One startlingly close-to-home short story…

So, here goes.  Eating disorders.  Yep.  I know a bit about eating disorders.  I battled them – in their various forms – for about 20 years.  Personally I don’t think mine was as severe as that of others, I don’t remember getting down to a skeletal weight, and I don’t remember ever being diagnosed with anorexia or bulimia. But then, those who were close to me, particularly in my teen years, would probably beg to differ.

I remember my high school friends visiting me at home armed with fish and chips and Moro bars and smuggled (past my parents) $4.95 bottles of Chardon, trying without success to tempt me to eat or drink something. Anything.

I remember poring over a calorie-counter book for hours and memorising calories.

I remember plotting ahead of time how I was going to get out of having to eat dinner, how I could outsmart my parents into letting me stay in my room and study instead, with the vain promise that I would eat ‘later’.  Of course I never did.

I remember spending the 2-3 weeks prior to every Christmas during my teen years basically starving myself, living on one marmite sandwich for a whole day.

I remember weighing myself every day, sometimes 3 times a day.  100 grams either way would make or break my day.

I remember being out for dinner with friends and eating basically nothing – and I remember the worried expressions on my friends’ faces.  I didn’t really understand it at the time, but I worried them – and my family – sick.  We were just young silly teenagers who hadn’t even figured ourselves out yet, much less each other.  So for one of us to be on such a knife-edge with her behaviour, well, it was an unfair burden for me to place on those friends, and I deeply regret having subjected them to that, without even realising that I was at the time.  Maybe that’s why I love all of those friends so dearly and they are still very important to me almost 30 years on.  They know who they are.  And they know, I love them to bits.  They saw me at my worst, yet in my weakness they never turned me away.  I’m not letting them go!

If one were to read the profile of a typical anorexic, I would probably have fit it pretty well growing up.  Conscientious, straight A student, high-achieving, responsible, meticulous etc.  But underneath the perfect-daughter perfect-student veneer, I was one mixed-up little girl, utterly convinced she was the ugliest creature on the planet.  And for a time, I grew up into one mixed-up over-achieving high-flying professional young woman, convinced that she was so far below par that she had to work so much harder than everyone else just to be regarded as ‘OK’.

Clearly, my perspectives over that time were somewhat distorted, to say the least.

The good news is that those days are gone.  Well and truly behind me.  After doing some extremely hard yards working through some pretty fundamental stuff with God, He set me free of it.  I had to let go of my neuroses and truly accept that my value lay not in my performance or ability to match some unrealistic standard of ‘beauty’ or ‘success’, but in who I am in God as his creation and precious child.  It took me a while.  I knew it in my head.  But it took me a lot of years to let it travel from my head to my heart and really, really, really believe, accept and receive it.

So I don’t ever want to let my God go, this God who loved me so much and went to such incredible lengths to pursue me and bring me out of years of imprisonment to eating disorders and such a painfully distorted self-image.  I can honestly say that God is the only reason for anything that is good or blessed in my life.  He has loved me with an everlasting love that I cannot resist, even if I wanted to.  And I am, quite literally, eternally grateful to Him.

The story below is based on a few things…personal experience of course, and that of others who I’ve heard about, read about, and known.  Although the ‘externals’ of the story definitely don’t line up with me (for example I never had my own bathroom growing up!), it’s about as transparent as I’ve ever been with regards to Glo’s inside.  So in some ways, much scarier than the previous story I posted!

I would say ‘enjoy’, but this probably isn’t one of those kinds of short stories…

And if there is a young woman out there who reads any of this, sees herself in it and is desperate to get free of it – please know, you can.  You’re the reason I’m writing this.  Because you’re precious and beautiful and I want you to know.  You can.  You can get free.

==========================================

Brown-Eyed Girl

“Don’t you think Lisa is so fat?”

The 13 year-old blue-eyed blonde girl was expressing her expert prepubescent opinion to the 12 year-old brown-eyed black-haired girl.  They sat on the sidelines of the netball court, watching Lisa play.

