After 31 years I am finally realizing what my anorexia is all about

Wow sometimes things happen in my head very, very fast.

I got out of the hospital Monday, that is, the 26th.  Today is Tuesday, so I have been out eight days now.  The first…how many?  Four?  were fine.  Except for lack of sleep…fine.  I slept an hour or two a night but there was so much I had to do and keep track of.  You have to understand that I hadn’t been home for 26 days and my Inbox was full of crap and that crap kind of symbolized the mess I had to take care of…practicalities of being a grown-up and living in the Real World.

Then, Thursday afternoon.  I have discussed this and dissected this with my T.  I came home from my therapy appointment and I had a snack planned.  I ate Snack X instead of Snack Y.

Well, let me back up.  While I was in the hospital….those of you who have been hospitalized for any, any reason are familiar with the way hospital kitchen menus work: you fill out your menu for the next meals ahead of time.  At the hospital where I was staying, you filled out Tuesday’s three meals on Monday, right after Monday breakfast.  Wednesday’s three meals you filled out after Tuesday breakfast.  And so on.  On the menu sheets they give you choices, whatever the kitchen is offering.  You circle whatever you want.  You hope that the kitchen doesn’t goof your order and that you get what you ordered.  If you are on a special diet, which could be any diet you can imagine, such as “allergic to seafood(or eggs or whatever),” “Kosher,” “vegetarian,” and the dreaded “ED” (eating disorder).  Oh, and let’s not forget “paper and plastic only.”  This is for the psych patients.  Plastic utensils only, no ceramic, no glass, no metal, nothing sharp or breakable or throwable on the tray.  On some psych wards, caffeine is not allowed.  On other psych wards, caffeine is heavily restricted.

So every day, in the hospital, I filled out a menu, in the morning, after breakfast, and got in the habit of writing down what I’d ordered.  If there was anything extra I planned to ask for, I made note of this, too.  If I wanted raisins in my oatmeal, I had to ask for these separately from the supply on the floor.  Believe it or not, I needed a doctor’s order to get food from this stock that wasn’t offered by the kitchen.  (This was fairly easy to obtain.  They did, when it all boiled down to it, want me to eat.)  So I would make a note to myself to ask for raisins to put into my oatmeal.  So every day, in my little journal. I’d have a page that listed “Food planned for Tuesday…..” and a page listed “Food eaten Tuesday…..” which listed what I actually ate.  Yes, there were discrepancies.  The kitchen made goofs.  On the ED floor, the staff made sure the kitchen was impeccable.  But on the psych floor, it wasn’t entirely imperative.  I was told that I should adapt and make do and the staff would do what they could to help out.  Actually, they bent over backward for me.   That plus sometimes I’d regress and not eat.

So I continued this when I got home.  I had all my meals and snacks planned out.  I had a list of food that I felt okay about eating.  This was a long list that is in my journal, a list I can turn to if I’m stuck for ideas.  I did at home exactly what I had done in the hospital.  I wrote down my list and followed the list.  It made shopping easy and it looked like I was going to shop wisely with careful planning.  You can really breeze through the grocery store if you have a list and know where everything is.

Are you beginning to catch on?  It’s my anorexia in a nutshell.

So, back to Thursday.  I had gotten out Monday, gone right to therapy, spent Monday night, Tuesday and Wednesday was busy with going to the library, cleaning, and catching up on things, then Thursday had therapy again, came home, and without thinking, ate a half a banana instead of Cheerios (one of those little single-serve thingies) for my snack.  Then I looked at my list and saw that I hadn’t bothered to look at what I had planned.

Was I getting careless?  Overconfident?  I knew that perhaps I had shopped ahead more than I felt comfortable with.  I had bought exactly what was on my list and my list was longer today than it ever had been.  It seemed like I had used up a lot of my food stamps today.  I wasn’t comfortable with some of the quantities I’d purchased.

I felt overwhelmed.  I felt like I was drowning in

I felt like I was being smothered by

I felt like I was being poisoned by

I felt forced by

I felt like I was being pushed over and crushed and I had to

I felt like I was being pushed over and crushed and I had to reach out and stomp my foot on the little, weak thing that was left and stomp it out and destroy it once and for all.  It is like when you wipe an insect off your arm and you injure it and you have that moment of deep remorse that you have killed a living creature and you  recall when, as a child, you struck out at an animal–the worst that you can recall were the spiders and their legs, this only a few times, and now you are hoping there were no higher creatures–


Yeah, it’s just like flattening an insect

There is in my memory something about a boy I knew who beat a toad to a pulp

What scares me is that I could have been that child

I am that child now

…and I have been that child since Thursday at 4:45pm.  That’s Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, today.  My body is a pulp.  My ankles are huge.  This is dangerous, people.  I gained 20 pounds in five days.  It’s from edema, which is fluid in body tissues.  I can feel my skin stretched around my calves.

I went to see my primary care doctor today, Dr. K.  I asked her not to weigh me.  There was no need.  I saw the concern on her face right away.  All the baggy clothes in the world can’t hide 20 pounds of excess fluid.  All the baggy clothes in 100 worlds can’t hide the 20 pounds that are stamped in my head and in my shitty outlook on life right now.

I was honest with her.  I admitted that I haven’t taken my medication for a couple of days (why bother?) and had given up on myself.  We talked for a while.  I began to realize that my version of the story had changed its tone from “hopeful” and “looking forward to the life ahead of me” to something else.

Maybe just “beaten.”  By that child.

