Today’s post is by guest author, Liz Ashe, who is not only a close friend to both Laura and Andrea, but a phenomenal writer. Liz also has Binge Eating Disorder and has agreed to share her story and her reaction to Laura and Andrea sharing their stories. Enjoy!
So I was asked to write a guest spot blog post for Binge On This. Of course I jumped at the chance. Why? Maybe I could help someone like me, someone who struggled… is still struggling, someone doesn’t want to, or thinks they can’t, tell anyone. An eating disorder isn’t a secret you have to take to your grave. It just isn’t. Trust me. You can tell people. Tell yourself first, though. If you can admit it to yourself, then you can admit it to the people that care about you, and if you can do those two things – you can tell anyone. If they judge you, so what? That’s a failing on their part, not yours. They don’t get to claim “achievement unlocked – humanity” in the game of life that day.
I’m not really sure where my problems with food began. I know I was very young. Early on, food was identified to me as a reward or a conciliation prize. If I behaved, I got a treat; if something bad happened, I was soothed with ice cream or something similar. Food was equated with something good or something that needed to be pacified; it was positive. It encouraged and eased. When I hit puberty, I gained weight, and that was part of where the real issues began. I used to be cute. I was this little blonde ballerina. Then I stopped dancing. I hit middle school – where everyone suddenly decided how you looked was the most important thing ever. I had started gaining weight, I had braces, I wore glasses to read, and my mom still picked out a lot of my clothes. I wasn’t cute anymore, and people were all too quick to let me know it. So I started picking out my own clothes (with many questionable choices) and was quiet for about three years; I tried to draw as little attention to myself as possible. I had a core group of friends, and they liked me for me, so it was okay.
High school was better and worse. Better because I joined the drama club and stopped trying to be utterly invisible, but worse because I weighed more. There was more emphasis on what you looked like, and this is where my anti-harmony with food got serious. Thankfully, my high school years were also at the height of the grunge movement so layers of baggy clothing were in. I could hide my fat. Mostly. I had a girl ask me if I was pregnant once. She didn’t do it because she really thought I was pregnant; she did it to humiliate me and to let me know she thought I was fat. Not that I showed it outwardly, but it worked. I was humiliated and ashamed of the way I looked. Halfway through my freshman year I began cultivating a self-deprecating personality. I belittled myself first, so no one else had a chance to hurt me. I also became quite rude. Bitchy was a word I often heard associated with my person. Oh, once you peeled back my “bitchy” layers, I could be great, but first impression was “she’s intense and scary”. All of this was my armor. If I could not be invisible, then I would arm myself.
All of this hid what was really going on.
Hey, Binge Club, stop me if any of this sounds familiar. I was not eating breakfast. All I would have for lunch usually was nothing or a Dr. Pepper from the vending machine, maybe a bag of chips if I was feeling especially daring. You see, I was already fat, and the last thing the fat girl wants is for anyone to see her eating anything. To this day, I have a difficult time letting anyone watch me eat. Most of my eating was done in secret after school before my parents got home. Then I would eat whatever my mom made for dinner too, and not that I am blaming my mother in any way, but she was a southern cook. She cooked comfort food. For those of you who don’t know, 90% of all southern comfort food is fried, has bacon grease added to it, is covered in gravy, or all three. Not only was I not eating at healthy intervals to keep my metabolism working properly, but what I was actually putting in my body was not the healthiest fare either.
When I got my driver’s license, my grandmother bought me a car (because she was the BEST). This only exacerbated the situation, though. The car enabled me further. I was able to hit the drive thru at any fast food joint on my way home from school and have the food consumed before I even pulled the car in the garage. Not that I did this every day, but it was not an uncommon occurrence, especially if I’d had a “rough” day. Things weren’t truly out of control yet, though, believe it or not.
My freshman year of college was bad. My parents got a divorce, again not blaming them, and I am ashamed to say that I handled that rather badly. I was only an hour away at school, so I was coming home on the weekends. My parents had gotten me a dorm meal card. I was the queen of ziplocking extra food from the dining hall and carting it out in my backpack. My dad was also giving me a little extra spending cash. All monies were spent on gas and food, and since this was the mid 90s when five dollars was still gas money and I drove a Geo Metro, most of that money was spent on snack cakes, chips, other assorted junk foods… and alcohol. Yes, I wasn’t 21 yet, but I had the fortunate (or unfortunate) luck to make older friends almost immediately after hitting the university campus. I cultivated myself into a party girl, and they loved me. Any fat girl will tell you, if you aren’t pretty, you sure better be fun, or no one will want you around. Not only could I binge eat, but I could binge drink like nobody’s business. As much as I hid my binge eating, I glorified my binge drinking. I was the female version of Bluto from Animal House (It was a movie made in the late 70s starring John Belushi – look it up, younglings).
