In the Burning Phase of My Life.

To befriend the shadow girl in the mirror…


As my faithful readers will already know, this morning, I was having a bit of…difficulty.

The days that seem to be the hardest are not the ones that are full of crisis. As obvious as it may sound, I somehow manage to function quite well when in a situation of extreme duress. I don’t think anyone who has managed to survive with a severe eating disorder for more than two decades can say that they haven’t learned to adapt to situations of high stress and high emotion. It could even be said that this is what I have always lived for.

No, the times that I have the most trouble dealing with are the moments when I’m just feeling low. For no reason, because of…nothing.

The pattern is becoming more and more familiar to me. I will wake up and just feel like something is…off. An internal check will reveal not a thing that should be noteworthy. But the feeling will persist, and deepen if I let it. That is when the self-created drama begins. I have noticed that the first thing I do is go and look in the mirror and GLARE at myself. I am not my friend, I have never been my friend.

I weigh and measure quite mercilessly. The verdict is not good. I am found to be too excessive, taking up far too much space. Vulgar, messy, out of control, and unable to fit into my own skin. But why is this?

Why does it ALWAYS come down to my physical self? Why does it always have to be my body’s fault?

To tell the truth, until this morning, during a reflective walk, I had never really noticed the way that I always deal with myself when I am not feeling as well as I could. But the findings were not to be denied. It is, and has always been, my body’s fault. My knee-jerk reaction, my imperfect solution, is to try to punish myself physically, to starve my contours down so that I can be less, and less, and less…

Has it always been this way? I sat down with my fiftieth cup of coffee for the morning to get to the bottom of this. No one can make me completely miserable.–especially me! What I realized was a bit surprising.

I have been punishing my body, and by extension, myself, for far longer than I can even remember.

It didn’t start in early childhood…but I do see that even all the way back in the single-digit years I had the overwhelming need to protect myself by placing myself under rigid control. My room had to be museum-clean…or else. I could only eat the same thing for lunch day after day, in order to prevent something bad from happening. A tight rein was kept on every aspect of my fragile young life in order to prevent me from spinning off into the despairing blackness of the universe.

When I got into my twenties, I reacted severely to an external crisis of the extreme sort. My sheltered life was shattered by a rape at twenty, an act of sudden violence that took my virginity…and my trust in myself and the world around me. Someone who I trusted breached my sacred perimeter, bringing me fear, pain, and shame. My reaction was not instantaneous. It was subtle, and gradual, but when examined later proved to be shockingly different than anything I had done before.

I began to eat. And eat, and eat.

I was always a naturally slim child…muscular, athletic, on the skinny side. Nervous energy and activity ruled my days. Roller skating, bike riding, dancing, horseback riding…the list of rigorous activities went on and on. I had tendency to lose weight as opposed to gaining it. My control issues did not extend to the shape of my body during those formative years.

Perhaps that is why I was totally unprepared for what happened next. After the sexual assault, I moved to Los Angeles. I was working as an artist on the Simpsons, spending twelve to eighteen hours a day at a desk, doing a job that made me feel like I was in over my head and terrified me. I was away from all of my closest friends, and for the first time in my life, I was having trouble connecting to those around me, people who thought I was very different and just a little bit too young for them.

I ate. I ate to stuff down my rage. I ate to stuff down my fear. I ate to bury my despair and betrayal. I ate to cover my loneliness in sticky, fatty, numbing calories.

The weight began to creep on. Ten pounds, then twenty. I was so blind to it that I didn’t even register what was happening until I’d put on

oh, my god…are you kidding me? this can’t be happening!

fifty pounds.

I tried for a half-hearted few months to take the weight off…but I just didn’t feel I was worth it. And as the weight piled on, the misery grew. And the more depressed I became, the more I tried to fill the bottomless pit of my discomfort with food. This self-abuse went on for three straight years until I reached my all-time high of 250 pounds.

I kept this armor on, full of self-loathing, for five more years. I never thought that I would be thin, ever again. My eating remained highly disordered as I binged away the realities of life, trying to stay oblivious to the potential damage I was doing to my body in its prime, my body from the ages of twenty-five to thirty.

I don’t know what set me off when I was thirty…something in my head told me it was time to take it off. My former iron control came back all at once. I started going to the gym, five days a week, two hours at a time. By week two, I was up to six days a week. I took all bread, sugar, pasta and rice out of my diet with a fanatical devotion that could never be expected of someone like me who was made of those things.

The weight began to fly off…one hundred pounds in eight months…I began to feel like I could do anything.

But then…something changed. Once I saw the number on the scale drop down to 150 pounds, it all became different. I became deathly afraid to gain any weight back. I began to see myself as fat, even though I was extremely fit and quite healthy for my height. Meat had to go…fruit had to go. Everything had to go. I began to starve with the same obsession that I had put into binging. And the compliments and positive feelings evaporated like smoke. Fifty-two more grim pounds stripped away to reveal a desperate, blank and skeletal girl who couldn’t meet anyone’s eyes, much less her own in the mirror.

Ten full years have passed since then. I have spent only two brief years, most of them taken up by pregnancy, at a normal weight since then. The progressively worse anorexia nearly killed me twice during that time. I finally went to inpatient treatment for three months in the winter of 2008-2009 when my body nearly gave up. I have been home now for a year. I have made lifelong friends, built up an extensive and loving recovery community.

And I still, as soon as my feelings become intolerable, look in the mirror and want to make myself disappear…by all means necessary.

Why could this be? Why do I always return to the scene of previous crimes and pick up the same torturous weapon, intending not only to maim, but to destroy? An almost unwilling thought floats to the surface of my mind…

Am I hard-wired to behave this way?

Much has been said about the eating disorder as a disease. I sat in many, many classes and therapy sessions that have explained how I cannot help myself because of my disease. My brain’s wiring, if you will, is set up to deal with trauma and crisis in this fashion. But there is something that is lodged in the other, finer part of my brain as well, the part of me that wants to continue to fight, no matter what.

My neural pathways may have predisposed me to instinctively want to hurt myself this way, to destroy myself this way, but in the end, I still have a choice…behaviors, or health.

And today, I choose health.

I might not always be able to make this decision on my own. I might need help, both professional and from my truly amazing friends. But for now, I will weather the storm, and make the decision to reach towards life. It’s not my body’s fault that I’m sad. Sometimes, it is just what it is. A mood, a shadow.

Hard-wired I may be, but I can choose to turn the lights off when calamity strikes, and go make myself that sandwich just because my body needs it.


One version of me.

Another version of me.


March 24, 2010 - Posted by | Anorexia and Disordered Days. | , , , , , ,


  1. I think it is extremely bold of you to do this- to do the versions of you. I think its so brave and inspiring.

    Comment by World War Mia | July 29, 2010 | Reply

  2. wow, your rape must have happened soon after I moved out of that house on Bernal…..I’m so sorry I wasn’t there for you. isn’t it crazy what we can do to survive the traumatic moment then how we try to destroy ourselves after? BTW, your photo of you in the red shirt looks like me! Remember when people thought we were twins?

    Comment by christine jargick | October 1, 2010 | Reply

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