Two months after that conversation, I was declared medically disqualified from athletic competition for the remainder of my college career. The pain in my foot was diagnosed as a stress fracture, my third stress fracture to be exact. I knew it was time to stop. I ran a couple races, all I had asked God for, and I was now at His mercy. He let me stray and enjoy myself. Now He is going to set me straight whether I like it or not. And I think I do. It’s easy to know God has a plan for me. He has one for everyone. It’s the hardest thing I will ever do to accept and follow where He is guiding me, especially if I don’t want to go. But He will continue to break me (and this may be literally) until I submit to His will. He is not punishing me by any means. Yes, my foot hurts, but the pain is not severe. If breaking my foot it what it takes to set me on the correct path, break away! It’s pretty hard to doubt the One who created the universe; I think God knows what He is doing.
A couple of weeks after the diagnosis, Bailey invited me to lunch. I responded yes in a heartbeat. By the time we met up, I had admitted to my therapist that I had “eating issues.” The brief look of satisfaction swept over my therapists face before the sympathy and concern came out. She knew all along. So did I. Who am I fooling? My therapist and I had briefly discussed my relationship with food before I had lunch with Bailey, so Bailey was the first, and still one of the only, to know the details of my eating disorder.
We met at a soup/salad/sandwich restaurant on campus. It is pretty much the only place I will eat on campus since I can control what goes into my salad. (no gluten or nasty dressings) I was relieved when she suggested the place so I wouldn’t have to explain my reasons for wanting to eat there. (not fried, covered in cheese, or wrapped in bread) We both ordered salads and took our meals outside to enjoy the unseasonable warm November weather. It was kind of ironic; two anorexics speaking about overcoming their issues while picking at salads sans dressing or meat. After breaking the ice with small talk we cut the crap and got right to what we were both dying to talk about: eating disorders, ours in particular. Bailey knew I was uncomfortable with speaking about it so she told me a bit about her past first. She had anorexia and has recovered. She asked me when I started having issues. My secrets started to seep out. Surprisingly, it didn’t hurt as much as I thought.
“It started when I was in first grade.” I responded ashamedly, no louder than a whisper.
“Oh wow. I thought I was bad at 14.”
“Well I didn’t start restricting anything then. I just became aware that I was fat and I wanted to be thin. I started counting calories then, but never really doing anything about it. I didn’t have the self-control, so to speak, to do anything then.”
“When did you start restricting?”
“Oh, maybe fifth grade, but never for long. A week maybe, and then I would have to eat something. And then off and on in middle school. It wasn’t until my sophomore year that things got bad.”
“Do you know what started it? I know for me it just happened. I just decided I wanted to be thin. I wanted control. I didn’t know it then, but it was definitely a control issue. I am the oldest of seven and a twin. I didn’t get much attention.”
“I bet not! I am an only child. I can have all the attention I want with sugar on top, but my mom is sick. She has MS. (I went on to explain the illness) She spends most of the days on her bed and doesn’t really know what I am doing. I could run a meth lab upstairs and she’d be none the wiser. Half the time if I don’t make noise she thinks I’m gone and acts all surprised when I walk down the stairs. We never ate together as a family. And I was a real picky eater so I never ate what they ate. I made my own meals. She never even asked what I ate. My dad was at work the whole day and he wouldn’t ask anyway. I could get away with a lot.”
“Yeah, I get ya. I was the same way. My parents didn’t really pay attention. I don’t know, it just came on so quickly. I lost weight fast and my hair started to get all wirey. It still is like that.”
Bailey demonstrated how she could get her blonde bangs to stand straight up without any support. My hair is just thin. It’s shiny and smooth and straight but it hangs in strands, leaving gaps you can see through. I told her that’s why mine is always up in a ponytail. I don’t understand how she looked so normal. Even her hair, it just looked like it had been damaged from the straightener. She was barely taller than me, trim, but fit, and had a sparkle in her eyes. I watched that sparkle turn into concern as I revealed more of my past.
“I never really skipped meals. I ate about 5 times a day. The portions just got smaller and smaller. It was enough to keep me going. To keep me running 40 miles per week. I became picky about what I ate. And I ate slowly, terribly slowly, to savor every bite, to make it last. I ate food in certain ways, too. I would pick the crusts of sandwiches and eat it first, counting to at least five before taking my next bite. I would eat the fruit and veggies at meal first, then the sandwich or “main course.” Cereal was precisely measured, as was the light soymilk that accompanied it. I would do homework during breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It provided distraction from food for me and it distracted others from seeing what I didn’t eat.”