A Journey from Victim to Survivor…to Living Freely

My Stolen Identity

on February 9, 2015

I wrote this after IOP when a friend asked me to write about “My Stolen Identity”.  I figured that this would be “Part I” and maybe the blog has filled in so many other pieces…I found this on an old computer and thought it was an interesting read…

My Stolen Identity

At age 10, I was already a people pleaser. I strived to do what was right, felt more at home with adults than most peers and was well on my way of becoming a perfectionist. As an adult, I have clarity. I can see that the abusive household where nothing was good enough, where I could be screamed at for falling and getting hurt, getting a 98% on a spelling test or missing a piece of dirt on the kitchen floor, created, at an early age, the desire to keep things perfect. This extreme anger from my parents created a sense of walking on eggshells. Their relationship with each other was volatile and, by 11, I already knew that if, only if, I kept everything perfect, then I could ward of their anger—toward each other and also to me. But, not all the time. Because sometimes I did everything and anything in my power…and that was not enough to keep the peace. My mom was heavy-set and my dad was mortified of fat. I remember his moo’ing at her when she would eat, her hiding food, always asking my brother and I to compare her to other people—at malls, the park, at school—“Who is fatter? Me or the other person?” I was taught from an early age that fasting a few days before a night out to fit into a dress was appropriate. The medicine cabinet always held laxatives, diuretics and diet pills.

In hindsight, it really shouldn’t be a surprise that I developed an eating disorder. I had a mom who binged and purged (this I discovered as an adult). And, the year fat-free chips arrived, was like a holiday. We could eat the whole bag!! Not only that, because Olean caused stomach problems, I was told that it helped keep things moving, too!!

The old way of looking at eating disorders had a lot to do with family issues, perfectionistic families, genetics…and maybe that still plays a role. The bigger piece is the brain. It is apparent now that my fuse for developing a full-blown eating disorder wasn’t that long. So, was it the ‘dieting’ my friends and I did at 10, where we’d drink a lot of water and not eat for the day? Was it deciding to become vegetarian on a bet from a cousin (and realizing I had no idea what to eat besides meat…maybe those fat-free chips!)? Did those things shorten the fuse? Did the abuse in the family and a genetic pre-disposition shorten it further? I don’t know. And really—it doesn’t quite matter at this point. All that matters is that age age 11 I went from the “diets” of water to full-out restricting—for approval? For control? To be thinner? To deal with the abuse?—I truly don’t know. What I do know is that as I went through the pre-teens and teens and college years and became an adult, it was my go-to. It was my comfy coat. It became so natural that I never thought anything of eating a cup of broth with a handful of pasta. Clarity allows me to see that I’d slip back into that realm when overwhelmed. I didn’t see it that way then. Sometimes I saw it as a fix to keep things right “If I only eat the broth/pasta, then my husband will make it home safely from his business trip.”

When I first started restricting (and fasting) I got sick…really sick…probably should’ve been hospitalized sick. But, my parents were in medicine. And hospitalizing wasn’t a choice—and my pediatrician was my aunt—this wasn’t going to be discussed with her. And so—my mom held me down, while sitting on top of me, in the LaZBoy recliner and shoved food into my mouth…berating me for not eating, screaming at me that she would have me admitted and they’d start IV’s and tube feeding. I was terrified. I didn’t go back to healthy eating then, however. Instead, I became a pro at my new game. I became the greatest pretender.

Middle school became “I’ll take my breakfast on the bus” and giving my lunch to friends or pretending to eat it or moving it around and then tossing it (uneaten) in the trash. At dinner, it was the “Ohh…sorry—I ate before you came home.” Or “I had a big lunch!” When those dinner tricks no longer worked, I started eating dinner with the family—and picked up the new trick of “cutting food into the tiniest of pieces so it looks like you’ve eaten more than you really have.”

I continued the tricks in high school. Except now, there was fun food—french fries and milkshakes. My lies became easier and I adopted the “Milkshake-a-day plan” and was able to remove myself from dinner. Maybe there was choir or play practice or “I ate with a friend.” I was such a good liar. I think I believed my own lies. I certainly wasn’t hungry. Whether it was brain related or my stomach shrinking. I wasn’t hungry.

