Copyright © 2007 Betsy L. Angert
As we stood face-to-face and quietly discussed my years of anorexia and bulimia, I was reminded of what I always knew and yet, was too distracted to acknowledge aloud. It was not that I never spoke of it before, I had on many occasions. However, this conversation helped me to realize the heartache my illness [and I unintentionally] caused more deeply.
A sweet and sensitive soul stood tall, looked at me directly and said, “My sister struggles with bulimia. I would really like to speak with you about your experience.” Moments before this utterance, we were discussing teeth and toothbrushes. I shared my history of stains and offered my theories. I mentioned my concern; had years of bingeing and purging damaged the enamel. Perhaps, my dentine was more porous than they had been before I began traveling down the path of bulimia. I did not know with certainty; I hypothesized. Then Douglas spoke. A minor musing evolved. My hope is I have as well.
Over the next few days, Douglas and I chatted often. I shared three missives I penned on the subject. Surprisingly to me, he read them immediately. He wanted to understand his sister. She is his very close and lifetime friend. We talked a bit more. I provided three more pondering prose. The wondrous man quickly read these as well. It seemed he was devouring information. He was searching for answers. Too much had been left unsaid for too long. Sarah had been ridding herself of fodder, denying herself nourishment for a few years now.
Douglas and his sister Sarah struggled to discuss the unspeakable. This empathetic gentle giant of a man did not understand; why would she wish to eliminate all the food from her body. He feared for her; yet, he acknowledges, he did not express himself well when bulimia was the subject. Douglas was frightened. He felt powerless. Unbeknownst to me, my words gave him strength. He trusted I was open to discussing the topic, or at least he knew that I said I was. However, I wonder. Until I asked him of his thoughts, he said nothing.
Then, upon inquiry, Douglas spoke of how he never imagined that she might felt separate from herself as I had. This feeling fellow could not comprehend that his sibling was not as concerned with her weight as she might be about other situations, those that are far more serious.
I cannot be certain what troubles Sarah. She may fear adult responsibilities; I did. Graduating from high school or college can be a challenge. Fitting in or fearing not is quite an experience. It might be . . . ?
Douglas offered, he wondered why she did not just stop. As we exchanged tales of woe, his, hers, and mine, I could see that he was contemplating. Every thought I expressed traveled within him. There were many chords struck. The causes, the effects, all touched his tender heart. Douglas decided to present my letters to his sister. Possibly, she would know that he cared; that might be meaningful. His desire to help was palpable. I could see it in his face, hear it in his voice, I felt it.
This healthy hardy, fellow that stood before me knew he would never do as she was and is doing. As he read early on, as he reflected further, as we chatted, he realized that perchance, the physiological, the physical influences might be more powerful than he ever considered. Neurology might matter. I expressed my realization; bulimia is not purely a psychological problem, oh, that it were.
Upon reflection, as profound as our exchange was, I did not realize the depth or intensity. I had no idea that this encounter would change me. I long ago concluded I had worked through all that was during those trying years. I was wrong.
I never realized how fully my relationships with family, and friends, was affected. Might my acquaintances also have tales to tell of their trying times with me? When I was immersed in an enigmatic illness, I was, as all human beings are involved with many individuals, those at work, at school, on the streets and in the stores. Discussing with Douglas helped me to learn, to grow, to resolve some of sorrowful details, and to realize there was more I need to work through.
Among the quandaries still left to resolve is my relationship with my cousin Alexander. After, Douglas first revealed his situation, and his gratitude for our conversation, I was elated. I telephoned my Mom’s first cousin, my close friend, Alexander. I was excited and wanted to share the story. Might my history assist another? Would that not be wondrous? My cousin took a deep breath and paused.
