As I was editing my book the other day, I came across this passage:
“When someone feels like a situation is endless, like there is no top to their bottom, no strands of light bleeding through the darkness surrounding them, hope becomes elusive. Hope is that carrot not dangled, but destroyed in front of them. It’s this thought, this internal belief that is built into my mind like a system of Lego bricks that has kept me morbidly obese for the last ten years. When you are staring down the barrel of losing one hundred or more pounds, at the agonizingly slow rate of one pound a week, you give up. A hundred weeks. That’s two years. That’s four seasons of American Idol, that’s two grades in high school. That’s a long time. So, I do what I can to accelerate the process. I drink instead of eat, I eat pretzels instead of real dinners, I knock myself out early with wine as to resist the call of my grumbling (flatter!) belly. I take laxatives some mornings. But it is not enough. Nothing is ever enough. I am still the fat, desperate girl in the bar. I am still the girl people look past, people see through.”
It’s amazing to me how connected my weight is to my self image, and how desperate I have been at times to “accelerate the process.” Yet, despite my desperation, there has always been one thing I’ve veered away from: legitimate eating disorders. Yes, I’ve consumed drinks instead of food for two days at a time, starved myself, and even welcomed the stomach flu with open arms, but there was one line I’d never cross, and I owe that to Tammy.
Tammy and I worked in retail together when I was only 18 and she was 28. She had a boyfriend, an abusive boyfriend, although none of us realized it at the time. I worked full time during the summer, so I was with this girl for forty hours a week, and despite never seeing her eat a drop of food, despite her obvious dramatic weight loss, despite her jittery hands and cloudy eyes, we never noticed, we never thought anything was wrong. Then, one day, she collapsed. Her mother came to see us days later and told us Tammy was going away to a rehabilitation clinic, that she had been suffering from Bulimia for years now, and that, sadly, she had damaged her body to the point where she was entering menopause. She was 28, and would never have children.
When I think about her, when I write about her, I want to go back to that time and stop her, tell her of what’s to come. I want to be more observant, have a clue as to what was happening, I want to slap her, and me, for allowing it to happen.
Watching what happened to Tammy scared all of us, myself and my three or four coworkers, also young women, to the point where the very idea of an eating disorder was forbidden. But now I wonder this: is the very fact that I assumed an eating disorder was a conscious choice- the ignorant musings of a woman in her early twenties? I don’t think Tammy consciously decided to destroy her body, just like overeating is almost an addiction, isn’t under-eating as well?
I’m not sure where Tammy is now, but I hope she’s healthy and happy. I hope that she found what was missing from the center of her. I hope she knows that she changed my life and the lives of her coworkers. Hell, she may have even saved a few of us.