This is the story no one wants me to tell – that no one wants to hear. But this is my story, and The Band gives me the space where I can tell it.
I was always a dancer. Nothing else mattered to me. It was my go-to activity after a bad breakup, I focused on what I could do: dance. Dance became all I ever wanted – my happy place, my home. I knew I was missing out on dating during high school, but no man could compare with dance.
I wasn’t supposed to go to that Big Band dance. I was supposed to be in bed, but my friend dragged me out, still in my PJ’s with stage hair and make-up from an earlier performance. And if I hadn’t seen that guy who hurt me dancing at that moment, I wouldn’t have gone for a drink. If I hadn’t gone for a drink, I wouldn’t have tripped. If I hadn’t tripped, he wouldn’t have caught me. He was Chuck*, a guy I knew through a friend. Soon, he became my own nightmare.
We talked the rest of the night, soon we were always talking, always together, and I found myself falling. Three weeks later, he told me that he’d gotten back together with his ex. We were watching a movie on my couch as we talked, and somehow, that night, we ended up making out — he got in my pants. I hated myself for that: I’m better than this, I told myself, but an evil voice whispered, He’s the only one who wants you. He is the ONLY one who will EVER want you.
He told me tales of his horrible, abusive mother and his girlfriend. He told me he truly wanted to be with me, and, like a fool, I believed him. This is how I became the “other woman.” Three months I sat by, believing that if I showed him how much I loved him, he would leave her to be with me.
Finally, in late January, I told him to decide who he wanted, and to stay out of my life until then.
He called me in March to tell me they’d broken up. We started fooling around again and I felt like less of a whore. Three days after my 18th birthday, in April, he asked me out, and a week later, I lost my virginity to him.
Soon I found myself at college, where I was studying dance. I thought things were great between us until he started threatening me. He’d tell me if I went out with my friends, he would break up with me, or how horny he was; how he was going to “give a shit-ton of chocolate and honey to a girl and get [himself] jumped.” This scared me.
Deep in my gut, I knew he’d already cheated on me over the summer, but I ignored it. I changed how I lived — made myself sick. I started to cut myself again, fell back into my anorexic ways, and hated myself. I was only happy when I was with him.
My wise Mama saw the signs, the downward spiral I was in. She tried to help, and I just shoved her away.
One night, I asked him if he’d ever cheated on me. This started a huge fight and he dumped me. After hours where I begged his forgiveness, promising I’d never to ask him if he’d cheated on me again, he took ME back.
I became so sick, so weak that I blew my knee out. My career was over. I was lost.
Chuck was happy – I left that college and moved home. I was half living with him, and still believed that I was happy. I swore I was happy even though he never took me out, never told his friends about me, canceled dates, and stood me up. I was never allowed to have a life outside of him. Another warning sign I wish I’d noted.
Soon, I was trying to rebuild my life when he broke up with me again: “We need a break so you can focus on healing yourself. But you’re always welcome to spend the night,” he said. Now I know he just wanted to keep me as a bed-warmer.
He left for a family vacation. During that time, I was raped by someone I’d trusted.
Chuck went crazy, calling me a worthless whore when he found out. A month after the rape, after I’d begged for his forgiveness, he took me back. Not as a girlfriend, though, because we still “needed time” to heal.
For the next four months, my life consisted of waiting for him to decide to take me back as his girl. If I denied him sex, if I didn’t risk falling asleep driving from my new college dorm to his place, if I didn’t skip classes to sleep because he’d kept me up all night, I was the most horrible human being in the world. If I did anything to anger him, he would scream, telling me how pathetic I was. When we talked, he talked down to me, as if I were a naïve child, incapable of understanding. If I countered him in any way, he’d yell and threaten me.
Chuck called me right after I found out my Mama had cancer. He managed to convince me he was going to break up with his girlfriend, and we would be together again. Like a total idiot, I believed him. But as my Mama got sicker, I spent less time with him and more with her. He made me feel guilty for it, but she needed me. Just four months later, she was dying.
At this point, Chuck was diagnosed with a disease that attacked his nervous system, but I couldn’t be in two places at once. When he was high on his medications, he’d become violent with me, so I stayed away from him. He was still with his girlfriend, and I was starting to have my doubts about him.
I lived alone at my parent’s house while my Dad stayed at the hospital with my Mama. My school was between the hospital and our house, so I became an expert at commuting. My friend, Tom, would stay the night with me – we took turns sleeping on the floor or couch because I didn’t want him to sleep in my room. When I had nightmares, he’d hold me until I fell asleep.
Dad and I were at lunch the Tuesday after finals. He had driven up to check on me, and as we ate, we got the phone call that Mama was gone. I hugged him as I cried, and went outside to text my friends before going back to force myself to finish lunch. When I got home, Tom was waiting for me. He held me as I sobbed uncontrollably laying on my Mama’s side of my parents’ bed. He held me until my Dad came home, and I finally let go of him.
