My friends, I am honored to introduce a guest blogger today. Christie Tate blogs at Outlaw Mama from her home base in Chicago. She is an attorney, legal writing instructor, and mother of a 2-year-old daughter and a 15-month-old son. She is grateful for enough peace in her relationship with food to be able to obsess about other things, like her children getting into preschool or whether to go back to work full-time.
Christie’s post, “Back from Hell,” left me breathless and on the verge of tears. I hope you enjoy this post as much as I did. Without further ado, here is Outlaw Mama.
On Saturdays in the fall when there is a home game at Texas A&M University, there are usually only two of the 40,000 enrolled students who are at the library. During college, there was a good chance I was one of them. My roommate Annie and I knew that if we studied during the football games and completed our terribly pressing undergraduate work, we could party with clear consciences at night.
In October 1992, I remember studying in the library with Annie when the Aggie football team was hosting the Baylor Bears. I peered over my history text book and saw Annie studying for her accounting mid-term exam. The deafening roar of the crowd gathered in the football stadium punctuated our studies; the building shook when either team scored a touchdown.
I thought Annie was absorbed enough in her studying that I could slip away. “I’ll be right back,” I said. I didn’t say where I was going. I couldn’t. How could I tell Annie that I was going to run back to our dorm room .5 miles away from the library to stuff two bags of chocolate candy into my mouth and immediately throw them back up? My plan was to return to my seat next to my textbook in about 20 minutes and simply pretend that I had just made a phone call or looked for a book in the stacks.
That’s how my first semester as a sophomore in college went. I slipped away more and more to binge and purge. I had an arsenal of excuses that allowed me a chance to steal away from whatever crowd I was with to go and find food and throw it up. That fall, the horrible cycle of lying, binging, purging and pretending was started to spiral out of control, just like the food that I watched vanish down the toilet almost every day.
Texas A&M had a peculiar claim to fame that I had come to appreciate: “We have one of the largest dining halls in the Free World.” As a young bulimic, access to the gigantic dining hall, Sbisa, felt like a huge stroke of luck. I could easily eat lunch with Annie and then sneak back in later, anonymously, to gorge myself on pizza, ice cream, hamburgers, cereal, and desserts. When I went to the dining hall by myself to binge, I went to the west side where all of the foreign exchange students sat. No one I ever knew saw me; no one spoke English at the tables where I sat and binged.
It was getting harder to keep up with my insatiable need to binge and purge. It was also getting more violent. One weekend after a sickening mix of starving and binging on food and drinking too much Zima, I fainted in the shower while trying to vomit up a donut. I wasn’t upset about the fainting; I was upset about how many calories were in the donut and whether I had gotten them all out before I fainted.
What was going to happen to me? I was 19 years old. I went on dates with boys that seemed nice enough, but all I could concentrate on when they held my hand or tried to get to know me was when I could go home and eat. I made straight A’s my first year in college, but I was starting to lose my ambition in the haze of sugar and fat and vomit. I had so many secrets and so many cravings, both of which were metastasizing and taking over my life.
The night before I found my way to 12-step recovery for my raging eating disorder reads like a script from a bad movie on the WB Network. I had a date with a fraternity guy who I thought was totally hot, but he drank too much and his grabbing hands scared me. To combat the fear, I drank too much and after midnight, I just wanted to go home and eat myself into oblivion. I found my way back to my dorm and, right outside my door was a huge industrial gray trashcan. When I looked inside the trashcan, I saw a half-eaten pizza. I took the pizza out of the trash, carried it down the hall to the common area, dusted it off and started to eat it. I no longer cared who saw me or what anyone thought of me. I had only one message in my head: “Eat. Eat. Eat.”
Annie found me that night eating pizza I scavenged out of the trash. She knew that something was really wrong and that I was very sick. We didn’t know the words for what I was doing, but we both knew that I had to get some help. My secrets started to spill out.
The next morning, I went to my first 12-step meeting for people who suffer from eating disorders. I had seen commercials in the 1970’s for the group, but assumed it was for fat people. Or old ladies. Or suburban moms. Or rural grandmothers. Or weirdos. I didn’t think it was for a little sorority girl who was nice enough, but had a weird obsession and compulsion around food.
I walked into the room in the little church basement and saw seven people sitting in the circle. They welcomed me. They said they understood what it was like to be out of control with food. I didn’t say a word. Not then. It would take a while to unfurl my story for the group and to understand how I would fit into this world of recovery from addiction. It’s been a few 24-hours since I binged on food from the trashcan or snuck away from loved ones to purge. I never forget those dark days of isolation, secrets and obsession. I believe I would have perished from my eating disorder had I not found recovery. I believe if I forget where I came from I may be doomed to revisit that darkness. So I write this to remember.
Readers, how do you react to reading Christie’s story? What sort of Hell did you or are you running from? We love to hear from you. Don’t be shy!