|Lori's Story||Anorexia Nervosa|
My older sister has said my battle with anorexia began when I was around three years of age. I will be 42 on October 7, which at the time of this writing is tomorrow. I am honest to say that my struggle with myself continues to this day. My sister's memory of me at the tender age of three is one of me sitting at the dinner table long after the rest of the family. My mother would set and reset a kitchen timer imploring me to finish my dinner. It was a test of wills. A desire to have some say so in my chaotic world with a mother who was emotionally unable to give to me and her desire to control her own environment, which of course included her children.
I became aware of my seemingly odd relationship with food when I was in grade school. I can remember being the Houdini of food even then. Often tossing my lunch or dinner over the fence into the neighbor's yard. I do not recall whether or not they had a dog.......but as long as the food disappeared from my immediate surroundings I felt better. At school I would stuff my lunch into milk cartons and napkins and then toss it into the garbage. There was no connection to weight or weight loss for me here. And certainly no awareness of a problem
I recall becoming quite ill in 9th grade with the flu and bronchitis. The family doctor demanded that I stay home from school until I was completely well. During this illness my mother had me living on the couch in the living room. I got more attention and nurturing than I can recall ever receiving before. There was something seductive about this newly viewed piece of my mother for me. I was used to her being removed and vacant. I was used to her demanding perfection and yelling of us. By the end of this bout with the flu, my weight had plummeted to the number of pounds I had carried four years earlier when I was in 5th grade. The doctor instructed my mother to feed me whatever I wanted and to try to push cookies, milkshakes and other treats on me between meals. Although it was clear that I should weigh more, it was unclear what was truly evolving into my way of life.
By high school I became mindful of a connection between food and my need for control. I was not preoccupied with my weight........but I felt safer when I realized that eating was something I could monitor, adjust, challenge myself with. I felt powerful over my own life. I had a secret that I need not share with anyone. This was something I could call my own and protect from outsiders. No one seemed to notice what I was doing. My size or food intake was never discussed. I had always enjoyed being active, but began to find new kinds of exercise. Perhaps in an effort to keep my mind busy and continue to experiment with my existence in this world. During this period of my life, my mother became increasingly removed from us........yet more demanding at the same time. I will not reveal her actions over these times, as I respect her right to privacy. I will say that even if there had been an awareness of eating disorders in the early to mid 1970's, it is doubtful that she would have noticed.
I moved out of the family home at the age of seventeen after graduation from high school. I had been a hyper responsible child. This pattern continued into my adult life. I was determined to never have to rely on others. It seemed that this was not something I could do with my mother in many ways.......I believed it would be the same with the rest of the world. My move out into an apartment with an older coworker of mine required adjustments in my eating disorder. A whole new set of challenges that I would need to meet. My food intake became even more erratic and I found myself joining a local swimming pool and visiting it nearly every night after work. I would swim until I was exhausted. There were other living situations and roommates beyond this. Each one brought change and fear and new goals to survive. Still no word to put to this demon in my pocket.
I married when I was just twenty years old. In hindsight when I look over the young adult years of my life, I understand that I followed what society expected of me. Be responsible, work, get married, have children. It seems I was unaware that there might be something else I could do. I had a child when I was barely 23 years old. I still worked fulltime. Continuing to be a perfectionist and putting outrageous expectations on myself. When I had my first son I weighed 114 pounds. Three days after his birth when I left the hospital I was already down to my pre-pregnancy weight of 101. I was deeply committed to this process. Medical professionals, family, friends did not express concern about my size. Even more frightening in hindsight........I had absolutely no concern myself. The months and years ahead proved to be a rocky time in my personal life. I went through a divorce and became a single working parent. I was bound and determined to make it. Within three years I married again. At present I understand for all the wrong reasons. I had a second son at the age of 27. This marriage turned sour and abusive. My husband was controlling and demanding and very loud in his demands. I continued to work fulltime, take care of my sons, and try to please this man who could not be pleased. It was much like my relationship with my mother. I found myself withdrawing into my anorexic world. Attempting to have more control over myself than he did. Focusing on my children, my job, and my starvation. I left this relationship with my sons when I was 30.
