|Geri's story||Anorexia/Bulimia||San Francisco, California|
I wouldn't say that I've eluded my neuroses, but they are much less self-destructive these days.
I think we all have identity/self-esteem issues, but we develop myriad forms of coping mechanisms.
Some more successful than others. (The insidious nature of my eating disorder was that in an
attempt to create some type of situation where I felt I had some power, comfort or control, I
was destroying myself.)
My dysfunction has gone through many evolutions. When I was 14, I developed anorexia nervosa. I weighed every morsel of food that went into my body, enjoying the precision of my control. Both my parents were hitting an alcoholic bottom during this period and I believe it was my way of gaining some type of control in an out of control environment. I also felt that if I could just look like the beautiful models in Seventeen magazine, I would be all right. I placed an inordinate sense of power in physical appearance, which isn't hard to do in this very visual culture. The strange thing was that my vision was extremely warped. When I reached my lowest weight of 89 pounds, it was impossible for me to see my pelvic bones protruding; I only saw an abdomen that was not perfect.
When my mother - who was very concerned - took me to the doctor, the doctor told me I would begin to eat into my heart muscle if I did not stop. This did make an impression on me and I began to eat again, but the underlying sense of being inadequate did not go away. At 15, I picked up my new coping tool - drugs and alcohol. Because my parents were in Alcoholics Anonymous at the time, and because I had gone to ALATEEN meetings I was very conscious of the signs of alcoholism. Soon after I started drinking and taking drugs, I took the test given by AA, which helps you see whether you have a drinking problem. I failed. I think I knew I was an alcoholic/drug addict from the start, but I continued using for 12 years.
I had always been an over achiever. I could never do enough. I was at the top of my class throughout school. I worked full-time while I went through college and when I finished college, I was once again at the top of my class. Because of these achievements, I was able to rationalize my substance abuse. It hadn't affected my life. I was achieving. But at 27, things didn't seem to be working so well on a personal level. I was developing a pattern of unhealthy relationships. I began going to AL-ANON, because my boyfriend at the time had a substance abuse problem. It didn't take me long to realize that I should be in the other room with the alcoholics and drug addicts.
When I quit alcohol and drugs, and became involved with AA, I acquired a lot of tools, especially in the area of communication and honesty. For the first time, I felt that I was on the way to becoming stronger in myself. One area that I wasn't able to be honest however, was with my eating disorder. I wasn't quite finished with that. Soon after I quit alcohol and drugs, I became bulimic. I was basically replacing one substance for another. This went on for about the first 4 years of my sobriety. I just wasn't ready to go it alone.
I was going to AA, working my program hard, opening up and developing new coping mechanisms. The last of the twelve steps directs one to go out into the community and do good works. This is what really enabled me to get beyond my substance abuse and eating disorders. I became very involved with AIDS activism and with a non-profit art space. I ended up leaving AA, because I was so involved with other community service. I replaced the fellowship of AA, with the other communities that I was becoming a part of through my volunteer work. These were communities which I felt more closely aligned with. The philosophy of the twelfth step is that we must immerse ourselves in the community, so that we can get outside ourselves.
I find that I need to constantly work for some kind of balance. There is a saying - 'balance, yes I swing by that once in a while'. During the early years of my political and social activism, I was involved in the extreme way that I tend to do things and became burnt out. Deciding it was time to do something for myself, I took off for Europe on my own. I backpacked all over the continent for a month. When I returned home, I felt very strong. For the first time, I began to feel that I could feel OK inside no matter what was going on around me. At this point I decided to go to grad school and successfully made it through in my usually overly zealous way. I am now juggling the many aspects of my life: job, art career, my relationship with my partner of six years, family, friends, and having fun. I've been sober for 9 years and haven't had an eating disorder episode in over 5. I think my neuroses manifest themselves now in overwork, but I am very aware of when I am going too far into it and use the many tools I've learned along the way to get out of myself, or whatever I'm becoming obsessive about, and move out into the many facets that make up a life.