Budding Truths: My Eating Disorder Battle

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 Art by Carolyn J. Braden

Art by Carolyn J. Braden

We all have many secrets. There are some people that don't wish to share their secrets, and that's fine. I am one, however, that can't stand secrets. Whenever someone says "now, don't tell....." I instantly get very uncomfortable. If you don't want me to repeat it ever again to anyone, then please don't tell me. It's not that I'm a gossip, I just don't like secrets. I love openness.

Recently I was guided to be even more open and tell some of my "secrets" to the world. My "secret" will now become a "truth". I call it a "budding" truth because I am still healing from it. The more I talk about it though, the more I bloom into who I am supposed to be. Someone who shares their truths to help others. Maybe my truth could help someone else who may be dealing/have dealt with the same issues too.

Here is my truth about the struggles I had with my family life growing up which lead to serious eating disorders.

I had several eating disorders from around age 16 to age 20. It started with my wanting to be more healthy. We ate horribly in my household growing up. A McDonald's Big Mac and Super Size fries was a common summer lunch occurrence when I was very young. Fast food like Lil' Caesars Pizza, Taco Bell, and more were quick meals for a family of six on the go, but were on the table way too often. Not only did we not eat well, but we also were not encouraged to exercise year round. All the children in my home participated in some kind of sport, but it was only when school was in session. We had a pool to swim in during the summer, but it wasn't quite enough. We became a bit lazy and separated a little too much from physical activity during the "off" summer months, like many school age kids.

Right before my sophomore year, I had a big realization that I needed to make exercise a part of my daily routine. I must have not done much physical activity during the summer because when I returned to school for one cheer practice, I could hardly get off the couch the next day. That amount of pain was so strong, it burned into my brain and told me I should never go for long periods of time without exercising my body. Many on my squad started to workout and exercise even outside of cheer practice and gymnastics, so it sparked me to want to do the same.

When I started to exercise at home, my stepmother took notice, but in an awful way. She would often make negative comments about it. I remember one time using an ab workout device my Nani purchased for me (upon my request) and she made fun of me for using it. When I wouldn't stop, she made me stop using it completely. One summer I decided I was going to get up early and run every morning. I put on a sports bra and spandex shorts and ran a couple of mornings before anyone else was up. When I returned, my stepmom was awake and told me my outfit was inappropriate. She also ridiculed me for running and told me she knew I wouldn't be able to keep it up. I let her words get to me and stopped running after about a week.

This negative response to my exercising really started eating away at me over time. I started to feel exercising was "not allowed", but I didn't know how else to be healthy. After a conversation with my best friend, whose mother started working with her on a healthy eating diet plan, I decided to try the same. I tried to install healthy eating habits at home, but, once again, I was ridiculed by my stepmother. I bought low-fat snack foods with my own money, but was forced to keep them in the family pantry. My family would eat the food, leaving me none. I tried to label the food but it didn't work. I wasn't allowed to keep the food in my room, so with it being eaten by others before I could eat any, I realized I was wasting my money and stopped the healthy food process.

My next decision to try to be more healthy was eating smaller amounts of the unhealthy food in our home. It budded into me hardly eating at all. When I started to not eat (anorexia), my father and stepmother took notice of that right away. Both of them told me I just wanted to be "like all the other skinny girls". They said I was learning how not to eat from the other cheerleaders (which wasn't true at all) and I needed to eat. They got very mad and often yelled at me until I ate (instead of just talking to me).

I told them I would eat if we would start eating healthier foods. That didn't happen. One time I asked my father to get me a grilled chicken sandwich when he was picking up dinner for the family one evening. He brought me home a breaded and fried chicken sandwich. He brought it to my room on a plate (with ketchup) and I refused to eat it. He got so mad at me, he threw the plate at my wall and chicken and ketchup went everywhere. The plate broke too. I was tired of them yelling at me, so I tried another method of controlling my food. Bulimia.

With bulimia, I could eat to show my father and stepmother "all their yelling finally did the trick" and leave me alone. Then, I could sneak away to the bathroom to remove the food from my system. I didn't vomit after every meal because I could control what I ate during breakfast and lunch (when they weren't around). However, one thing lead to another and I started binge eating and then vomiting more often.

