The first therapist I ever saw was in the rainy Memphis February of 1993, a month after my first boyfriend broke up with me. I was somewhat upset about the break-up, particularly when I found out that he had been telling his friends that the only reason he wanted to go out with me was to see if he, a high-school drop-out, could get the valedictorian to go out with him. But I was more upset about the fact that I couldn’t stop thinking about food and how much of it I was putting into my body. I thought about it every hour of the day, if not every minute, and for the previous six months I had whittled down my daily intake of food to one meal. On good days that meal probably had 300 calories. On bad days I didn’t eat at all.
Saturday night while clearing off the TiVo Jon and I saw a few minutes of “Entertainment Tonight” (it’s on the season pass because I’m simultaneously repulsed and fascinated with Mary Hart and whether or not she realizes that she has been possessed by a robot), we saw a story about an anorexic woman and how her treatment has progressed over the last year. You can read about her here. This sparked a conversation wherein I talked to Jon about the details of the disease and just how badly it affected me.
Jon had known already that I suffered from an eating disorder, but since it is something that I have officially overcome it’s not something I think or talk about much anymore, until I see people like the woman in the ET story and I’m reminded of how awful my life was for so many years. Now that I have perspective and I look back on those years I see now that my eating disorder was just a facet of my depression. Oh, my old friend depression.
That first therapist was a certifiable hippy, and her house was decorated with zodiac signs and tie-dyed artwork. The only thing I even remember about my sessions with her was the fact that she peeled and ate a grapefruit EVERY SINGLE TIME, and she used words like “cumbersome” and “reciprocal.” The second therapist was the one who prescribed me Zoloft, my miracle drug for seven years. He was a balding, buck-toothed and sweaty short man, and thank God I only had to see his odorous nubby head twice before the drugs started working. I saw the second therapist two years after the first one, and there wasn’t a single day during those two years that I didn’t think about food and where it was depositing itself on my body.
Zoloft didn’t cure my eating disorder, but it did help my depression and prevented me from dropping out of college. I didn’t really “get over” my eating disorder until I left the Mormon Church and started living on my own and making my own money. There was something very liberating about shedding the suffocating bag of guilt that is Mormonism and gaining complete control of my life and my belief system. My eating disorder wasn’t necessarily about weight but about control, and while it didn’t happen overnight, the year after I left the Church the time-span between bad eating episodes gradually became bigger and bigger. By the time I moved to Los Angeles I was able to look at food like I had when I was 16 years old, before it started to haunt me.
It took over eight painful years to battle that disorder, years full of hand-wringing over caloric intake and bingeing and purging and starving and thinking about food EVERY SINGLE MINUTE OF EVERY SINGLE DAY. It was an addiction and it became a part of my identity, albeit a very secret and hidden one. I was ashamed that I couldn’t look at a plate of food like a normal person, like there are potatoes and there is a piece of meat and that right there is a piece of bread, and instead seeing monsters staring me in the face, mocking me at my lack of control.
In the years since I have been better I have been wary of relapsing because food is not like alcohol or cigarettes or heroin. You have to have food to survive and that addiction was very real and almost killed me. Ever since I lived in Los Angeles I have been working out on a regular basis, not to try to fit into a size 2 or size 4 or size 6 pair of jeans, but because I like to play hard and that requires that I work hard. I don’t ever take my body for granted, and while I don’t eat like a moron, I don’t ever deny myself the occasional treat for fear of it ending up on my thigh. I haven’t always been able to say that.
Most importantly, I don’t want Leta to ever have to go through the torture that I went through, and although I may not be able to prevent that, I can do my best to teach her healthy habits. Part of that regimen will be giving her choices and information and hugs and kisses and instilling within her the knowledge that nothing and no one can be perfect. I wish I had known that.