Today’s post is very important and personal to me.
Last Friday, a handful of events took place in my life, all of which seemed insignificant to me at the time. But then, as I pieced together the scattered rubble of thoughts that followed, some very profound concepts and truths began to form.
I spent that day with a close friend who had just completed an intense three-month program at a renowned residential treatment center for women with eating disorders. I found myself lost in deep and poignant conversation with her as I often do.
At one point in the discussion, she mentioned that her eating disorder was something she would have to struggle with for the rest of her life. I asked her if she really believed that. She said she did. I asked her why. She said it’s what she’d been taught by the people who know. I asked her who those people were. She said her counselors. I asked her what the counselors were basing it on. She said, “They base it on fact. Studies have shown that people who have had eating disorders struggle their entire lives with them. Once you have one you’ll always have one.”
I looked at her and had to really digest that for a moment before I could respond. It didn’t sit right with me. In fact, it seemed like absolute absurdity to me. Why? Because, I don’t struggle with anorexia. I don’t struggle with an eating disorder.
But I did.
You see, there is something that before today, I have only admitted to four people on earth. I was anorexic.
It was my first semester in college, and also my first time away from home, away from the comfort of friends, and away from everything I knew. It was in Hawaii, and I remember that first week going to the beach and seeing all the skinny buff guys with girls hanging all over them. I remember watching them ride the waves. I remember how grotesquely fat I felt. I remember being desperate to be and have what they did.
So desperate, in fact, that I started exercising 3-4 hours per day, eating less than 300 calories each day, and dropping 5-10 lbs per week. When my plane first landed in Hawaii, I weighed 320 lbs. When I flew back home 14 weeks later I weighed 235 lbs. At 6’4″, I was thinner than I’d ever been, but I still felt horribly fat. I still obsessed over it. I still saw nothing beautiful or valuable in myself. As I prepared to go home and see my friends and family again, I hated myself even more because after everything I’d put myself through, I still wasn’t one of “those guys”.
That flight home marked the end of that eating disorder. The end of the anorexia. I didn’t go back to Hawaii, and for the next six years I switched to a very different eating disorder. It was called binge eating. Based in the same root emotions, anxiety, and depression that caused me to be anorexic for those few months, I stuffed my face daily and without end. It went on until the scales tipped at 350 lbs. When I finally saw that number on the scale, I could no longer pretend I didn’t have a problem. I could no longer hide behind the self-diagnoses of a “slow metabolism” or “big bones”. And, as you already know, I grew desperate and underwent gastric bypass surgery.
At the same time, I also felt a great urge to delve into the dark and secret areas of my life to try and figure out why I had struggled with eating disorders the way I had. If I was going to go to the extremes of chopping my body into pieces, I was also not going to spend the rest of my life fighting this debilitating monster.
In the five years since that surgery, I have done everything I could to fix myself, and I can very honestly say that I do not “struggle” with either of my eating disorders today. At all. I really don’t care that I’ll never be featured on the cover of Body Builder magazine. I really don’t care that I’m not one of “those guys” whom I saw at the beach every day. I am, without question, healed of it.
And so, when my friend told me that studies have shown that people who have had eating disorders will struggle their entire lives with them, it didn’t feel right to me. So I asked her, “do they base that on studies?” Yes. “And those studies show that x percent of people who have had an eating disorder will struggle their entire lives?” Yes. “And that x percent is a very high percentage?” Yes.
It was one of those conversations where I think things out as I discuss them. The kind that usually get me in trouble or leave me with a big old foot in my mouth.”
But it’s not 100%?” I asked. She paused for a moment. No. I also paused as a strong realization began to set in. “And with all of the stats and all of the data they’ve showed you over the last three months, have they ever shown you a single statistic that was 100% anything?” Another long pause.
“So why can’t you be one of the ones in that small percentage?” She didn’t have an answer. Instead, she sat in silence.
That's great to be given hope you can overcome statistics if you want, but the reality is that it is not true in all situations. You are saying people with addiction can overcome the statistics. Much as your friend with an ED was told, addicts are told that they will be addicts for life. They will always struggle with the urge to use, whether or not they are actively using or have been clean for decades. Addicts will always be addicts. So to tell an addict that they don't have to be an addict is really a slap in the face. They are helpless to their disease and have brain chemistry very different than that of non addicts. They are addicts long before they use drugs, or drink alcohol, shop lift, compulsively eat food, have sex, or any other addiction you can think of. Similarly, people with eating disorders can overcome their eating disorder, but still struggle with the effects every day for the rest of their lisfe. Can you really tell me you wouldn't have issues with eating still or body image if you didn't get gastric bypass surgery?