Alexander and I rarely authentically discuss this part of the past. He lingers, as it looms large in the background. I understand that just as it was and perchance still is difficult for Douglas to discuss the doings, the dilemma, and the festering feelings that Sarah’s situation fosters, Alex struggles. His stomach churns. Communication, when dealing with bulimia is a challenge. Alexander and I chat freely and often. We have for decades. Yet, this topic is too tender to touch. The scars are subterranean. The scabs sit delicately on the surface. No one wants to pick at these. Bloodletting is not our pleasure. Alexander stammered.
Then my sweet, caring cousin began to reflect on his reality. As I listened, I heard a somewhat protective cadence in his voice. It took time for me to remember that just as that period profoundly altered my ability to be free fun, silly, and stay on the surface, my affliction affected others abundantly. Even today, there is bitterness. What was not communicated then continues to have its effect. Perhaps, my family can build bridges now. However, first we must break down the barriers. Alexander begins to speak and I realize the wall is wickedly thick.
Years, and years ago, my Mom in desperation, turned to him requesting his assistance. Alexander and Mommy were close. They were raised together as siblings might be. The two had a loving history, and Alexander is a man of ample means. Mommy hoped for a financial favor. There was no one else she could turn to. No other family member or friend had funds for such a venture. She thought it might be best to hospitalize me, not for a day or two, not to stabilize my physical imbalance, but to place me in a treatment program that would work with me as a whole.
My Mom thought it wise to put me in close and constant proximity with physicians that specialize in bulimia. Although my Mom is a psychotherapist or perhaps because she is, she feared, she might be part of the problem. She could not help me as much as she longed to. This hurt her heart; it scarred her soul, and I only wish she truly knew. It was never her fault.
Alexander offered no cash. From across the country, cousin Alex, alone consulted with a doctor that someone recommended to him. The reference practiced many hundreds of miles from Mommy and me; he was considered a specialist. This physician is a psychiatrist. Since Alexander lives on the East coast, and the Doctor on the North West shore, the two talked by telephone. Alexander took copious notes. He jotted down pages and pages of data. Ultimately, this Doctor stated, since my Mom is a professional she likely is as knowledgeable as he.
Berenice Barbara certainly had knowledge of the dilemma. She lived with it daily. Yet, she could not continue to do so. Mommy remembered.
There was a time, years earlier, I resided in my parents’ home. Each day, I would walk to the grocery store, buy bags and bags full of food. I had my own shopping cart and could crate much home. Once settled in the sanctity of the abode, I prepared for the afternoon and evening delight. The experience or entrées were delicious, or might have been had I ever bothered to taste the delicacies I prepared. Culinary escapades come in many sizes and shapes. Mine was huge and it took on many horrific forms. My adventure was interesting to say the least.
I placed newspapers on the floor in front of the television. I would travel between the kitchen and living room. I never bothered with the bathroom. I cooked, cleaned as I prepared my mega-meals, sat down ate, and then threw-up. All my food fell into a basin neatly placed in my palms for just this purpose. There was no time to travel to the toilet. Besides, that seemed so inefficient. I was busy, productive, bingeing, purging. Leave me alone!
My parents let me be. Possibly, they hoped it was a phase. Probably they knew they could not stop me from doing as I did. My brother was quite young at the time, not more than five years of age. I am certain he was curious, though he never said a word. Now, he barely remembers any part of his childhood. My routine went on for a while. Finally, I secured employment. I moved out.
Money was tight and became increasingly tighter. Try to feed a food frenzy that never ends. Imagine paying for twelve, fourteen, or sixteen hours of provisions everyday. I could no longer afford an apartment. I returned to my parents abode, for ten minutes. I walked into the entryway and was about to prepare for “my day.” My Mom turned to my father and said , “No, I cannot do this.”
My father, an extremely loving man was not willing to give up on me; nor was my Mom. It was only that Mommy could not watch as I wasted away and destroyed my body, again, and again. My condition affected my parents differently. They are , as are we all uniquely individual.
