“Just Make Her Eat”

“Dear God, please just let me wake up in the morning.”  I weakly said that before I’d drift into a fitful sleep every night for weeks as I was deteriorating from a relapse of starving and purging.  I was getting ‘flack’ from co-workers, and even comments by waitresses on the rare occasions I’d agree to go out and ‘eat’.  I’d lost roughly fifty pounds in about three months, and a hundred pounds total over the previous year or so. And I was stuck.  I didn’t see the weight loss as others saw it, but I knew I was in trouble. Yet, the disorder refused to let me say I needed help.  A former co-worker saw me one day and asked “Are you OK? How much weight have you lost?” in the same tone someone uses when asking if someone has a visible affliction; I did have a visible problem- but I was the only one who couldn’t see it clearly.  I had no answer for her. I was confused. How could anyone notice I’d lost weight? (fifty pounds, and I couldn’t figure that out).  That was the beginning of the end of the tight control the denial had. It didn’t leave completely for years…but I had glimpses of reality after that day.

I was working at one of the top alcohol and drug treatment centers in the country, and my co-workers knew when they saw an addictive process. The denial in spite of negative consequences, the inability to change, the refusal to discuss anything logical related to my behaviors…they were all there.  I was dying.  I later asked my physician how much longer she thought I’d last, and she said less than a month.  I’d lost chunks of skin from my heels. I was crawling up my stairs in my townhouse to get to my bedroom.  My hair was thin. I was always freezing. My bones  hurt. My muscles would spasm. I was dizzy. I was in my own self-imposed hell.  A starving brain can’t process logic. I could still justify not eating- and yet, it felt like my choice in any of it was gone.

The relapse into anorexic and bulimic behaviors seemed to  have been triggered by a fast weight loss while I had pneumonia in late November 1995. I’d lost nearly 50 pounds slowly during the  nine months prior to being diagnosed with diabetes. The diabetes had been diagnosed in June 1995, and the weight loss slowed as my blood sugars improved.  In November, that bout with pneumonia kick-started something I thought had been put to rest years earlier. It turned out to be the worst go-round with eating disorders I’d ever had.

I was still very overweight, so actually categorizing me as anorexic didn’t fit the diagnostic criteria, though the behaviors were those of someone who was ‘really’ sick. My weight was my excuse to keep going. In my head, I was fine if I didn’t have bones showing.  More denial.  Had I started at a ‘normal’ weight, I wouldn’t have survived.  When my co-workers did a formal intervention and shipped me to California for treatment from the facility, I knew I was in trouble.  I just didn’t know how to tell them I knew. And I was terrified.  Each relapse gets a tighter grip much more quickly than the previous one.

I was also exhausted. Keeping up the secrets, and avoiding some odd ritual from being discovered took a lot of mental energy I didn’t have.  My thought processes were erratic as far as what I thought was ‘normal’.  When I was in my late teens/early 20s, I counted curds of cottage cheese, and I’d eat three ‘medium’ ones…three curds of cottage cheese. In 1995-early 1996, I thought I was doing so much better since I’d actually have an unknown number of curds on a fork.  I’d eat 1/4 of a potato, and be stunned that at some point in my life I’d actually consumed a whole one.  With toppings. If I had to eat in front of someone, which had become monitored and critiqued (and very unpleasant), I’d take laxatives ahead of the scheduled meal, so it would exit as quickly as possible. I never did throw up.  I guess that’s a big blessing, as it was one less thing to ‘fix’.  As it was, my gut never recovered.

In the early 80s, in the dormitory, I’d pick cheese off of pizza boxes in the trash room after as many people as possible were back ‘home’ and I felt little chance of being discovered.  Since I wasn’t doing that, I must not be so bad, right?  I wasn’t taking 40 laxatives per day like I had back then, ‘just’ 40 per week, so that was pretty good!  How could I really be sick? But how could I keep going?  I hadn’t purchased new jeans, so I had to use something to tie belt loops together so they didn’t fall off. That didn’t knock a knot in my head either.

