Okay, please bear with me as this post may get a little long. I am going to try and condense it some, but it’s emotionally charged and difficult to write. I am doing this to share my story with you and because well, I think some of you, at least, can relate to it. I want you to know you are not alone and you should NOT be ashamed.
When I was a baby, I hated eating. My parents told me they force-fed me. Yup. Can you imagine? By the time I was two, I was a stress eater. Carbs were my go-to. Donuts, cookies, cake. My mother tells me this. At the age of four, I began to put on weight as I started school and discovered that I had severe anxiety that would go untreated for decades.
Food was my comfort. My best friend. I had trouble making and keeping friends. I was a shy, overweight child. I got teased and picked on. Some of the taunts remain with me to this day. I know that children can be cruel without realizing it, but sometimes adults can be too. I was made to feel ashamed of my unruly body for decades. I still carry some of that shame, I am sorry to say.
My mother and nonna (Italian for grandmother) would encourage me to ‘mangia’ (eat) in one breath and in the next chastise me for gaining weight. We were fed pasta 6 nights a week for years and had big Sunday family dinners that lasted for hours. I was also sometimes the only kid at Weight Watchers or Diet Workshop. Oh God. Those memories are still hard to conjure up. People were nice enough, but I knew I didn’t belong. I didn’t want to either.
I guess I was up against it. By the time I was a teen, I was about 180. I was still athletic and well, I danced ballet, tap and jazz. I wanted more than anything to do toe ballet. My instructor would not sign off on it because my legs were ‘too heavy.’ I am bottom heavy, shaped like a pear. This broke my heart and when I broke my ankle a few months later, I decided it was time to give up on that dream.
When the ankle broke, my parents, who didn’t take me to the hospital right away, felt guilty. They fed me over and over again to show how sorry they were. I didn’t have the strength or the desire to fight the food and I ballooned up to 240. I was the fat freshman on crutches. I stood out like a sore thumb when all I wanted to do was blend in.
I was harrassed and teased mercilessly. I ate lunch alone and was humiliated by the prospect of going to school every day. However, school was my safe haven. Things at home weren’t great either. I was also getting pressure to lose weight from my nonna, who believed appearances were important. As a perfectionist and straight-A student, I was once told, “you’d be perfect if you lost weight.”
I was also told that I should do what my cousin did to lose weight. My cousin had just gotten out of the hospital for bulimia. My nonna told me that at the age of 14. I resisted the advice for several months because I felt it was wrong. Then, after going to the park wiht a friend, and being teased mercilessly by some boys whose faces I will never forget but names I don’t even know, I stuck my fingers down my throat for the first time but not the last.
I vowed to lose weight any way possible. I drank pickle juice. I vomited. I overexercised. I got down to 160 but I looked about 130. I have a big frame. I am not meant to be small. I went back to school as a sophomore transformed. I had friends and attention.
But I had lost my soul.
I would struggle with bulimia until I was 40. The only time I kicked it was when I was pregnant with my two children, ages 21 and 15. Bulimia is not a weight loss method. It helped me become morbidly obese, but I couldn’t stop the behavior. My weight spiraled out of control during my pregnancies and in-between them.
I was also unmedicated bipolar but did not know that until I was 35 and diagnosed after a near-suicide attempt in front of my husband and young children. I was in that much pain. I regret it. Deeply.
I had become that which I hated the most and I wanted to die. I thought obesity had defeated me. Don’t worry, it didn’t.
(To be continued. Read part two here.)