Mommy thought herself responsible. It hurt her heart so much to see my body bend, twist, and turn herself inside out. She saw her child wither away and feared I would pass. Even when the weight stabilized, she did not feel at ease. Berenice Barbara knew too well, what I was doing.
Bodily functions were precarious. I was depleting my electrolytes. Potassium, needed to sustain the blood flow was barely available. It was flushed out with the bile. The muscular organ that beats life into a human being was threatened. Mommy feared what was yet to occur. There is ample literature on the hazards of bulimia. None of the symptoms or effects of bingeing and purging are promising.
My father Barry, was equally familiar with the folly. Perhaps, although we were and are best friends, my antics did not affect him as they did my Mom. After all, he is not biologically related to me. Perchance, our bloodline had no bearing on his feelings. Barry only wanted to help and actively make known he loved [loves] me and believed in me.
Of course, Mommy did too. We were always very close. Possibly, that is why we were fine, as long as I was not throwing up in her home. I often say, “Home is where the heart is; mine is wherever my mom lives.” Mommy wanted my heart to thrive. It could not, if in her home she accepted its suffering. I understood. I did not say a word when she asked me to leave her house. I could not. I hurt her so much. Harming me caused her much pain. Hurting my Mom heightened my sorrow, my grief, and my anguish.
Barry spoke instantly. He told me not to worry; he would help. Minutes after my Mom expressed her exasperation and left the room, Barry and I drove to a lodging inn not too far from my parents’ dwelling. Barry rented an efficiency apartment for me. This man, my father secured my rent for a month, then the next. Of course, there was the following. Eventually, I worked my way out of that living situation. However, the bulimia did not transition as easily.
While in the hotel apartment, I invoked a newer pattern. I began “proceedings” at 1:00 Post Meridian. I cooked, cleaned, ate, and eliminated until usually one or two ante meridian. Nonetheless . . .
As Alexander spoke and shared his version of the anecdote, my mind wandered. Actually, I wondered. It was obvious to me. He believed he had done all he could. He saw no reason to involve himself further. Alexander was certain that Mommy had everything under control. I knew she wished she had.
For Berenice Barbara, it was not the undelivered dollars that did her in; it was the sense that Alexander did not care. He and Mommy are first cousins; as children, they were together always. My Mom felt she turned to him as a confidant, a brother, and he did not bother to talk with her. Actually, they never spoke again.
Mommy and my father Barry did much to assist me, as did Grandpa. Alexander believes that Grandpa loaned Mommy a bundle and she never re-paid the promissory note. Cousin Alex thinks my Mom frittered the dollars always, or tucked them into a mattress perhaps. She never sent me to a treatment center.
Alexander knows me now, or thinks he does, decades after that time. He sees me as healthy, happy, and I suspect feels certain my affliction was never all that serious. Yes, he has heard me speak of it, though rarely in depth and detail. It seems he is not truly interested. He often does not recall or realize the severity of what I say. He does remind me often that Grandpa wrote checks to me. Indeed he did.
Full of sorrow, and understanding my predicament, Grandpa saw the financial strain and the emotional toll. He connected to my struggle through my writings. I was stuck in a dead-end job. I hated the work. My employment had an effect on my health. I was grinding my teeth among other things. I could not afford to complete my degree. The duties in this mailroom were simple. I could complete the work with ease. I was often told the sorting station was never as clean and efficient. Still, I had to stay, sit for a nine-hour day.
To pass the time I penned my feelings, my frustration to Grandpa. Writing was then as it is now, my release. If I could not escape through food, and certainly while at work I could not, I wrote. My grandfather, after a time, I know not why for I would not ask, decided he would pay for my last year of college. He wanted me to have a degree, a piece of parchment, and a better sense of myself. Grandpa felt badly that Mommy, his daughter could not afford to assist me with my education. He did.