On my own again. The freedom to eat nothing and not be noticed. The freedom to exercise as much as I could without falling over. This was intoxicating and fueled me to continue my quest for perfection. I slept less, smoked more, worked more and utilized these distractions to carry me further into my disease and away from others. I had plenty of friends and people around me. At this time some of them began expressing their concerns about my little body. I felt untouchable, unreachable. I could hear their words coming out of their mouths. But they could not penetrate my resolve or enter this web of safety and survival that I had spun around myself. My soul began screaming at me.......warning me that someday I might just crash. I was splitting in two. One side strong and resolved to never change a thing. The other side small and often not present wanting this mess untangled and the truth to be told. In the moments that this smaller side made itself heard, the powerful demon would remind me that I knew no other way anymore. A break in my resolve, a change in my way of life was a frightening prospect. Each time I thought about it I was petrified. Frozen. I began trying to view myself as I really was. Seating myself in the same chair every night in my little dining room, I would slowly begin the process of peeling myself like an onion. Taking away the thick skin carefully and slowly. Stopping when it became too much. Although I was learning to be honest with myself, I was not ready to do this with other people. This was not out of a feeling of shame. But because I was not willing to relinquish or reveal my control. There were a few things that I stumbled upon in my search of self that proved to be words I revisit even now. "Would I treat a friend the way that I treat myself"? The answer to that was easy. I am a kind and caring person. Genuine. But it seemed impossible to care for myself. "I am so in control that I am out of control". I was falling fast, hitting bottom. At the same time I was allowing myself some insight and the notion or dream that I might find a way to loosen the grip of the demon. Currently it is understood that there were many things that kept me from taking my first step away from anorexia. I had come to identify myself in my own mind as "Lori the anorexic". I was the anorexic mother, the anorexic friend, the anorexic daughter, the anorexic employee. If I tried to break away from this wouldn't I lose myself completely? Wouldn't I have to completely reinvent myself? To change everything so I could be "well"? I saw my eating disorder (and still do to a large extent) as my childhood friend, my strength at that time, and the vehicle that allowed me to survive. As much as I hated the hold it had on me I could not imagine erasing it. To do this would be equivalent with erasing myself. I imagined myself as a small child on a merry-go-round at the park. Someone's parent spinning us all around faster and faster until we could not recognize our surroundings and felt off balance and sick to our stomachs. Wanting to get off, wanting to jump......but where was the safe place to take that leap? Everything looked so blurry when you spun so fast. I began to have periods of isolating myself after work. Being available only to my children and those people that I felt some safety with. Looking back I wonder if I felt that my skin was becoming translucent with my continuing self examination. Having others around may have been too risky.
When I was 34, I suddenly found myself approaching the office of my supervisor at work. I don't know why I chose her to deliver my truth and plea for help to. The words tumbled out of my mouth and into that room with me having no plan or intentions to do so on my walk over to her office. "I have an eating disorder. I am anorexic. I need help". Powerful words.........
I proceeded in a dreamlike state over the next week to make arrangements to enter a treatment program. My insurance would not cover this as they do not recognize an eating disorder as a disease, but a willpower issue. JUST PICK UP THE DAMN FORK AND HAVE A LITTLE BITE SISTER. I scrambled for financing and childcare and ended up having to work my way into an outpatient program that normally did not take anorexics just entering treatment. They were thought to be too ill and a medical risk. It was preferable that anorexics enter a month long inpatient program that could treat and monitor them medically until they were deemed stable. I fought and kicked and bullshit my way thru this program. I was angry and rebellious and hardheaded. I felt singled out as the anorexic in this group of nine. We were all competetive with one another. Those of us with eating disorders know the power that has over us. We each exposed our arrogance and selfish behavior. One night I felt attacked by a couple of the other women in the group. They were angry that I was so thin. They told me they were jealous that I was anorexic. I felt judged and as if they wanted me to convince them of my need for treatment. I ran away from the group and hung around in different areas of the hospital convinced that they would be concerned about me and begin to search for this little, fragile girl that they had been so cruel to. The end of group time came and went and it appeared they had continued on without me. I was shocked and furious. I waited over the next several days believing that the therapist who led the group would certainly be worried and try to check up on me. This never happened. I went back the next week.....angry and humbled. I got my "graduation coin" with the rest of the group and tried to go on with my life knowing full well that these few weeks of treatment had little effect on me. I was scared but attempted to talk the talk. I had no clue how to even take one step towards walking the walk.
Over the next few years I struggled more in some ways than I ever had. My desire to know myself and face my demons would resurface many times. I would hit bottom again and again. I no longer tried to hide my anorexia. The freedom to be honest about this piece of me took a tremendous amount of pressure off of me. I did not need to put so much time and effort into secrecy. I was willing to talk about my fight. To tell my story with much more understanding and clarity than I had experienced before. I accepted that there were probably few people that could truly connect with what I had to say. I concluded that there is no one reason that we end up this way.......and that there is not a single method or treatment to chase it away. I embraced the idea that I am indeed an addict.....not just someone with an addiction. I choose not to use the word recovery for myself. As I believe that recovery is an absolute and sends a message that it is all or nothing. It would seem to me that this is exactly the tape I am trying to erase in my life. That living in extremes, in the concrete and small spaces of black and white is far too easy, safe, and tempting for me. I took that leap of faith off the merry-go-round five years ago. That jump into the larger and less well defined gray area that has been so foreign in my life. I am Lori, the mother, the friend, the daughter, the employee, the anorexic. I am Lori who lives in honesty and reality, still longs to be heard and understood and respected. I am Lori who is strong and loyal. I am Lori who sees so easily beyond myself. I am Lori who loves to laugh and make others laugh. I am Lori who loves balance and baseball and loud music. I am Lori the rebel, the unique, and the beautiful. I am Lori. I AM ANOREXIC.