First of all, you should know that I’m a horrible liar. And despite what the horoscopes might tell you about Scorpios, I’m terrible at being secretive and keeping things to myself. If I can’t lie and I can’t keep a secret to save my life, then what can I do? I’d like to say ‘not much’, but that would be a lie, too. And I can’t lie, I told you. I suck at lying.
What I can do is pretty phenomenal and extremely terrible. I can emotionally numb myself better than the best Novocaine with almost superhuman like-abilities. I can perceive-with crystalline accuracy- myself and the world around me rotating on this yet-to-be-discovered axis that amazingly revolves solely around myself. And I can diet. Oh, can I diet.
My first fiery tryst with dieting began as an attempt to gain acceptance, attention (. . . ?) from my peers at the all-important, very pretentious Academy of Notre Dame, where I had recently started seventh grade after graduating from an intimate and comfortable K through 6 elementary school (with a robust graduating class of 12 students). At the tender age of thirteen, I put myself on a strict diet, restricting my consumption of snacks, soda and other assorted types of junk food. I also started a daily exercise regimen, modeled closely after the one I had watched my father religiously follow. Unlike most diets you hear about nowadays, this one was a smashing success! My awkward adolescent pounds melted off as I streamlined myself into a coveted position of acceptance and attention amongst my peers. Well, perhaps acceptance is too strong of a word. In reality, the kids at school had stopped harping on me for the way I wore my hair or how I dressed different, and instead turned their fleeting attention to my recent dieting success. Unfortunately for me, with this phenomenal weight loss quickly came a dramatic change in my mood and health status. Once a bubbly, out-going kid, I was now reduced to a hollow shell of my former self. I was cold, cranky, and listless- but I was skinny. My family, with whom I had a fairly close-knit relationship with prior to developing what was soon to be diagnosed as anorexia nervosa, caught on to what I was doing to myself before I could even realize. It took me a myriad of doctor’s visits, counseling sessions with concerned therapists and dieticians, frantic calls to my family from clinicians, and three hospitalizations for myself to begin to realize that I might have a problem.
Now I could go into the nitty-gritty details about how I spent the next few years spent in vain attempting to wriggle myself free from the vice grip that anorexia had on me, those lost years when I struggled, feeling utterly alone and profoundly depressed, from the ages of thirteen to eighteen, but that might be a bit boring. I remember either feeling one of two feelings from the ages of 15 to 18: cold or depressed. Sometimes both, but seldom anything else. Anorexia had left me with an extreme feeling of apathy. I was physically and emotionally vacant for many years, and that was okay with me. I realized that when I was in my disease, nobody could hurt me but myself. At the same time, however, I was silently destroying any and all relationships that may have existed before the onset of my eating disorder.
Throughout my high-school years at Notre Dame, I was in and out of hospitals and treatment until finally something clicked. My eyes, clouded by the false visions of perfection and accomplishment that were placed there by my disorder, were finally pried open when I was sent to an inpatient facility at a private mental hospital in New Hampshire for a month. It was like taking a sudden, cannonball-like jump into the crisp, cool pool that was reality. At seventeen, I was able to see and hear the lies anorexia was telling me for so long and stopped listening to them. I spent a better part of the following two years in a state of recovery, where I was able to hold a job I loved, engage myself in hobbies, rekindle my passions for art and science, start college, and most importantly, function like a seemingly normal young adult, free of obsessive thoughts about food and my body.
As with all good things that come to you in life, this miraculous state of recovery was not apparent to me until I had fallen out of it, after another bout of feeling ostracized by my peers at college and my first sexual experience, which was abrupt, shameful, and traumatic.
At the age of eighteen I found myself clinging to the comforting neck of a bottle of booze (which was also somewhat also modeled after my father’s behavior) in a desperate attempt to block myself from the overpowering feelings of self-loathing and disgust imparted upon myself as a result of the sexual trauma. Along with the recent love affair with alcohol came a reemergence of my faithful friend, anorexia. At a time when I felt completely alone and unloved by the world, I welcomed, with open arms, the comforting numbness and false sense of security and predictability that anorexia offered me.
Years came and went as I spent most of my early 20’s either riding the technicolor highs of recreational drug use or wallowing at the bottom of a bottle of rum all while restricting my food intake more than ever. Meaningless relationships with men also came and went. My sense of self was deeply buried beneath the sheets of men I casually drank and slept with. I had no close friends and my family was pretty fed up with the behaviors and actions that I had taken on as a result of my destructive lifestyle. Anorexia and substance abuse had the phenomenal ability to place a interpenetrate barrier between myself and anyone else in the world. I was safe from the ridicule of my peers, heartbreak, and loss of any kind as long as I was wrapped in the bone-crushingly tight embrace of my destructive behaviors. I grew complacent with this way of life. I could get out of bed, shake of the hangover, suppress my dwindling appetite with cigarettes, drown out the constant rumblings of my stomach out with loud classic rock, and carry on with school and work fairly well. It wasn’t ideal, but it was comfortable. It was predictable. It was safe.
I thought I was The Master of deception with my drinking (which had taken on the literal definition of closet-alcoholism: the bedroom closet of the room I occupied in my parents’ house was stuffed with empties to the point where I couldn’t fit clothes in there any longer) and I thought that no one paid a mind to my abnormal eating behaviors. In my warped rum-crazed, food-starved mind, I was (pardon the horrible food pun) getting my cake and eating it too – I had an okay job, school, a place to stay, AND my precious addictions to soothe me when I felt the least bit upset. In fact, I felt unstoppable being able to reign in the powerful effects that my alcoholism and anorexia had on me, or so I thought. In reality, my hands were noticeably discolored and grossly swollen to the point were I couldn’t get jewelry off of them, I couldn’t go a month without contracting a new cold or sinus infection, and having a normal bowel movement would have made me the happiest damn person in the world. This is the glamorous lifestyle I led when I was deeply involved with my disease. Which is ironic, because didn’t I start dieting to become thin and beautiful? Or was it to be popular? Or maybe attention-getting? Whatever the reason was, I wasn’t getting there if I continued to follow this path of self-imposed punishment and destruction.
At some point, in a rare moment of clarity, I realized this. I looked and felt miserable. As they say in AA, “I was sick and tired of being sick and tired.” I avoided having to confront this reality for so long, because getting better would involve me breaking the cycle of these behaviors. And breaking the cycle would mean that I had to do work. Hard work. Who wants to do that? Some stubborn part of me that was desperately clinging onto a thread of hope for a life was willing to work for recovery.
And work I did.