This pattern of everything in excess continued well into my 20s. I drank and partied myself to a suspension from the university. I came home and went to community college. I did nothing with my life… except throw crazy parties. The bitchy fat girl had to be fun, you know. She had to swallow her bitterness just like the food and the booze she consumed in excess. I was well on my way to being a full-blown alcoholic, but I had to keep throwing parties and doing things like that because how was anyone going to like me otherwise? In my eyes, I wasn’t worth liking. Not the real me.
I drifted from job to job, never lasting more than five years anywhere. I disliked myself, and the more I disliked myself, the more I turned to food or alcohol as a balm. Somewhere in there I lost a really good friend to lung cancer. With every loss, everything I perceived as a setback, my bingeing would become a little more serious. I remember after being fired from a job once sitting in my room and crying while eating a bag of potato chips. I was just stuffing them in my mouth one after the other, and in walked my mom. When she asked what was wrong, I told her I was a loser who could not get her crap together. She disagreed. My mom thought I could do anything, and the part of me that hated myself was never entirely sure where she had gotten that idea from. It was one of the two times in my life someone caught me hardcore bingeing. Later I was ashamed, but my mom never mentioned the bingeing again, so I didn’t either. She ate when she was sad too. Nobody talks about Binge Club, right?
Then came the… breakthrough? Breaking point? Let’s just call it the thing that changed everything.
I ended up in the hospital with pancreatitis in my late 20s. For those of you who don’t know this, your pancreas produces natural insulin for your body and also the enzymes that help you digest food. When you have pancreatitis, your pancreas has basically become inflamed and stopped functioning properly. It was not too long after that I was diagnosed with diabetes, or if you know that commercial, diabeetus. I had to start taking medicine to help lower my blood sugar. I also had to go see a nutritionist. My eating habits and patterns were forced to change. Because of the medicine, I was now having to eat three meals a day. This helped my metabolism. I was also warned away from certain foods. I lost weight. I was doing good. No one had said the words Binge Eating Disorder yet, but they didn’t know. I hadn’t told the doctor or the nutritionist about my super secret coping mechanism because “no one talks about Binge Club”, and plus? It seemed like I was changing things all on my own. I also found another outlet for my sadness and feelings inadequacy – writing. Thus began the daunting process of making my armor, or my outward persona, my inner one as well. I wanted to feel as strong about myself as others saw me. For a few years this pattern worked.
Then came the backsliding.
My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was living with her at the time, and I became her caretaker. The amount of stress this put me under cannot be described in words. Not that I am blaming my mom. Never that. This is all me and my inability to deal with things in a healthy manner. I was bingeing again to cope. The worse my mom got, the worse I got. I cried a lot when I was alone and hated myself for not being stronger for my mom, so I ate more. When the doctors put her on steroids (Prednisone) because she had lost too much weight from her chemo, I almost didn’t survive that. Now she was bingeing too, but she was allowed to do hers publicly while I still had to hide. It also altered her mood, and the mom who’d always loved me could turn from Jekyll to Hyde in less than a minute. She said awful things, hurtful things, things about my weight, things about my worth as a person. Deep down, I know she didn’t really mean it, and I still don’t blame her, but at the time it hurt. I had run into my room to cry and eat. I had to “make it better”.
My brother caught me. This was the second time in my life I had been caught binge eating. I was sobbing and stuffing one of my stash boxes of chocolate covered cherries into my mouth so fast I was getting choked. I was so ashamed at being discovered that I became enraged. I think I actually growled at him. Like an animal. He asked me if I was all right because he had heard everything, and me, never wanting to look weak in front of anyone ever, said that I was, but in that moment, I knew I wasn’t. I knew I had a problem. I knew what I had just done, while in retrospect with the growling and the consuming was somewhat comical, it was also unhealthy. But instead of dealing with it then, I buried it. I buried it so deep inside of me it would be a couple of years later before this came out. I didn’t have time to worry about me. My mom was fighting cancer. I “checked myself before I wrecked myself” and turned back to writing as a coping mechanism. I made a conscious effort to curb the bingeing.
So let’s fast forward a bit.
My mother passed from complications due to her cancer, and a great sadness enveloped me. I hid it and coped by eating those feelings. I became a horrible person, and I ruined a great relationship with a good guy because he didn’t want to deal with me anymore. I rallied after that and started working on getting back to being more like the version of myself I liked. I was sad my mom had died, but I managed it. I was getting better. A part of me had known that I was going to lose my mom before it happened. She had been on borrowed time from the moment she was diagnosed as stage four.
