Tonight I gave my auto, or my life story, in the process group. It was hard, but it was good. Below, I will share it with you.
Some of my earliest memories were are happy memories. I remember my 2nd birthday. I got a giant coloring book and a box of crayons. I also got a baby brother. Yes, my brother was born on my 2nd birthday.
Some of my earliest memories are painful. Memories of sexual abuse by a neighbor and secrets. Memories of self-loathing even as a four year old. I don’t remember a time being aware of my body and not hating it. I’m sure before the sexual abuse started, I didn’t hate my body, but I can’t remember it. I remember being 4 or 5 and just hating my body. Feeling like there was something wrong with me. I would sit alone and cry and hit myself with my fists. I wanted my body to go away.
When I was 5, I remember standing on the bathtub so I could see myself in the mirror. I had just eaten a meal and my stomach was sticking out from it. After all, I was 5 and there wasn’t much to me. But I remember my mom saw me and commented that I looked pregnant. I didn’t understand why at the time, but I knew that wasn’t a compliment. I felt defeated. That comment has stuck with me to this day and is always a reminder that my body isn’t good enough, and never was, even when I was 5.
Much of my childhood was happy, despite those memories. I grew up with 6 siblings. I have 3 old sisters and 3 younger brothers. There was always someone to play with. Always someone who wanted to play the game you wanted to play. It was never dull, never boring.
My family was very poor. We lived in one bedroom motels during the colder months, and would camp out during the spring and summer because camping was cheaper and we weren’t all cooped up together. Because we were poor, I had an interesting relationship with food from a young age. We were on food stamps and by the end of the month, food would get scarce and we would live off of bread and peanut butter. Then, when our food stamps came in, we would have a special meal to celebrate. Also, because my parents couldn’t afford to buy us things, each month we got a special reward called our “one thing” where we each got to pick out a special candy or food item that cost a dollar and we got to eat that all by ourselves, we didn’t have to share with anyone. It felt really special as a small child.
When I was little, my sister who is 2 years old than me had the nickname Skinny Minnie. I wasn’t overweight as a child, but I wasn’t super skinny like my sister. However, I always felt like, being her younger sister, I should be skinnier than she was, so I always felt like when they were calling my sister Skinny Minnie, they were actually calling me fat.
When said sister was 9 and I was 7, she decided that we needed to go on a diet. I don’t know what prompted this, but I was all for it. We began comparing the calories on the foods we ate and eating only the recommended servings. She told me not to tell our mom we were on a diet. Again, I don’t know why, but since she was my older sister, I listened to her. That began 7 years of on and off secret dieting.
When I was 11, I had a secret boyfriend. My parents’ rule was that you couldn’t date or have a boyfriend until you were 16, but I had met someone in our motel that liked me and gave me gift and called me his girlfriend. I liked the attention, so I didn’t tell my parents. My secret boyfriend was 16. He would give me baseball cards and invite me over to his motel room to hang out. We weren’t allowed in other people’s motel rooms, but I went anyway because he was my boyfriend and I liked him. One time when I went over to hang out, he raped me. The next day, he gave me more baseball cards with a thank you note. The next day he was gone.
After the rape, my self-loathing grew worse and I began dieting more frequently. I stopped eating around friends and peers because in my mind if they saw me eat, they would know why I was fat. Even though I can objectively look back at photos from that time and tell you I wasn’t fat, I knew in my heart at the age of 11 that I was, and that I couldn’t let people see me eat because of it.
When I was 14, my parents went on the Atkin’s diet. Because of this, I began to believe that all carbs were bad for you. I began to live mostly on ham and lettuce rolls. This was the start of my anorexia, though I didn’t know at the time that’s what it was, and my consistent restriction, with intermittent fasting. I had long since wanted my body to go away and I finally felt like I had found the formula to make it happen. For 3 years I restricted and fasted. I became paranoid that people were trying to “poison” me with calories and thought they were even putting calories in my water. However, this was the era of super baggy clothes and wide leg JNCO jeans and if anyone noticed my weight loss, no one said anything. Not even my parents.
When I was 16, I was raped by the father of some kids I babysat for. After that, my self-hatred and loathing increased, and so did my depression. I attempted suicide. My restriction got worse.
