I can’t believe this is the final post in the “Growing Up Alex” series. I’m not going to say much, as I want this final post to be all about her, but I just want to thank everyone who has read, commented, liked, shared and been a part of this series. I am honored that this blog was able to be the venue for Alex to tell her story and oh-so-proud of her doing so. She’s an amazing, remarkable, beautiful, incredible, strong and inspiring person and I am lucky to be able to call her my friend.
So thank you Alex for telling your story and continuing to inspire us all. We are so proud of you. XO
On to the final post.
THROW AWAY THE SCALE.
That is essential. Have your nutritionist or doctor weigh you blindly if you relapse. The number on the scale does you no good if you are trying to recover from an eating disorder. As an alternative, listen to how your body feels (do you have energy or are you lethargic? Are you dizzy or do you feel clearheaded? Are you motivated or do you just want to hide away?).
A huge thing for me is just allowing my clothes to let me know how I am doing. Yes, they may feel tighter if you have just taken them out of the wash…but they will stretch back to normal as the day progresses. I knew I was relapsing last year when my clothes that once fit were hanging off of me. This was a sign for me to take action. In the 2 times that I have made it in to recovery, my clothing never got to tight.
Your body, shockingly, will not magically gain weight just because you are not stepping on a scale every day. Do not let the numbers control you. Cut counting calories as best you can. This is very difficult to do but it does get easier over time and with practice. Base your daily intake on exchanges/food groups, not calories. Do not label ANY foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Food is fuel, and your body doesn’t know the difference [it just may know that some foods contain more nutrients when compared to others] between a muffin or multigrain toast. It just knows ‘energy’. Just keep things in moderation and be sure to have all of the food groups.
Eat breakfast! Yum!!! Do not read fitness magazines as they will tell you that you need to be consuming less than you actually do and, chances are, they will make you feel like you are lazy if you are not working out 2 hours a day, doing all of the latest exercise fads. The best alternative to these magazines is to find a nutritionist you feel comfortable with. They will reality check your distorted beliefs, they will help you structure a healthy meal plan and workout regimen, and if you need to be weighed, they are the best person to do it. Surround yourself with empathic, supportive people.
Repeat after me: Do the best you can with what you have. Progress, not perfection. You can start over at any time. Know in your mind what signs of relapse are for you and tell someone you trust [family member, friend, therapist, doctor, nutritionist, coworker) if you notice any of these signs. Do not be afraid to ask for help. You are not a failure if you relapse and you DO deserve help in regaining your recovery. If you feel faint, dizzy, hungry, etc…eat a snack. It isn’t weak of you to need food, perhaps you exerted more energy than you realized during the day. Some days we eat more than we do on other days and that is okay. Our bodies are very good at balancing out.
I had a lot of support over the years in my recovery and I want to thank these people who have supported me endlessly and have helped to me to recover.
First, my therapist and Dietician in NY who convinced me to finally pursue treatment: Hilary Brodski and Judi Zwang.
My amazing therapist from Montecatini who taught me how to challenge my distorted beliefs and not to worry about other people’s ‘stuff’, Nancy Staycer.
The best therapist I have ever had, who was there for me at the beginning of my recovery: Seanna.
One of the most amazing RD’s I have ever worked with and whom I would recommend to anyone, Shelley Woolsey.
My case manager at CEDC, even though she probably got sick of me after the 3rd time, Whitney Moore.
Some of the kick ass RC’s from California and CEDC. The amazingly strong women I met along the way, whom I will not name, so as to protect your privacy, but you know who you are…my first ever roommate whom loves cats just as much as I, the ‘condo clique’ and ‘Mitzi’, my bestfriend/soul sista, the kickass woman who knows how awesome our ‘mutual friend’ is, she who hails from No’Ho, the girls who shared an odd love of Matty in the Morning with me, the girls who participated in.
And I couldn’t ask for more supportive friends or family: My maid of honor Erin who was beyond supportive throughout this whole experience. Yili, who had only known me for a few months when I learned I was going to treatment and basically took me under her friendship wing full force. All of my amazing and wonderful friends who wrote and visited and haven’t run away (yet, ha!).
The supportive head of my graduate program, Dr Shtayermann.
Mom, Dad, Wendy and Randy for being my mom’s backbone, G&G, my aunts and uncle, the cousins [I left out an important part of my life because it is not my story to tell, but my youngest cousin passed away in 2007 and I think of him daily. I brought his picture to my room in residential], the recovery warriors of the blogosphere (haha!) and my wonderful fiance Steve and his dear son.