I've thought a lot about statistics over the last four or five years. Between my struggles with infertility and then pregnancy complications and prematurity, there are a LOT of statistics. I spent hours poring over studies to see if I would conceive at a certain time, or later to find out of my twins would survive, and then if the survivor would thrive. According to pretty much everything, I was in the small numbers. My water broke at 17 weeks of pregnancy, and though the chance of it happening was infinitesimally small, I didn't deliver my first baby until after 22 weeks. He did not survive. And by another incredibly unlikely miracle, my second son wasn't born for another three weeks. He had a 50/50 chance of survival. He lived. And I realized that as likely as these things are to happen or not, whichever side of the numbers we're on is the one that is 100% real to us. We can either stay positive and try for the best outcome, or we can succumb to the majority. Even the tiniest chance is worth hoping and praying and trying for. Even an impossibility - because everything awesome anyone has ever done was once impossible!
This is amazing. As a person who has had an eating disorder as well as a sister, mother, and grandmother who suffers from them, I find this amazing. My mother, who is actively fighting her own ED, was shown this and I think she is finally starting to get better. Thank you for posting this and thank you for helping that woman out when a million other people wouldn't.
On the brainy side of this topic, IMO everyone should take a class in statistics atleast once in life. We all get bombarded with them constantly, and as a general response to most of statistic-throwing, we could reply "I do not think that means what you think it means." The significance of a statistic is never supposed to be a verdict, but is often a warning. The ones your friend heard were warning signs. Likely, many of the 92 percent who still struggle with eating disorders in some way, live happily despite them because they recognize their power and remain on guard.
This is one of the most beautiful, uplifting pieces I have ever read. I have literal tears in my eyes, and I feel so epically inspired. Thank you very much for sharing this story and your motivating words.
we can never say that it won't happen to me, or my family..
What an eloquent, positive message this is. Thinking back, there have been several moments that have meant more to me than they have to other people just because they made themselves that .002%, and I'm sure at some point I've done it to. But from now on I'll be making a point to do it, and let those people know what it meant to me when they did it.
I love this post because it has so much heart in it. I love that you are so open with things in your life that are hard things to share. I admire you for it!
This post reminds me of the time I lost my daughter at Disneyland. It was the 5 most terrifying, horrific moments of my life. We were in Mickey's Toon Town. I was literally standing on top of a fountain, yelling her name. Her father, aunt, uncle, great aunt and older sister were all doing likewise... running from building to building, attraction to attraction, calling her name. She was 3 at the time. Our party had with us another 3 year old, a 4 year old and a 2 year old that we were trying to keep in check while frantically searching. Not. One. Person. Helped. Thousands of people, and no one offered to help this obviously frantic family find their missing child. And then I found the ONE person who helped... the frozen orange juice vendor. She had found my daughter and was holding her tight, while peering through the crowd on tip-toes, trying to find who she knew would be this child's frightened, frantic family. When I saw my crying daughter with her little arms wrapped around this woman's neck, my only thought was of infinite gratitude. My daughter was not only safe, but being cared for. It didn't really hit me until much later that no one helped us search. At the end of it all, the only person who really mattered was the one who cared enough to step in and help out.
Are you glad you had weight-loss surgery? I'm about to have it in about 2 months, but it seems so permanent and scary sometimes that I want to back out...
Thank you for this post. I am sitting here in the ICU waiting room. Today is the 14th day (there was one day spent out of the unit so I guess it's really only 13 days). My husband (the love of my life... my soulmate) is on life support. I am asked every day do I want to put a DNR on him to allow him to pass. I live an hour away from this hospital so I don't leave. My husbands was allowed to fall out of bed the only time I left.
We are living day to day on the small side of the numbers. After he did not wake from sedation (they sedate you when they first place you on a vent) I was told you to consider DNR he's not waking up... it took him 4 days to open those eyes I so love and last night he nodded his head when I asked if he loved me... If I had not been the person to believe in him and us and believe in the small side of the numbers... I would never witnessed that sight and felt that love...
I'm still being told that my husband is the "sickest person in our entire hospital" and we don't know if we can stop the bleeding from all the places the cancer medication that helped him to achieve remission damaged.