In college, I still lived at home (because, I obviously had to continue to keep things going well at home. Craziness in my home didn’t take a break…it escalated terribly in those years). My sophomore and junior summers, however, brought me a campus summer job and the ability to live on campus. I was so scared to move away from home for those 3 months and delayed my move in. Thankfully, it was a must, in order to keep the job and I moved into the dorms.   It was one of the greatest decisions of my life. It positively impacted so many areas of my life. For the first time, I felt like I was finding me! I also discovered hanging out with friends and eating chips and REAL ranch dressing and pizza. I still probably wasn’t eating all I needed and was still anemic and end up with mono and all sorts of respiratory infections…but, I was happy and eating more ‘normal’ than I could ever remember.

By the time I graduated college, I’d met my future husband. I told him that I ‘used to have’ an eating disorder. We dated a couple months, moved in together and then moved out of state less than a year later. In those years, I’d slip into bouts of my pasta & broth plan…never for more than a week or so. When we decided to have kids, I researched a ton on vitamins and nutrients and tried to do everything right. I took my folic acid, I tried to get enough of everything. After becoming pregnant, I gained the appropriate amounts with each child and had two healthy children 3 years apart.

At this time, I really viewed the eating disorder as “I had an eating disorder when I was in my teens.” Then, life decided to throw me some curves. I’d been working full-time as a teacher and enjoyed my profession, but felt the pull to be home with my children. I decided to take a year’s leave. A couple weeks after being approved, I suffered a mini-stroke which then began my journey into the neurological world. In the next 2 years, I would fight a neurological disorder, undergo two brain surgeries and the healing associated with them. As I had gotten sicker, all the cracks in my marriage had crumbled, and, try as I might, it wasn’t enough to save it. Little bits of the eating disorder began to resurface. A skipped meal, a bowl of broth with pasta, a day of drinking coffee…it happened so quietly that I didn’t really notice it. I honestly didn’t notice it until a friend mentioned it, out of concern, after my husband had moved out. At that point, I said “oh…I used to have some anorexic tendencies…maybe some of those have come back.” I started to ‘eat’ again. Although, I was relying on my broth and pasta—tossing in some vegetables if I was feeling really good!

I was slipping…and slipping some more…but it felt comfortable. I knew this world. The other parts of my world, learning what was best for children in a divorce, learning how to work through the legal process, trying to let my brain heal when it still had other ideas—those were all new. I knew the comfy coat of restriction. It was like an old friend coming to check on me…helping me through a tough time.

My dissolution was a month away and I felt like I could get myself back on track. I was eating more regularly and spring had arrived. The sunshine was good for my soul. The kids were doing well. I was finding more and more parts of me. The friends I’d isolated from were back in my life and I felt good. I started casually dating someone from church. My intuition kept me protected and I wasn’t falling in love. He seemed like a good guy to try to figure out dating with. He seemed supportive and knew I was vulnerable.   He came over for tea one night and we talked. Hindsight is 20/20 and I am sure there were warning signs I missed. For all the self-blame I kept and tried to hold onto in the months that followed, I now know that no really does mean no. Stop means stop. I said those repeatedly that night as I was raped.

I didn’t know it at the time, as I wasn’t even calling it rape (he had told me it wasn’t rape because, even though I kept saying no, he knew that wasn’t what I meant—I believed him), but this triggered a full-blown relapse. I slipped and slipped and became more and more anxious…convincing myself it was because I was new to dating and that I’d made mistakes…I restricted more and more…with fasting tossed in there. As that month passed, I went into a three-week fast…not intentional…I truly forgot that I needed to eat. I wasn’t hungry. I’d lost so much weight at that point. I was exhausted and fearful. I’d grown lanugo on my face and neck. My hair was falling out and breaking when I’d run my hands through it. My body temperature hovered around 97 degrees. My nails were peeling. I stepped on the scale one morning and had the thought “Oh—if you’re at this, you could easily drop more.” And I was mortified. My next thought was “This is not some sort of game!!! What are you doing? This is done. No more.” Before I could think any more, I called my pastor who is the closest person I have to being a real father…and I told him. I asked to come see him.

Sitting in his office, my hands shook, I cried and my face tremored. And he listened and offered insight and told me I had his support—with whatever direction I chose to go—in-patient, outpatient, talk therapy. He would support me. The decision was mine. I was more terrified than I had ever been. And, for the first time, I knew I didn’t have to battle this alone.


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