Oh, and my cats. They were, and are, the best therapy.
And Demi Lovato, whose music I embarrassingly loved before she came out and told her story. She was in treatment at the same time I was and while many think it may be PR for her, I think it is wonderful that she is giving a voice to the evils and dangers of this disorder and that she is acting as a healthy and positive role model for young women. It doesn’t hurt that I still embarrassingly love her music.
I don’t know how I did it, finding my way in to recovery, but suddenly something just clicked. I can’t pinpoint what it was or how I did it. I just realized how GOOD and capable I felt when I ate normally. It felt so good to be able to go out for a meal with my friends. I no longer isolated myself from them. I wasn’t scared of food anymore. I had energy! I didn’t sleep all day or stay up all night. I didn’t label foods as ‘safe’ or ‘unsafe’. I was able to work without much stress or exhaustion. It was the weirdest thing. It was as if I’d had some epiphany and it felt amazing and magical and I just wanted to share it with the whole world. I did have a bit of a relapse in 2013 due to some personal situations that occurred but I’ve already shared so much that I’m mainly not sharing these situations out of respect for saving space, ha!
Do not give up hope! The end of 2013 and the beginning of 2014 have put me back in a place of recovery. Do I still count calories? Yes, but not nearly as much as I used to, and I try my very best not to do so. Do I still feel guilty after eating? Sometimes. It depends on what it is and how my mood is that day. Do I still exercise? Yes, but very moderately and never on a machine that tells me numbers. Do I still step on a scale? NEVER. It is useless. I listen to how my body feels and how my clothes fit. If you are struggling with recovery, please throw out your scale. If you HAVE to get weighed, do a blind weight with your doctor. Do I still use skills I learned from treatment (kind of like when students ask, will I actually use this math in the real world?) you wonder? Yes! I’m working very hard on using only positive coping skills. When I am upset, I still lose my appetite. When I am angry or hurt I don’t feel like I deserve food. However, I talk myself through the situation and find other ways to deal with whatever it is I am feeling. And I make myself eat a well balanced meal, no matter what. If I am really, really struggling with my appetite I drink supplements.
Why is Recovery Worth it for me?
I feel like I am finally living my adult life. For the first time since I graduated college in 2008 I have an ‘adult’ job. This is a job that is actually related to my degree. Yes! A job in which I utilize the things I learned in my 4 years at Adelphi University! I am employed at a company–that I shall not name for anonymity purposes–in which I work with mostly late adolescents as they transition in to adulthood. They have an array of diagnoses: Downs Syndrome, Developmental Disorders, ADHD, Aspergers, Traumatic Brain Injury… I also, on occasion work with adults with similar diagnoses as they navigate and prosper in their daily lives. I LOVE MY JOB AND THE PEOPLE I WORK WITH.
As for falling in love…well, it just happens, I suppose. I never thought I’d trust again or find love after what happened with my ex. I have met someone wonderful, however. It’s lovely when it happens and it makes continuing on in recovery much more important to me. Yes, I am doing it for myself, but it doesn’t hurt to want to be the best person you can be for someone you love. I have found an incredibly supportive partner in my fiancé, Steve. He lets me cry when I am overwhelmed by food and doesn’t judge me or tell me I am being dramatic, he hugs me until I calm down, he tells me when my thinking is skewed but uses empathy in doing so, and he even removes the nutrition information from food so that I won’t accidentally count calories and begin to feel guilt if I eat something!
Growing Up Alex: Final Words will be posted on Thursday 4/10/2014. Make sure to follow the blog to receive an e-mail for when it’s posted or follow it on Bloglovin‘!
I was petrified. I didn’t think I was thin enough to go to treatment. I thought I’d be the biggest girl there and that everyone would think I was too fat to be there. I told my treatment team that I’d only go to treatment if I could finish my semester at grad school AND go to California for it. I didn’t think they’d agree. Joke was on me: they did.
On June 9, 2010 I got on a plane by myself and flew out to California to a residential treatment center. I quickly learned that residential treatment had women of all sizes and diagnoses. And while, yes, some women were thinner than I was, there were also women of all different sizes. I started to realize that size didn’t matter AT ALL when a person has an eating disorder. We all had the same unhealthy relationship with food and we all were putting our bodies in terrible danger. We just dealt with our relationship with food differently: some of us restricted our intake, some ate only ‘clean’ or ‘healthy’ foods, some exercised obsessively, some binged and purged, some only binged, some did a mix of many different behaviors.