Things in my household weren't improving. I may not have been yelled at for not eating anymore, but there were plenty of other pressures and negative energy spewing from my stepmother that I just couldn't take. She was angry, but I was angry too. When you don't have the nutrition from food fueling your mind, you become "hangry" which is a combination of the words hungry and angry. Many people get "hangry" when they need to eat. Think about not having enough food in your body ALL THE TIME. It messes with your attitude quite a bit.

As far as my stepmothers anger, I believe she had her own issues with food, yet couldn't get control over them. She often was on Weight Watchers or trying some diet fad. Once I watched her make a huge bowl of cookie dough just for her to eat. And she did. She sat down on the couch and ate it all straight from the bowl.

She had what I call "weak moments" from time to time and once confessed to me that her ex-husband ridiculed her for eating too much and made her feel fat after she struggled to lose weight after having babies. I believe she never dealt with the pain from that situation, and it came out towards me. My father also told me (later in life, during one of his "weak moments"), that my stepmom was dealing with some hormone issues that caused her to be very angry. He told me he knew we struggled as a family and believed some of her health issues were to blame.

I write this part of my story not to excuse their behavior, but to show that I understand many people's problems are much bigger than we know. I was very mature at a very early age. Had we sat down, just the three of us (my father, stepmother, and myself) and discussed my eating disorders and were open with each other about our truths, life for all of us could have been improved greatly. Had they realized some of their behaviors affected me greatly (and it wasn't just ME), maybe things could have been better. Because of my maturity, I could have truly handled doing this. They tried to conduct "family meetings" for a while, but I didn't want to talk about my issues with two stepbrothers and a sister too. I just wanted to talk to them. Sometimes my father and I would try to talk one-on-one, but talking openly about serious issues made him very uncomfortable and I'd usually get told I was lying or I "made up" my issues because there were no problems. I strongly disagreed with him then and now.

My life felt like it was spiraling out of control for so many reasons and my eating disorder seemed to calm me down, like a form a stress release. The weirdest thing is, I knew exactly what I was doing. I knew it was a horrible way to deal with my pain but I didn't care. I could see no other way out at the time. I read that people died from eating disorders, but I convinced myself that because I didn't do it all the time, I would be fine. My sister was young at the time, but figured out what I was doing. She cried and begged me to stop once, but I couldn't. As long as I had to be in that environment, it was my only answer. I just didn't care.

I was bulimic until I was kicked out of the house at age 17. I believe I had an angel step in. I believe my angel was a teacher I finally opened up to. I was terrified to go home after yet another household incident with my parental figures. The incident? My stepmother had slapped me, grabbed me and belittled me one too many times. One day, she came at me when I was on the phone and grabbed me by the face, something she did to all of the kids in the house. However, she wasn't my mother and I was tired of it. To defend myself, I used the phone to push her away. It knocked her glasses off. You'd think I'd stop there, but I didn't. I kept pushing back and hitting until my father and stepbrother had to pull me off her. I had hit rock bottom in so many ways. Yet, we all still didn't talk about it. I got grounded, a very common occurrence, but overall, it got swept under the rug. She stopped talking to me altogether, but I couldn't hold it in anymore. I had to talk about it with someone, and my teacher became my outlet.

About a day after telling my teacher, CPS stepped in. (Child Protective Services). They were around quite a bit as I was growing up (my mom called often when my sister and I told her about some of the things that went on in the house) but apparently my parental figures had enough of me. Instead of going to family counseling and acknowledging the fact that I was still, in fact, A CHILD who desperately needed professional help, I was dropped off at my mothers house. My issues meant I was a problem that was no longer wanted and I was removed from the home. On a school night, I was taken to other side of town to my mother's house with a garbage bag filled with some clothes.

Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if they didn't have the option to drop me off at my mom's house.

I lived with my mom until I was 18. It wasn't the best situation for me or my mom, but we made it work. My mom was dealing with issues of her own and then in comes a teenager that is an emotional mess? It was a huge adjustment. (FYI: Though my mom didn't have full-time custody of my sister and I, but we still saw her often and told her how bad things were throughout the years. When I was in my late twenties, she apologized to me for not trying harder to get me out of the home. She said never truly realized it was as bad as it was. That apology was the best thing that ever happened to our relationship.)

