Thursday, August 25, 2011

Telling my story: a porcelain hell

**Warning this a very long post, and parts may be disturbing or graphic 


image source

I've been sharing the ups and downs, thankfully mostly ups of the last year and a bit, as I navigate my way to a healthier me.  I have shared the trials of the pouch, and the sweat (lots of sweat) and the missteps here and there.  I have talked about the much larger, unfit version of myself, and briefly the struggles in my youth with an eating disorder.  As the Army Run approaches and (half) of a life long dream comes close to fruition, I have been thinking a lot about the road that has brought me here.  In particular, I have been thinking about how I seem to be healing the last of the bruises from my youth and emerging strong and healthy.  I think its time to share that story and how now at 34 years of age and loosing weight I am keeping free of it's shackles and setting a healthy example for my girls.  I also think that writing and sharing this will be like letting it go for once and for all.

I spent the years from the time I was 16 till about 23 fully emerged in the dark world of bulimia.  I didn't turn to bulimia suddenly, its something that had been creeping up on me slowly.  I can remember being in senior kindergarden swinging on the swings and thinking that I was fat, what child at that age is already thinking she is fat?  I must point out that I was not fat, nor chubby.  I was a healthy child and pretty cute, I might add, with my long pig tails.  In grade 6, I started to get chubby, not out right overweight but chubby and larger than the 'norm'.  My thoughts occasionally went to my weight but for the most part I just had fun playing and being a kid.  Flash forward to grade 8 and the amount of time spent worrying about my weight and thinking that I was fat started to increase significantly.  I remember in particular, running the track, in track and field and thinking that everyone was staring at my thunderous legs in those gawd awful short shorts.  I remember running as fast as I could to get it over with and almost almost beating the girl that always came in first (hi Marta).  Again, when I look back at pictures I don't see a fat girl, I see a fit girl that runs a lot and has muscular legs.  Already, at that young age my body image was distorted.  My first flirt with bulimia came at around this time.  I remember it very well, it was halloween and my friends came over after we had gone trick or treating and I for some reason had it in my head that I should try throwing up the candy.  I did.  It was awful.  I didn't do it again till about the time I was 16, and then I would spend a great deal of time with my head in the toilet. 

My Porcelain Hell

Welcome to my porcelain hell.  I am now about 16 years old and dating the guy that is now my husband.   My husband has literally been with me through this entire journey, through thick and thin.  I am 16 and going through the typical teenage strifes of trying to fit in, falling in love, and all that ever so fun stuff.  I decide to go on a diet and to loose weight, again I wasn't 'fat' but a little on the chubby side.  I don't know how I lost the weight as I didn't really know what a diet was.  I think I just started eating less and had success.  As I lost weight people noticed, they complimented me, and this shy (yes I was shy back then) girl started to gain confidence.  Loosing weight, being thin, is a powerful thing.  We are assaulted with messages and images that tell us that this thinness is what we should stive fore and in the midst of its shiny promise you can loose yourself.  I lost myself.  I also couldn't maintain the weight loss, I couldn't keep eating less, I was hungry.  I was hungry for so much more than food.  That's when I befriended bulimia, and fell down the deep dark hole of binging and purging.  I became an addict.  Food was my drug.  I can't even begin to describe how much my thoughts were dominated by food, how and when to throw it up, and getting thinner.  When I got stressed and lets face it being a teenager is stressful (needing to be a 'perfect' student, the 'perfect' daughter, 'perfect' girlfriend...etc), I would turn to food.  It went like this: enter stress, anxiety rises, binge and feeling of numbness comes on, binge is over and anxiety and panic spike, purge and feeling of calm washes over again.  It was a vicious cycle that became harder and harder to break, and yes every-time I flushed the toilet I did promise myself that this was the last time.  No bulimic, wants to be bulimic.  In my disordered brain I thought of bulimia as failure, anorexia was the prize.  An anorexic was strong and the bulimic weak.  Just writing that, I am cringing and my eyes are welling up with tears.  I am horrified by the truth that I lived.

