Saturday, June 14, 2014

Starving from Pain

I remember this feeling; the groaning, gnawing growl from deep within my stomach. It feels like my body is digesting itself. The thought of nourishment is no longer soothing, but rather symbiotic with pain.  My body screams when even a bite of food is taken. It cramps and squeezes as food moves through me. It's as though my body is rejecting it.

"I know you," I say to this pain. "Where are you from?" And down the rabbit hole I go to a time I've forced forgetting. What feels like eons ago, I remember when my mind repelled anything that went in my mouth. It was like a mentally controlled moat that guarded the castle door. It was only open to the bare essentials. Food was the enemy but not the culprit.

A month before I left for college, I told my mom that I'd had an eating disorder for almost three years. I would get through the day with a plain bagel and some carrot sticks or a slice of cheese. If I ate more than that, I would purge. There was never any binging. I never ate quarts of ice cream and bags of chips and cookies. It was perhaps a few crackers or a small bowl of plain pasta. That would send me to the bathroom quickly. And my mother never knew.

My mom was understandably upset and concerned, and she threatened to keep me out of college for awhile. But I was as open as I knew how to be, and I PROMISED to her that I would never purge again. It shouldn't have been a hard promise to keep, but it was. I recall the day I broke it. I was getting by just eating small bowls of cereal for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I was going to the rec center daily, sometimes going twice just to take a second aerobics class to burn off my cereal. It was after an aerobics class that I went to the dining hall craving pasta, and it was Italian night. So as a splurge, I ordered a bowl of plain pasta. What could that hurt?

I wasn't even back to the dorm when I felt the pasta like a lead ball in my stomach. I felt out of control, and I needed to get rid of it to get my control back.  The next thing I remember was kneeling on the floor of the bathroom down the hall from my dorm room, my one arm cradling the seat of the toilet as the other hand was jammed down my throat to rid myself of the pasta. As I stared down to the blue tiled floor, I realized that I had just broken a promise to my mom, a promise that shouldn't have been hard to keep. I called the campus counseling center that day and began what turned out to be the most freeing and productive years of self-discovery in private counseling.

Exactly what triggered my eating disorder is hard to say. As in any family, there are problems. It's hard when things look fine and perfect on the outside, yet on the inside there are deeper issues that fester. The one thing that truly sent me reeling was when, at 13, I started babysitting for a Bexley couple with two great kids. I loved the mom, too! However, her husband (I'll call him Tom) soon became a concern.

It started with mild flirting and inappropriate comments, but soon the trips to and from their home turned into downright sexual molestation. Tom would put his hand on my knee and move it up to my inner thigh, as I would sit paralyzed and scared. He was at least 350 pounds, so I didn't have much of a chance to fight back.

Out of love for the kids, I didn't say anything for over two years until the night he pulled off the road, grabbed my head with one hand, pulling it towards his disgusting breath while his hand found its way to my crotch. I screamed and pleaded with him to stop, and for some reason, he did. I finally told my mom what was happening. She took me to my guidance counselor, who wanted to call the police, but I didn't want to hurt the wife and kids so I internalized it. Starving myself was my way of coping. I wanted control of a life that had turned into chaos, so I used control over food to make up for it.

Crawling back out of the rabbit hole, this pain I'm dealing with now is beyond my control. I don't eat because the pain it causes is almost unbearable. It mirrors that feeling of my body digesting itself, only now the problem is on the inside. Somewhere my internal architecture is askew. When I eat, my pulse races, my insides feel twisted and tangled, and I feel faint. I'm not eating because I can't. It wasn't until a few days ago that I realized the similarity between the feelings in my stomach now and then. One way or another, I always seem to end up starving from pain.

I suppose it's my inability to eat now that drives me to want to help other women who don't eat just like I didn't back then; back when NOT eating was my addiction. Had I known the physical damage my behavior could have caused, I might have found a different way to cope. Had I known that my life would someday revolve around doctors and hospitals, symptoms and illness, I might have realized how precious my health truly was. I want to use my voice to pass that message on; that physical health is a gift, and it is never too early to appreciate it.