Coming Out of the Refrigerator
I’m crouched in a corner, knees to my chest. The floor and walls are freezing. I feel my hot breath blow back into my face. I’m curled up in my kitchen’s Frigidaire. I wiggle one of my legs from underneath me and force a kick.
A bright light suddenly slices through the darkness.
I jerk awake. My dream might as well have been real. I’m crouched on the floor with my knees to my chest. I can’t move, can’t call for help. Even a whimper steals my strength. I’m weak, my throat hoarse.
This is my reality, my rock bottom, my living nightmare.
The only thing colder and lonelier than waking up on a chilly linoleum bathroom floor is being trapped in a refrigerator. But today, I’m coming out of it. I need help…
The Mayo Clinic defines an eating disorder as “a group of serious conditions in which you’re so preoccupied with food and weight that you can often focus on little else.”
Edie’s not the ideal friend. She’s self-centered and tactless; the person that uses her cell phone at the checkout counter, who kicks the back of your chair at the theater. She’s always changing her look or coming by unannounced and she always overstaying her welcome.
Did I mention, Edie’s my eating disorder?
The first time I saw Edie, she was standing outside my high school cafeteria. Her thick blond hair and tanned skin made her every guy’s dream and every girl’s frenemy. She was everything I wasn’t; so naturally, we became fast friends.
During this time I was bullied for my weight and depressed, I tried losing weight. Weight Watchers was great, I loved the structure and solidarity of it. Celebrating “losing” with others was inspirational, and I worked so hard to get the ribbons and trophies for my weight loss. But life happens, plus Edie had a plan.
She told me I would lose weight faster if I tossed my lunch. Brilliant idea! I dropped thirty pounds the first month. It didn’t matter that my periods stopped or that my hair started falling out. Edie became my sole companion, and she made sure to keep me focused on my path to skinny.
Then one day I saw him, the cutest boy from school, running with his Walkman. I decided to catch up with him. Surely it would be love at first sight.
Instead, it was love at first step. I never did catch the guy, but I ran, oh boy did I run. Edie couldn’t keep up. I even joined a team. The only thing more exhilarating than running was hearing the crowds’ cheers as I ran. I was high from the energy. I never wanted to let go.
I regained my appetite and found a hunger for something healthy – exercise. I felt strong, empowered, and motivated. Edie became my past.
Only one in ten people with eating disorders receive treatment. Only thirty-five percent of people receive treatment for eating disorders at a specialized facility for eating disorders. (National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, anad.org)
College proved to have its own challenges. My friends happily gained their Freshman 15, and I didn’t want to be left out, so I indulged. Some people countered their eating by throwing up. Me, I purged in miles.
I saw Edie a few times while I ran along the Charles River. She looked so collegiate with her fuzzy hat and mittens, but I never stopped. I just kept running.
Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. (anad.org)
All was well until Los Angeles. I lost my job and the following week was injured in a major car crash. I couldn’t physically run and was in a rut. I got a temp job in an office. This time, Edie took shape as my real-life boss, a 40-year-old knock-out in a tailored power suit. When I ask the age-old question, “What’s your secret,” she reached into her Birkin bag and pulled out a bottle of pills.
“Take one a day,” she said. “They’ll change your life.”
And oh did they! I dropped weight like crazy and had so much more energy. “Doctors” would supply them to me out of their storefront offices. When the pills were banned in the U.S., I found them online. They quickly lost their euphoric effect. I upped the dosage from one a day to fifteen. Anxious, breathless, and paranoid: I almost reached the old high with every additional pill… almost.
It was a cold, fall afternoon when the red flyer with the tear-offs at the bottom caught my eye. It advertised a new yoga studio. I had no mat or yoga clothes, just the T-shirt, leggings, and sneakers I donned after a long day at work. I was intimidated but intrigued.
Every class, I left a little more pain on the mat and gained a little more happiness. A sweet salve covered my wounds. I felt a kinship with my classmates as we moved and breathed together. I fell in love with this new me and became the person other people wanted to be around… the person I wanted to be around.