Brown-Eyed Girl watched Lisa throw the ball and get a goal.  The team cheered and high-fived Lisa.  Lisa was really good at netball.  She was wondering what Blue-Eyed Girl meant.  Lisa didn’t look fat to her at all.  Lisa looked normal to her.

“Gosh, I don’t know…she looks pretty normal to me.  Why do you think she’s fat?”

“Well, look at her chunky ankles.  Gross.”  Blue-Eyed Girl screwed her pretty nose up in disgust.  Even when she pulled a face, she was so pretty.  Brown-Eyed Girl wished she could be blonde and blue-eyed and pretty like Blue-Eyed Girl.  She hated her black hair and her brown eyes.  She hated being ugly.  She was desperate to be beautiful.

Brown-Eyed Girl looked at Lisa’s ankles.  She hadn’t ever noticed them before.  But since Blue-Eyed Girl mentioned it, she realised that Lisa’s ankles were quite big.

But did one small thing make Lisa totally fat and gross?

Brown-Eyed Girl considered this as Blue-Eyed Girl continued to catalogue Lisa’s physical faults.  Big fat gross legs.  Flabby gross thighs.  Gross potbelly sticking out.  Pudgy gross arms.  Chubby cheeks, so gross.  So fat.  All summed up in one word.  Gross.

“I mean, I shouldn’t talk, I mean look at me, I’m so fat! I hate my fat ankles.  And don’t get me started on my chubby chipmunk cheeks.  I’m so gross” Blue-Eyed Girl concluded.

Brown-Eyed Girl sat listening to all of this in quiet horror.  She didn’t understand.  Lisa looked fine to her.  She thought Lisa was really pretty.  Blue-Eyed Girl looked skinny and beautiful to her.  Blue-Eyed Girl was always obsessing about food and being fat.  Blue-Eyed Girl was always talking about how fattening everything was.  At 13, Blue-Eyed Girl had already tried 5 different diets that Brown-Eyed Girl knew about.

♦ ♦ ♦

Brown-Eyed Girl walked home from school in a daze.  She wondered if all her thinking was wrong.  Blue-Eyed Girl was so convincing.  Maybe all these girls – who all looked perfectly fine to her – really were fat and gross.  But how could she not have seen it before?  Blue-Eyed Girl had opened her eyes.

She slipped in through the back door and slunk into her room, hoping to go unnoticed.

“Hello dear, how was your day?” came her mother’s sing-song voice from the kitchen.

“Fine Mum.”

“I’ve made a carrot cake with loads of cream cheese, just the way you like it!  Come and have some dear”.

Brown-Eyed Girl tensed up.  Cake was fattening.  Cream cheese was fattening.  She didn’t want to eat it.  She didn’t want to get fat.  She couldn’t think of anything worse than getting fatter than she already was.

She had stopped eating fattening food a few weeks ago after Blue-Eyed Girl had put the fear of God into her about how fattening everything was.  Before then, she’d had no idea.  But now she needed to step things up.  Maybe she should just stop eating for a while.  Maybe just half a piece of dry toast in the mornings to keep Mum off her back.  And the non-starchy vegetables for dinner to keep Dad off her back.  She had started slipping her dinner to the cat under the table when her parents weren’t looking.   Her parents had no idea.

“No thanks”.  She put her hand over her stomach.  She looked down and realized that her belly was sticking out like a soccer ball through her school uniform.  She was disgusted.  She looked pregnant.  Gross!  I need to stop eating until this disappears, she thought.

“Oh dear, are you feeling OK?  I’ve never known you to turn down carrot cake” her mother said as she came into her room, putting the back of her hand on her daughter’s forehead to check her temperature.  “Sweetheart you really aren’t looking well lately.  Have you lost weight?  You should be growing now, not shrinking.  Are you sure you’re OK?  I’m quite worried about you darling.”

