Being bulimic and being hospitalized for only two weeks and going through the cafeteria line with overwhelming food choices, forced me to face one of my scariest demons: selecting a normal person’s plate of food and then the hardest, just one desert, just one piece of pie.
Before I admitted myself to The Menninger Clinic in Topeka, I gorged on hamburgers, fries, anything eatable in sight. Once I began that treacherous journey of gorging and purging, followed by exhaustion and shame, there was no turning back. Eating with my group meant I had to be in control.
I knew the desserts would be last on the cafeteria line. And that made me even more anxious.
Desserts were the hardest for me. When I was a child and Daddy was diagnosed with heart disease, Mother quit baking cakes with icing, cookies and my favorite, pies. Instead she baked angel food cakes so Daddy wasn’t left out. I wondered if that had anything to do with my obsession for sweets, but I reminded myself that I gorged on all kinds of food.
My heart pounded as I moved through the line. I could see pies, cobblers, cakes and cookies. Once I got closer, I realized all three of my favorite pies were offered: coconut, chocolate and pumpkin. I would have to make a choice.
I was relieved when a fellow patient, George, mentioned he would go back for dessert once he had finished his entrée.
“Thank God,” I thought, “I’ll do the same. I’m safe for now.”
Even though I was preoccupied, I tried to act interested and participate in the dinner conversation. My mind raced with nonstop obsessions about the food: Can I eat just one piece of pie? It won’t fill the need. But I can’t take all three kinds, I have to take just one or I’ll start vomiting again. Besides, everyone would see me eat three pieces. At least, they have all three of my favorites.
“Ready for dessert?” George asked as he got up from the table, “Come-on!”
I chose coconut cream and headed back to the table. I realized as long as I ate with the group, I wouldn’t take more. I didn’t want to eat like a glutton in front of the group. They protected me from my compulsion. I didn’t understand why I gorged, I just knew it reduced the fear, dread and my nose burning when I was filled with anxiety. Eating almost always increased my anxiety when I didn’t gorge. Gorging and purging gave me a sense of control.
At the Clinic, I learned that with practice and the support of the group, I could change my eating habits from destructive to healthier; life sustaining eating. My fellow patients and the hospital aid, Mrs. Locke, helped me begin that recovery. Yes, I grew to love and trust Dr. Roberts, my house doctor. Our work through talk therapy saved my life.
But, my fellow patients were also instrumental in my recovery.
Talking was great but eating with the group began my recovery from binging. You could say, “the proof was in the pie.”
For individuals suffering from bulimia or other eating disorders, there is help. Visit the National Eating Disorders Association website to connect with their help line or find resources close to you. www.nationaleatingdisorders.org
To find resources through the National Alliance on Mental Illness visit www.nami.org.