There is one last Colorado story I plan to tell, and it’s one that I’ve been holding close and quiet, because the time wasn’t right to tell it. That is no longer the case.
In this life, at least, like attracts like. I won’t say that most, or half, or even many of my friends have an extraordinary event in their past that affects their adult lives, but some of them do. For those who do, though, the friendship is subtly different; a different level of protection and guardianship than what is found among those who don’t understand.Sometimes, you don’t even have to know what the event was to recognize the effects. Our hobo language of survival isn’t always visible to the rest of the world, but once you learn it, you know what to look for. The presence - or absence - of particular words. The inability to joke about a particular subject. A subtly self-destructive pattern of behavior.
It was too cold in Colorado to leave the house much, which left us many, many hours to hole up in the basement and talk. After a while, it became difficult to come up with another banal, mindlessly funny subject, and what ended up being said was truth in its most painful, ugly form.
Chris’ side of our conversation is his to tell; I do not have permission to give it. A little of it is available on his site for public consumption, but the full scope of his story, like mine, is rarely acknowledged.
The biggest Colorado story of all is that on a very cold January day, in a basement in a city that I barely know, I hugged a pillow to my chest and said words that burn every time they come out of my mouth.
“I had an eating disorder for eight years.”
In return, I got something that I never dreamed I’d get. Acceptance. Not a flinch, not a raised eyebrow, just quiet questions about when and where and how. How did it start? Did anyone know? Did I seek counseling? Is it still active today?
I was dumbfounded. I’ve learned the hard way in this lifetime that we often pretend acceptance to things we don’t understand or can’t accept. It’s the socially-acceptable alternative to blurting out what we really want to say, which is, “What the fuck?”
It was one of the most liberating moments I can remember in my adult life. I whispered my worst and nobody ran scared. I wanted to scream, to dance, to hug and shout and be grateful and cry, all at once. The words may be acid, but the burn on the way out was nothing in comparison to holding them in all these years.
* * * * *
I developed an eating disorder when I was thirteen. I’m hesitant to explain exactly why, but the best way to explain it without going into excruciatingly unimportant detail is to use the phrase “academic pressure” and leave it at that. There was a great deal of pressure in my family for me to excel academically, and I was determined to meet every demand - exceed them, even. It didn’t matter how. I would find a way.
What developed was a vicious cycle. More accomplishments meant more demands, which meant I was even more determined to meet and exceed them, which led to an ever-escalating cycle of goals and accomplishments. Such cycles continue until something breaks, and that something was me.
It’s difficult to remember exactly when I realized that I had a problem, but I would be tempted to point to my junior year of high school. I know that by my senior year of high school, I was fully aware of the extent of my problem, but I chose not to ask for help. It was my crutch. I was, in every other way, the perfect, dutiful daughter of academic excellence, and this secret, utter failing allowed me to stay - human, somehow. I could manage perfection in every other thing, but I rationalized this as ‘my price.’
I first sought counseling my freshman year of college, after I realized that my behavior was becoming increasingly self-destructive. I walked out after one session and never came back. I never told my roommate, who probably would have done the sane thing: bolted me to the chair in the counselor’s office until I got the help I needed.
Three years passed.
In many ways, Jeff was the right person at the right time. He was the one that pushed me into seeking counseling during my senior year of college. By that point, it was evident - at least to him - that I wouldn’t be able to continue on my current course much longer without help.
He was right.
* * * * *
I came out of counseling on pins and needles, on legs of my own that I hadn’t walked on in eight years. Was it possible to function in life without the crutch that I’d come to depend on so much? After eight years, was it really possible to change eating behaviors?
It’s been five years since then. I’ve learned a few of my answers since then. Yes, I could learn to stand on my own. Yes, it really is possible to change eating behaviors…but no, you are never ‘cured.’
Misty said it best the other day when she was describing her friend’s struggle with a similar problem: “Alcoholics can give up alcohol entirely. They can never take another drink, and never enter another liquor store. But people with eating disorders can’t give up food. They have to face it every day for the rest of their lives.”
* * * * *
The last flight home found me in the left-hand window seat, with my head resting against the wall and my eyes staring out at the city lights below. As we flew away from O’Hare, I watched the gridded lights of Chicago recede into an angel quilt of light and shadow and I asked myself, “Why not?”
“There’s a gym right down the road from me. Maybe a mile from the house. Why not?”
The thoughts didn’t leave me. I touched down. I picked up my bag, met Jeff, hugged and kissed, was driven home, and still the thought pounded through my head. Why not? Why not? Why not? If one friend could hear this story and not run screaming, I could tell others. I could tell a trainer.
This past Tuesday, that’s what I did. I screwed up my courage, drove a mile down the road, walked into a building I’d been staring at for a year but had been too afraid to enter, and bought a membership. I asked for an appointment with a trainer…
…and I told her the whole story. No curlicues, no drama, just the bare facts and how they were likely to affect my attempts to get back in shape. She took a night to think about it, and the next day, she gave me her plan: 5 sessions per week of cardio work, plus at least three sessions per week of weight training, with the option to move to more in a few weeks as my needs dictated.
* * * * *
I’ve held this knowledge close and secret for the past few days, gradually telling people as I was ready. I toyed with the idea of telling no one, but on the way home, I realized that ‘telling no one’ is the reason I lived with an eating disorder as long as I did. Then, as now, what I really needed was the support of those who cared about me.
Life doesn’t occur in a vacuum. It can’t. It mustn’t. I don’t want to be an object of sympathy or adoration, as I deserve neither. I am neither a charity case, nor someone to be applauded simply for doing something she should have done years ago.
I am trying to take the last step in healing: taking off the weight that I gained in those eight years. I’ve learned to control the behaviors, to forgive and accept the events that led to the instigation of those behaviors, and begun to accept that those who are in my life are there because they want to be. The last step is to erase the changes the eating disorder left on my body.
You don’t get ‘cured’ of an eating disorder. You survive it, and if you’re lucky, someday, you learn to forgive yourself for the damage you did.
Here goes nothing.
* * * * *
After my decision, Chris was one of the first few people I told. Perhaps he understands the scope of what he’s instigated, and perhaps he doesn’t. (More likely is that he’s going to call me and verbally wring my neck when he reads this entry. Luckily, he’s away, helping orchestrate Tromadance, which gives me some lead time.)
In my life, most of my friendships have been easy, quietly intense things; I am fiercely protective of those I care about, but rarely fight with them. Chris is a notable exception. We’ve never had an easy friendship, he and I; we fight and dramatize and pout like the worst of siblings, but in the process he’s gotten more honesty out of me in two years than many (including some blood relations) have gotten from me over the course of a lifetime.
I went to Colorado intending a week of movie-watching, talking, and drinking.
I came home with something unintended - purpose.
Now to see if I can stick with it.
This entry instigates a new category on cat.net - “weighty issues.” So I like my category titles with a touch of pun - shoot me already and put me out of my misery. I have yet to figure out how I’ll turn gym and exercise stories into the traditionally-snarky domesticat fodder, but I figure I’ve got to try. Now that my secret’s out, perhaps I’ll get back to writing.