When I sat down at the dinner table that first night in California—to clarify, this was my first time sitting at a dinner table for an actual meal in over a decade– I was expected to eat 50% of my meal. The next day I would be expected to eat 75% of my meal. The third day onward I had to eat 100%. Depending on how much of my meal I did not eat, I would be expected to drink 1-2 Ensure Plus supplements.
When you begin the refeeding process they start you off at a very low intake. The body can react in very odd ways to refeeding, so they gradually build you up. For instance, during refeeding my phosphate levels dropped below a healthy level. Other women I was with developed edema. On that First night, I ate just enough so that I wouldn’t have to drink a supplement. My stomach was in so much pain from eating real food that I just curled up in a ball and cried on the couch. The nurse kept telling me to sit up straight, she said it would help with digestion. Sitting up straight was not comforting to me. Staff eventually began to redirect my behaviors of curling up by prompting me with the word, ‘Pretzel’ (meaning that I was curling up in to a position that resembled a pretzel, something that is a bit like curling up in fetal position).
The other women in treatment were so nice and supportive. They tried to help me distract my mind from how physically uncomfortable I felt by inviting me to do different crafts with them: making bracelets, making collages, and just talking to me and asking me questions about myself and the east coast.
The Inside Scoop on Residential Treatment
I had read books and heard the horror stories about treatment, but I honestly didn’t know what to actually expect. In treatment, they lock up all of your shower items and other things that they refer to as ‘sharps’ like mouth wash containing alcohol, nail clippers, hair clips, floss, nail polish, etc. The purpose behind this was to prevent women from self-harming. They kept our bathrooms locked except during shower time, which occurred one hour before bed or one hour before breakfast. We could only look in the mirror in the time we were allowed in our bathrooms when we had to shower and get ready for the day or for bed. If we had to use the bathroom during the day we had to ask for permission and go about our business with the door left ajar. A counselor had to both check and flush the toilet for us. It was very embarrassing, but quite a reality check.
As we proved ourselves to our treatment team [a therapist, dietician, and psychiatrist] we’d be allowed to go in to the bathroom on our own unless it was after meal time. If it was after meal time, we could still have the door shut, but we’d have to count or sing. This is not as easy as it may sound!
They based our meal plans on exchanges, rather than calories. So we’d have x amount of grains, x amount of fat, x amount of protein, x amount of vegetable or fruit. Every other week we went on a meal challenge, essentially a trip to a restaurant. On the opposite week, our challenge would be to eat a dessert. We had to choose our meals which was incredibly scary because it was doing something that you had told yourself for so long was not okay, because it meant you were choosing food and accepting that you would eat it. We also had to be sure to mix it up so as not to develop any new safe foods or meal rituals. I was continuously redirected during meals if I tried to break a sandwich apart. I NEVER bit in to anything and I was forced to change this habit. Other food rituals people have can be chewing very slowly, taking very small bites, eating one food group at a time…to be honest, some of the things treatment centers deem as food rituals could be something very normal to any given person, eating disordered or not, so it could get confusing. Sometimes we literally had no idea we were doing something disordered.
Light exercise would slowly be incorporated in to our treatment plan when our vitals (blood pressure, heart rate, weight gain), a decrease in ritualistic behaviors, and our nutritionist deemed us ready. I was finally granted exercise my last week in residential. They went for leisurely walks on the beach for exercise or did yoga. Did I mention I was in California? Gaining the privilege of going for a walk on a beach in CA was extremely exciting for me and I was rather disappointed that I only got to do it twice.
They took our cell phones and we were only allowed 40 minutes of phone calls a week from a house phone. We were also only allowed to use our laptops to check our email for 30 minutes on Saturdays. This was hard for a lot of us for different reasons, some women had young children waiting for them at home. For me, I was across the country, so I couldn’t see my family during family weekend or during visiting hours. It was difficult to only be able to communicate with my family by phone for a limited amount of time. We couldn’t read magazines or watch tv. We could only watch movies that had been pre-approved as non-triggering by staff. You get to a point in treatment where you begin to wonder if there is anything that ISN’T going to trigger at least one individual. We got to go on outings on Wednesdays and Saturdays, which we chose as a group. One outing was typically to Target, where we were able to purchase things like nail polish or shampoo or notebooks or other things we might need or use as activities. The other was a fun trip like going to the beach or a bookstore or to a nail salon.