I've told them I understand that but I found out my Husband was in remission for the second time after he was placed on life support... and I am going to give his body every chance to heal itself (because that is all we can hope for... they can't repair the damage in fear of causing MORE damage) because he deserves to enjoy the remission he has worked so hard for so....
We live day to day on the small side of the numbers... I just wished the DRS and nurses here in the ICU east at Redmond Hospital in Rome GA would understand that my husband isn't a % and regardless of how low the odds are... that we have the right to hope and believe that we CAN live on the small side of the numbers.
Before I close... I do want everyone to know there has been nurses that have cared for my husband and saw who he was and have worked harder than I have ever seen anyone work to keep my husband alive.. He has some DRS that hold on to the belief he can heal himself but there are other nurses and DRS that feel the need to explain DNR over and over and over to me... they just don't understand
We live on the small side of the numbers and I believe we will win... they don't know everything!
For what it's worth, a year and change after you've written this, from a woman who had an eating disorder.
I've learned to think of it not in terms of recovery and illness, but to add in remission and relapse, as we permit ourselves to do with other health issues. After the first time, I went into remission for two years. Thinking I'd beaten it, naturally I missed all the signs that it was on its way back. But the second time, I got wise. I recognised that while it was going to wait in the wings for that moment when my brain chemistry decided starvation was the way to go, I didn't have to live in fear of it. I just had to live. So I lived. And while I was living, I discovered so many other pieces of the puzzle that have kept me, to this day, in remission. It'll be five years this fall. The chances that I'm going to relapse feel (pardon the phrasing) slimmer with each passing year. This year, I am learning how to love my body no matter where it settles, weight-wise. Too thin? Too fat? Too bad! It's doing what it's doing. I would like a larger appetite, and once I'm insured again, I can work on that. I have learned how to separate that from what I see in the mirror.
The truth is that there is no black or white, merely grey, when it comes to humanity. Or varying flesh tones, if you prefer. Statistics show us how a scenario has played out in the past. They can no more glimpse the future than a mystic with a crystal ball. They're just one more factor in our decisions, decisions we cannot make unless we also know who we are, and what we want.
Did you take pictures of the crash and of yourself carrying bottled water before or after offering your jacket?
I really enjoy the overall message but who is to say that out of the "thousands" of people who drove by the accident, many didn't call 911. I won't assume to know how demanding your schedule is but surely it is more flexible than the strict working hours of the majority of people driving that day. From the picture it looks like there were no serious injuries and to stop would mean possibly an hour or more to one of the many drivers who can't afford to not show up to their job on time.
"Thankfully, the driver of the Sedan was without major harm, and was already standing on the side of the road. I felt a twinge of relief when I saw that a few other cars had pulled to the side of the road ahead, and the drivers had come to see if assistance was needed. Almost as quickly as I got there, they exchanged numbers, got back in their vehicles and drove away. Every single one of them."
So it seems as though the situation was being adequately handled before you made a heroic stop.
And I'm pretty sure she didn't see the chart because she was too busy seeing her life flash before her eyes. And because she was "still in shock". And because other people had already pulled over to help. And because who cares about the other cars passing by when you realize you're not dead.
It's nice that you stopped but it would be nicer if it wasn't about "who" stopped.
I was maternally advanced at the age of 39. I had an 88% chance of having a child with severe birth defects. I was one of the 12%. Small numbers...always remember there's another side of the story. Read both stories and choose the one that fits you, not the population. Thanks for sharing your story.
yes, I've been there with eating problems--but I don't think mine were true disorders and I was lucky I suppose and mine were temporary. The 1st was when I was about age 3 or so; I'm now 60 yo so this was in the mid 1950's and there were no means to articifically feed anyone let alone a small child. Problem was my dad was very loud and domineering at table--I hid food under the ledge of my plate; was made to sit facing cold food long after other family members had left. Finally my weight became so low that mom told me the pediatrician told her I would soon die and as a last resort to try completely silent mealtimes. That worked and I began eating---it is amazing to see childhood photographs, however, because I had stunted my growth and my sister only 16 months older is amazingly much taller. The second time I was 20 and a young man I loved and had been engaged to had broken my heart....guess I just went into a tailspin and don't know--there were other circumstances....all these years later, I trusted him again a year or so ago and he hurt me all over again....and yes the eating issue was a short term problem...have closed that particular door. I hope your friend can somehow close the door on her problems....just my small experiences, man oh man is it ever a tough road...it surely is not mind over matter as so many think--that much I will say.