One co-worker  (I’ll call her “C”) had a daughter who had been anorexic in college, and she watched me like a hawk. She said she’d talked to our boss about me not doing well, and my boss had talked to me.  “C” would bring food back for herself  from the cafeteria when we worked together, and put pieces of it on a plate near where I worked, and then leave it there.  She’d say something to indicate that she was done, and if I wanted anything it was fine, then return to the medication room where she did most of her work. If the pieces were small, and I wasn’t too terrified, I’d pick at what she’d left.  And the war in my head would go on and on about how pathetic it was to ‘give in’ and eat.  I should be stronger than that.  “C” would pick me up  on our off days to go shopping (she tried to get me to try on clothes that fit, but I was terrified that I’d look so much fatter) and usually out to eat… and make comments about how I was going to die, and other blunt statements about what I was doing.  I thought she was exaggerating because of what her daughter did. I wasn’t like that. Right ?  I’d met her- she was a size four if she was bloated… I didn’t look like her.

I’m not exactly sure what hit the fan, but I  got called out after about 3 1/2 months of things going downhill.  I’d worked a double shift (evenings and nights) and decided to sleep for a while on campus, then later do some dictation summaries that I did for the medical director.  “C” often had a room since she came from a couple of counties away, so she told me I could use her room to sleep while she got started on the summaries that she also did.  She came back around lunch time to get something, and told me to walk with her to the cafeteria to at least get something to drink; she knew I wouldn’t eat. She said she had to stop and drop something off at the operations director’s office, so I followed her. When I walked in, I knew what was going on. I don’t remember now who was already there, though I do remember who ended up being there. They had planned an intervention. About ten people were there, telling me I had to get help, and it had all been arranged. They had the plane tickets, and the driver was waiting.  No help meant no job. Someone had already agreed to take care of my dog, and my car would be watched at work. NO excuses.  My landlady had even been contacted about paying rent when I returned (my boss lived in the same complex).  There was an employee of the company’s Houston office that would meet me at the airport there to be sure I got on the connecting flight to Los Angeles. The treatment center in Port Hueneme, CA would have an employee waiting for me on that end.  Details done. Would I go?

Uh, yeah.  Like the choices seemed so plentiful at that point.  In one way I was so relieved. I didn’t have to fight ‘it’ anymore.  On the other hand, I was terrified of eating.  I knew what those places did. They made people eat!  My brain was so confused, but people I trusted and liked were telling me what a great idea it was. And I was exhausted (seriously, I’d had about 3 hours of sleep in a bed that wasn’t mine after working a double on a day I didn’t usually work).  I still remember thinking that if I told them I’d had a 1/2 sandwich on the night shift maybe I could get out of it, but thought maybe that wasn’t such a swell idea after all.  I felt cornered and freed, and fortunately the fatigue urged the words “I’ll go” out of my mouth.  Then the whirlwind started in ernest.  I was immediately put into the van, taken to my apartment (with “C” and the van driver in tow) to pack, and go straight to the San Antonio International Airport. From there to Houston, and then on to LA and ‘the facility”.

I stayed at that facility for 5 weeks and one day (not that I was counting). It was horrible. It was a drug and alcohol treatment center that took eating disorder patients. No actual dedicated unit.  But I knew that telling my co-workers and friends back in Texas that the place sucked wouldn’t come off as anything but the disorder talking, so I dealt with it as much as I could.  I got sick out there, and wasn’t allowed to attend any of the program activities, so they finally cut me loose. They’d sent me to the ER, and it was really something…they diagnosed me with a blood virus after doing a urine test. W.O.W.   I was better. I did eat. But I wasn’t ‘fixed’.  I had to figure that out on my own, through a very rough few years. But I wouldn’t have been able to get to that point if I would have stayed home.  That part of being shipped out there was definitely a positive, but I wasn’t ‘treated’.  I talked to my boss and some of my co-workers (my only friends) when I was in California…my boss would say “Tell them I said ‘just make her eat'”.  There was so much more than that needed to result in any sort of real recovery, but it was a start. Without the nutritional aspect being addressed, anything else was pointless. The dietician at the facility wasn’t nuts, so that helped !

After treatment with my 'before' jeans... 1996.

After treatment with my ‘before’ jeans… 1996.

But I did get something that can’t be appraised- I got another chance. For some reason, God listened.

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