Excerpt from my high school diary
I feel as if the walls surrounding me have collapsed, pulling me under.  I sit on the bathroom floor, my chest pounding, my hand covered in saliva, my knuckles bleeding.  My heart flutters wildly, terrified that someone has heard me, or worse yet that I did not mangage to heave up all the bad food.  I flush the toilet  washing away all the hurt and pain.  With it I  feel a release, cleansed, and pure now.  I feel as though I can start over, that I will be GOOD now.  I promise myself, as I have many times before that this was the last time.  No more eating.  I pull my tired body from the floor.  A wave of dizziness passes over me. I begin washing may hands, face, and teeth.  Wiping away the remains of guilt from the toilet seat, my stomach turns at the thought of what has just taken place.   I spin around in determination, that it will not happen again, and just to prove it I lift up my shirt and gaze into the mirror.  Looking for the familiar,  reassuring outline of my rib cage and indent of my stomach.  In an attempt to forget and push the remains of the guilt from my mind I open the bathroom door and enter the hallway.  My ears are alert, all is quiet, and with a sense of relief I go downstairs and change into my running clothes.  Pulling my hair back into a pony tail, I can smell the remains of puke on my hands.  A smell that only I can distinguish.  Its as if it remains there as yet another horrifying reminder of my weakness.  I try to push the weakness deep within myself, concentrating on building the walls around me.  I walk out the door more determined then ever as I pound down the street to complete my first set of two miles.  I used to be able to run all six together but now I find myself becoming weaker, and dizzier quicker than usual.  Running is my escape.  I feel strong and free.  It's almost euphoric! Unfortunately, it is a utopia that does  not last forever....


I have to admit I really struggled with sharing that piece from my diary.  But I think it paints a very real picture of the mind of a young girl in the throws of bulimia.  Like a drug addict I did things that I was not proud of.   I lied, I hurt my family,my loved ones, the least of my offenses was throwing up in a bucket in my closet to hide the sound.  In my last year of high-school I started treatment seeing a Dr. in Peterbrough and a psychologist in Lindsay.  I have say that it was not very helpful.  I think know what pulled me out of it in the end was my family with their love and support.  My mom in particular fought really hard to pull me out of that dark hole. I spent my last year of highschool slightly 'heavier' and a lot healthier with very few episodes of binging and purging.  I entered University the following year doing well, and continued to stay 'healthy' that first year.  I even started volunteering for the Anorexia and Bulimia Association (ANAB), doing public education and speaking to young girls in schools, and helping to run some support groups.   But that summer heading into 2nd year I started dieting again and by the time I was back at school was far gone down the porcelain hole.  Something I haven't mentioned yet, is that my best friend was anorexic.  I lived with her for 4 years during university, just the two of us in an apartment.  Our 'world' was a very disordered one.  I have no doubt that we influenced one another and further dragged one another down.   I still remember the day I moved to Ottawa, to live with Ryan and how free I felt.  I am not blaming her, I have as much blame to shoulder.  We were both sick girls.  Very sick girls.  That second year of university was very hard, I wonder how I managed to study and do well in school.  The worst part was that I was still volunteering for ANAB and hiding my relapse from them.  I was really good at helping other young girls, and failing miserably at helping myself.  It was also this year that tragedy struck my home town, when a young girl I grew up with died from Bulimia.  I won't go into that story, but think that its important to mention how much it rocked me to my core.  I felt a great deal of guilt over her death having known that she was ill, and feeling like I didn't 'help' her as much as I should have.  It also scared me to see just how serious Bulimia was.  I went into a deep depression then and started seeing a Psychiatrist that specialized in eating disorders.  It was then that I started to really get some help.  My struggle carried into my third year but things were looking up.  I wasn't binging and purging multiple times a day any longer, it was happening a few times a week.  I was trying really hard at this point to finally put this behind me and get healthy and live life.  By my fourth year of university I was doing really well, but also had gained a lot of weight.  I was at my highest weight at a size 16.  Considering that my lowest weight had me at size 4 it was a big gain.  I was literally learning how to eat again that year.  I had forgotten how normal people eat.  I would sit down with a muffin and panic thinking this was my last muffin eating opportunity (because I had never allowed myself that food without a consequence)  and would proceed to eat 5 or 6 of them.  You can see how the weight packed on quickly and it was a struggle to accept my increasing size.  Graduation had me leaving Kingston and moving to Ottawa to move in with Ryan (somehow we survived a 4 year long, long distance relationship.)  Moving to Ottawa brought a whole new set of stressors, I was no longer being supported by my parents (I was very very lucky to have them pay for university, my rent, my food, everything really), I needed to find work, and I needed to use my fancy degree and start a career.  You can likely guess what happened, I started loosing weight, feeling more confident,  and more in control of my circumstances but that didn't last long.  Soon the weight loss turned into full blown bulimia again and I headed very quickly down the dark hole.  I don't know how to describe the DEATH GRIP this disease has on you.  How 90% of my thoughts were very much consumed by what to eat, how much to eat, how much I weighed, how and when to binge and purge, not to mention the guilt and shame that crushed me.    I hit two lows in that last bout with Bulimia.  I went away to work in Fredericton, and had a hotel suite to   myself for a month.  I had complete freedom to binge and purge as much as I wanted without anyone knowing.  I think during that month the majority of what I ate came back up, very little stayed down.  I reached my lowest adult weight...and woke up on the bathroom floor with blood on my fingers from throwing up.  The second low was the one that turned the corner for me...it was Ryan.  It was Ryan banging on the bathroom door begging me stop. It was Ryan who I have been with since I was 16 years old telling me that he couldn't marry me if this is was what life was going to be like.  It was then that I realized that I was missing out on all the good things in life.  That what was important was on the other side of the bathroom door.  I started seeing a therapist that really helped me win the battle for once and for all.  She was a behavioural psychologist and helped give me tools to break the cycle and develop healthy coping mechanisms.  I think I was 23 when I started to finally break free.  I gained weight.  I gained weight very quickly. But I was FREE.  My mind was so light and free from the obsession.  I married Ryan dressed in a wedding dress with wings....for real :)  Life truly has been a blessing since that day.  I have been happier over the last 10 years, even at a size 22, than I ever was at a size 4.  

