Wednesday, June 20, 2012

ED Talks #5: the first time--by Dana

Hunched over the toilet in the girls bathroom at Jenkins Middle School, bottom floor, very southeast corner of the building, stall furthest from the door,  knee pads by my ankles.  7th grade, before my JV volleyball game.

How did it come to this?  

It should never have come to this.  

It was going to come to this.  

But you never would have guessed it--rewind just five years ago and anytime before.  

To say that I was a gregarious child would be a gross understatement.  I lived for human relationships further back than I can recall.  My parents kept a book where they sporadically wrote entries about my progress and development as an infant, toddler, and young child.  Entries like "Dana is a social baby, and enjoys the company of other babies immensely." or "Another mother came up to me and shared all that she's heard about Dana from her own child.  That Dana is magical."  I brought My Little Ponies, Amy Grant, and Foursquare to my world of peers.  Sure, I had my diva moments (like the time I was cast as the Inn Keeper's wife in our elementary school Christmas pageant.  She had like, two lines.  I was pissed.) But overall, I loved life and every last human in it, with great passion and fervour.  

As a military brat, saying goodbye to friends was never easy, but military kids are used to the turnover. We made new ones fast.  Friends would go (and this was ever-tragic to me), but new friends would always come--easily and swiftly.  

Until my dad got out of active duty.  

And then we moved to Chewelah.  A small town that received one new kid a year.  I was it.  

The summer before we drove a lot and I ate a lot of cheeseburgers and french fries at Denny's (or diners like unto it) in Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Oregon, and Washington.  I gained about 30 pounds that summer and zero inches in height.  But I didn't notice--I was smart, and lively, and funny, and made friends easily.  These things really mattered. 

And then we moved to Chewelah.  

I'll never forget the first day walking into Mr. Harting's 4th grade classroom.  It was November, I was nine years old, and I was late.  About nine years late.  Immediately I felt distance and coldness.  I heard whispering, saw whispering, and for the first time in my life, I couldn't stand right.  I couldn't breath or lean or look right.  I felt uncomfortable in my own skin.  It was all chillingly novel and certain.

I became depressed.  I gained more weight and wore baggy clothes.  I intentionally left my hair down and in my face all of the time (I still don't like wearing my hair back).  I began failing classes (I had just left and advanced placement class and scored incredibly well on the IQ tests they had my brother and I take in Texas only the summer before).  I would walk around the playground during lunch and recess kicking rocks and wishing I was in class.  Not so I could learn, but because my loneliness wasn't so painfully obvious back in our desks.  

A few girls took my pitiful self under their wings.  Felicia, Mollie, and Alyse would always encourage me to walk with them, but I would refuse, always about four or five steps behind them.  I would push them on the swings and they would offer me a turn, but the idea of anyone seeing me swing, my body free and moving, my face expressing joy and the assumption of friendship, was horrifying.  I couldn't risk it.  Don't ask me why these things were.  I don't understand.  They just were.  

I went on my first diet that year, before I turned ten.  A woman on Oprah lost weight by counting calories and was lauded for her success.  I counted calories for a few weeks, staying under 1,000 as best I could.  I lost weight but put it right back on.  Because I got hungry.  

In fifth grade I found a niche in community theatre and began to gain some confidence.  My grades went up and I found myself in elementary school academia and competitive over achievement (Kaleena!  My nemesis!).  I won a state-wide essay contest that year, and the next I beat Brittany (who was far more popular and a year older than I) out for middle school ASB Secretary because I wrote a good speech and perhaps the novelty of a pathetic 6th grader trumping a cool 7th grader.  I won.  But I was still fat.  Still chubby.  Brittany wasn't.  Brittany won.  

I would come home after school, after drama, and make myself five or six quesadillas and watch Gameshow Network.  I buried my sorrows in cheese and Match Game.  Weight was up and down, but I hovered around fat.  

Then something happened the summer after sixth grade.  My dad took me biking, and we began running together.  I grew six inches, and Mollie got me hooked on veggies.  I lost weight.  

And everything changed.  Because EVERYTHING changes when you lose weight.  And this makes me angrier than I can express today.  

Suddenly I had friends.  Suddenly I was funnier, and more people listened to the words I had to say.  I had a voice again.  Suddenly a few boys (not hordes mind you, but a few) began to look at me differently.  I got asked to dance at dances.  

Volleyball came early in the school year.  While I had grown to love long bike rides and runs with my father, any sport involving a ball and coordination was (and remains) foreign.  (Anyone who has witnessed my glowstick throwing skillz in Divine Comedy shows can attest.  It was borderline humiliating...even in a sketch comedy setting.) But I happily suited up and played JV games without any qualms.  

