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Upbringing is the most important gift or curse we bring with us into adulthood. If we’re lucky enough to have fair and supportive guidance, which is unconditionally love-based, we have a good chance of being ahead of the game when we set foot in “grown-up land”. Most of us aren’t so lucky and have to muddle through a lot of pain and mistakes before we get it together, if we ever do.

I personally was one of those people who carried a truckload of issues around with me but didn’t realize it. I believed I was on top of everything because I learned, early on, a very effective technique for hiding this “eighteen wheeler” from myself. You see, my security blanket of protection in my teen years was a disease called anorexia, which I developed at twelve. Then, after seven years of this hell, I decided to jump into thirteen years of bulimia. If you’ve never dealt with any food problems, you might not understand the nightmare created by these diseases. However, if you have had struggles with alcohol, drugs, or other addictions, you may grasp the frustration of what it’s like to feel hopelessly trapped and afraid. I was dealing with a life-threatening disease, but didn’t understand this until it was almost too late to overcome it.

In the beginning, anorexia was an attempt on my part to be in charge of my own life and to be perfect. I had parents who loved me, but were strict (and in my opinion, controlling), so it was incredible to find an area in which they couldn’t force me to do something. By not eating, I was exerting power over them. It felt great! Also, I was losing the unwanted weight I’d blamed my misery on. The thinner I got, the more popular I became. In reality, I was just exuding a false confidence based on the “control” I held over my body and parents. I started pushing myself beyond any normal boundaries because I felt invincible. Most importantly, I’d turned my body into the enemy, and could punish myself by being so disciplined that I ignored its needs.

It was cool to be able to accomplish so many goals…becoming skinny, pushing myself to unbelievable limits, and punishing my body for being a part of me. If this sounds crazy, you’re right it was, but at the time it made sense to me. Let me explain.

Have you ever had a sense of loathing and hatred about yourself? I would hope not, but unfortunately I did. Anytime we punish ourselves, it’s because we don’t feel worthy of love. Why not? Well, it’s not so hard to figure out. The truth is, the way we were taught to perceive ourselves as children is how we subconsciously perceive ourselves as adults.

In my case, I was part of a family that was solid, but was also living in Humanville. I was a middle child and didn’t feel special at all. My parents didn’t understand the individual nature of each child’s personality. I was very different from my siblings, but we were all grouped into a “unit”. I had a rivalry with my older sister. She’d been very rebellious as a young teen and got into a group of friends who abused drugs, stole, lied, skipped class, and who know what else. She was arrested once but not convicted, and ran away twice, just to be dramatic. Even though her actions were troubled, at least she received attention from my parents (negative attention is still attention). I needed to establish my own way of getting them to notice me, so I overachieved in school and extra-curricular activities. I thought if I was perfect, I’d be special to them and would be praised for my outstanding achievements. Mom and Dad, though, didn’t want to show favoritism to any one child. They didn’t realize the attention they showed my sister counted because it involved negative situations. Even though this seems fair, in my case, it led to extreme frustration. I desperately desired for them to acknowledge that they were proud of me. Only then could I believe I was truly loved. I never got what I needed, so started to think I was worthless.

They didn’t understand, and I didn’t know how to fix things. So, I discovered dieting and starvation. It was also my way of punishing them. The more they worried, the more powerful it felt. I was angry with them for not embracing and encouraging me to be anything I wanted to be and acknowledging my accomplishments. I did what I did for them, so they’d be proud of me. They never told me they noticed my efforts. I was constantly running into a brick wall. Also, being a risk taker was something they didn’t relate to. I perceived life and dreams very differently, so subconsciously bought into the idea that I was bad for having aspirations that were opposite than the life they lived. I was so desperate to have my own identity and driven to break away from their control, though, I fought like hell to defy them in any way possible. The problem was that deep inside I believed that choosing my own direction was wrong, so I had to bury that feeling.

Anorexia gave me false confidence and it carried me through, but life was extremely limited. I created a world that was safe for me. As long as I could keep within my structure, I’d remain skinny and powerful! It was so fragile in reality, but I lived in denial.

I’ll give you an example of my normal day. First thing every morning, I’d get up and jump rope for 30 to 45 minutes, then brush my teeth, shower, and dress for class (this was in college). I’d walk to campus, which would get at least one to two miles of exercise in. I’d come back after class and have a lunch that consisted of one slice of low-fat bread (45 calories) with one thin slice of turkey (the kind that has only 20 calories a slice) with mustard, no mayonnaise. Some days I’d substitute a salad that had lettuce, a tomato slice, and no dressing (about 30 calories). This would be the first food I’d eat. Then I’d change into running clothes and go out, no matter what the weather was, and run 9 to 12 miles. Didn’t miss a day---well, that’s not true. There were two days in my junior year of college that I caught the flu. I didn’t run those days. After that I’d come back and dress for my extra-curricular activities. I was heavily involved on campus: student entertainers, student government, varsity revue, theatre, sports… you name it. These activities kept me moving. In the summer, if it was still light outside, I’d come back home, hop on my bicycle and try to get 20 to 30 miles in before dark. In winter, I’d go to the gym and swim 50 to 70 laps. Dinner consisted of one piece of protein (enough for three bites of chicken, turkey, or beef, that, by my calculations, would be about 200 calories), one baked potato (dry---125 calories), and occasionally, an extra steamed vegetable—no butter (not over 25 calories). I’d study in the evening, and end the day with 100 push-ups and 500 sit-ups. That was it. I lived on 400 to 500 calories a day. At one point, I even cut the calories down to about 200 a day (no protein, too fattening). How I survived is beyond me. I did have friends, but was not close to anyone because they came second to my exercise. I also didn’t date very much. A man might get too close and that would be very dangerous.

