“Why can’t you just eat?” Such a simple question with such a complex answer.
Trust me, when I was at my lowest weight and struggling with anorexia, I knew I looked sickly. I just couldn’t get myself to eat. It wasn’t that easy. That is the biggest misconception about anorexia; that if you just eat, you will get better. Great, if it was just that easy! Eating is against everything you believe, especially when it is ingrained into your DNA not to.
Similarly when I was trying to recover through the Maudsley approach, family based treatment; I couldn’t help but slip with laxatives a couple of times. It was like a force was pulling me towards them like I was in some kind of magical trance. My parents didn’t understand. One time it got really bad. I didn’t respond well—we all didn’t respond well.
I was about halfway through my Maudsley refeeding at twenty-six—I know, it was rough-when my mom found natural laxatives I’d bought in one of the drawers in the computer room at my parents house. I was staying there for a couple of months to avoid inpatient treatment, while working with an eating disorder therapist, and other experts. I had compartmentalized the laxatives as not being a problem. I mean I was gaining weight, eating, doing everything else right. Can’t I be getting better but still abusing laxatives at the same time? I wondered. I know the answer to that now, but just humor me for a moment.
I had tried to justify them to myself when I sneakily bought them because they were “natural” laxatives. Natural meant they were acceptable in my mind—wrong! My mom called my dad when we were on the way home from work and angrily told him what she discovered. He yelled at me for being deceitful.
“All you do is lie to me. I can’t trust you! How could you lie to me?” he roared, his lower teeth overtaking his upper lip like a shih tzu, which was intimidating as fuck—not like the cute little teacup shih tzus I was familiar with.
“I am so sorry, I didn’t mean to—” I said biting my lip hard, tears forming in my shameful eyes.
“You mean, you didn’t mean to get caught! Your mother and I have been busting our assess trying to get you better, and this is how you repay us. You are so ungrateful.”
I swear he had such force in his voice that the car shook with its booming vibrato. He never knew how to handle his emotions, especially over things he couldn’t control. He wanted to scare the shit out of me, scare the anorexia and bulimia out of me, so I wouldn’t do it again. Though that wasn’t going to help. He didn’t understand how powerful this addiction was. He didn’t understand that the last thing I wanted to do was lie to him, to my mom. It wasn’t about trust. I had a problem. I was an addict.
I cried all the way home as he expressed his disappointment in me as a person, even more hurtful, as his daughter. We got home, and as we pulled in, I saw the outline of my mom at the door peering out: her long brown locks, medium-height lanky body, and long skinny arms. How would I get around her without talking to her? My dad’s screams were all blending together as the intensity seemed to decrease, and all I could hear were the same words over and over again “disappointment” and “unappreciative.”
I opened the car door and slithered out like a rattlesnake making its escape, slammed the door shut behind me, and ran past my mom up the back stairs and hid. Yes, you read that correctly, I hid. I didn’t want them to belittle me anymore. I couldn’t take it. Through the vents, I could hear them talking, but only in murmurs. Then they shouted for me: “Dani! Dani!” I stayed in my hiding spot, paralyzed. I felt like a little girl hiding from her spanking.
I hid in a closet in my room under hanging clothes, squishing old shoes with my butt and legs for what seemed like a long time. I whimpered but tried to stay as quiet as possible. It was hot and dark with a little light peeking through the bottom. I saw the backs of dresses from when I was younger. One was dark maroon. I recognized it as the dress I wore to my bat mitzvah. I placed my fingers on it and felt the texture; it felt hard, almost stale. I looked at a suitcase above me where I used to hide laxatives, now I was hiding for them. I was hiding because I was so addicted to them, to my habits, that I couldn’t stop myself from using them. I’d reached a new low. I was sitting in my childhood closet hiding from the world.
I heard my mom calling in echoes. “Dani, Dani! Is this a joke? Where are you?” I heard her faint footsteps far away.
My dad chiming in: “Did she leave the house?”
I heard the front door open and slam close.
Tucked quietly away, I let them panic for a bit. I let them squirm the way I had been squirming these past couple of months, tiptoeing around them, trying everything to please them, following their every order so I wouldn’t be hospitalized. Somehow, in this moment, this felt so much worse than the worst punishment I could think of. I wanted to get even with them in a way. I resented my dad’s reaction; I resented my mom for busting me the way she did. She could have just waited until we both got home, instead of making me get stuck in a car with someone who saw this as the ultimate betrayal.
“You are going to be in big trouble whenever you come out!” I heard my dad scream. Not exactly motivation for me to move. I closed my eyes and tried to slow my breathing, hoping the walls from the closet would close in and suffocate me, end it all right now, right here . . .
“Dani, please, we are not mad at you,” my mom countered his lunacy. Her panicked voice made me feel a little bad.
About ten minutes in hiding, I opened the closet door from the inside, revealing myself. I picked myself up slowly, gaining balance on my two feet and feeling weak and defeated as I shouted, “I’m here, I’m here.” I realized that my voice was in a whisper and not the shout I intended it to be. “I’m here. I am coming!” I screamed again, and this time it was actually louder.
I walked down the front stairs and found them both in the kitchen.
When I saw their faces, I apologized through broken whimpers and tears. My parents both embraced me. I snuggled into my dad’s chest, hiding my face and tears in the warmth of his body. I cried for my parents. I cried for myself. I cried because I didn’t think I could do this anymore. I just cried.
I wish all of us had responded differently. There were a lot of emotions. It was one of the hardest times in all of our lives. My dad didn’t know anything from eating disorders. He thought I chose not to eat. He never heard of anyone being addicted to something like laxatives. But now every year at the NEDA (National Eating Disorders Association) walk, my dad stands right by my side listening to the speakers; his unblinking eyes release tears that roll along the contour of his chin and down his neck. Now, he is my biggest advocate and understands how difficult this illness is. He is proud of me, of all the people that beat this. He knows this is not a choice.
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237 or refer to the resources page