The Road to Recovery; the Very Beginning

I tried my whole life to get over my eating disorder. I read every book or article published about recovery from compulsive eating, anorexia and bulimia. I tried every diet ever invented, went to Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, behavior modification specialists, intuitive eating classes and even a hypnotist. Nothing worked. Nothing.

In my late 30s, while my mom was very sick and dying, my disease peaked. I lived in New York City at the time, and every night after leaving her house I’d run through the streets, from bodega to bodega buying donuts, ice cream, cupcakes, bagels, cookies, loaves of bread, frozen pizzas, anything. As I ran, I’d eat from the bags, shoving food into my mouth. I’d head into each market, eating, with crumbs smeared all over my face. I had no shame; I had to keep eating.

Once home, I’d eat until I could barely move and hardly breathe. When I couldn’t shove even one more bite down my throat, I’d head to the toilet and puke for the rest of the night, praying that I’d throw up enough to stay thin. When I couldn’t vomit anymore, I’d take a handful of laxatives and crawl to bed.

As my mother’s health deteriorated, so did mine. Night bingeing and purging became all-day activities. That was my existence – binge, purge, binge, purge, binge… Miserable.

After my mom died, my life fell further apart. Overwhelmed with grief, I left my job in NYC and moved in with my brother. Using some of my inheritance, I took time off and hung out on my brother’s couch (I don’t think he and his wife were thrilled, but they were kind), and continued my ritual of bingeing and purging.

My stomach, naturally, was always unsettled and acidic and achy, but soon after my mom died, I developed a really bad ulcer. Vomiting and laxative abuse became excruciating. Eventually, I couldn’t do either – it just hurt too much.

For the first time in decades I wasn’t purging. I also wasn’t working. At 40, I was living with my brother in New Jersey. I didn’t have friends in New Jersey or any kind of social life. I’d move from the couch to the bed and back again.

Everything was new, including some real weight gain. When I stopped purging, it seemed like my body didn’t know what to do. I kept binging for a while, but without purging, it felt too terrifying. I’d lost 80 pounds twice in my life, and I refused to gain them all back again. Also, I’d liked purging – it felt like the weight of the world left my body. Binging seemed less interesting and rewarding without it.

However, I had NO idea what or how to eat. For so long, I’d only starved OR binged – nothing in between. Eventually, I began eating three solid meals a day, and stopped gaining weight. I didn’t lose, but I did stabilize. Also, I drank pretty heavily (stories for another post), so I’m sure that added to the calorie count.

After a whole year of not working, I began working for my brother. It was convenient, not too taxing AND good to be with family. I could feel myself beginning to heal.

At my brother’s office, I made my first New Jersey friend and began having some fun. She and I laughed constantly. More healing.

One day, I met a nice man who took me on nice dates. He introduced me to his lovely friends and included me in his family gatherings. He was kind and comforting, and I fell in love.

With the excitement of new love, without trying, I lost some weight. We traveled and played and talked, and I didn’t care about food. And I lost a little more weight.

Soon, I was verging on thin and the call of the scale kicked in. I was off to the races again, obsessed with a number and getting it smaller. My life, once again, revolved solely around weight and food. Once again, I was fainting from hunger and destroying happiness – mine and those around me.

Blessedly, change and freedom were around the corner. Next post, the journey to well, once and for all

When I am Old. And Fat

I’ve always loved the poem below. I’ve read it many times and each time, assumed it was about allowing ourselves to get fat and to wear bright colored MuMus when we are older. Seriously. I just read a critique that says it’s about letting ourselves have fun and be silly and break the rules. Who knew? My mindset was all about and only about being thin. What do you make of this poem?

When I am an Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple by Jenny Joseph

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go and doesn’t suit me,
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals and say we’ve no money for butter
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick the flowers in other people’s gardens
And learn to spit.
You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausage at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.
But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not sweat in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We will have friends to dinner and read the papers.
But maybe I ought to practise a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised,
When suddenly I am old and start to wear purple.

A Healthy Movie

It’s been well over a decade since I last took myself to a movie. Today, I did, and I had a whole new experience.

Years ago, when I lived in NYC, I went to movies by myself all the time – between work and meeting a friend, during the day on the weekends and even after leaving a bar at night when not wanting to go home alone.