Before each meal we had to rate our hunger on a scale from 1-10 and say an affirmation. After each meal we had to rate our fullness. A typical day was: breakfast, group, snack, exercise for those allowed, lunch, group, quiet time, dinner, group, free time, snack, bed. We had groups such as DBT [my favorite, it presented me with the ability to reframe my thoughts and an array of healthy coping skills that I still use it to this day], CBT [My least favorite], an open therapy group, Art therapy, Nutrition, Spirituality, Mindfulness, etc. We were weighed every morning in a Johnny, and we had to do a check to prove we weren’t wearing anything under the Johnny. We were never allowed to know our weight.
I met some of the most amazing women there and I will always remember them and cherish our laughter and our tears and the amazing support we were able to give one another. I had never been around such supportive people who also understood just how I was feeling. I also will credit my therapist Nancy, to this day, for giving me such a reality check and helping me explore so many aspects of the disorder.
Going Home and Relapse (Trigger Warning)
When I went home [insurance had kicked me out before I even reached my goal weight, My eating disorder was, unfortunately, very pleased by this] I relapsed VERY quickly. I wound up going to 2 different treatment [resulting in a total of 6 residential stays, which just shows you how difficult it can be to recover] centers over the next 2 years. This time, I stayed on the East Coast. The second center I went to after my initial stay in California was just outside of Boston. I stayed there twice and, while I met my best friend in my time at this particular treatment center, I believe this to be the worst treatment center I was in. They made me feel like I WAS my eating disorder, like I was bad. I was sent home for 24 hours in my first week there because I was struggling to finish my meals in the allotted 30 minutes. I had to write a letter stating why I believed I deserved to stay in front of my case manager, the therapist, my father, and the program director. They let me stay, but they later kicked me out of their day program for losing 1 pound. For some reason they took me back a month later with a very strict contract. I had to eat 100% of my meals all within the allotted time and if one bite was left when the timer went off I was out. I wasn’t even allowed the option to drink an entire ensure if I left one bite of my meal due to not being able to finish it all in 30 minutes. The other women in the program were allowed to have a supplement [and often refused] if they did not finish in time. I felt this was very unfair and I think it made me go in to a sort of fake recovery, for example: I wanted recovery so badly that I basically forced food down my throat. I even choked once in attempt to beat the clock. I was later kicked out of the day program, again, for losing weight. I believe this treatment center cared more about success stories than they did with helping people who were truly struggling, however, I know others walked out of there with more positive memories, so maybe I just felt bullied by the staff. Who knows. I did, however, meet many supportive women whom I still call friends in my time there.
My final treatment program was located in Cambridge, MA. This was the least structured program I had attended and, by far, had the worst food and was the least aesthetically appealing. Montecatini [the treatment center in California] and the first Boston treatment center were both in beautiful houses. This treatment center looked like a dorm. It also had more patients than either of the other programs. It could get very overwhelming, with so many people and I knew so much about DBT, CBT, and nutrition at this point that I honestly think I just went there to finish up my personal therapy and gain structured eating.
While in the day program in Cambridge, I learned that my [now ex] boyfriend had begun using heroin, had been caught buying a large amount of it, would be going to court ordered rehab for a year, and that he had been cheating on me with his ex girlfriend on and off for quite some time. I dealt with the breakup and moved back to MA from NY officially. We had been together for 6 years and I foolishly thought I was going to marry him. I was beyond angry, very depressed, embarrassed, ashamed, and my trust was completely shot. Some people deal with these situations by overeating, I just lose my appetite. I was sent back up to residential treatment from the day program and was put in a structured setting where I was forced to eat. I am very grateful to have had this support at this point in my life. However, since my control over food was gone, I began taking my frustration and anger out in other ways. I’d scratch my skin raw because I was used to restricting my food so as to avoid my emotions or to have control over something. I tended to feel like I had to hurt myself in some way if something went wrong in my life, and usually it was through restriction and purging. I still have scars on my left arm, which is shameful. Admitting this publically is actually very scary. Only a few people know where those scars actually came from. When people would ask, I’d say I had accidentally burned myself with my straightening iron. The irony in this is that just a few months ago, I actually DID accidentally grab my skin while straightening my hair and burned the very arm I used to scratch. I guess my flat iron got sick of taking the blame and decided to play a little double jeopardy 😉
For some reason, after bouncing back and forth between the day program and the residential program [at the second Boston treatment center, if your weight drops in the day program they try to support you and help you. If it keeps dropping, they try to get you admitted back to residential treatment to get you back on track. This is why I respect program #2 over program #1. Program #1 has since closed] I was finally discharged from my 6th and final stay in residential treatment at the end of January 2012 after beginning my journey in to recovery in June of 2010. I refused to go to Partial [day program]. I didn’t think it was helpful at all. I wanted to do it on my own. And I did.