When I lived with my mom, I stopped vomiting. It didn't stop all at once, but tapered off as I started to shed the negative energy from the other household. I got into college and moved from my mother's house to a couple of friends homes, to my aunts home, and then to a sorority house. At the sorority house, I did well for a while, but started to spiral out of control again. Because I was terribly confused on what to do major wise, my grades dropped to an all time low. I was overwhelmed with school, working two jobs, holding several positions in the sorority, hanging out with friends, and more, so bulimia reared it's ugly head once again.

Old habits die hard indeed. Just as I had felt out of control in high school and controlled my stress through food, I did it again in college. I still hadn't learned better coping skills and bulimia was still my answer. A couple of sorority friends suspected I was bulimic during a spring break trip and tried to confront me. They tried an "intervention" which came out as anger instead of help. We were on spring break, so I blamed it on drinking too much. Their anger was dressed in judgement so I didn't feel comfortable telling them about my problem. I also didn't feel like dealing with a serious topic during a time when I was supposed to be having fun.

Fast forward about 6 months or so. I dropped out of the sorority, changed my major to art,  and moved back in with my aunt. Once I moved back in with my aunt, I gained control over my eating habits again, like I did when I moved in with my mom. I also started to see a counselor. Therapy was one thing that I was introduced to at a very early age when my parents divorced, so I figured it was time to give it another try. Luckily, I found free counseling services through my college. A lot can be said for free counseling services. They are amazing and I am ever so grateful for those types of programs. 

My counselor and I mostly talked about my issues with my all my parental figures and we focused on what I wanted for myself in life. I realized that I was in control of myself and had to figure out better ways to deal with my stress. Getting into the right major, starting an exercise plan that worked for me and making healthy food choices were all part of the plan that worked for me.

Over the years, I've come to my own conclusion that eating disorders aren't about being skinny. Ask anyone that dealt with an eating disorder, and I bet they'll tell you the same. Sometimes it starts out that way, but there is always an underlying subject matter to all eating disorders. Through wanting to be healthy, mixed with an unhealthy family situation, I developed a very unhealthy relationship with food. That unhealthy relationship with food became me not caring about myself anymore. That turned into disorders.

No one likes having hard conversations, but talking through things are the best ways to resolve anything. Because I took myself to a therapist, I got the help I needed. When my life started to "normalize" I gained control over my eating disorders. Another thing one must understand about an eating disorder is the fact that it never is really gone.  Every once in a while, stressful situations sneak back into my life (because that's life). When they do, a little voice in the back of my head says "Are you sure your belly doesn't feel so full that you need to remove the food?" and I just tell it "I'm sure." I am in control of my own mind and body. My husband and I now eat organically, exercise, meditate and TALK non-stop. Again, talking is a great thing.

If you too are struggling with an eating disorder (anorexia, bulimia, over-eating, etc). or have an unhealthy relationship with food, I recommend talking to someone. I was super duper lucky to not get to the point of having other serious other health issues from my disorders. When I was in full blown bulimia, I vomited blood sometimes and got very dizzy afterwards. That was pretty scary and made me pull back sometimes. I knew that wasn't normal. I hope I haven't done any long term damage to my body, but only time will tell. All my physicals look great every year and I feel healthy, so I consider myself to be healed.

I am not only healed physically, but also emotionally. Despite everything I went through in my home environment growing up, I forgive my father and stepmother. I know that they learned bad habits growing up themselves and didn't break the cycle before having children. That happens in many family situations. Note to all parents: LEAVE YOUR ISSUES BEHIND YOU AND TALK TO YOUR KIDS! Though I forgive them, I still keep them at a distance. We tried to make a relationship work over the years, but I have decided, for my health's sake, we are better off not having a relationship. I tried to just have my father in my life, and he declined my invitation. He said I had to have both he and his wife in my life or nothing at all. I chose nothing at all and I now know body and mind thank me for having that courage and strength.

My life lesson "secret" is one that I hope reaches someone who needs it. If you are ready to get help, do it. If you can't find a friend or family member to talk to, try the National Eating Disorders website. Click the link below.

https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/help-support/contact-helpline