Years before that Grandpa gave much to me, Alexander is correct, although the giving was not cash. What grandfather Mitchell shared was of far greater value. My Grandfather came to visit Mommy, my father, and me. As a pharmacist, a scientist Mitchell trusted he could teach me how to better care for myself. Barry arranged for the transportation, and Grandpa with me in tow strolled into the American Association for Retired Persons pharmacy.
Together, for over an hour, we read every bottle. Grandpa Mitchell, my mentor explained the differences between one vitamin, mineral, or another. He discussed bonding agents and the pressure used to produce a pill. Capsules were considered, oils as well. A regime of supplements was created for me. I promised to take these nutrients when I awoke and before I lay my head to sleep. The pledge I made was to me. I was living with the benefits[consequences?] of bulimia. I longed to survive.
My hair was extremely thin and brittle. What was once thick and wavy was now thin and straight. The teeth that once glistened turned gray. Smooth skin was cracked and dry. Fingernails were brittle. When I scratched the dry surface of my flesh, bumps would rise. These tiny welts filled with blood; it took days before they disappeared. My young face was weathered and aging quickly. While I dressed well, I truly cared for and about my clothes, a close evaluation would reveal, I was not a pretty sight.
Nonetheless, Alexander never knew this. He did not see me, feel me, or understand my pain. Nor did he converse or come to spend a moment with Mommy. Alexander only heard of what is easier to speak of, the money. Grandpa shared stories of woe, not mine per se, his own. That is what we all do. We only know what is within us.
Alexander trusted my grandfather was concerned; however, Mitchell did not mention what he observed or understood. That would be too difficult. Much like Douglas, Grandpa Mitchell expressed his fear, not his love. Caring was too painful.
My cousin only related to the cute little girl I once was. That was his knowledge and understanding. Sadly, it still is.
Over the years, much to my Mom’s dismay, I developed a relationship with Alexander. He never knew that I was hospitalized for days at a time. He was certain I was not placed in a program. Cousin Alex did not sense I was near death on more than one occasion. I was placed on a machine. Feeding was intravenous.
Alexander was [and is today] unaware. He did not [and does not] understand how Mommy felt. He could not comprehend nor will he. As we spoke, after my conversation with Douglas, Alexander declared he knows what he knows. My cousin refused to listen to my narrative.
My cousin did not and does not experience my Mom as she was. When I was detained in a medical facility, Mommy was never able to visit me. Physically she was capable; emotionally, she could not endure the pain. She tried once. I happened to be in a hospital affiliated with her work. She was there to meet with a patient and felt she could not leave without seeing me.
Mommy entered the room, sat on my bed, and we chatted. Each of us tried to communicate as we always had and did when I was not expelling food before I digested it. However, it was too hard for her. I could see the tears forming and before they gently fell down her face. She excused herself. She was flooded with emotions. Oh, Mommy, I am sooooooo sorry.
Alexander assumed much and apparently still does. He knows that he and Grandpa lived a block away from each other. They were friends; although I often wonder. When one, or both persons in a relationship share some information, and never fully deliberate, how intimate and whole might the rapport be. Nonetheless, the two were “close.”
Each time my grandfather spoke of gifting money to my Mom or me, Alexander decided the sums were large and an unwanted load for my Mom’s father. Cousin Alex does not recall what my Grandpa taught me, or does not make the connection for I shared the parable many times. “No one does something they do not really want to do.”
After a time when Grandpa gave me two hundred and eighty nine dollars to travel, I thanked him profusely, for months. I could not resolve within myself how generous a gift he bestowed. Then, one-day grandfather Mitchell said to me, I would not have given you the money had I not wanted to. You need not continually thank me. He shared his now famous adage. Slowly, I learned. This lesson is about far more than money.
Nonetheless, Alexander remains stalwart, doing diligence over the dollars. I discovered this only days ago. As much as Alexander cherishes my Mom and I, he resents us. Alexander believes he has the specifics. For him there is nothing further to discuss.
