Nine years in the thick of bulimia. That is over one third of my life to date. And you don't want the gory details. Or do you?
Things got messy when I went to BYU. Stealing food from my full-time working parents in a family setting went, for the most part, unnoticed. Starving college students notice when one piece of lunch meat is missing. I stole from my roommates constantly and shamelessly. I would drink their milk from the carton, eat their ice cream out of the tub, shove their pop tarts and candy bars in my backpack as I left for class, sneak into their rooms and steal away their chocolates to the bathroom, paw leftover pasta-roni out of the tupperwear with my bare hands late at night. I burned bridges and lost the trust of many good friends. I was able to regain some. They each tried the best they knew how to help.
I didn't work at a job that I didn't steal food from. In 2 out of 4 of them, I ended up confessing to my employers and leaving the jobs. These things usually caught up with me. Even in my deceit, sometimes I couldn't help but to come clean. When I worked at McDonalds in Ireland for a summer (what a delightful and adventurous story that was! I wish I was telling that one), I would sneak double cheeseburgers into my apron pockets and eat them in the toilet stalls, stuffing the wrappers into the little waste bins where women deposited tampon wrappers and used pads. I would return five minutes later to vomit.
* * *
I went to the hospital in 9th grade. My mother thought I had mono (I was so tired all of the time) so I went in for a blood test. That very week, some girls had ratted me out to the Tennis Coach. Mrs. Smith came into classroom in the middle of the day to bring me to a small room where my mother and the school counselor were waiting.
"Dana," she started as we walked down the hall of blue lockers, "Your mother is here. Your friends are concerned about your eating disorder."
I began sobbing. My mother knew. The blood tests were back that very day. I had deadly low levels of potassium and electrolytes. I was bulimic, dangerously so, and there was no hiding it.
I went to the hospital where I spent the night with an IV in my wrist and had my blood drawn every three hours. Well-meaning friends visited me with balloons and chocolates the next day that I would throw up only two days later.
I told my mother I would stop throwing up. And I did. Seven years later.
There are a few things worth noting about this time in my life.
First off, this was my absolute skinniest. I spent all day throwing up. I almost died. I was as thin as my body was going to get before I destroyed her. I was a size 6. MAYBE a 4. That is not THAT small. 6 is mentioned often as a "reasonable" "goal size" for women. I nearly killed myself to get there, and I was never even there. Wherever there was. Healthy for my body never did and never will equal a size zero, or even a size 6 or 8.
After the hospital, something happened to my body. She didn't want to die. She wanted to live, contrary to my choices. So she adapted. From that point on, and slowly over the next seven years, I would steadily gain weight. Bulimia stopped working as a means of weight loss. But by that point, bulimia was so, so very much more to me than a weight loss method.
I want to share some significant experiences from this time.
* * *
My siblings knew (along with most of my home town--my mom can't keep a secret to save her or anyone else's life.) But it was something they only knew of, and never witnessed for themselves. Except for once.
Growing up, I had my own bathroom in its own corner of our house. It was isolated, and quite freezing in the winter months. 5,000 square feet being heated by a wood stove, I remember blow drying the toilet seat on January mornings before sitting down to pee.
I would vomit freely in my toilet, assuming I could always hear if anyone were coming. One afternoon I was throwing up when suddenly there was someone right outside my door. Terrified I quickly pulled my pants down and sat, feigning using the restroom. Little Monika (all of seven years old) came to the doorway with tears in her eyes.
"Dana. What are you doing?"
"What are you talking about?"
"I heard you. You're throwing up. Why are you doing this?"
I just sat there and cried with her, whispering "I'm so sorry, Monika. I'm so so sorry."
* * *
Please don't take advantage of the piece of information I'm going to share next. I absolutely cannot lie right when I wake up in the morning. It just isn't possible. My mom found this out quickly and when she wanted to get an honest answer about my eating disorder, she would wake me up at 5:00 a.m. and ask me if I was still purging. She always got her answer.
Usually she would get angry at me, but once when I was visiting from college, she just started crying.
"Why are you crying, mom?"
"Oh Dana. If I had known my problems would become your problems..."
What did she mean? My mother had never had an eating disorder. Then I understood. She hated her own body, and that was where it started. That is what she taught in spite of her efforts to empower and affirm me verbally. Her self-loathing spoke louder than her compliments.
* * *
Freshman year, I lived with a great group of women (one who remains one of my best friends to this day) who tried so hard to support and help me. One night, near the end of the year, I remember going through Jessica's cupboard and binging on her food. She came into the kitchen and there I was. I quickly mumbled some lie about looking for some spice, but it was a bad lie and I was caught. She got some water and wished me a good night. An hour later I was doing the same thing when she came back again. Hand in the cookie jar. Really? Twice in one night?
"Jessica...I'm...I'm sorry." She just smiled with so much kindness and forgiveness.
"Come on, Dana." She said, putting her arm around my shoulder and walking with me out of the kitchen. "Let's go to bed."
* * *
"I know! I get it, okay?" I practically screamed through frustrated tears and smeared mascara--a familiar sight. "It's dumb, and it's dangerous, and I'm hurting myself. I might lose my voice, my teeth, my ability to have children, my very life. And I still do it. I'm just a mess. A hopeless mess."
"Oh Dana." Casey said, so calm. "You will live to see your days fulfilled, my dear. This is not you."
"I want to stop, Casey. I want to stop so much it's making me crazy."
"Of course you do!" he said in nothing but sincerity. "You just, at this current time, want to keep throwing up more than you want to stop. But you'll see, Dana Rose. One day your desire to stop will be stronger than your desire to hold on to this. That is the day you will stop."
* * *
The first five years were rough emotionally, but nothing compared to the last four. Why? Because I wanted to stop the last four. So many priesthood blessings received, so much help from so many people, so many counseling appointments, so many moments of hope and power. So WHY THE HELL COULDN'T I STOP? For four years I wanted to stop. Why couldn't I make it go away? It became pure insanity at times.
"I just...I could just give up. What hope do I ever have of stopping? After all this? After all the help I've been given."
"Dana," said my wise district president (and home teacher) in Limerick, Ireland. "You are close. Just don't give up."
"I feel like a hypocrite even trying." I said through the tell-tale tears of frustration and despair.
"And that is okay! You are addicted, Dana. It takes time. So FEEL like a hypocrite for a while. When you throw up, pray right there and then. And ask for help. And forgive yourself. And try again. And you'll throw up again. And pray for strength again. You aren't strong enough yet. But you are getting stronger. Don't give up, Dana. This will not be in you forever. I can feel it. Can't you feel it?"
I could feel it. And he was right. I would know it that very fall.