Yoga was the place I could feel safe, and though it took a while, the pills disappeared. Some days were hard. Some were effortless. But, it was conscious, and I wanted to break the cycle.
Encouraged by my teacher, I became one myself. I had found my peace and my purpose; to help others find healing through yoga.
Happily Ever After…
Or not… The Shakti hit the fan nine years later. I lost a dear client, broke up with my boyfriend, and watched cancer take my father. I was broken in body and soul. Money stopped coming in. Food became a luxury I couldn’t afford. I lost MY yoga.
Experts estimate that between one and three million adult women suffer from anorexia or bulimia and that ten percent of all eating disorder patients are over the age of forty. (eating-disorders.com)
I escaped by running.
When life got too painful or too quiet, I would run. I obsessed over every calorie and removed all food from my house, everything but coffee and tea. I fasted frequently and for days at a time. “Fasting is a common practice in Yoga.” That’s the lie I told myself, but I knew I was abusing the word.
I found rock bottom on the bathroom floor of the yoga studio. In the place that was my home, my salvation, my body finally gave out, and it took every bit of strength I had to call for help.
When I got home, I weighed myself… a good number. I looked in the mirror… a sad person. I was alone. There was no one… not even Edie. I called my mother in NY, and she told me to eat something, anything.
My superhero drove an ’86 Mitsubishi Mirage and arrived in thirty minutes or less. This man held my life in a Domino’s pizza box. It took me two hours, but I ate every bite of that small, thin crust, light-on-the-cheese pizza. I ate a whole day of calories in two hours… and lived.
Googling, “How do you know you have an eating disorder?” brought up article after article that reflected back to me the years of pain I had put myself through. I never sought help nor felt I had the tools I needed to deal with Edie. This mental disorder, this disease that had gone untreated, it’s progressive: triggered by trauma, loss, depression, and a so much more. Ironically, controlling food and the size of my body was my coping mechanism for loss.
The first time I attended a twelve-step meeting, I was struck by how much of myself I saw in the other men and women there. They repeated my story back to me. I was understood and I learned to pull from the strength of that support. Edie wasn’t my only friend anymore.
When I look back at the history of my disorder, I find yoga to be the starting point of my healing.
As a teacher, I see hesitant newcomers all the time. The first class can be terrifying, but it can also be liberating. The poses are a method, a means of centering oneself. Being a witness and supporting students when they fall, cheering them when they succeed, that is my calling… life finally makes sense.
I live amicably with Edie now. We’ve re-negotiated the terms of our relationship. I don’t try to get rid of her and she doesn’t try to sway me. Sometimes I want to challenge or change her, but she’s a part of my life. For me, that’s the deepest understanding of yoga – acceptance: to live peacefully in both the ebb and flow of life.
Every day I know I need to nourish my body to do all the things that I love. This body I’ve been given is the only one I have, and I’m lucky no matter what my scale or Edie says. Yoga reminds me that, trials and all, life is one breath, one vinyasa, and one day at a time. That keeps me rooted in my purpose – my intention – of coming out.
So, it’s time… get help, get out, and you will find the support to heal, float, fly, stand on your head, grieve, and manage your disease. Namaste.
Eating Disorder Recovery
National Eating Disorders Awareness Week is February 22 – 28. Follow #NEDAwareness and learn more at the National Eating Disorders Association.
Laurie Searle is an international yoga teacher leading workshops and trainings with Yoga and Fitness to Go and the Sphota Yoga school. She’s the creator of Lady Yoga, Superhero and F.E.D. Fight Eating Disorders, a 501(c)(3) in Los Angeles: YogaAndFitnessToGo.com.
Meet Lady Yoga and her Super Hero Wellness Team. Follow them on exciting adventures as they promote healthy living and well being. Learn fun easy ways to relax, stay fit and enjoy life. Watch out for their arch enemy Cookie Couch Man. The big meenie who tries to turn everyone into couch potatoes with his powers of persuasion.