“I’m fine, Mum.  I’m just not hungry right now”.  She pulled away from her mother’s hand and began to unbutton her uniform blouse.

“Would you mind?”  She glared at her mother.

“Oh sorry sweetheart.  I’ll let you get changed.  Cake’s in the pantry if you change your mind”.

Brown-Eyed Girl stood in front of her full-length mirror in nothing but her knickers.  She studied her reflection.  God, I’m so fat, she thought.  She hated everything she saw.  If she at least had a pretty face or blue eyes or blonde hair it would be bearable, but everything about her was just gross.  Oh God, why did you make me so ugly, she thought.

♦ ♦ ♦

The next morning, the cat jumped up onto her bed and purred into her ear to wake her up.  As usual.  She cuddled the cat.  As usual.  Just as she had for the last 5 years.  This was their morning ritual.

But she needed to get up now.  She had to know what she weighed today.  She jumped out of bed, pulled her pajamas off and checked her reflection in the full-length mirror.  Damn, that stupid round belly was still there.  She really needed to starve that thing off her.  She hated it.

She went into her bathroom and stood on the scales that she had rescued from her parents.  They were going to throw them out but she had begged them to let her keep them.

She held her stomach in.  She held her breath.  She didn’t want to look down to see what the number was today.  But she knew that she had to.  Otherwise how would she know how to feel today, how would she know what to do, how would she know whether to eat.

She looked down slowly, her eyes closed.  She had only eaten half her veges last night so maybe she would have lost more.

She opened her eyes and the number glared up at her, in all its vicious digital glory.  49.8 kgs.  She was gutted.  She’d lost nothing since yesterday, and she’d eaten hardly anything all day.

At 173cms, she was tall for her age.  She was awkwardly tall.  The boys at school teased her mercilessly for her height.  They were really mean about it.  But at that height, she should have weighed a lot more than 49.8 kgs.

She was already dangerously underweight.  Technically, she was anorexic.  But Brown-Eyed Girl had no idea.  She didn’t care.  She just wanted to be thinner and thinner and thinner, as thin as possible until she was almost not even there anymore.

She wondered, tentatively, if she could get down below 40 kgs.  Or even 30kgs.  She was sure she could.

So it was then that she had decided.  She was going to keep going until she was thinner than everyone and took up almost no space at all.

♦ ♦ ♦

Looking back on it all at 20, she realized that her determined decision at 12 had cost her so much.  She lay among the wires and equipment keeping her 29kg frame alive, and a solitary tear rolled down her cheek as she thought about that decision.  About what she had put her family through.  And her friends.  She had gotten below 30 kgs.  But she didn’t care about that now.

She wished that she could rewind and tell her 12 year-old self that it really didn’t matter.  That she should eat voraciously, live adventurously, laugh euphorically and love passionately.  She had done none of those things over the last 8 years.

She wondered if there was any hope for her.  She wondered if she could get free of this prison and live the life she was meant to live.  She was so frail now though.  But she remembered, when her mother prayed with her she always said that where there’s life, there’s hope.

Oh God, please.  I’m so sorry.  I’m sorry I’ve wasted my life on this.  I’m sorry I’ve been so selfish and vain.  Please God, help me.  I want to get out of this prison.  I want to get out of this hell.  I want to live life.  I want to live for You.  Please.

She remembered the verse her mother had read to her that morning.

“Call to me and I will answer you”.

An inexplicable peace came over the brown-eyed girl.  She knew.  Whatever happened, she was in good hands now.

She closed her eyes.

© Gloria Emmalene 2012

4 thoughts on “One startlingly close-to-home short story…

  1. I’m just sitting here trying to think what to say about this story but it left me speechless… you write beautifully Gloria! I hope this is fiction and your own story wasn’t this extreme…

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    • Thank you for your kind words Rita! My own story had its own nuances, some of which are in here, and some of which are not – the beauty of short stories is that it’s not just my own experience that I can draw on – I’ve been watching the world around me for a lot of years too 🙂

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