Thursday, June 28, 2012

ED Talks #8: in the thick

Disclaimer--this portion of my story is very detailed and humiliating to share.  I do not share these facts for shock-value.  I share them to paint an honest picture of what this hell really was, and where I really was.  I do this with the desire to instill hope for change, no matter how low and miserable the circumstances.  These actions were a part of my life, but they were never a part of my soul.  

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?

It's a long time to have your mind on food.  There is a good chance if you are reading this that you can relate to much of what I experienced.  However, there is a good chance that you don't understand what it is like to have your mind on food the way that I had my mind on food.  Like any junkie (and I don't use this term lightly) every waking moment was laced with thoughts regarding my next fix--when (was the soonest I could do it), what (would I binge on), how (would I get the money or means of acquiring it) and where (would I vomit afterwards?)  

When gave me something to look forward to.  In my teen years, before school started, during lunch, and between sports and drama, you could count on it.  My mother was an incredibly light sleeper, so midnight binges were always risky and even a little exciting.  I became very good at being very sneaky.  In college it was between classes and whenever I could fit it in.  Every party or social event where there would be food was the same.  Sometimes I would try making rules for myself about what I would or would not eat at these functions.  I broke all of my rules all of the time. 

Anxiety time became prime time.  During theatrical performances in high school and Divine Comedy (a sketch comedy group I was in) shows at college there was always a surplus of snack food on hand accompanied by ample anxiety.   I tried to be "good" but it just didn't work.  I would binge before shows and purge before shows--walking past excited fans lining the halls of the Joseph Smith Building and waiting for the show, returning their expectant smiles with a weak one of my own as I made my way to my old porcelin companion.  I could throw up quite soundlessly.  I'd put toiletpaper in the bowl first so others couldn't hear the plop of the food.  Don't think, Dana, and certainly don't feel.  Just do what you always do.  What you'll always do.  I'd throw glow sticks, perform in a few sketches, and repeat the process when I had a break.  

"Dana!" kind and true friends and acquaintances alike would exclaim, "You did such a great job!  I loved the moment in that one sketch where you..." fade out.  Yeah, yeah.  Blah, blah, blah.  I thought of my body on stage and dreaded the pictures that I knew would be up on facebook that very Monday.  Was I going to the cast party?  Was I going home?  What would I binge on next?  When, how, where?

What.  Oh what DIDN'T I binge on?  I tried to include something to make it come up easier.  Dairy was always helpful.  It balanced the acid, and made it less painful on my throat.  I would pick up a bag of chips and a can of whipped cream at the BYU creamery and sit in the laundry room at the bottom of Heritage Halls.  There was a bathroom conveniently located close by, for visiting members of the opposite gender.  I used it more than all visiting men combined that year.  I would binge on junk, but not just junk.  I'd binge on salads, soups, cheese, bread, fruits and vegetables as well.  I'd binge on the very delicious and the very bland--from dark chocolate cheesecake to saltines.  Have you ever eaten an entire pint of icecream without thinking about it?  I have.  Have you ever eaten a whole pie, 20 full-sized candy bars, an entire box of pasta with sauce without tasting it?  I have.

How.  Here is where it gets shameful.  Bulimia is an expensive habit.  When one is consuming (and disposing) upwards of 10,000 calories a day, normal means of acquiring food doesn't cut it.  Frankly, any honest girl can't afford it.  So I stopped being honest, and I started stealing and lying.  I would steal money from parents, siblings, and friends.  In high school, I would steal food from the lockers and backpacks of friends.  I was incredibly bold, in retrospect.  I would raid the cabinets and freezers of folks I babysat for: their toddlers sitting, bewildered, on the carpet while I ate their snacks.  Nothing was off-limits.  The binge was frequently followed by a purge and then a workout video for good measure.  The juxtaposition of the scene would hit me from time to time--their innocent, perfect little bodies poised in my direction, in wonder.  Me--this strung-out food junkie, this thief, this...bulimic, stealing from their parents.  It wasn't so long ago that I sat where they sat.  Would they be here some day?

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.  

Where was usually a toilet, but that wasn't always available.  Bulimia didn't take a vacation when I did. I purged in the woods behind my home in Washington, in the wilderness of Utah, on the beaches of Ireland and Scotland, behind bus stops in Russia, in bushes on the streets of Provo.  I could make a travelogue for my vomit.  There were a few times when a toilet was just too risky.  I vomited in the shower and squeezed and tore and crushed the food chunks into teensy bits that would go down the drain.  It felt downright barbarian when I thought about it.  So I tried not to think about it.  Even in the very act.  To throw up was to be numb.

* * *

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."

Oh hell.

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.

part three  


  1. ...Sometimes I am not sure what to write in response to these vulnerable posts. I just worry that I will say the wrong thing. So know that I am well intentioned when I say with sincerity that this is the bravest, most beautiful honesty I have ever read, and I thank you for it.

  2. I never realized the reality of something like bulimia, and I still don't know if I can ever fully comprehend, as an outsider, but your honest and heartbreaking words have brought me a little bit closer to understanding what so many girls and women go through. I look forward to Part III.

  3. Dana, I love you for writing this. You are so honest and open about it. There are so many of us who have known or currently know someone who is going through something like this, and most of us don't really know what to do, what to say, or how we could possibly help someone whom we care about so much. Your honesty has opened my eyes; bulimia is more than a bad habit, or an attempt to lose weight and fit in. Thank you for sharing this, even though I know it wasn't easy for you.

  4. Your ability to narrate real life is so incredible. You got me all choked up. I can't wait to read part 3. I really hope it has a happy ending! You deserve it.

  5. Holy Crap D!
    I really should have been paying attention to your previous posts. I've known you for almost a year and I am just finding out about this.. W.O.W.

  6. Whoa, what an incredible post. I can barely find words to express myself...there is one word that comes to mind: hope. It's what you help me see through this blog and your experiences.

  7. Wow Dana. I had no idea. This post is amazing. So, so amazing. Thank you so much for writing it.

  8. Thanks for sharing Dana. You are a brave, inspiring person, both in the overcoming and in the describing.

  9. I never comment on blogs, but how can i read this without leaving some words? It makes me reflect on the people Ive known who are going through things- BIG things- and i have no idea. How many opportunities have I missed to support or cheer or listen? I hope I will be better in the future. Here is an offering of love and support to you over the internet.