When I was 17, I worked at a summer camp. The other staff quickly noticed I wasn’t eating meals and confronted me. I panicked. I decided that if I had to eat while I worked there, I would have to throw up my food. Then, on my birthday, the staff went out for pizza. At first, I refused to eat, but after being pressured by the whole staff, I gave in, knowing I would purge as soon as I finished. And I did. I left the table immediately after eating and, on my 17th birthday, purged for the first time. That started me down the spiral of bulimia. For the next few years I still mostly restricted, but purged everything I ate.
When I was growing up, I had repeatedly seen my mom refrain from eating so us kids could eat because we didn’t have much food money and she didn’t know whether we’d be able to get food again before we got food stamps again. When I was 19 and in college, my parents were going through a really rough patch financially and food money was again scarce, so I did what I had seen my mom do, I didn’t eat so that others could. I didn’t want to eat anyway, and I felt noble and selfless for giving up my food so my little brothers and mom could eat. However, I couldn’t go long not eating at all. Before long my hair was falling out, I couldn’t focus at all on my classes or work, I couldn’t stay warm no matter how I bundled up, and I got really sick (probably the flu) and couldn’t recover. I went from being the president of the honor society at my college, working, and pulling straight A’s to having to withdraw from classes. Despite all this, I still didn’t know I had an eating disorder.
After what I felt like was completely failing at college, I took a semester off, then went to a new school in Tennessee. I thought a change of scenery would help me out. It didn’t. Instead, it was the first time spending an extended time away from my family and I grew depressed and my eating disorder took over. I started avoiding the cafeteria and spent my hours studying in the exercise room. I avoided my peers too, because I felt too fat to be around people. My migraines, that had developed when I was 15, grew worse and worse until I could hardly function. I only lasted one semester before I came home to Colorado.
After returning to Colorado, my eating disorder changed and morphed into more of a true bulimia. I began to binge and purge instead of restrict and purge, with periods of restriction and intermittent fasting. I was able to “maintain” my eating disorder for a few years this way. Then, when I was 22, I came across an article online about eating disorders and that’s when I learned that I probably had one myself. I started to research eating disorders and found a message board for people with eating disorders. I befriended a woman on the message board who was in treatment and encouraged me to seek treatment too. She lived in Utah and was doing treatment through a program there. She offered to let me stay with her so I could afford to pay for outpatient treatment at the program where she was going.
I moved to Utah and started treatment for the first time at age 23. However, the situation wasn’t healthy. The woman I was staying with and I both had active eating disorders and got into an unspoken competition with the other over who could be sicker. We hindered each other’s recovery, and both ended up more sick over time. I lost a lot of weight while I was in Utah “trying to recover” but also trying to get sicker, and again my hair started to fall out and I began to get physically ill. My depression worsened and I attempted suicide. While I was in the hospital, the woman threw all my stuff out on the front lawn and told me not to come back. My dad drove to Utah to pick me up from the hospital and get my stuff. When my mom saw me after I returned, she told me I looked like a holocaust survivor. My sick mind took that as a compliment.
While I had dated on and off consistently, when I was 25 I entered my first long-term relationship, a relationship that would last 5 years. In this relationship I felt, for the first time, truly loved and cared for. Seen without judgment.
For the next few years I spent most of my time trying to manage my depression and my eating disorder. Finally, I felt I couldn’t handle it anymore, and when I was 26, I spent 8 months in a residential facility in California. After my stay, I finally felt like I was in an ok place in my life. I felt hopeful for the first time. I thought I was “recovered” from my eating disorder. I still suffered with body image, but I was eating “normally” and my family and friends all complimented me on my recovery.
Then, the next year, my sister died. Suddenly and out of nowhere. We had been very close and I didn’t know how to handle her death. So, I went back to binging like when I was bulimic, but I wouldn’t let myself purge because I was “recovered”. I gained a lot of weight in the year after her death.
At age 28, a year to the day after my sister died, I started purging again. I couldn’t handle the anniversary of her death and I couldn’t handle my new body and the two combined caused me to relapse into full-blown bulimia. At 29 I realized I had let people down by “failing” in recovery, so I went into treatment, but my heart wasn’t in it. I was still too wrapped up in the pain and too wrapped up in using my bulimia to cover that pain that I couldn’t give it up.
At age 30, I had a miscarriage. It devastated me. I blamed myself. I felt like I had spent my whole life trying to destroy my body and I had finally succeeded in the worst possible way.
I think the foundation of my eating disorder has been just that, trying to destroy myself, trying to rid myself of this body that I hate so much. So many times I have wished I could just crawl out of it. That I wasn’t stuck inside of it.