Then I lost my cousin Lisa. Unexpectedly. She was only six years older than me, and one of the greatest people I have ever had the priviledge to know. Not only had I been lucky enough to know her, I was related to her. She had been so full of life. That loss broke something inside of me, and I hate to admit it, but I went a little crazy. Okay, a lot crazy… ruined friendships crazy. I went completely off the rails. I had started drinking again. A lot. In fact, one of my closest friends told another close friend that she and her husband were “tired of me” because of this. The friend told me what my other friend said, so I stopped coming around. I know this friend only told me this in an effort to help me understand that I was pushing people away with my behavior, but her plan backfired on her. I only went to work. I stayed in all weekend. I cut myself off from almost everyone. No food was safe. “All your snack cakes are belong to me.” My weight ballooned. I hated everything, but I especially hated myself, and I started giving some serious thought to killing myself. I was done. I was so completely done. Until I realized that I have this spoiled rotten little chihuahua that I was pretty sure no one would want to take on if I were dead, and I just couldn’t do that to my fur baby. Additionally, offing myself would be letting the crap part of my psyche that told me I sucked win, and I don’t like to admit defeat. I may have hated myself, but I have always had more rebellion in me than hate. Not giving in to my self-loathing seemed like the ultimate rebellion. In that instance, it was good that I tend to overthink things.
I had isolated myself almost utterly, though, and I didn’t know how to ask for help. Oh, I still pretended to be happy and great. If someone asked me to go somewhere, I would go. I’m actually pretty awesome at pretending. People usually don’t think anything is wrong with me because that’s what I want them to think – this behavior I did learn from my mom. She was the queen of “everything’s fine”. It was also during this time that my work environment began to become extremely toxic. I was thinking about killing myself more and more, and I knew this was a bad thing. I didn’t want to fail in my rebellion against my self-hatred, so I decided to see if my insurance would cover some therapy. It did, so I went.
I cannot even describe how difficult this was for me. I’m extremely independent, and I do not like asking for help. It took us a while to wade through all the mire of my sadness, depression, and feelings of isolation, but we did. We came to coping mechanisms in a session and the therapist loved the writing one; she was not as fond of the bingeing. She listened as I finally admitted my secret.
Then she said it… Binge Eating Disorder.
It was as if her just uttering those words, made it have less control over me. Have you ever heard it said that knowing the true name for something gives you power over it? I had a name for this thing now. I had not even been aware that it had been in control. Until then, I refused to admit I even had a problem; I thought I was handling it, but in that moment it became all too clear to me that I had not been. I was ready to fight. The path my rebellion would take was suddenly clear to me. I absorbed all the information I could on it (everything in excess, right?). I learned. I still didn’t tell anyone. I managed my problems and slowly got back to being in a healthy relationship with food. I don’t know why I didn’t tell. I suppose I was still embarrassed in a way, and the only person I felt needed to know, my therapist, did know. I am known in every circle I travel in as a symbol of strength. How could the woman who stood up and gave the eulogy at her mother’s funeral be so weak as to let an eating disorder control her for so long? How could the woman who backhanded a would-be purse-snatcher be so helpless against something like food?
Then I found out that one of my dearest friends in the world had been diagnosed with Binge Eating Disorder. Also, another friend that I adored in which the first friend had introduced me to was dealing with this as well. Life had just doubled down. We all had so much in common, and I had liked both of them instantly. To know we had this one more thing in common made me realize that maybe I could help them, but that also meant saying a few things out loud that I had never been brave enough to admit before. I had to. If they could stand up and say it, then I certainly could. I needed to take what I perceived as a weakness and turn in into a strength. I needed to use my words. I’m pretty darn good at words.
So here are some more words for those of you reading this blog. I felt guilty when I found out about Laura and Andrea’s struggles. I felt like I should have known, especially about Laura. Then I realized something – some of us that binge are really good at hiding it. I spent years off and on doing this. I had my personality armor firmly in place, all sarcasm and ‘rawr’ intensity. I couldn’t have known she was going through some of the same things I had been through, just as she could not have known about me. Both of us had our masks well secured over our true faces.
So I’ve laid it all out, as you can see. Here, weakness, take that. You don’t get to win today. Yes, I used to be a binge eater. Yes, I’m beating it, but it is every day. I’m not saying I don’t lose a few battles here and there when I get too stressed out, but I know I’m winning the war. This is me… NOT eating my feelings, NOT drowning my sorrows. I am beginning to see the fierce creature my mother always saw when she looked at me for myself. The gap between who I really am and who I want to be is closing, and if I can do this, so can you. Just believe you can – because with an eating disorder, the most difficult person you will need to convince of your ability to triumph is yourself. Rebel rebel.
And if you’re not here because you have an eating disorder, be thankful. Be a good listener. Be a friend. Be informed; it’s more common than you think – because I guarantee you someone in your life has a problem with food on some level and they’re just not talking about it. It’s time to open the conversation.