Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Bulimia: My Story (Part Two)

My name is Theresa and I am bulimic.

For the first part of this story, please see Bulimia: My Story.

I wish I could tell you that I don't struggle with food issues anymore.  I wish I could tell you that I have a healthy relationship with food.  But neither of those are true.  I do struggle and I do have issues with food.


When I was 20, I entered therapy for depression.  Part of my depression was the eating disorder.  The other part was that I would not allow myself to get close to someone from the opposite sex.  I was completely and totally and overwhelmingly disgusted with my body.  I had severe body issues and I did not think any man would ever find me attractive.  I had crushes and I believe now, although I wouldn't allow myself to believe it at the time, that there were boys who liked me.  Actually, I know there were now...but then, I was a mess.  I wanted to get married, I wanted to be able to have a relationship, but my food and body issues made that impossible.  I would tell myself if I could just NOT binge for a month, or if I could just lose 20 pounds (I weighed 110 pounds and am 4'11"; sure, I could be 90 pounds, but really it's very hard for a woman to maintain that weight unless she has a certain metabolism, which I clearly do not possess) THEN I could maybe consider allowing myself to maybe flirt.  But I never managed to get down to 90 pounds OR not binge for a month.

Therapy was very helpful for me.  My first therapist was amazing.  Seriously.  She was the perfect therapist for me.  Unfortunately, she moved to San Francisco after working with me for just 6 months.  My second therapist was also pretty good; she was into hypnosis and trance work, which were both helpful with behavior modification.  My third therapist was just too nice really to do much good.

But the real thing that changed things for me was that the work I had done with my first and second therapists allowed me to realize that guys were interested in me and allowed me to "try that out" whether that meant talking on the phone or hanging out or whatever.  I was also taking Prozac, so that, I am sure, helped a lot too.

When I was 21, about a year after I had begun therapy, I met Jason for the second time and this time, I was more capable of having a relationship.  It was scary in the beginning.  I had only kissed two other boys.  It was terrifying, actually.
Me in the 80s
Support System

My brother and I were very close at this point and he helped me through a lot, we would stay up late into the night talking.  My brother advised me to tell Jason about my eating disorder.

On our third date, Jason sensed that our relationship could be going someplace and he wanted to be upfront about some family issues  in case I didn't want to get involved with someone with that kind of baggage.  I told him about my eating disorder.  We were really just two lost souls that helped each other find our way in a stormy sea.

I had told Jason that if I binged, I might try to push him away.  Having Jason in my life was an incentive NOT to binge, I knew that if I did, I would push him away.  Of course, there were occassions when I tried and he wouldn't let me.  He would put his arms around me and hold me.  He knew what to say.  When I felt like binging, we would go for a walk.  He helped me A LOT to overcome most of the eating disorder.

I know it is not advisable to get into a relationship and to have someone else be your "crutch" when you are recovering from something.  But, you need friends.  You need a support system when you are trying to do anything...especially something as big as overcoming an eating disorder.  I could not have come as far as I have without my therapists, my support groups, my family and Jason.  I had been in therapy and attending outpatient support groups for over a year when Jason and I started dating.

Jason in the 80s

In many ways, the way Jason was there for me with my recovery and the way he didn't push me, is what set the foundation for our relationship.  I tried for years to reciprocate with his family, but in the end, the way they live and the way we live are not compatible.  I felt bad about "giving up" on those relationships, but our pastor told me that you can't jump in to save a drowning man if you are not trained in life-saving techniques...Jason's family was pulling me under and, according to our pastor, it was not giving up on them to pray for them.

How I am dealing with this 28 years later...

I still have "good" foods and "bad foods".  I start each day with coffee and cereal (two good foods), if I find time to walk or do yoga then I am really on the right track for the day.  For over 13 years, I ate salad every day for lunch, but a salad with cheese or eggs or grilled chicken for protein, other vegetables for minerals and vitamins, etc.  I have been finding, however, that lately a salad does not keep me full for long, so I have been working on re-adjusting this and finding other "good" foods that I can eat.  I am a "foodie", I love to try recipes, part of that is my desire to make every single calorie and fat gram count...why waste calories on food that doesn't taste good or isn't healthy?  I modify recipes to limit fats and sugar when I cook.