This was my life for seven years. It was a very lonely existence because I isolated myself emotionally and was afraid of intimacy. I had an outgoing personality, so was well liked and popular, but inside knew I was fooling everybody. I thought I was worthless. But, even though I had an anorexic mindset—a deep emptiness within me—I made up for it and felt powerful because I’d conquered the body, the enemy. I wouldn’t listen when my body wanted something, like food, because it needed to be punished. I was winning a war most people lost. The more I didn’t let my body tell me what it needed, the better I was than everyone else. I was more disciplined and perfect than they were, and therefore, was “special”. See how it works? Absolutely crazy, but what I never got from my environment as a child, I finally achieved by starving myself in my adolescence and young adulthood.

Anorexia is an extremely difficult disease to overcome because the mindset is so locked in warped thinking and doesn’t see reality. Even when looking at myself in the mirror, I didn’t see a skinny body. I saw one that needed to lose weight here or there, and was never perfect enough. I also didn’t trust anyone else’s opinion. When someone would tell me I was too thin, my thought was that he or she was jealous. I was keeping weight off, and they couldn’t, so they were trying to sabotage me! When you don’t trust anyone, you become paranoid and think everyone’s out to get you.

Looking at my own features, I wouldn’t see thick and long auburn hair or crystal clear, sea-foam colored eyes. Instead, bizarre straw-like horsehair and strange, almost otherworldly eyes that looked alien and frightening would stare back at me. I couldn’t bear to look at myself most of the time because there were just flaws…my cheekbones were too high, my nose was too pointy, my neck was too long, and my skin tone didn’t match my other features. Every single thing about my physical appearance repulsed me. This repulsion was the driving force behind my disease.

So it went on and on, until the end of my junior year in college. I became anemic and literally couldn’t push myself anymore. My body just quit. It couldn’t take it. Talk about feeling like a failure!!!! I gained weight and thought I was literally going to die because of my fear of becoming fat. In fact, to me at that time, death would have been a better option. The only thing that kept me from ending it all was the desire not to hurt my parents. Isn’t that ironic!?! The very people I was trying to get back at were the same people I cared enough about to not end my life.

I survived anorexia by falling into a year of extreme overeating. I gained thirty-five pounds and panicked every second. I just couldn’t stop! I think my body was so excited about getting food, it just took over. My metabolism was also pretty screwed up at this time, so nothing was working right, really. During my starving years, my body was forced to operate on low caloric intake. It compensated for this by shifting my metabolic rate and as a result, grew accustomed to operating at a very high energy level with little fuel. I’d actually created more of a trap for myself because I had to keep up the intense exercise level to stay thin even with low food intake. The second I was force to “slow down”, my metabolism didn’t shift immediately and I started gaining weight, even though I was still only eating 200 to 500 calories a day. I’d also gotten into the habit, by this point, of only eating once a day (early evening), and no other time. My body had to function for twenty-three hours a day without fuel. This didn’t help to balance my metabolism. In fact, it led to the overeating. During this panic time, I went from anorexia into bulimia.

Oh, bulimia. This disease was, in some ways, easier to deal with than anorexia because I could be somewhat normal looking, but still have a secret security blanket. It kind of crept up on me as I was trying to control my weight gain after my anorexic experience. I really didn’t think I’d become addicted because it seemed manageable to me (oh yeah, right). I started utilizing the behavior when I felt like I’d eaten too much at a meal. I could “get rid of” anything I felt guilty about. Talk about new found power! Now, I could eat whatever I wanted to, and then not have to deal with the consequences of overeating. The added benefit was that I could go through the process of “burying” a pain or hurt by overeating, and then “purge” not only the food, but also the pain with it. The very act of purging was getting rid of the problem that motivated the eating in the first place. How great was that!?! At first, it seemed to work, but before long I couldn’t stop eating even when desiring to because I knew how to get rid of it. Then I became a prisoner. It literally got to the point that I couldn’t eat a meal, or anything, without purging it.

There again, I’m not sure how I survived thirteen years of the behavior, purging sometimes as many as fourteen to fifteen times a day. There were brief periods—sometimes weeks, sometimes months—when I didn’t practice the disease, but they were short-lived and there was constant fear that it would flair back up again. It always did. My entire existence depended on the ability to eat away my problems, then purge them along with the food I consumed. Thirteen years of this.

You know, this isn’t real easy to talk about, but it’s necessary to in order to give you a chance to see how I lived in Humanville. Fear completely controlled my life…

I also was extremely naïve, as you already know. I hadn’t been exposed to essential growing experiences during my childhood. As a result, insecurity ruled and I gave my power away to others in almost every situation. I didn’t feel worthy enough to think I deserved to be treated with love and respect. This is a very important point to recognize, because my life in Humanville was founded on my lack of self-love (like everyone else who lives here).

My first romance as an adult is a perfect example of the naivety. This happened right after I got out of college. The relationship went something like this….