that I never did enough - enough of anything.  I worried that unless I did something great or memorable then I wasn’t enough.  There was nothing significant about me, so I kept churning, chugging, trying, working to be enough of something for someone.  
The counterweight to that thought was that I was too much.  I might be too big or eat too much.  These two fears lodged in my head and warred constantly.  Even as I began to recover I would swing from working hard to moderate my exercise so that I didn’t do too much and sabotage recovery to worrying that I hadn’t run far enough.  Too much, not enough.  Too much food, not enough work.  Too much of a burden, not enough of a contribution.  Too expensive, not a fast enough recovery.  Too much, not enough.  
I am at a new place in my life now.  I have crawled the rocky mountain of recovery, reached the summit once and slid ungracefully to the bottom again.  Now, I am standing at the summit again - bruised, weary and timid.  I am learning that if I have pushed the boundaries of too much and not enough, then all I have to do is stand in the middle between those two extremes.  If I have run to both edges, then I must have passed through the middle.  Right there, right here, right now, I am just right. 
You can find Abby online at her blog, Predatory Lies.

At this link you will find another story about anorexia .


Carole Di Tosti said...

Thanks for sharing your story. I hope that others will benefit from what you have written here.

Margo Dill said...

It is amazing how this can start so young! Thank you for sharing your journey.

achamma chandersekaran said...


Hope your story will help some who are still struggling. Good luck1

Achamma Chander

Karen Barber said...

Abby, You are not alone. What you say, so many others like my daughter have said, but keep saying it. We must fight this illness.

I put a link to this website on mine and I will check out Predatory Lies.
Karen Barber

Karen Barber said...

Hi, I did a post on my blog where you were mentioned. Thought you would like to see:

Keep up the good work. Take care.