Monday, August 13, 2012

ED Talks #15: I still prefer to eat alone

So, at this point you've read (or maybe you haven't...that's okay too) about how bulimia started for me, and what it was like to be in the thick of it.

Some of you are probably wondering how someone who compulsively binged and purged for nine years stopped throwing up.  The short answer is that I found something I wanted to do more than I wanted to continue this way of living.   And then I discovered how much I missed living.  Allow me to explain.

I'd imagine for some folks the best way to stop an addiction is slowing down, and acting out less and less.  That wasn't possible for me.  I was purging like a pro the day before I stopped forever.

I had always wanted to serve a mission for the LDS church, but I knew that I needed to get some things in order first, and this was one of them.  My 21st birthday (when girls can serve missions) came and went and I didn't really bring up the possibility to anyone.  I spent a crazy summer living in Ireland and returned to BYU that Septemeber

One day, sitting in my Russian class, I experienced the strongest impression that I was to serve a mission.  People receive revelation in many different ways.  For me, it's always a thought that hits me strong and all of the sudden nothing else in the world makes sense and the choice is obvious and I can fight it, I guess, but why would I?

Then it was settled.  I was going on a mission.  Great.  It was a Monday and I would talk to my bishop (the local leader of the unit I attended) that Sunday.  Six days without purging--world record for Dana.  I was proud to report it, and my bishop was proud of me as well.  He moved my recommendation on to the Stake President (a leader over a larger population, who ultimately decided whether and when I submitted my mission papers, or application)

James E. Kearl.  President Kearl.  His name proceeded him, though I didn't know it at the time.  I never took ECON 110 and had no notion of the beast that was Professor Kearl.  I went into his office bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.  We went through the interview.  I told him about my history of bulimia but that I was doing tremendously well and I had it under control.  He asked how long it had been since I purged last.

"Two weeks!" I exclaimed proudly.

"Oh.  Yeah.  That won't do.  You're not turning in any papers until you've been clean for six months."

Six months.  SIX MONTHS.  WHO DID HE THINK HE WAS???  I had resisted purging double any record of the past nine years, and it wasn't good enough for this man?  I had to wait six stupid months just to turn in the stupid papers?  I immediately began sobbing.

"Oh pull yourself together." He shoved a tissue box across his desk.  "I'll see you in a month and we'll go from there."

I left fuming.  "I hate that man," is what I said under my breath as I walked to the parking lot.  I also muttered something along the lines of "I'll show him."  I wonder if that was his plan all along.

So two weeks turned into a month.  It was hard, but for the first time I was determined, and there was something I wanted.  The purging stopped first, but the binging took a little longer.  I remember over-eating and telling myself to "walk it off" or "wait it out."  It was awful, feeling the consequences of my binges.  Feeling full.  Sick.  Dying for the release.

I didn't just feel them.  I began to see them.  I gained weight.  Divine Comedy fans published videos and pictures on facebook.  I tried not to look.  I was determined.  The first month or so was just muscling my way through it.  Sheer grit.

And then, something switched.  I remember distinctly the morning sitting in church, and my mind was flooded with light and the words "You're done.  You will never purge again"

"Yeah, sure." I said incredulously.




When you've been living in darkness for so long, you forget what light is--what it looks like, feels like, tastes like.  But when light comes back into your life you remember quickly.  And why would you ever live in darkness again?  I had forgotten what it was like to live.  But I began to remember.  I began to wake up.

A life without binging and purging.  Oh, the possibilities!  With every passing week, with every passing day life became better, richer.  Feeling returned to my fingers, my senses, my heart.  I listened and I spoke in a way that felt novel and right.

I lived for my meetings with President Kearl.

"Well?" He'd ask, arms folded accross his chest, one eyebrow raised.

"Not once." I'd say, face blank, matching his coolness.

"Really?" He'd ask, both eyebrows now raised.


"I'm impressed."


There were still rough nights.  There were still the pictures of me on facebook I had to look at and the moments I stepped on a scale.  I would break down and in those moments, feeling trapped inside my body, unable to control the way she was dealing with this huge change.  All I could do was wait.  For how long, I didn't know.  For what, I didn't know.