So over this past year and a bit as I have lost weight, its has been like my body is catching up to my mind.  My mind and spirit have been happy and healthy over the last years, but my body was not.  As happy and confident as I felt, I wasn't physically healthy at 258 pounds.  I think also in some ways I was still hanging on to some of the eating disorder.  I ate to numb myself when I was stressed, I just didn't purge.  I ate when I wasn't hungry.  I ate when I was bored.  I refused to admit that I needed to change my eating habits.  I was hanging on to little bits of unhealthy.  
So here I am loosing weight once again, feeling more confident and better about myself.  How do I stay healthy and free from the dark days?  For one, having written this post, I have felt all those old emotions peak up to the surface.  I have felt the WEIGHT of the obsession, the shame and the guilt again.  I don't ever want to feel those things again.  I am living a blessed life and I don't want to jeopardize that.  Just thinking back to what I put Ryan through and thought of ever doing that to my children scares me.  Most of all I think the fear of my girls ever going through anything like that is motivation enough to make sure that I stay healthy and teach them how to love their bodies and selves.  
Yet loosing weight is shiny, and I have already seen that it can make me a little crazy.  A month ago, I let myself get a little too rigid and was cranky and unhappy.  I am very thankful that I was able to see it (even if I was a little slower than I would have liked, Ryan saw it happening before I was willing to admit it, damn he knows me to well) and set myself straight.  This is a very emotional and somewhat precarious path for me.  I think if you've followed this very long post this far, you will understand that.  So I have come up with these 'truths' that I am going to take to heart and use them as my lighthouse on this journey.  

1.  My children are a mirror of myself.  I don't ever want to see them stepping on scale to determine their self worth.  I don't want to ever hear them say they are fat.  I don't want to hear them talking about diets or bad food.  
2.  This is the body I will live the rest of my life in.  I will raise my children in this body, I will see them married in this body, I will grow old with Ryan in this body...I will run a half marathon in this body.  I need to take care of this body.  I need to be fit and strong.  I need to be rested.  I need to fuel this body.  I need to be kind to this body.  I need to love this body (pouch, flags, big beautiful boobs and all).  
3. Life is to be lived.  I used to not do things because I was too big, too embarrassed by my size.  My children see that too.  

