Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Swallow the shame

You start off innocently enough.

I’ll just cut back a little, you tell yourself. No big deal. First you cut out snacks. And then you stop eating breakfast. “Just coffee for me today,” you say cheerily, acting as if you are too important to be bothered by something as menial as breakfast. But breakfast is all you can think about. Eggs. Pancakes with syrup. Butter.  Bagels heavy with cream cheese. Bacon, sausage, and ham (oh my!). You think about these things and turn them over in your mind again and again and again, weighing the consequence of eating each. In the end, it’s useless. You won’t eat any of them. You can’t. And so it’s just coffee for today.

Soon the scale starts its inevitable slide backward. Four pounds gone. Might as well make it five, and if you can do five then you should just make it an even ten for good measure. You know, just in case. It’s good to have a little wiggle room.

You have been here before. It’s no surprise to you when you come up with the brilliant idea to stop eating lunch. You can go from dinner to dinner, can’t you? Are you so weak that you can’t make it from dinner to dinner?

One day you are that weak. You sin, you eat a sundae. You feel the cool thickness of the ice cream, the sticky heat of the hot fudge; it all goes down so easily. But you aren’t used to eating like this, so your stomach begins to twist and cramp. See, you tell yourself, it hurts to eat. When you eat you get a stomachache. It’s easier not to eat. And so it is that you find yourself with your head in the toilet, watching the swirl of the ice cream as it comes back up. You flush, you clean the wall and the floor and the toilet. And then, as you are washing your hands and face, you feel it. The rush, the dizziness, the push. You let it wash over you for a minute; you’ve forgotten about this part. This is the high. You relish in it for just a moment, and then it is time to press your hands against your chest and will your heart to slow down. You tap a steady rhythm with your fingers and hope your heart will do the same. Eventually it does.

It’s not until you pass out one day in your bedroom that you realize you are there. You have an Eating Disorder. Again. You smile. This is familiar, like an old friend. Hello, grumbling stomach. Welcome, dizzy spells. Nice to see you, shakes.

You are happily on your way to self destruction when the strangest thing happens.

You meet a guy.

You meet a guy who wants to take you to a ballgame and eat hot dogs with you. He wants to come by with a pepperoni pizza and beer. On Sunday mornings he wants to make you the biggest omelet you have ever seen, complete with hash browns and butter-soaked toast. He is normal. He wants you to meet him for drinks and meet his friends and meet his family. He eats three meals a day. 

He is normal.

You like this guy. You want to be with him all of the time. You slowly start to realize that you can’t picture yourself without him, that this is Serious.

And you realize, too, that you can not have both of these things at once, this guy and this illness. You’ve tried it before. But you can only bring someone you care about so far down with you before they walk away. When you feel they are fading, you get better. But it’s too late. And you never do seem to stay better.

So you have to decide. You have to make a conscious decision to walk away from one or the other for good. There can be no more looking back.

He is warm and steady and whole.

Your illness leaves you cold and shaky and empty.

And so you eat.

At first eating will make you feel terrible. You will feel bloated and round and weak. But then you will look at him and know that he is worth it. You know that being healthy for yourself should be enough, but it’s not. It may never be. So for now you are healthy for him. Later, you will be healthy for the sons you will have with him. Oddly, you will love the roundness of your pregnant belly.

Now and then you will return to your old habits, revisit that old friend, dabble a bit.  Try it on for size.

But you won’t go back, not completely, because now you are a wife and a mother.

And because you are warm. And steady. And whole.


  1. Thanks for sharing this, Jenn. I'm glad that you found the someone you needed.

  2. Wow...that actually made me cry. But in a good way if that makes any sense. Thanks for being so open & honest. And I'm happy we both have such wonderful sons to be whole for. :-)

  3. You put into words.... my life. Amazing that someone could feel exactly as I have/did/do.
    Thank you for sharing.

  4. Wow, Jenn. That was just so powerful and honest and beautiful.

  5. I have been down the anorexia road before. My pregnancies saved my life. It's interesting to hear other people's stories of their relationship with an eating disorder. They talk about it in different terms, but almost always there is the phrase "Welcome Old Friend". Our friend is also? Our worse enemy.

    Thank you for sharing this, for putting into words something a lot of people can't understand. You did it beautifully.