Sunday, February 20, 2011

You Gotta Bring Your Own Sun


Lots to say, little organization to my thoughts tonight. This post could go anywhere or nowhere, you've been warned.

Today marks the start of Eating Disorder Awareness Week 2011. My boys and I celebrated by attending the first Tampa Bay NEDA Walk yesterday morning (sainted husband, spending his birfday morning in a park being aware of eating disorders). It was amazingly well-run, considering this was the inaugural event for Tampa, and that it was coordinated by a 16-year old. Impressive on both counts. "Excited" wasn't the word for my feelings about going; "emotionally obligated" or "willing to participate" better conveyed the sentiment. Upon arrival, though, I realized I could change that to "more than somewhat freaked out". The light switch flipped and suddenly there was this awareness that I was going to be standing and/or more or less exercising with members of the ED community. Oh boy. That'll make a girl real fat, real fast.

Then again, certainly it wouldn't have helped to see several obviously active bulimics (how do I know this? We're going there in a minute, no worries.) and a girl who required assistance to sit down, while someone insisted she eat a banana and drink water. Here's where things get creepy for me. I'm standing there watching this girl gnaw these tiny niblets off the end of this banana with her front teeth, trying to nonchalantly make it look like she doesn't want to punch somebody or cry or both while she "eats", and I'm shocked and horrified.

Why would I be horrified? Why not appropriately sympathetic, what with my couple or so years of recovery?

BECAUSE I'VE BEEN BANANA GIRL. I have met the enemy, and it was that banana. Or a banana equivalent. I've been the girl people needed to essentially force-feed to keep me from toppling over. More than once, more than a few times. Please, find me something enjoyable about being that girl. It was just part of my life, the way things often turned out, a minor inconvenience. Beyond that, though, I realized how I must have looked to other people. What was normal and commonplace to me is incredibly bizarre and incomprehensible to you, if you're not also a Banana Recipient. I never gave it much thought, people pushing food at me all the time, looking at me like they were afraid I was about to topple over and expire, making (what to me now are rather derogatory) comments about my weight...hmmph. Life. Gah. Watching myself being forced to eat an overripe banana.

Awww. Self-actualization. Oh, I'm not, so not done. Don't I wish.


One of Cutiepatootie's favorite Sunday lunch spots is one of those all-you-can-eat salad bar restaurants. We printed off the coupon this morning and headed off for some soup and veggies, much to his delight. Obviously we hit it at the wrong time, because seating was at a premium and the line was long. With tray at the ready, I hit the salad line and immediately catch a glimpse of the girl making her own plate in front of me. Remember I told you about spotting bulimics in a crowd? Jesus, Mary, & Joseph...her salivary glands were swollen, bilaterally, to the size of large lemons. The big lemons, not the 3-for-$1.99 ones. Looked like an athlete, I'd guess a runner because she was too tall to be a gymnast. Crazed look on the face, trying to play it cool as she made a salad big enough for several people. She bypassed the cashier....yep. It's binge day at the buffet. The one remaining booth sat us with her directly in my line of vision, meaning her array of used plates and soup bowls weren't exactly out of sight. She'd been there a while, reading (The Joy Luck Club) and eating. 5 minutes later, she's up again.

And again.
This time it's the bread.
By the time we left, she had gotten up for food 8 times, not including what was already on the table when we sat down. She had refilled her drink 4 times. By the time she made it to the second huge helping of ice cream, the look on her face had gone from "look at my cool exterior while my heart beats through my shirt" to sad resignation - "now I have to get rid of all this." My guess is this is a cycle she repeats multiple times, day in and day out.

At one point I garnered the nerve to go to her table while she was refilling and leave a small temporary tattoo with the NEDA symbol on it. She picked it up, tucked it into her book, looked around, and cleaned the table where it had been. Eye contact wasn't in the cards here - I mean, cripes, I'd already anonymously called her out - but I wanted her to know that someone knew. Someone saw, and someone understood. I was never bulimic, purging was never my cup of tea. No matter. The underlying motivation is all the same, if you really think about it. Fixing what hurts in the only way you can, albeit temporarily.

We had to go. I couldn't sit there to see how long she was going to go on eating. My only hope is that this wasn't the time when her esophagus ruptured, when her potassium level plummeted and stopped her heart from beating, when she didn't begin seizing because of whacked-out sodium levels and stop breathing. It very well may have been. We have to celebrate Eating Disorder Awareness Week because the fact remains that eating disorders DO kill. Far, far too many people. I am daily grateful not to be among that number.

And since I'm obviously going to be aware of eating disorders all week and I need to stay focused on being grateful to be in recovery from one, I gotta bring my own sun. Welcome to England.

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