Finally the day came when President Kearl told me that he would let me turn in my papers, four and a half months from our first visit.  It was obvious to him that I was winning.

"I'll be honest," he said "I didn't think you could do it."

"I know."

"I'm incredibly proud of you," he said, smiling for the very first time.  In that moment, he understood me, and I understood him and why he was in my life.  "You will be a wonderful missionary with a unique capacity to show others hope.  Good luck, Sister Fleming."

I went on my mission, which, if one is really over the compulsive behavior is a GREAT place to be post-eating disorder.  There were plenty of stresses and I had my share of emotional break-downs and bouts of perfectionism and depression.  But I never felt bad about my body.  Ever.  I would look in the mirror just long enough to brush my hair or dab on some mascara if there was time, and then I was out the door to save the world.  I loved so many people and they loved me.  Their reasons for loving me had nothing to do with how I looked, but rather how I loved.

It was during this time in New Jersey that I began thanking God in prayer for all of the incredible things my body could do.  This changed me, and I became grateful for the basic capacity and functions of my body.  It became a wonder to me.  It became a wonderful gift that I would be devastated to lose.

My weight fluctuated on my mission but by the time 18 months were spent, I had a net gain to add onto what was gained when the purging ceased.  I was the happiest and heaviest I had ever been over the past ten and a half years.  At the SAME TIME.  Unreal.

I returned from full-time missionary work to civilian life, and over the next six months, 35 pounds just kind of fell off.  I don't know why.  There was no concerted effort for anything aside from general health.  My weight has hovered around there for the past two years as I have navigated finding balance, nutrition, and sustainability in my eating and in my exercise.

There were residual struggles to be made.  I went on depression medication for a little over a year after my mission to deal with emotional problems that the eating disorder left behind.  Loving my body and having confidence are still battles I fight (the media isn't letting up any time soon, boys and girls).  But I'm proud to be fighting, and not losing.

I went to one of my best friend's wedding reception in Spokane about a month ago.  They were serving ice cream.  I took my bowl and went into the house while everyone was outside.  Ice cream still feels deviant, and I still prefer to eat alone.

I haven't arrived yet, but I've come a long way.

If you are reading this and you struggle with an eating disorder, I want you to know that healing is not a guarantee, but it IS possible.  I promise you that you are NOT your eating disorder.  I also promise you that there is life beyond your eating disorder, and that it is so much better than you remember.  I'm not perfect, but I am fighting an important battle.  I want to help you to feel free and strong and beautiful.  Let me know how I can help.  And then, when you have your strength, will you help me fight?  Will you help me heal and empower others?  We have a lot of work to do.

President Kearl was right.  I have hope to offer you.  Hope that comes from experience.  Because I know what it is like to feel entirely hopeless.  I know what it feels like to move through despair.

I can't fight this battle alone though.  Who's with me?


  1. Beautiful, Dana. Thank you for sharing.

  2. What a wonderful third chapter. I'm so impressed with who you are. You were an incredible missionary, one I loved to have in our home. I also loved going on splits with you. I'm amazed at your journey, but even more amazed by the person you have become through it all. Thanks for sharing your story.

    1. Sadie I am so impressed with YOU. You remain one of my favorite women.

  3. I love this. Thanks for sharing. President Kearl also played a significant role in my mission decision/preparation!

  4. I'm with you!!! Team Dana all the way! Thank you, thank you for the hope you give to me, to others, to the world. The world needs people like you, and I need you in my life. Much love!!!

    1. I love you, Adele! One of us should find the other in her respective state soon.

  5. "Their reasons for loving me had nothing to do with how I looked, but rather how I loved."

    I adored this. :)

    I'm with you, sweetheart!

  6. This is so wonderful. Thank you so much for sharing this.

  7. your light is so bright! Thank you for shining:)

  8. Dana, you should write a book. Not only is this interesting, but it's well written, too. I adore your depiction of James Kearl! That man...

  9. I love that man. I love him for what he taught me and how he shaped my life forever. I think of him often.

  10. So much about you I'd never known. Well done, Dana!