Growing Up Alex: Being In Recovery will be posted on Monday 4/7/2014. Make sure to follow the blog to receive an e-mail for when it’s posted or follow it on Bloglovin‘!
Trigger Warning: The Increase in Behaviors in College and Potential Environmental Causes
In college, I was finally able to recognize that I was anorexic. I still wouldn’t say the word out loud, but I would go all day without eating, would drink one chai latte, and would consider myself a selfish pig for doing so. The majority of foods were not ‘safe’. I didn’t eat desserts or snacks for years.
I went through phases: the fruit salad phase, the rice cake phase, the salad no dressing phase, the pretzel phase, the apple phase. When I say these were phases, I mean that I literally would only eat the ‘phase’ food in a day. And only at night.
I had very strict rules about the caloric intake, protein, and fat grams that I consumed. The fewer, the better. The more consumed, the longer I would have to spend on the treadmill. The treadmill wasn’t just to burn off what little I had eaten. I had to make sure I had worked out for an amount of time that ended in a zero or a 5. I had to burn off calories that ended in a zero or a 5. And I had to have gone a distance that ended in a zero. So, even if I matched my calories consumed, I would keep going until all 3 numbers aligned to meet my ‘rules’.
I refused to eat in front of anyone. I locked myself in my room to eat my rice cakes, apple slices, or salad. If anyone interrupted me [this included my ex-boyfriend], I’d throw my food out the window and start crying because they had interrupted my only time I was allowed to eat and now I “would have to wait until the next day” to eat again. I was working and going to school and any time that I was not engaged in one of these activities I would sleep until 2pm. Then I would shower. Then I would work out. Then I would eat what I was ‘allowed’ to eat midday [usually apple slices and a cup of 25 calorie per packet hot chocolate. Then I would shower again. Later I would go for a walk. Then I would lock myself in my room for my ‘allowed’ dinner. Eventually, I’d stay up late with my ex-boyfriend because when one is not taking in proper nutrition, it can be very difficult to fall asleep. If my ex went out, I would stay locked in my room doing homework or perusing the internet until 4 or 5 in the morning only to repeat the process upon awakening.
In my early 20’s I realized that when I felt too full, or I ate one rice cake too many, purging was the best solution. I would feel high immediately after the purge and then terribly weak and dizzy. The purging eventually led to me being sent to the ER. I thought it was normal to be irritable ALL of the time. I thought it was normal to be completely overwhelmed by simple tasks. I thought it was normal for my hands to shake and for my heart to flutter. Oddly, I truly thought it was normal to stand up and have the room go black.
When I was 23 or 24, I began to acknowledge how miserable I was. I had graduated with a degree in Psychology from my college in NY. I had gotten in to graduate school for a Master’s in Mental Health Counseling. I was working as a nanny. And I was exhausted and isolated. I rarely went out with my friends because I feared eating around them or I was just plain too tired. I spent most of my time working, going to school, reading, writing papers, and sleeping. When I would nanny I would be so tired that I didn’t have the energy to play with the little boy I was watching. I’d be elated when there were rainy days and we’d have to stay inside and watch a movie or read a book. The biggest wake up call for me was when I realized that I felt I had to eat less than this sweet and innocent little 4 year-old boy did.
I made the decision to see a therapist and nutritionist because I didn’t want to feel so horrible but I didn’t know how to stop what I was doing. They were very supportive but they would continuously tell me how strong my eating disorder was. I didn’t believe them because I didn’t look like the women portrayed in the media…or because the number on the scale wasn’t below a number I deemed ‘anorexic’.
