Stuck with No Way Out

Stuck with No Way Out

From Chicken Soup for the College Soul

Stuck with No Way Out

At five feet, three inches tall and well under a hundred pounds I looked at myself in the mirror and thought, How did I get to be such a pig? At that moment it struck me, I don’t know where the clarity came from, but, looking back on it, I am grateful it did come. I thought, I need help. This need for perfection and this compulsive behavior was literally going to kill me.

When I started college the stress began to take its toll and I started overeating. I was living away from home, I was separated from most of my good friends, and I was in a big school taking premed classes. I was facing many adult responsibilities that came from living away from home for the first time, and my class load was heavy. Food became my comfort, fast food became my excuse—I had to eat! Chips and cookies were my reward for good grades. And, where I had shied away from eating anything closely resembling candy in the past, I now found myself frequenting snack machines and stocking up on candy bars. It was energy food, I told myself. My newfound diet along with my sedentary life of study, all conspired to put the weight on. By the beginning of my sophomore year, I weighed in at 150 pounds. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I stepped on the scale at the doctor’s office for my yearly check-up. I had gained forty-five pounds in one year.

I was so depressed. I was back home for the holidays. Between the horror in my mother’s eyes upon seeing me, the horror in my own eyes when I saw the numbers on the scale, and becoming the butt (obvious pun intended) of all my brothers’ jokes, I did what any normal, red blooded, American girl would do: I pigged out for the holidays.

I went back to school armed with every diet book known to man from my well-meaning mother and a handful of recipes (as if I was going to cook). I could handle this. Taking off weight was never a problem for me in the past. What I didn’t realize was that in the past I only needed to lose five or ten pounds at the most. I was now looking at trying to take off forty! When it didn’t come off as quickly as I thought it would, I became even more desperate. I was hungry all the time, frustrated at my lack of success and facing summer—shorts and bathing suit season?! I don’t think so!

My dorm mate convinced me that if I just purged for one meal a day I would see a huge difference. The thought of bulimia terrified me. But she became very convincing in her argument. “Just once a day. You’ll get nutrition from your other meals. You just won’t be so hungry all the time.” She was right in one regard, the dizziness I was experiencing from the lack of food was beginning to take its toll. I needed to pull down really good grades if I was going to get into a good medical school.

Purging one meal, became purging two, sometimes more. The weight was dropping off. I was so excited and encouraged by seeing my waist again, I joined a gym and began to work out three days a week. Between studying until all hours of the morning, running my body ragged on a treadmill and bingeing and purging, I had become a full-blown bulimic. But I couldn’t even admit it to myself. I was in denial.

When I went home for a few weeks in the summer, the accolades from my brothers and the sudden, unexpected, visits from their friends, while flattering, only made it worse. I wanted to be even thinner. My mother, however, didn’t like what she saw. She was worried about the dark circles under my eyes and the pallor of my skin. Plus, my naturally calm, easy-going personality had given way to a cranky, argumentative nightmare of a person. I exploded when she questioned me about it. “What more do you want from me? I got straight As this term, lost all the weight that you were bugging me about, and I had to do it all living away from home!” My screaming fit gave way to tears and I broke down. The stress had taken its toll. My mother held me like I was three years old again. I felt comforted but trapped. How could I stop this behavior without giving up everything I had worked so hard for? Besides, I didn’t want to be fat again—ever.

I assured my mother everything would be all right and I went back to school. I convinced myself that I could handle this problem, but in truth, I couldn’t. I would abstain from my purging behavior for only a few days. Because I hadn’t changed my eating habits—in fact they were worse—my weight would begin to go up again. I couldn’t stand it so I would begin purging again. Even my dorm mate, the friend who gave me the idea in the first place, suggested that I was out of control. Out of control? How could I be out of control when I’ve never felt so in control of my life and circumstances? I liked everything about this behavior—almost.

Suddenly, I stopped having periods. My body was screaming at me and I wasn’t getting the message. I was taking anatomy and biology classes learning everything about the body, except how to take care of my own. One day I passed out in my dorm room while just sitting down studying. That was it. I looked at myself in the mirror and the warped part of me, the part that was responsible for this behavior, saw a girl who needed to lose more weight. But some wisdom forced its way through and I knew I needed help.

I ran over to the counseling office and grabbed the phone number for the eating-disorder hotline. Even though I felt like a grown-up with all these new responsibilities and being away at college, this was my first real adult act.

After being in a group for three months, I was changing my behavior. I found my way out of the darkness with people who cared and professionals who were trained. I continued with the group throughout college and received enormous support for all kinds of life-changing situations I faced. I learned so many things from this experience—it’s okay to be scared and you don’t have to be alone or do it alone. I took all this wonderful information into my practice and it has served my patients and me well.

When I went home for the holidays that year I was glowing. My mother hugged me and I could tell that she was enormously relieved. We stayed up until all hours of the night and talked about everything. By being honest about my circumstances, I had everything to gain. I was back, and,magically—much tomy delight—sowere allmy brothers’ friends.

Rosanne Martorella

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