I'm stealing the last one from Dr. Freedhoff:
4. Your best weight is whatever weight you reach, when you’re living the healthiest life you actually enjoy

If you read this to the end thank-you.  Those of you that have read this are likely the same amazing people that have encouraged me, held me up, and made me smile day after day.  I am blessed to have an incredible support network of friends, online friends, blog friends, flesh and blood friends...FRIENDS :) thank-you.  

15 comments:

  1. i may just be on online friend as of yet, (maybe a phone friend) but one day we'll be friends in real life, i just know it! you're a brave woman to show this but all i kept thinking was....you made it through. you're a survivor and a great example to your girls. big hugs

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  2. I don't even know what to say Katie. you are incredible to fight this disease for so long and get to the point you are at now is proof that you know how to handle it. Your daughters are lucky that you will be watching out for them. Thanks for sharing your whole story :)

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  3. This is an amazing story told with such heart. I wish I could follow in your footsteps. I have my own battles and they are difficult to fight so I greatly admire your courage to share and your successes.

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  4. i have read this twice...completely...
    you've closed the lid on that porcelain hell...and you have come out a gorgeous, vivacious and wonderful lady who inspires people with your words and your actions everyday....
    Ryan is remarkable...but the only person who could beat this thing is you... you did that...YOU DID THAT!!!!
    i don't know any kids who could be prouder of their mom than your kids...
    you're a fighter...you're a winner....you are remarkable....
    xo
    Dorrie

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  5. Your demon can knock at the door all it wants Katie! You have acknowledged it's existence and told it to stay put ... you also have made the decision to not let it in anymore! I think by doing both you are that much stronger and that much more, on your way to being the best you possible!

    Sharing this little bit of you not only empowers yourself, but maybe opens the eyes of those that struggle like you did!

    I love you with all my heart .. have never been prouder of a friend, and your babies are going to grow up with the all important "LOVE ME JUST THE WAY I AM" attitude. Mission accomplished!

    R
    XOOX

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  6. I'm actually crying Katie, thank you for sharing this story. I can only imagine how hard it was to write. You are such a strong woman, proud of you

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  7. Wow Katie, thank you so much for sharing your story with us. You are so brave and strong. The "losing it" gang is definitely here for you. So many important truths I am taking from this post. Thank you!

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  8. I just ... have no words other than "Thank you"

    ~ Mellisa

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  9. Thanks for sharing. You have a very touching story. Thank you for being so honest.

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  10. You are so so brave for posting this. So strong. So inspirational. My best friend in H.S. was bulimic. She attempted to kill herself because of her terrible struggle. Thankfully, she didn't succeed. This post gives me some long-needed insight into her heart. Thank you. I wish I could hug you right now. xoxo

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  11. I haven't met you yet Katie but I know we will one day soon I hope. I admire your courage to share such deep personal experience. You are so courageous. SO courageous!!! You have so much to offer so many women, and especially your children. I have never been bulimic so obviously I cannot relate fully to your story but I am certainly moved by it, and by your struggles and all you have achieved.

    I have struggled with body image and have some experience with disordered eating in my 20s (I guess you could say at 5'10" and only 115 lbs, the 3 month hunger strike I went on, as a way to punish myself for self perceived failures and because of shame and self hate, was most definitely the start of a very slippery slope into anorexia - the love of my then boyfriend now husband and a small group of very good friends at the time helped me to start eating again....and I ate and ate and ate....I was 100lbs heavier after my second child - so I understand about food, emotions, addiction, guilt, shame etc....but it's a different story. We are all our unique people, but I'm drawn to and bound to your honesty and your realness! you are REAL! don't ever change that!!!

    Thank you so much for sharing this!

    Lara

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  12. Wow Katie, what a powerful story - I honestly had no idea what you've dealt with and that makes you an even MORE amazing woman than I already knew you were!!! Proud of you for the strength and courage to share your story with everyone.

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  13. Katie, really brave share and important. You are really quite something, you know? I really didn't know this part of your story, which makes it even more remarkable, the way you have strived to take care of yourself. xo.

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