i’ve never been brave

it was weird, incredibly strange and surreal, and yet in another kinder, weird way, it felt safe. you don’t have to think much when you’re in a treatment program. it’s like kindergarten - with a lot more rules - rules to wake up, rules to go to bed, lights on, lights out, meal times, group sessions, and of course, visitation hours. that is, if you’re lucky enough to have someone come visit- someone you actually want to see. let’s face it, most people here were not in the most functional relationships. addiction does that to you. it’s such a downward spiral, it tends to drag everyone down with it, because there’s just no room for anyone else, and so, it becomes all about you, or me, as the case may be.

I kept losing weight because I was in such a controlled environment, until I couldn’t lose anymore. my body rebelled. it knew I was starving to death, and a body wants to take care of you. so every calorie that went in, stayed in.

the scariest part were the drugs. hospital drugs. I didn’t know or understand prior to checking in what a teaching hospital was, or what that meant. this is the place where interns “get their hours,” where they “learn on the job,” and all the patients like me that were in the eating disorder wing, me, and my not too merry band of misfits, whose biggest pranks were smuggling in laxatives and cigarettes, or making it to the bathroom when a nurse was out of earshot- we were the lucky consumers of all the drugs they were testing.

there was just one thing I knew for sure. drugs, for some reason, terrified me.

the no cure, cure. anorexia to bulimia and back again.

there are times in life, when you just get tired, really tired. tired of normal. normal is sameness, and normal is not being in control. control for me only alluded to one thing - how many calories am I putting in my mouth? there I was, with the same problem, over and over. the measurement of success or failure strictly delineated by weight, and how few calories I’d ingested - which had me constantly verging on starvation. I considered that a good day.

after a few weeks, or months of this, there’d come a breaking point, and the bingeing would begin and round and round it went. this was painfully consistent, this circle I traveled in. social isolation becomes pretty top tier at this point. self esteem from this behavior hits ever new lows, with depression sidling in closer and closer - either from lack of food, and nourishment, or self loathing, or loneliness. take your pick, any one alone is a killer, but eating disorders seem to wrap it all in one svelte package. but not until I could fit in the exact right thing, would I go anywhere, or do anything different, at all.

I had the 500 calorie a day phase, and there was the hot air popcorn and bran muffin phase. that was my favorite. it allowed for lots and lots of time to slowly and deliberately chew, and feel relatively guilt free. the bran muffins of course, were considered to have some laxative effect, so that was a plus. it was always, how fast can I get rid of these calories? I used exercise and laxatives and enemas as companions on the journey of seeking less and less of me, until I was so thin, I felt almost invisible. but that was good, right? when I was so very thin, no one saw me, and I liked it. it felt safe. it was the same if I ballooned up to my highest weight. no one saw me then, either, because my body was padded and insulated from the world I clearly found so terrifying.

this drama I realized, was never going to end, and I was exhausted. I wanted it to stop but I had no idea how to make that happen. the pattern I’d created and fallen into had been with me for so many years, from that tiny beginning in my teens when I asked myself - am I too fat?

so it was then, when a couple of women I knew who were bulimic, told me about a clinic in San Francisco. they said you didn’t need to pay for it if you qualify for medi- cal. which of course, I did, as I was barely able to hold a job. working at all depended on how tight my skirt was. if it wasn’t, I could work. otherwise, the shame and embarrassment I felt about my body was so strong, I wouldn’t show up.

I did go to that eating disorder clinic - which was not an eating disorder clinic at all - but a psychiatric hospital. desperation breeds strange bedfellows.

to be continued