What I remember about those times, is not the movies – what I remember is my eating disorder.

Often, I’d go to a movie instead of eating. My daily quest was to eat as little as possible – keeping myself busy helped keep me away from food. I’d go to a movie and allow myself two tootsie roll lollipops and the biggest jug of diet soda I could buy. Usually, that was the only sustenance I’d have allowed myself all day.

Sometimes, I’d get so weak from hunger during the movie that I’d rush out to the lobby and buy a candy bar, then allow myself a couple of squares of chocolate, drink more diet soda and chew a lot of sugar free gum. Once, during “Godfather 3”, I passed out from hunger, but did wake up in time to watch Al Pacino die. I passed out kind of regularly back then. One time, I took down a perfume display at Macy’s. After that, I allowed myself a whole half of a tuna sandwich and felt miserably guilty for days – and not about breaking a bunch of bottles of Chanel #5

During my laxative years, I missed a lot of each movie because I’d desperately need to run to the bathroom to shit out the multitudes of Correctols I’d taken the night before. I’d return to my seat exhausted and queasy, but delighted to feel lighter and hopefully, thinner.

In the bulimic years – I’d throw up all night, starve all day and binge all evening – I didn’t and couldn’t focus on the movies. I only thought about food, all day, every day. Years later, I’d watch the same movies again and not remember anything about them.

Today at the movies, I didn’t have anything with me – not even a water or a stick of gum. I watched the movie and remember every minute. To the average person, that sounds perfectly normal. To me, it’s glorious.

Growing Bigger/Growing Up

My gaining weight seems to have something to do with growing up. I now have a real adult body.

For many years, I wanted a boyish look – no hips, thighs or boobs. As an anorexic in my late 20s, I didn’t get my period for several years – my body looked childlike and weak. And I liked it that way.

Always, I acted like a child. I never saved money or developed a career or built an intimate relationship or really learned, in anyway, how to truly take care of myself. Mostly, i focused on dieting and then drugs and alcohol – anything to avoid reality and responsibility.

But I’m not a child anymore, and I’m finally ready to accept adulthood and all that comes with it. Including the thighs.

A Shlumpy Thank you to MTM

The loss of Mary Tyler Moore goes deep. I loved her show with all my heart when it first ran, every Saturday night at 9. Years later, my best friend, Frank, and I watched all the repeats together over and over and over, laughing all the way.

Of course I loved Mary – who didn’t? But I didn’t relate to her. Mary was perfect, popular, pretty, poised and, of course, thin. But her show allowed the oddballs around her to flourish while being themselves. I, knowing myself to be a giant oddball, felt at home with her friends, particularly Rhoda – chubby, loud, sometimes grumpy, often sarcastic, Jewish Rhoda. Me.

As time passed Rhoda got skinny and glamorous. I was heartbroken, no longer able to relate to her. I also discovered that the actress who played Rhoda, Valerie Harper, was a naturally beautiful woman, made to look frumpy. NOT me.

Eventually Rhoda landed her own show and a hunky husband. She and I no longer had anything in common.

Then came Rhoda’s sister, Brenda – shlumpy, nasal, Brenda. I LOVED that character. And the actress who played her, Julie Kavner – when you took off HER make-up, she still looked like Brenda. Each week, I waited to spend a half hour with Brenda – no one anywhere reminded me more of me. Perhaps I wasn’t alone in this world.

The show’s cancelation devastated me. Where would I ever find another Brenda Morganstern?

Thank you Mary Tyler Moore for bringing Rhoda and Brenda to a very lonely, shlumpy, sarcastic Jewish girl. May you rest in peace.

Calling Out/In Sick

I have always babied myself. If I felt a wee bit sick or “off”, I’d skip work, cancel plans or renege on commitments. It didn’t matter who was counting on me, I came first. I pushed myself to do…nothing.

These days, I want to show up for people and events. It’s absolutely the right thing to do. But now, I don’t know when or where to draw the line and say, “I need to cancel and stay home”. I’m so used to historically putting myself first – I don’t know when it’s actually appropriate to do so.