My nutritionist banned me from exercising and I listened enough to stop going to the gym, but I would still walk to that nutritionist appointment , which was 4 miles away. One day, after I was ordered to get blood drawn, I decided that riding my bike was a fine way to get to my appointment. 8 vials of blood and large bruising from where the needle had been did not sway me from riding my bike home. Sometimes I’d walk to Target or Barnes and Noble, 10 miles round trip. I won’t say what I was eating at this point because it is not necessary, nor is it helpful to anyone trying to recover.
At 24, I found myself sitting in a room with my mother, my father, my therapist, and my nutritionist [and notes from my doctor]. They had all decided that I had to go to residential treatment. I had been threatened with this before but I was over 18, so legally they could not make me. I always had an excuse: ‘I need to finish sophomore year of college,’ or ‘I just need to graduate college’. My therapist and nutritionist essentially gave me the ultimatum: go to treatment or we can no longer help you.
Growing Up Alex: Residential Treatment will be posted on Thursday 4/3/2014. Make sure to follow the blog to receive an e-mail for when it’s posted or follow it on Bloglovin‘!
I had always been a shy child, but my social anxiety became unbearable in middle school. I couldn’t raise my hand in class even if I knew 100% that I knew the answer. If I had to read out loud, even a paragraph, I would spend the entire class dreading when it would be my turn to read, to the point that I could barely breathe. I couldn’t think straight. My face burned. My whole body shook. For the rest of the day ALL I could think about was how I sounded reading that paragraph. I could think of nothing else. It makes no sense looking back and sounds very silly, but I literally could not function. When called on at random in class, I’d lose my voice, turn bright red, and experience previously mentioned symptoms. I was very comfortable with my core group of friends, but anyone outside of that group of friends I would react to as if they were ready to crucify me. I couldn’t hold conversation with anyone who was not someone I’d have a sleepover with to save my life. I quit cheerleading, gymnastics, and softball to avoid being in social settings with peers because I didn’t know how to talk to them, felt bullied by some of them, and became very insecure in my own abilities. It was odd, though, because I was so normal and comfortable with my close friends, my parents, and my stepparents. If it was a peer, a teacher, or even my grandparents, however, talking was a terribly frightening thing. Gaining weight was a terribly frightening thing. Being noticed was a terribly frightening thing. Things out of my control made me so angry that I’d feel sick. I didn’t know how to properly express my anger, however, because I was too scared to appear out of control. I’d either hold it all in or explode around my parents.
I had a lot of trouble with my father’s 3rd wife, who would send me very mixed signals. One day she would tell me how pretty or talented or smart I was, the next she would tell me I was a terrible drama queen or she would simply ignore me. I wanted her approval terribly, so when I’d go to my dad’s house and she’d just lock herself away from me, I would feel so confused. So yes, I would act dramatically. I would cry. I would yell. I started avoiding my father, mostly because I was uncomfortable being a young woman with someone to whom I’d always been a little girl; but I would try my hardest to gain the affections of my step mom. The issues with my stepmother went far deeper than is expressed here and I do believe my eating disorder became full throttle as I attempted to deal with this situation in my home life.
Trigger Warning: The Early Behaviors and Family Life
Around 14 or 15 I began exercising in my room or I’d sneak downstairs at night and walk laps around my kitchen. I decided to ‘eat healthier’ although my idea of healthy was ‘eat less’. I didn’t want to feel the fabric of my pants. I had lost my identity as being ‘little’ because I was no longer the ‘short one’. I felt like I needed to fit in to the mold of being ‘little’ because I thought it was what was expected of me. I began skipping breakfast. I’d make my own dinner and eat it separately from my mother and her boyfriend [whom we lived with]. Sometimes I’d go all day without eating and then just eat one big meal before bed. I didn’t think it was weird. I just thought I was ‘being healther’.
I’d go out for walks or jogs at night because I didn’t want to be seen exercising because I suppose that, somewhere in the depths of my mind, I knew that what I was doing wasn’t normal. When my mom would tell me it was too late and too dark to go for a run or walk, sometimes I’d sneak out. If she caught me, I’d wait until she went to bed and then I would go downstairs and do 10 sets of 100 jumping jacks, crunches until my stomach hurt, pushups, and walk as many laps around the downstairs as I could until my legs vibrated.
I began to weigh myself obsessively. This was a difficult task because the scale was in my mom and her boyfriend’s room, so I’d have to wait for them to leave the house. If they were downstairs, I’d tiptoe in to the room. I’d step on the scale 3-5 times in a row just to see if it changed. I’d repeat this behavior throughout the day. I became obsessed with the number on the scale and if it went up even 1/10th of a pound, I would punish myself with more exercise or less food.