Tom came to the funeral and sat behind me, rubbing my shoulder when I cried. Dad and my best friend, Cat, held my hands. Cat joined my family for dinner that night; Tom was over the next day.
Chuck sent a text four hours after Mama died. “I’m sorry, hon.” He didn’t come to the funeral. Didn’t even text or call to ask how I was.
Soon afterward, Chuck’s girlfriend asked Tom if he was cheating on her. Tom stayed quiet for me. He gave Chuck, his old friend, a choice: tell his girlfriend that he was cheating or Tom would. Chuck sent the two of us the same text: “I refused to pick between you two, so I pick neither.”
This was two weeks to the day after my Mama died.
I screamed at Tom; I felt so betrayed. But the worst, most hurtful thing that Chuck said to me: “You were nothing but something to keep me happy when she didn’t. I never wanted you. I was happy with her. Why would I ever be with you? You’re nothing to me. And now, because of you and your buddy Tom, she dumped me. Thanks. You ruined the only chance I had to be happy.”
Tom had, after all, told the girl she was being cheated on.
I was sick in bed for four days after that. I stopped answering my phone, deleted all texts from Chuck without reading them – I knew he was just being ugly. Finally, all the warnings I’d gotten and ignored made sense: he was nothing but a manipulator who’d used me. And I’d let him. He’d manipulated me into believing whatever he said. I believed that God had killed my mother as punishment to me for being such a pathetic excuse of a human.
Tom finally came to my door. I hugged him so tightly and cried until I fell asleep.
Tom became my lifeline and soon I was in love with him. He treated me better than any guy ever had, he listened, he tried to help me heal. I tried to deny what I felt for my friend, but when you feel nothing but shattered and empty, you hold on to any other feeling like it’s the only thing keeping you alive. We ended up sleeping together as we tried to figure out what we were becoming.
Tom and I were still trying to figure out what was going on when he decided to tell his ex-girlfriend – one of my best friends – Jane what had happened. Jane broke that night. She told me that I was a whore and never to talk to her again. Tom left and the last I heard from him was a letter confessing that it was all his fault and he was no better than Chuck. Jane moved home after school, and though I have seen her twice, she turns away and pretends I don’t exist while I fight not to cry or run up and hug her. I love her, and I hate myself for hurting her.
Chuck is gone from my life, and my Dad forced me into therapy. I find my wounds from Chuck are still bleeding. Because of him I am depressed, have severe anxiety, am a borderline alcoholic and borderline sex addict. I am also a survivor of emotional and sexual abuse. In relationships, I panic and shut down completely. I cannot handle being yelled at and actually went off on a professor when he began to say the same things Chuck had said to me.
Tom helped me, he made me a better person, and because of him I had the strength to return to my church and my faith after Chuck pulled me from it. I know my only path for forgiveness is in God, and through my faith, I have forgiven Chuck. I cannot manage to forgive myself for the years of pain I have caused. I pray someday I might be forgiven by both Jane and Chuck’s ex-girlfriend, Gina, and that I will be able to hug them each one last time.
I pray that, by a miracle, I can talk to Tom and find out how he feels about me. I still love him. The same voice of hope that whispered that my Mama was going to be alive to help me celebrate the end of finals, whispers that maybe Tom and I will have a chance at a future together….
I wish that somehow everything will turn out okay. I cannot explain how much I hate myself for what I did; who I became. I want nothing more than to hug my friends again and to feel that something in my life will be right again. I pray and wish and hope to be forgiven, even if I feel like I don’t deserve it.
This is my story. This is what no one wanted me to say, what no one wanted to hear. But it was time for me to tell my story, and maybe time for the truth to come out.
*Names changed to protect privacy.
Perfection isn’t always attainable and the cost may be too high.
Talk to your loved ones:
My sister P has an unrelenting drive to pursue perfection.
In the 70′s, she started working as a file clerk. She worked and worked, harder and harder until she was Vice President of one of the biggest banks in the world. All without a college education. remember as a child, she’d get up at a ridiculous time every morning to iron her clothes so she was perfect for her day. On the weekends, she would wash and detail her car so it was perfect, too. She was meticulous about everything she was involved with.
When someone gave her a gift she liked or someone did something well she exclaimed in a high pitch voice, “PERFECT!!!” I gave up on her level of perfect a long time ago, knowing I was never as driven as either of my sisters to keep up appearances.
She was nicknamed, after Olive Oyl, the character in the Popeye cartoons who was tall and slim with dark hair just like hers. My sister and I always struggled with our weight as children and adults but not P. She vowed as a junior high school student she would never be fat and she never was.
