When my friend Candy and I went on a hike, she told me that she had struggled with bulimia from her late teens until her early thirties. Now in her early fifties, I invited her to share her story.
She graciously told me she would be honored to share the story if it would help other people. Knowing that many readers have been enticed by the beast of bulimia, I assured Candy that others would gain courage and strength from her story. And most importantly, they would begin to understand that when darkness and despair envelop them, hope still prevails.
“I totally get why another name for Satan is the Father of Lies. Bulimia is the perfect example of this,”Candy said, as we hiked among the cedar trees and ferns. ” After getting brainwashed by the media, you literally can’t think straight. The lies saying you are not beautiful unless you are concentration camp thin invade every cell of your body. And your brain gets re-programmed to think that your value comes from your packaging.” I nodded in agreement as we stopped and listened to the sweet songs of birds.
“So the lie of bulimia, on the surface, seems like the perfect promise of satisfying your appetite while not paying the price for the calories. A win-win situation. But actually purging only gets rid of about half the calories anyway, which many people don’t realize. And once the cycle gets started, the bondage of bulimia casts a dark shadow over your life. I used to think it was the magic cure, the great equalizer in the sense of calories.” She took a deep breath as we gained elevation.
As we walked up the path, Candy told me about her background. “My parents argued a lot. They had a lot of fights – not physically, but my brother and I huddled together when they yelled.” When Candy’s life felt out of control due to the yelling, she felt extremely out of control.
People often deny this and say it wasn’t a big deal because other people had it much worse. While that may be true, it is minimizing the problem and helps to deny the depth of situation. Living in a toxic environment is much more harmful than most people realize.” I nodded my head in agreement. It changes brain chemistry and causes damage to our immune systems. And just as weighty is the fact that it teaches us yelling and screaming is ‘normal’ and that is what relationships are like.
Then she started to explain her first romantic relationship. “It was never a good relationship,” she continued. “I just didn’t have any good role models for relationships.” Due to the rockiness of her parents’ relationship, her own dating relationships were rocky. That’s what she knew. Candy started dating Brad in her later high school years, and eventually they married and moved to Germany because he was in the Air Force. They moved to a remote village so Candy felt isolated. She and Brad began to drink a lot each evening. (We now know that bulimia and heavy drinking, including pre-alcoholism and alcoholism, often go together.) He picked on her and called her fat even though she was only a size 6. He controlled her and often told her not to laugh or behave in certain ways. All this negativity squelched her and made her go deeper inside herself.
Candy started to gain some weight because she felt bored,depressed and isolated. She often cried herself to sleep at night. Although she was still a size 6, Brad said, “I will not tolerate an obese woman.” He also often said, “Boy, you eat a lot.” At some point, she started to throw up because she felt ashamed of what she had eaten. She had a history of self-abuse, and looks at her bulimia, in some ways, as an extension of the abuse. “All I could think about sometimes was throwing up, and threw up 3-4 times per day.” The bulimia took over her thinking, and she was caught in a vortex of shame due to the bingeing and the purging. A squirrel crossed our path as she continued.
Brad’s control of Candy is very common to abusive relationships. (For more information on the warning signs of dangerous relationships, click here. http://www.notjustsymptoms.com/clientimages/45365/newsletter%202_warning%20signs%20of%20dangerous%20relationships.html
Eventually she gave birth, and while Candy nursed little Connie, Brad tried to turn the mattress over on her. Another time he said something about going to get a gun, and that’s when she left. She came back home, and prayed a lot about her situation. Candy learned about abuse and bulimia and learned how to deal with her feelings. My bulimia was as much about purging feelings as purging food. “I can understand why you feel like that,” I said. “After all, stuffing is for turkeys
and teddy bears – not for feelings.”
“Feelings have to be expressed in healthy ways. If not, they stay inside us and lead to self-medication including workaholism, drug abuse, alcoholism, food addiction, or something else.” We stopped to admire the glorious view of Mount Rainier.
It wasn’t easy, but Candy was able to crawl out of the black hole of bulimia. She wishes she would have received professional help back then, and that she would advise anyone who struggles with bulimia to get good help. God created us to be in community, and when we live lone ranger lives, we rob ourselves. Candy is eternally grateful that God helped her out of Bulimiaville. Every once in a while she still gets an urge to purge, but she doesn’t follow through on it because she figures out what is really eating at her.
Decades later, Candy is happily married to a kind man. No, life isn’t perfect because there will always be struggles this side of heaven. Her three kids are doing well and one will graduate from college this year. Tears welled up in her eyes as she remembered the contrast of her old life and her new life. Several years ago, she asked Jesus to take control of her life. She told some people about her secret life of struggling with bulimia, and gradually she was released from its power. Even so, Candy strongly encourages others suffering from bulimia to seek professional help. “The 12-step programs such as Overeaters Anonymous are great, too,” she said.
I asked Candy if there is anything else she would like to say to other people who are struggling with bulimia. She said, “Yes. There is help! Get professional help. You don’t have to be this way forever.” Well said, Candy.