Memoir 1 Mental Health

Becoming Her

TRIGGER ALERT – Eating Disorder

Before Karen Carpenter the truth wasn’t out in the world, afterwards, I just ignored it. Eating Disorders can creep up on you. Throughout my life, they would resurface and I don’t remember much time without putting my body through one form or another.

The number one killer of mental illness is eating disorders. They can affect both men and women.

I tried every one of them, multiples at a time even. And I did come close to dying, with seventy-eight pounds on my 5″6″ frame. Threatened with hospitalization. Then I removed myself from the heartache and pain I was going through in the United States and went to Mexico to visit my best friend Glenn, who is now my husband. It is there, that I gave myself permission to eat a bit. I was away from my stressors, and Glenn and I would dine out on rooftops in candlelight, toasting each other with wine while brilliant sunsets capped off the evenings. I returned to a place in myself that I thought was gone forever. I had to make eating a pleasurable experience once more. When I returned to Central California, I returned to my bad habits.

My eating disorder can go dormant, but I don’t think I will ever be rid of the disordered thinking that brings one on. It is always just under the surface.

Eating Disorders can kill. If you have one or think you have one, please seek help.  NAMI    Mayo Clinic  


This is a rough draft of one of the essays in my first memoir. This is the time it all started.

Becoming Her

She entered the high school corridor on the first day of the fall semester. I hadn’t seen my best friend over the summer, and here she was skinny and sculpted. She looked beautiful and in that instant, I wanted to discover the secret of her metamorphosis, and then; I wanted to be her.

But not in a creepy way. I didn’t want to stalk her to find out what she did every moment of the day. I just wanted the highlights.

I had switched schools my sophomore year as my sister (we are adopted and just two weeks apart) had become impossible for anyone to live with. She was the reason my parents tested out a catholic high school the year before. Other families with troubled kids did the same. And the school was a cliquey breeding ground for teenage destruction. I was miserable but made it through freshman year, became a cheerleader at the end of it, then gave that up and refused to go back, demanding to go to our local high school instead.

I had been away from my friends since junior high. Not only did I have to get my bearing at a new school, but I had the challenge of figuring out my place in an already established hierarchy.

My life had gotten complicated while I was away, and now I was an unsure, nondescript girl who desperately wanted to stand out.

I had been “L’s” sister, now I was singular.

I felt on the fringe of one group or another but didn’t have the pedigree of popularity to move into one. I knew this would not happen through good grades or extracurricular endeavors; I didn’t excel at either. In some respects, I was a wallflower and kind of nerdy. Not in the smart nerd way, but quirky before it was fashionable.

I wanted people to see me as special, and I longed for acceptance. It would be my holy grail.

My family had a facade. From the outside, we seemed pulled together, but we showed upheaval if looked at closely. My father was an educator and counseled students and families, and it just didn’t look good being unable to control one of his own, so we kept it quiet. I was fearful of getting too close to others who asked questions.

From secrets, I would create my world and you would think I would thrive and conquer. But I kept myself in a box and ruminated. Worrying is my forte.

I went to a dance in junior high. That awkward age when my entire eighth grade had to attend disco dance class. Girls on one side, boys on the other. Everyone looked uneasy. None of us grew competent in the hustle or line dancing. But once a week we had to put ourselves on the stage of social etiquette, and I hated it. I stood on the sidelines for that dance, my feet pinched; getting numb, and my smile pasted on. I never attended another dance until university.

The only “date” I had in high school was at a get-together at a friend’s house when she set me up on a blind date with the weirdest kid in school. He tried to kiss me and I cringed, leaning backward, then jumped up. This was not the boy I wanted to start out with. The others thought my discomfort hilarious. I crept on home, embarrassed, and lied to my parents, saying I had a good time.

Now, sophomore year, I glimpsed the attention beautiful and skinny brought and I realized there was an opportunity for me. I could become as thin as possible and really give people something to talk about.

Her secret turned out to be a simple one; she had stopped eating and started exercising. That was my road map.

She became other than my best friend, she became competition. And I had to beat her.

She did a thousand sit-ups at night. I did that too and upped the ante by jogging.

I thought, no one can grade me on this. Instead, I passed my test every day, watching the number on the scale get lower. I hate exercise on its own, I won’t do it unless there is a point to the inconvenience and pain. To find out where my end was, I became manic,  totally absorbed, and focused, and lost any sense of being reasonable.

I knew exercise alone wouldn’t get me to the perfection I craved, but dieting, ah, that should do it.

I started restricting what went in my mouth and bought a paperback book of food counts. Obsessively tracking every calorie, fat gram, and carbohydrate. I made a journal solely for those entries, numbers filled the pages and had no meaning to anyone but myself, so I kept that hidden too.

I was getting good at hiding.

And an afternoon or two of shoplifting ex-lax and diuretics was becoming common. 

At first, I skipped one meal, and the scale inched downwards. It wasn’t much, but it showed me I was on the right track. I felt good, lighter. So I missed another and another. I made excuses, I skipped breakfast, and stopped sitting down for dinner, learning a small salad or half a tuna salad sandwich made me full enough.

I restricted whenever I could. Allow myself more than a few hundred calories a day, and I ran to the bathroom and turned on the water. I doubt I fooled anyone, but my family never acknowledged what wasn’t right in front of their faces. They were just glad I was still in school.

My stomach rumbles and cramps in the beginning. But I get beyond that. Empty means I am doing something right. Soon I eat only a few raw celery and carrot sticks. And, yes, carrots can give you an orange tinge. There are signs if you look. But people don’t. I can still pass for ok.

At night 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10… 90 more to go, then ten times that. This is the reel that rolls through my head, when I am in my room, after the jog.

Sleeping becomes more difficult. I focus my mind towards morning and what the scale will bring. When I lay down, I keep moving my hands, feeling how my stomach is concave. It is a good sign.

I am still awake. Now I’ll work on stomach crunches.

I think I will meet my goal in a month or two. I can be a size zero. I can be special.

They will love me.

I am committed.

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