When P discovered she had cancer she fought extremely hard. When she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma 20 years ago, the survival rate was much lower. Her treatments were hard but she kept her spirits up. After her bone marrow transplant she got out of the hospital faster than anyone else had before.
Year after year passed and P remained cancer-free against all odds.
Yesterday, my sister K and I drove 3.5 hours each way to see P. It was a tough visit. She’s not breathing on her own, has 5 tubes down her throat, has had a heart attack, and her kidneys are working at 25%. She is being kept alive on machines because of an infection anyone normally could get at home. Part of this is because she had a bone marrow transplant and will forever have a compromised immune system.
After talking to P’s doctors we also discovered she partially did this to herself.
P didn’t eat enough and when she did eat she didn’t eat healthy foods. I can remember for years now if she ate a normal meal she would be in the bathroom with diarrhea or throwing up.
We found out yesterday along with all the medical issues P is facing she is suffering from long-term malnutrition.
This is a woman who has money. She can afford to eat but she chose not to. We know now she didn’t eat enough for a long time. In her search for her version of perfection she is fighting for her life and on life support with an infection that you or I would be in bed with mildly inconvenienced .
She always had Cosmo or Glamor magazines in her home and strove never to be bigger than a size 6. She was forever losing just 8 more pounds.
I hope all the women I know read this and take it to heart.
P will always suffer the effects of her long-term malnutrition. It is not too late for your daughters, it is not too late for anyone reading this who struggles as P does with food. It sickens me that my sister who I love so dearly is malnourished.
Talk to your daughters. Talk to your friends. Before you skip that meal to fit into that new dress think of P and eat something healthy. Trying to be some unreal version of a woman can kill you.
I have no words for the anger I feel about this. I have always hated the unreal images of women and the shapes I will never be, but this event takes my anger to a whole new level. If women as a whole don’t buy into the magazine image of a woman then the image of the size 0 woman as perfection will have to change.
Let that start here.
I began dancing when I was 4 years old.
My great-aunt owned our dance studio, so for the girls in my family, dance was non-negotiable.
The first few years of ballet we just had to go for one hour a week, and let’s be honest, you don’t do a whole lot of ballet when you’re 4 and 5 years old. It’s like cat herding. The fact that they were able to keep us all in the same room at the same time was a pretty impressive accomplishment.
My older sister started 3 years before me, so for the first few years, I always went to her class too. I watched her dance with her peers and with one of our cousins, I watched their feet, their new tricks. I would imagine how in 3 years I would look just like her. I would be graceful, balanced, thin and my great-aunt would shower me with the same praise she did my sister and cousin.
But as time passed, I didn’t turn into my sister.
While she grew boobs and a tiny waist, I grew out. I didn’t get the good body or the great balance. I was the chubby girl who couldn’t hold her releve without tipping a little. I was the chubby girl that gave 100%, but always came up short.
My great-aunt began to notice that I was chubby and made it a point to remind me of it regularly. When it was nearly time to start ballet on pointe, she told me that I either needed to lose 10 pounds, or wait a year. I was 10.
I had to wait a year.
I picked up extra ballet classes in hopes of improving my technique, of winning the favor of my great-aunt. The extra classes turned into extra opportunities for her to criticize me. To criticize my size, to remind me that I was not graceful like my sister or my cousin, both of which carried on the family tradition of becoming dance instructors for the younger kids.
Each week I prepared myself, I put on my invisible armor which was dented from the last class’s slightly veiled insults. “Oh Katie, well, I guess that’s better than last time.” Or “Katie, you know that you would be able to do that even easier with less weight.” Sometimes she said it only to me, sometimes she stopped the music and hurled the words at me in front of all the other girls in my class.
I tried to quit, but my mom, who was so well intentioned, told me to keep trying. I kept trying, and to my credit, I did improve. For 14 years I went to ballet, the last few years spending over 8 hours a week in that studio, being told I was not graceful, being denied solos, becoming the first person in my family to not be offered a job to teach there.
At the end of my 14th year, I went away to college.
When I went to watch the dance recital the the next summer I was 60 pounds lighter, I hadn’t had a period in 10 months and I was dangerously underweight. I was out of control.
I was starving myself.
I was anorexic.
I can’t give ballet all the credit for the anorexia, because truthfully it was initiated by a need to control something in my life because I was spiraling into depression I couldn’t climb out of. So I counted calories, and by counted, I mean obsessed over them, I controlled them. I started running. I exercised twice a day.
And the weight fell off.
But when I looked in the mirror, I didn’t see a thin girl. I saw the chubby 10 year old who wasn’t allowed to start pointe with her peers. I saw the ungraceful girl who couldn’t keep up, who wasn’t good enough.
It has been 9 years since I quit ballet and 9 years since my first bout with an eating disorder. I say first because eating disorders aren’t like the flu, they don’t just go away. They sit under the surface waiting to re-emerge, to re-devastate your self-confidence.