I'm a few years late commenting on this post, but I was routed here from your "One of These Men" post. I work in the eating disorder field, and I will say this: people can become fully recovered. Yes, there will be some people who're so sick that they will struggle with aspects of it for the rest of their lives, but one can become fully recovered. Period. Your friend can become one of those folks, and I hope she does. Cheers.
Don't you love it when the universe really helps you make your point? It's so satisfying. That license plate says it all.
Today my husband and I were taking a walk, and we spotted a woman in long skirts with a huge packframe on her back. Not sure what her story was. We are not to far off of the highway, wondered if she might have been hitching a ride, or possibly staying at a sort of off beat B&B that wasn't too far away. We walked around the block, and decided to circle back and make sure she wasn't in need of anything, because it's cold and windy out today. But she was no where to be seen. Must've slipped into a store, or changed direction. I regret that I did not smile and say hello when I first saw her. We live in a town that is known for being friendly, some example we are. I will remember this next time I'm inclined to duck my head and keep walking.
Thank you Dan. This is definitely thought provoking and inspiring! Makes me think of the economics professor in a college whose sole lesson for the day was a large white board with a black dot in the middle. Everyone focused on the black dot and totally missed the white board!
I strive to live in the "small numbers" as you put it, but it is great to be reminded.
Dan, I have never commented before, but I wanted to write today and thank you for so often articulating my feelings. I am my own 100%. I am a single parent raising 4 amazing kids - 3 with autism and one with type 1 diabetes - and we defy the odds every day. I am also a former victim of domestic violence, but that cycle will NOT be repeated. My favorite part about your post, though, is your emphasis on how important it is for us to not count on someone else to do the right thing. I work in an elementary school and today was working with one of my very favorite kindergarteners, when I noticed that she was in pain - rug burns on her elbows that she couldn't explain. Looking further, there were scratches on her wrists. And, to top it off, there was a bruise the size of her fingerprint on the back of her upper arm - a bruise hauntingly similar to ones on my own arms years ago. I could not possibly have been the only person to see these things, but I was the only person to do something. I am not sure what results the call to Child Welfare will produce, but I can only hope that it will make this little girl's life better, and maybe even shows her that someone is watching out for her...
.... I was in a situation that i can not forget to this day, It was late in the evening and i had just got off of work and stopped to finish buying my children Christmas gifts in the city,, and was heading home, .On my way I ran out of gas along the highway, I managed to coast into a "Niagra" bank parking lot and was wondering what was I going to do... then I Noticed the bank was closing and a man was coming out and locking the door, I soon felt a sense of relief to see him , as it was getting dark , cold, wet and I was scared along the busy road ,alone! I was dressed in scrubs when i approached him and explained that I just got off work at the cardiologist office and did some shopping and I was on my way home with a car full of Christmas gifts for my children But my car ran out of gas,, ( I hoped he would offer me a ride to the gas station or at least take my money and go get me gas,) well to my shock and disappointment , he said to me " well you can leave your car here until I open in the morning but not any longer and There are gas stations three miles either way, ( as he pointed both ways up the dark highway,) I was instantly upset, I said to him , " I am over an hour from home and I have no one to call..I am afraid to walk on this highway , there is not much room on the side and its sleeting out, some one may hit me," He replied " I cant help you , I have somewhere to be, But you should be fine," and he walked away,,......I started crying,,but soon realized as he pulled out and away that I had no choice but take my chances..............so I walked in the freezing rain and snow, three miles to get gas and then three miles back to my car and although car after car passed me, NOT ONE stopped to help, By the time I got my gas it was already dark and on my walk back I could barely see in front of me except for headlights of passing cars, ..................when i got back to my car , I was frozen and tired, and started to think how this world has turned into a non-caring ,cold, place and how criminal acts have made everyone scared to stop and help others in distress ( I quietly looked up to the dark sky and said "what has become of this place,..I have no faith in anyone anymore " I felt so many negative feelings toward mankind , that i never felt before ) ,, and as I started to pour gas into my car, a vehicle pulled up,,,, it was an elderly couple and they asked me if i needed help? ....I smiled through my tears and kindly said " no thank you ,, I think I am OK now " , and they gave me a heart warming smile and left ... I got in my car and sat there waiting to warm up my soaked and frozen Body and as I was thinking I soon realized that I was no longer upset,,,,, the negative feelings faded with just one thought ...................... despite all those hundreds of cars that passed me and didn't care because it wasn't their problem and even the banker who showed no care if my life was at risk,................................,through all that........................ God showed me that despite so much ignorance, that there is still that one person who still cared despite them being afraid or despite them being in a hurry!!,,......... So although I could say that i am never helping anyone again because of those hundreds of cars who passed me that night, or because of the banker who didn't care, ........I choose to look at it in a different way because of the wonderful couple who stopped that night ,,,,So now my View is: you never know who that One person is going to be, that cares......................... so therefore you should treat everyone the way you want to be treated!