Before I mixed up Snack X with Snack Y and then the whole ripples of the destroying child, I wouldn’t have dreamed that this would have happened to me.

No, it was buried in my nightmares.  It was buried in dreams that I forget upon waking.

And I wasn’t even sleeping at night.  I wasn’t even allowing myself to have these dreams.  Maybe I was too terrified even to begin to dream for fear of the nightmares.

My anorexia: all that control, all the restricting, the dieting, the purification, the denial, the deprivation, the glory and worship of emptiness–

–it is all about terror of that child–

it is all about tiptoeing around in my hospital room so that I wouldn’t awaken my angry roommate when I got up well before she did

it is all about not tripping off an alarm in the dead of night while the crickets buzz incessantly

it is all about speaking in whispers

it is all about lying

to keep the peace

I have no written record of my first binge.  I have no written record of what I ate.  I know what I ate.  I have it recorded in my memory.  I shocked myself.  I had never done this before.  I was alone in my apartment.  It was August 8, 1980.  Over the years, I have committed this date to memory.

The date of the beginning of my anorexia is July 1st, 1980.  This is well-recorded.  It was planned far in advance.  Today, I will begin my diet.  I will lose…I think I planned to lose less than 10 pounds, certainly no more than 10.  I lost about 30.  My initial weight was within normal range.  Anorexia makes no sense.

I began this entry a number of hours ago and it has taken me a while to write all this.  What I realized was that I lived in fear of bingeing long, long before that behavior played itself out that August.  I think I lived in fear of the emergence of the child for an entire year…or, say, nine months.  This was why I set up the controls in the first place.  To rein her in.  To keep her locked up.

Locked up.

It is written all over my memoir, if you read into it.  I don’t know why I didn’t see it before.

In the book, Jane Eyre, Mr. Rochester locks up his secret wife, who is mad, in his own home.  She ends up burning down that home, and nearly destroying him.

He locked her within himself.

He is bound to her.  She is his secret madness, his secret hunger, his secret rage.  And he is all about control.  He is all about controlling that rage and keeping it secret…from Jane–unknowing, innocence, youth, the future, his new life, purification from the old life, which would be left behind.

Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea is narrated by the child, Bertha.  In fact, she was taken as Rochester’s wife at a very young age.  She uses fire because it is the only power she has remaining to her.

Suddenly, the Biblical story of Samson comes to mind.


I am wondering, if I can tame the child before she destroys me (my ankle swelling, Dr. K tells me, is not the problem–the swelling is an indication of something inner, and this, she says, is the problem) then maybe I won’t need the controls anymore.  Maybe I won’t need to restrict myself to death, keep myself empty, punish myself for fear of getting too satiated, never allow myself a full meal for fear that it will turn into something horrible, never allow myself

never allow myself

never allow myself

My mother uses these three words all the time

Which tells me that all this time, she has been parenting a child far more important to her than any of us three that she raised.

That child in her denied her her menstrual periods for two years when she was a teen.

For two years, she was freed of rags because she denied herself

purified herself

she is weirdly pure now

of feelings

kinda empty-hearted

it’s very strange

we can’t figure her out.

She was always a little scatterbrained.  Distracted maybe.

She is quite deaf now.  My brother says she always had a listening problem, anyway.

Maybe she was busy listening to someone or something else.  An inner monster, a voice, something she had to hold down

but it never even came close to erupting because it was buried

years years years of cold

she was in the cold and you could only see her arms, flailing around, and hear her sing-song voice

which was supposed to soothe me.

No, Mother, you did not comfort me.

You never held me, never loved me, never nourished me

it’s called Absence of Love

It’s called the Void

I speak from the Void now

I roar from the Void now

I am the daughter that hungers for God

I am the daughter with the churning pain in her side

I am the daughter that cries out for more in the night

I am the daughter that grew to deny herself out of shame

The pain grew and the daughter was proud to endure the pain

I am the daughter that you shamed

You shamed

You shamed into self-denial

The daughter punished herself for hungering

The daughter denied her own cries until they became the cries of a child, another

The daughter chained the destructive child she saw in herself, locked it up when the destruction became so intolerable that it needed to be hidden completely

It’s not hiding now.  Dr. K saw it today.  My ankles are huge, huge, huge.  She asked me if I wanted to go over to the ER to be admitted again.  She heard the hopelessness in my voice.   She also reassured me that as soon as I stopped bingeing, the edema would slowly subside.  Meanwhile, she is very concerned about my physical health.  She asked me to restart my medication at least, before I ended up mentally sick again.  I told her I would take it as soon as I got home.  I didn’t.  I did take a dose tonight, though.  I took some vitamins, too.  She told me to put my feet up.  This will help my ankles get a little less thick, I hope.

That plus I think I’ve stopped bingeing.

I think it’s over.

I think it’s over.

I think it’s over.

The lid is closed for now.  You cannot hear her.  I cannot hear her.  She has left enough mess for me to clean up.  The mess gets worse and worse each time.  My fear of her–the health risk becomes more and more serious–and my controls…this is scary.  But seeing all this, knowing this

After 31 years I am finally realizing what my anorexia is all about

well, that is something indeed.


One thought on “After 31 years I am finally realizing what my anorexia is all about”

  1. Thanks for using such strong, poetic language, Julie Greene. I wish that I could wave a magic wand, and make your life all safe and warm, with no eating disorder. But, alas, I am just one human friend who loves you.

    MAZ xox

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