October.  I don't remember which day.  Huh.  I quit throwing up in October.  Nine years later.  Five years this fall of being clean.  Is this the same girl?  I think it is.  I have her memories at any rate.  Like this one.   

It was October and I had some time before the game.  Kristen gave me a bit of her spring roll with sweet and sour sauce.  It was processed and greasy and I wanted more.  I went to Safeway and got my fix, complete with an order of jojos.  I stuffed my face behind that grocery store like a man looks at porn in his closet.  In compulsion.  In secret.  In shame.  Not tasting or feeling, just consuming.  

The grease on my fingers whispered of the girl who had left me this last summer.  She was dead.  I KILLED FAT DANA.  And she was NOT coming back.  Not an option.  Because being thin meant attention from boys, and more friends.  Being thin meant people liked me.  In my mind, in that moment, being thin meant being loved.  And I couldn't risk it.  Gosh, it felt so good to have friends again.  It felt so good be heard.  What would I do without these human connections?  I would become what I was in fourth grade.  Miserable.  I was fat then too, wasn't I?  Fat must equal miserable.  

I walked out of the gym, through the halls, and towards the bathroom as the sound of sneakers squeaking on the gym floor grew dimmer.  

Making myself throw up would take little effort.  That little flap at the bottom of your esophagus?  (I never did learn what that was called.)  Mine doesn't close all the way, and hasn't since I was young.  Sometimes food, especially ice cream, would come back up after I ate anyways, and I'd just swallow it down.  To vomit, all it took was flexing my abdominal muscles in a certain way, with a certain force, while assuming a certain position.  I knew I could do it before I did it.   

A perfect storm.  

"Just this once.  Cover up this one mistake.  I'll get on track tomorrow.  I'll never do this again."  

I remember the fluorescent lights and pieces of spring roll and potato swirling in bile and ketchup.  

Some things just stick in your mind.  

The very next day I began what would be nine years of purging on a daily basis multiple (sometimes dozens of) times a day.  

It took me about a year to realize it was bulimia, and another year to call it that--when I ended up in a hospital with and IV pumping potassium and electrolytes into me.  Exposed.  I could admit it then.  

Did I mention that I'm a recovered bulimic?  I did, in this very entry.  Five years this fall.  But that's another story.  Stay tuned.

Part Two and Part Three


  1. Thank you so much for sharing this. I never battled bulimia, but there was so much I could relate to in this post. "EVERYTHING changes when you lose weight...." I can understand your anger about this - it kinda turns me into a raging Hulk-like creature...have I mentioned how much I need this blog? And you, for your bravery and inspiration. <3

    1. isn't it amazing how much cross-over there is? The manifestations are different, but we're fighting the same battles on so many levels. I love you, Adele.

  2. Beautiful, Dana. Vivid, brave and powerful.

  3. Dana, you are the best. I remember how fun you made the summer of our being camp counselors together. You are so full of life and so fun to be around.

  4. Dana! You are amazing! I always looked up to you and how awesome you were when James and I were serving in your singles ward. Thanks for sharing your story. Again you are absolutely amazing!

  5. Wow. This is amazingly written. So powerful. So tragic. I can't wait to read the rest. You were so young. It scares me for my daughter. What can a parent do to help a child escape this kind of story?? You were so young.

    1. The best thing a mother can do is learn to love and accept her body. If it is genuine, it is a gift you will give to your daughter that will help her more than anythinge else. If you are dieting, fretting over your appearance, making self-depricating comments about your weight, shape, size, whatever, she will pick up on these things. If she sees a mother who is happy and content in her own skin complete with all it's "imperfections", she will be empowered to do the same.

      So glad you're asking these questions! Daughters need strong mothers. Learn to love you. All of you. For both your sake.

    2. I love this response and completely agree! Thank you for sharing your story, Dana! Love you!

  6. Wow. Congratulations on 5 years! You are so tough for pulling through that demon of a situation. Thank you for being brave and sharing.

  7. Thank you Dana. Thank you for sharing so those of us who help to build these awful preconceptions and self image/worth problems can be reminded that our actions, our attitudes, our attention all have power. Be it to build or to destroy.

    We all have a responsibility to support and embrace those around us for who they are. Not who we think we want them to be.

  8. Wow, if you thought I was a good writer, that's high praise indeed, considering you are the master of the written word.

    Dana, your vulnerability is positively brave. And beautiful. And hilarious. And I really like you. Thank you for sharing this.

  9. I know I have told you ten bazillion times how much I have seen you grow since I have met you, but, REALLY, it's true. You are a great writer too. And I mean GREAT. As Casey would say, love you tons, love your buns. And I miss you, so much that I am threatening to tear up. You are magical. :)