Way to be the one! I'm recovering from an eating disorder, making amazing progress and am confident that I will not always struggle with the problem. I am one and I will be 100%. I know that I struggle now, but with each step forward, each day I regain more control and it gets easier and easier. I love this process, learning how to love food, how to live and be healthy. Thank you for another amazing, and inspiring post. I pray your friends is the 100% too in regards to recovering from her eating disorder as well.
Wow. Thank you. This echoed - and greatly expanded upon - something I was discussing today. And reminded me that there are still a number of things in my life I need to step up to and take control of, rather than just letting them happen as they have been. Thank you.
As someone who is a more recent follower of your blog, I'm so happy you reposted this. Thank you. Just what I needed to read today.
I had to make this, I'm sorry.
I didn't read this post the first time ... but am so glad that I did today. I needed it - and I thank you.
Thank you for reposting this. It was exactly what I needed to read right now in this moment. What a great reminder of the power one person can have in any situation. Life is difficult for each of us. Having good people in the world who help others, and being a good person who is a helper, makes life just a little bit easier to get through. I appreciate your blog. Keep on keeping on. :)
@AndreaWright1 You can only share your own experience. I used to be an alcoholic. I went to recovery, got help, and was healed of my addiction. For many years, I avoided alcohol completely because of the misery it caused me. Now I have a drink when I want to, which isn't often and have for years without returning to the addiction. I was freed of my obsession. I am the .02 percent.
@RebeccaDalmas This is such an important addition to Dan's post. Thank you for the addition! Even if you are on the large side of the numbers, you absolutely have agency and are a complete person with complete power to do anything you can. Even if you continue to struggle with eating disorder or addiction and have to remain on guard against relapse every day of your life, you can still overcome that struggle and live happily.
I came to this comment out of curiosity from another site--so often SDL annoys me and then I come across a situation where he's made an enormous positive impact.
Your story has touched me and I hope that your husband is doing better. Miracles do happen. Recognized research has shown that prayers and positive energy sent to the Higher Loving Power or God on behalf of an afflicted person have been known to promote healing. Studies have shown this to be true even when the sick person does no know this is happening or even believe in it. So I add my petition to the many that I assume are already going out for you. Blessings :-) Fritzie
Hi... I've read in your recent blog post that you are taking a break. I understand but I'd like you to know that this is the 21st day and I've just been told my Husband will be transferred to another hospital that will help him complete his journey home and hopefully. Hopefully around a month from now we'll be making our way home. Together.
I wanted to say thank you for writing this post and I'd like to thank the friend that sent it to me. When I was at my lowest and felt the pressure to DNR my Husband... I read this blog post. It made me realize that it was OK to live on the small side of the numbers.
So with all my heart I want to thank you. Thank you for this post. I will forever be grateful to you.
@RickyHard I'm so sorry for you that you missed the point.
@fritzie Thank you SO much for your comment! Here is an update!
The love of my life is home! He's was transferred straight out of ICU in one hospital to a specialty hospital (Kindred in Rome, GA)... then after a little more than 2 weeks or so he was transferred to Floyd Hospital in Rome for 17 days of rehab. Thanks to the great people there he was walking and taking care of himself when he came home with my assistance.
He now walks most days without a cane. He has gained from his low of 105 to 145 and 31 of those LBS have been gained here at home. He has now passed his last swallow test and able to eat. We still have to use his stomach tube because he can't consume enough calories each day... but the day is approaching fast where that tube will not be needed. We hope - next month - to have his trach replaced with a Montgomery trach.
I can't ever thank Dan enough (or @Sarah Creekmore - the friend that sent me a link to this post) for writing this post. I just read my first comment again and started crying because I remember the depth of my sadness and the light that Dan helped me see through his post. It sounds corny but it was life changing to me and my husband.
Dan if you're reading this... Thank you. Thank you for reminding me at the lowest point in my life that there was hope in living in the small side of numbers.... BTW... my husband's % to survive? 2%... but that 2% was 100% to us.
Thinking about your situation and hoping that your husband continues to improve.