For parents, I was not a fun teenager to deal with. Everything stressed me out. I cried often. If I got really mad, I’d just refuse to eat. For some reason I thought it was a great way of saying, ‘I’m angry’ to my parents. I didn’t realize I was not only hurting them, but I was hurting myself. I also felt so powerful and in control when I didn’t eat.
Back to my stepmother: by my senior year of high school, my stepmother had been hospitalized at least 7 times for suicide attempts and was diagnosed with some form of bipolar disorder, though we’re still not sure if that was an accurate diagnosis. I’d visit her in the psychiatric hospital. When she was home her mood would swing from incredibly kind to incredibly unstable. One hour she was my best friend, the next she’d break down sobbing because she couldn’t find a pair of scissors or she’d begin yelling at my dad because I was watching television on a Sunday morning. Going to my dad’s house felt like walking on broken glass because I never knew which side of her personality to expect. All I wanted was for her to like me, but I didn’t know what normal activity I could or could not do at that house because it might send her in to hysterics.
What is the relevance of this? Well, to put it simply: I believe the easiest way for me to deal with this seemingly out of control situation was to find my own control. I couldn’t control whether my step mother would be nice to my father and I, or whether she’d be happy or sad in any given moment, but I could control my weird food habits. My exercising “in secret” increased. Sometimes I’d go for days without anything but fruit and then reward myself with 2 bowls of cereal after I had restricted myself from food for what I deemed to be long enough.
The very last time I saw my stepmother was in the ER, after an attempted overdose. Earlier in that week she had told me that she had hated me since I was 12, but now she liked me. She thought she was complimenting me. I had no idea what to make of that sentiment. She was hospitalized after the attempted overdose and later announced she wanted a divorce from my father and never said goodbye to me. At the same time, my mother and her boyfriend of over 10 years separated. The divorce proceedings began when I was a sophomore in college and they were very messy. I was far away from home and felt helpless. I felt like all of the structure I had known growing up was disappearing. I have no idea where my (ex)stepmother is today, or how she is doing. I hated her for a long time, but I now understand that she was very sick and how she acted had nothing to do with me and that I hadn’t actually done anything to cause her behavior. I still dream about her sometimes.
Growing Up Alex: College and the After Years will be posted on Monday 3/31/2014. Make sure to follow the blog to receive an e-mail for when it’s posted or follow it on Bloglovin‘!
I had shown signs of disordered eating since I was a child. My parents were divorced and I lived with my mom most of the time. Whenever we’d have dessert after dinner, I had to wait until she had finished eating hers before I would even begin mine. She did not make me do this. At four years old I had somehow deemed this act necessary.
I am also an only child. Any time I ate with a friend, I would make sure that I ate slow enough so that I could eat just the slightest bit less for lunch or dinner, even if it meant that my friend left 2 noodles of macaroni and I left 4. I stopped eating donuts at age 7 when my father casually mentioned that they were fattening. Kids would bring munchkins in to class and I would claim that I just didn’t like them. I was terrified of ‘getting fat’.
My dad lived on the beach and I would stand in the bathroom in front of the mirror, in my bathing suit, sideways while sticking out my stomach and then pulling it back in in an attempt to figure out if I was fat. I was only 5.
I compared the size of my legs to the size of my neighbor’s legs and was ashamed that hers were thinner than mine when we’d walk to school in the first grade. By age 7, I was reading the nutrition information on packages as I ate.
One day, after getting a haircut, I looked in the mirror and saw a fat face staring back at me and I began to sob. I was in 3rd grade and I was underweight for my age. My face was certainly not fat. I admit that, to this day, I still struggle with seeing my face as it actually is.
None of my behaviors seemed odd to me because they were just a part of how I lived my life. I liked food like cookies and chocolate and pizza and when I would eat them, I would eat decent sized portions. I was a small girl both in height and weight. My classmates would call me cute and pick me up and treat me like a little kid. I grew used to that. I grew used to being called, ‘Little Alex’. I essentially accepted it as part of my identity or, as some therapists may say, it became a part of my self schema.