My cousin believes my bulimia was a financial burden far beyond what it was. He thinks my Mom borrowed money and never repaid it. Grandpa disinherited his own daughter and sacrificed for his granddaughter. He brusquely said to me, “Ask your sister.” I did. I discovered that my elder sibling understands as I do. The details of that I will save for another time. I told Alexander, in part of the exchange with my sister. Alexander refuses to hear the rest of the story. Bitterness becomes him. It must, for he has chosen to live with it for all these years.
Perhaps, that is the truer crisis. Bulimia breeds contempt. As the person afflicted purges in an attempt to escape feeling, the feelings flourish. They envelop everyone. Authentic communication ends. At times, we cannot be sure it will come again. The illness has a profound effect on the individual. It is as a heavy stone falling into a pond. The ripples travel. All are touched.
So much is shoved out of sight. Embarrassment causes the bulimic and her family to hide their emotions. There is much harm done to every one. People do not speak; they do not wish to see what is painful and true. Tales are told. Everyone wishes to appear excellent, exalted, and above it all. Yet, friends, family, familiars are all brought down. The spiral spins out of control.
Thankfully, it need not be. Douglas shared my writings with his sister. They had a lengthy conversation. Tears and fears were placed out in the open. Until, I told my truth, Douglas never understood how his sister Sarah struggles. He thought his sibling was concerned about her weight. This brilliant and munificent gentle man could not imagine why the healthy woman he knows and loves would do as she does.
It was only days ago he discovered, each night she cries herself to sleep thinking tomorrow, I will not do this. Yes, I remember; I did the same. This evening I told my father what Douglas shared. Barry asked was that true? He never knew. My father did not imagine my daily distress. I can barely phantom his sorrow.
As we reflected, Barry avowed, “Ultimately I trusted your sense of yourself and your evolving being. Mommy and I often talked about what we could do. Your health and well being was on our minds.” I trust it still is. I feel it in Barry’s musings. I sense it in my soul.
Each day and evening I think about Mommy’s anguish. The despair my Mom felt, and may still feel, fills my heart. She has passed and I cannot inquire, Yet, I accept I cannot experience a fraction of the pain as she did, has, and sadly, may still .
Alexander, oh were he to speak of the unspeakable; what might we resolve.
Douglas and Sarah, I love you both. You give me hope. I wish to bequeath to you both hugs, kisses, and pleasant dreams. I have faith; tomorrow will come and good health will be yours.
Dear reader, you may wish to peruse Chapters One through Six. Please do. These reflective diaries discuss my life as an anorexic, bulimic, a person.
The Beginning. Bulimia and Becoming [Chapter One] By Betsy L. Angert. BeThink.org
Bulimia. A Bit Becomes a Binge [Chapter Two] By Betsy L. Angert. BeThink.org
Binges Build A Being, Separate From Self [Chapter Three] By Betsy L. Angert. BeThink.org
Hiding the Food. Hiding The Feelings, Hiding Me [Chapter Four] By Betsy L. Angert. BeThink.org
The Satiated Stomach. The Study Of Food [Chapter Five] By Betsy L. Angert. BeThink.org
Bulimia. Wait! It is Not My Weight [Chapter Six] By Betsy L. Angert. BeThink.org
Or Similar Discussions . . .
I Am An Anorexic, Bulimic, A Person! By Betsy L. Angert. BeThink.org
When Will I Be Right? Is It Ever Okay To Be Me? By Betsy L. Angert. BeThink.org
Weight. Balancing Fat with Feelings, Habits With Health. By Betsy L. Angert. BeThink.org
Other References . . .
The Effects of Bulimia. RecoverYourLife.com.
Bulimia Nervosa. The National Women’s Health Information Center.
What are the effects of bulimia? Tina deBenedictis, Ph.D., Jaelline Jaffe, Ph.D., Robert Segal, M.A., and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. Helpguide.org.
Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss what Matters Most, By: Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, Sheila Heen. The Harvard Negotiation Project.