I stepped on the scale the other day to find that I have lost twenty-five pounds. TWENTY-FIVE POUNDS! For years, this revelation would have been the be-all-end-all of my days — the introduction, supporting paragraphs, and conclusion to my life’s story. Weight loss was all that mattered to me. There was nothing more important to me than what I weighed. Numbers could make or break me, and my truth — my very hard truth — is that at 43 years old, I’ve been very broken, for a really, really long time.
Chasing the Numbers on the Scale
A glimpse of my reflection in a store window or in a photo taken by a friend would leave me in despair for days.
At ten years old, the number on the scale told my mom and my pediatrician that I was getting a bit chunky. But it didn’t tell the secret that I was hiding. It didn’t whisper of how a trusted neighbor, whom I admired, had lured me behind the bushes near my apartment building and stole pieces of my childhood that could not be replaced. The number on the scale did not convey how binging on food had helped me to stuff down all of the guilt and sadness that I felt after that day — the fear of no longer being loved, of being a bad girl. All they could see was that food was making me fat. So they put me on a diet to lose five pounds, which I did, but I would never again feel that my body was good enough. Rail thin and underweight, I continued to chase the numbers on the scale, binging to numb my feelings, restricting to feel love.
By high school — still very thin — I’d gone from just obsessing about my weight to the beginnings of body dysmorphic disorder. I alternated between avoiding mirrors to standing before them for hours, pinching the places on my hips that seemed too wide; pulling at the skin on my sides and legs; applying and reapplying makeup, over and over again; pushing into the cartilage of my nose, hoping to break it so it could be reconstructed to something smaller, less straight and pointy. In college the behaviors continued, though I was binging and restricting more; my weight grew more unstable, along with my emotions.
Through my 20s, when my peers were partying and enjoying their lives, I was often curled up in a ball, suicidal, in my apartment, at friends’ homes, or in public bathrooms. I longed to take razor blades to all of my extremities, hoping to erase all that was so ugly and devastating about my appearance. A glimpse of my reflection in a store window or in a photo taken by a friend would leave me in despair for days. I told no one but my boyfriend, who could not understand the things that I saw in myself that were so disgusting. Suffering mostly in silence until I was 27, and struggling to want to keep going, I entered my first treatment program in hopes of finding relief.
Why couldn’t I just restrict more, like I used to? Why couldn’t I have anorexia? Even if it meant dying, I thought, surely I would be happy — because I’d be thin.
Fourteen years and four babies later, I was fighting to stay alive. Years of medicating with food, the tumult of raising children — some with special needs — my husband’s cancer, a long distance move, two hospital admissions for anxiety, and a host of dangerous side effects from medications, had left me very overweight and with episodes of panic so severe that I could not stop moving, vomiting, and trembling, for days at a time. In the fall of 2011, in the midst of one of these crises, I was given a spot at Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Facility
in a suburb of Illinois. I was diagnosed with depression/anxiety, binge eating disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Though I was surrounded by women suffering in much of the same ways, I was ashamed and wanting to disappear — to hide everything about me that was so ugly and unfathomable. I spent hours, days, and weeks hating myself there, for having the “wrong kind of sickness.” The fat one. Why couldn’t I just restrict more, like I used to? Why couldn’t I have anorexia? Even if it meant dying, I thought, surely I would be happy — because I’d be thin. I longed to be the women around me who were skin and bones, whose diseases had left them without a body holding any fat. I seethed with envy. They were so beautiful. They were so lucky. And no amount of therapy changed that perspective for me. Ever.
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