When we eat out or when I am with friends IF I eat, I do consider it a binge, but I do not go crazy and eat an entire cake (as I would have done in the past) and then go to the bathroom to purge.  I keep the binge to just the food I eat for dinner or the snacks I have at the party and I don't continue with it above and beyond.  I often bring my own food places and then I do not consider it a binge :)

Alcohol is a problem for me.  Not in that I am an alcoholic, but in that it is empty calories.  Craft beer is something that Jason and I enjoy together.  So two or three times a week, I forgo any snacks for the day so that I can enjoy a beer or two with Jason.

Organic, non-modified, GMO, etc. presents an issue for me.  I can very easily get caught up in this.  I know all of the risks involved with each and for years I limited my diet to only things that were organic, non GMO, etc.  I eliminated meat for many years too, both because I am disgusted by meat and in an attempt to control my eating.  Now I can't let myself go there.  I can't read about it or think about it.  I have to steer clear of it for my emotional well-being.  I do buy organic when it's convenient or affordable, but I can't get too into it or I will start to feel as though if I eat one non-organic bean it is a binge. For years I have had visualizations of what non-organic food can do to my insides and I can't go there, either.  I have to replace those kinds of images with positive things to keep myself mentally and spiritually sound.

Do I still purge?  It's very, very, very infrequent.  But I won't lie, I have purged in the last year.  Just once or twice.  The holidays are hard.  I am not saying that that is healthy, but I am not saying that I am cured either.  It's a daily struggle.  As anyone who has ever recovered from any addiction will tell you, it is sometimes an hourly struggle, a minute by minute struggle...sometimes if you can just get through another's just one step at a time.
Allie and I, 2005
The Ups & the Downs

Oddly, having children helped my body image A LOT.  Seeing what my body is capable of, what it can do and produce gave me a newfound respect for my body.  Breastfeeding was the best time of my life, because I could eat anything and still lose weight.  Turning 40 has not been so good, because I am not eating any more than I did a few years ago and I am exercising more and yet the weight seems to accumulate around my middle, which my doctor has told me is a result of hormonal changes in my body due to pre-menopause. This is scary for me, I pray that I don't go down some crazy path with this.  I try to keep myself sane. fear
 Allie is the same age right now that I was when I started this ridiculous roller coaster.  I do not ever want my girls to go through something like this and to have to live with something like this for the rest of their lives.  We have talked about healthy food choices since they were tiny.  I have insisted they eat vegetables and fruit and yogurt and other healthful things as snacks since they were toddlers.  I only ever give them positive compliments on their body or food choices.  I will tell them they had enough candy or junk, but I won't add something like: "Keep eating candy and you will be fat!"  Sometimes I get crazy about my diet, I kind of wig on vacations and when we eat out and Jason will calmly warn me that they are going to absorb a lot of what I am saying, feeling, how I am acting.

  It may sound completely cliche, but my girls are my number one reason right now to not get caught up in what my 40 year old body is doing as far as metabolism and hormones.  I want to set a good example.  I don't want my girls to have body or food issues.  They know I seldom eat junk and limit the junk they eat.  They know about my eating disorder.  We talk about healthy food choices.  We exercise together, in moderation.

I am sure someone may ask at some point, did we homeschool to avoid some issues that I felt were exacerbated by school?  Not at all.  Not in the least.  We decided to homeschool for many, many reasons.  Eating disorders never factored into it.  Yes, I bullied other girls and yes, my girls could be bullied by someone like me or worse, but I was not thinking about any of that when we made the decision to homeschool.  Bullying was only one of many, many reasons why we made the decision to homeschool.

Life is complicated.  But we are getting through it.  Together.

Some of the organizations that helped me with my recovery

American Anorexia/Bulimia Association  I attended meetings in Princeton, there does not seem to be a national website, but rather small local websites.  I have linked to the Philadelphia website.

National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA)   I received outpatient treatment from the Star Program. NEDA also has programs for parents and family members of people with eating disorders and my parents were active in the Parents' Group for quite a while.

Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD) The website offers links to support groups and assistance finding treatment.  You can also sign up for empowering messages.

I have never been hospitalized for my eating disorder, but I know a lot of people who have and there are a lot of great programs and treatment facilities out there.