I am older now, stronger maybe, but I still see a chubby girl in the mirror. When I gain 5 pounds, I can’t see anything besides failure. When my weight goes above 135 pounds, I literally cannot stop the thoughts of starving myself, of going to any length to be thinner.
To be the graceful ballerina that I always imagined I’d grow up to be.
To be what I couldn’t be all those years ago.
I did not ask for this body, I do not want it.
When I look in the mirror I feel a powerful cognitive dissonance. I have to be – I must be looking at something other than myself.
People say it is just a body, but it isn’t. It is the only physical representation of my entire self. It is the one – the only – thing tying me to this earth, which is not a place I often want to be.
If I can scrape the fat off my bones, then I can disappear, sink right through the cracks, and fade into the woodwork of life. Sometimes I fantasize about melting, or burning, or dissolving.
I cannot offer any deep insights into my body or my mind. I don’t know why I hate the feeling of food in my stomach. Why the only times I eat are when I’m in full binging mode.
I would like to offer up some counterpoints to the common myths surrounding eating disorders: I do not want to be beautiful. I do not want to look good in a bikini. I do not want boys to look at me.
In fact, I would prefer that nobody looks at me. I have come to the conclusion I’m almost certainly asexual, which I can’t pretend doesn’t influence my isolation from the “sexual” aspects of this – of my body.
I did not ask for this body, and no matter what I do, I cannot shrink my body, force it into a prepubescent frame, where I am free of the long fingers of sex and of the realities of growing up.
It’s not for lack of trying.
Dear Shrink That I Don’t Have:
I’ve been spending a lot of time on the interwebs lately. I don’t know if that’s a good thing. I’ve been learning a lot about Body Dysmorphic Disorder and Anorexia. Mostly via YouTube videos. Do you know how many people suffer from those? Seemingly quite a few. But I don’t.
I mean, in seventh grade I began eating as little as possible to get by. I was already active, so I didn’t exercise as obsessively as some do. I kept this up until I moved in with my dad at 16. Even then it was only a little better.
My mom came to visit once and said I was filling out and looked nice. All I heard was ‘filling out.’
That was a setback.
I dated an asshole, the things he did to make me hate myself are too many for this letter. Another setback.
Then, slowly, I started being able to eat more than salad in front of others. I met my current boyfriend and my eating habit progressed further.
Except now I’m 135 lbs. Do you know what 135lbs is? It’s AVERAGE for a woman of 5’6”. For some reason my brain keeps changing ‘Average,’ in my head into ‘Fucking Fat Cow.’
People tell me I’m beautiful, but I can’t hear them, because I’m too busy seeing all the things I hate about myself. I’m 22, are 22 year old supposed to have cellulite there? I’m pretty sure that’s cellulite. Why is my skin shitty? Oh because I eat sugar. God, my face is too round, why is it so round? Remember when you used to have ABS there? You shouldn’t ever have a child… you’re going to balloon up and it’s going to be hideous. Plus, what child would want to be raised by someone like you? Why can’t you just STOP EATING ALREADY?
The thing is that I’m slip-slip sliding back to a place that I used to be. A place my boyfriend doesn’t even know exists. It’s a deep, dark, scary place.
But you see, dear shrink, I don’t have a problem. Because the doctor I went to for my many health problems between the ages of 12 and 16 told me I needed to make time to eat, but never saw that maybe my not eating was a deeper problem. (Seriously, woman… since when is a middle-schooler or even early high-schooler TOO BUSY TO EAT, ARE YOU DENSE?)
Both of the therapists I went to when I was 19, told me that I was of sound mind, despite the fact that my boyfriend talked me into going because he didn’t know how to deal with my depression. I didn’t have any problems…maybe I should try some breathing exercises. (Gee, thanks…because my much cheaper yoga class couldn’t have taught me that.)
Is there something about me that causes those in the medical field to disregard me as healthy in every way? I don’t feel healthy in every way. The fact that I feel like I have problem should indicate a problem even if no real problem exists. But no, they always send me on my way with dismissive looks and half-hearted advice.
So I don’t get “help,” I let my friends and family think I’m just crazy and I bury the worst of it. I deal with the accusations of being irrational. I deal with people getting mad at me because I’m ‘not happy with my body’ and I wait for the upswing. I watch videos on YouTube by people with Anorexia and with BDD and secretly I’m a little jealous. They’re DIAGNOSED, they have problems. They’re not just that whiny chick who isn’t smart enough to be happy with herself.
Because as far as the world knows, I have no problems…I’m just irrational.
So thanks, Shrink That I Don’t Have… I’m so glad that we’re on the same page here.
P.S. Too bad I can’t afford to visit you either. I’m bummed that I’m missing out on our quality time together.