Today, I’m feeling pretty crappy. I made it to work, but that’s about all I’ve got. Work is my priority – if humanly possible, I get myself there no matter what’s going on.
Tonight, I have a few friends going to a function because I was planning to go. They can manage on their own, but for a couple of reasons, it would be better if I went too. I feel responsible. And yet, I feel like poop and cannot picture sitting through a function and getting home late. It wouldn’t be an option to leave early.

What do other people do? How far do you push?

Hunger and Tired

Over many years, I’ve learned to eat when I’m hungry and to stop when satisfied. I am also pretty clear about portions and nearly never eat more than I need.

However, that can fly out the window when I’m truly exhausted, as I am today. It becomes difficult to differentiate a churning tired belly from a churning hungry one. Perhaps my body thinks food will provide energy, when what it really needs is rest. (Which I can get later. Hooray.)

Until I can rest, I do stick to more of a food plan. I will pre-plan breakfast, lunch and dinner and remind myself of the plan when the churning starts calling at odd times during the day. In this way, I don’t worry about overeating and never obsess.

However, until I can rest, I will obsess about sleep! 🙂

Body Con with Men

My friend Jen has gained 35 pounds, and she’s miserable. She hates the way her body looks and is embarrassed by her extra weight.

I asked her if her husband Joe cares that she’s gained weight and she said, “Yes, I think he does.”

Two thoughts immmediately ran through my head. The first was, “what a jerk Joe is. Jen is a fantastic woman, and he’s friggin’ lucky to have her. How dare he care what she weighs.” I was also a little surprised because Joe adores Jen and has since the day they met in junior high school. He waited patiently for her to date a lot of other guys until she finally realized that he, the nice guy, was the right guy.

My second thought said, “See, see, see! Even the best guys, like Joe, want their women thin. No guy will want you, Melissa, if you’ve gained weight. Just like you always thought, you have to be thin to get a man.”

(This second thought ignored the fact that my last three boyfriends preferred me with more weight and expressed the most passion when I looked curvier. Once, when I got down to MY ideal weight, my then boyfriend looked at me with a grimace, and said, “what have you done to yourself? Why would you want to look like this. Please gain some weight.” That being said, i never believed a one of them. Men want skinny women – THAT’S what i believed. And here’s Joe, validating that very fact.)

“So”, I said to Jen, “Joe told you that he’s unhappy with your weight?”

“Oh no,” she replied. “But when I’m this heavy, I don’t want him to see me naked, and he really misses that.”

“Wait, Jen. You’re saying that the only reason Joe wishes you lost weight is so that YOU felt sexier. He doesn’t care what you weigh; he just wants you to be comfortable running around naked?”

“Right”.

Oh.

Body Confidence

Now that I’m feeling comfortable in my new plumpier body, I still need to learn to like how I look at this weight.

The comfort I just mentioned comes from feeling at home with this size, clearly it’s a more natural version of me and where I’m supposed to be. Ten pounds less, and I felt like an imposter. I knew deep down within that I was never meant to be sylphlike.

But that doesn’t mean I like how I look yet. When I stand in front of the mirror, I see frumpy and dumpy. Matronly breasts, thickening waist, bulgy tummy and popping thighs. Yet, I’m happy with my eating and unwilling to eat less, AND I am determined to learn to accept and like this new frame.

What can I do? First, I need to get new bras!!!! I have always hated my big saggy breasts, and my favorite part of being really thin was that they were a lot smaller. Bras didn’t dig into me and leave huge mean red marks on my shoulders. Oh well. Now they’re popping out top, bottom, center and side. I am going on a mission to find bras that have good fit and coverage. If they have to be a DD, so be it.

And I can, for the first time EVER, introduce exercise into my life. Not to lose weight, but to tone and strengthen what’s currently here. If I get strong and healthy, I sense I will feel better about my body. I can’t know for sure, of course, because I’ve never tried this avenue before. I am lazy and uncoordinated and ashamed of both, but off I go……it’s time to show up for my body and to take better care of it.

I have to learn to honor this body that has taken so much abuse from me — shoveling food compulsively for decades, then starving until it was too weak to move, vomiting violently, abusing laxatives until it can longer function properly…

How can I not honor this body? How can I yell at it for growing and changing when it’s just trying to be itself? I won’t accept that for my body or from myself.

This is who I am, and it’s just fine.