In 6th grade I went through a growth spurt and the natural course of puberty brought upon by early adolescence. I shot up 3 inches in 1 year. In 7th grade I was still on the shorter end of average, but I had caught up in height to many of my classmates who had once loomed over me. I was very uncomfortable because it didn’t fit in to this schematic idea of who Alex was. Alex was supposed to be short. She was supposed to be smaller than everyone else.
My entire life I had struggled to find clothes that fit me because of my size. The women working retail would always remark to my mother about how tiny I was for my age in a way that almost made it sound like a positive thing. As a young child I dreamed of being tall. When I actually did grow and became ‘average’ in height I had a wee bit of an identity crisis.
A common component of puberty in girls is weight gain. It’s natural. It happens to all of us at one point or another. Pants that used to be too big, even with belts, suddenly fit just fine. Sometimes when I sat down, I could even feel the cloth touch my stomach. In my mind this wasn’t okay. I’ve had many therapists over the years and it seems that while I showed many signs of disordered eating as a child, it was around 12 or 13 when I really began to slip in to more eating disordered behaviors.
Growing Up Alex: Factors and the Existence of Depression and Anxiety in Eating Disorders will be posted on Thursday 3/27/2014. Make sure to follow the blog to receive an e-mail for when it’s posted or follow it on Bloglovin‘!
Eating Disorders have become so common and are even more so now with the many social media network’s out there. Hashtags such as #thinspo, #thinspiration, #thighgap, #ana and #miaare everywhere. Social Media networks like Instagram and Tumblr, and the group Project HEAL, are working to educate and help those who are in the midst of ED’s and educating those who want to learn more.
One of my good friends, Alex, has suffered from an eating disorder since her pre-teen years. We’ve know each other since we were 8. We’ve grown up together. And I am so honored to tell her story here. This started as an idea for a ‘Friendly Feature’ and now, I’m turning it into a series of posts; around 7 to be exact.
It’s honest, it’s hard to read, but it’s true life. It’s 100% Alex, and captures what she went through to a level that many of us could never relate to.
What is goal of these posts? Simple – to tell Alex’s story; her story of growing up and developing an eating disorder, how she masked it, decided to go to treatment, and finally her recovery. These posts will be long, longer than I normally write, but it’s important to tell this story properly. Most important, these are her words. She wrote every single post. These will be posted over a few week time-span.
The main goal: awareness. If we are able to reach and help just one person, then we succeeded. And onto part 1.
Meet Me: Alex
My name is Alexandra, but that’s mainly just for my grandparents and the government. Most everyone else calls me Alex. Or Al, if you’ve known me forever. Or ‘Woo’, if you’re my mom. I’m 28 and this is my story.
Food and I haven’t always gotten along. It wasn’t really even about the food. It wasn’t the food’s fault. It also wasn’t my fault. To be up front; it wasn’t really anyone’s fault. Food and I have just had a rocky relationship for most of my life.
Let’s rewind to 2002, at age 16, as I was sitting on one of those sticky exam room tables, swinging my legs back and forth anxiously, hugging a paper gown to my freezing body. My doctor was talking about me, in front of me, to my mother and my ears perked up when she casually said, ‘…and due to Alexandra’s Anorexia, I’d like to perform an EKG’. I didn’t know what an EKG was but I knew what anorexia was. I also knew that the reason I had been sent to the doctor was because my therapist had recommended it.
However, at 16, I “knew” well enough that I did NOT have anorexia because I “did not look like a skeleton”. I ate. What was this doctor talking about? Clearly, she knew nothing and I, at 16, was the expert.
While the nurse hooked up those freezing cold stickers across my bare and underdeveloped chest, rather than be embarrassed, I was lost in thought. The doctor had said words like ‘nutritionist’ and ‘try to get soup with beans’ and something about talking further with my therapist. I had had a frappucino the prior weekend and that had lots of calories! I did NOT have anorexia. At this point I didn’t understand that the media portrayal of anorexia only showed the most extreme side of it, probably for shock value and exploitation of very sick and very, very sad individuals. To this day, I worry that the media’s portrayal of only terribly emaciated individuals plays a great deal in to why many women and men avoid treatment to begin with.
It would be a few more years before I would accept this diagnosis, and many more years before I could even utter the word ‘anorexia’. I would just say “eating disorder”. Let’s backtrack.
Growing Up Alex: Childhood and Middle School will be posted on Monday 3/24/2014. Make sure to follow the blog to receive an e-mail for when it’s posted or follow it on Bloglovin‘!