Editor’s note: This post was originally published on October 15, 2014.
Editor’s note: TLAP offers confidential assistance for lawyers, law students, and judges with substance use or mental health issues. Call TLAP at 1-800-343-8527 (TLAP), text TLAP to 555888, or find more information at tlaphelps.org.
I’ve been given the precious gift of life three times; when I was born, when I got sober, and when I finally overcame an eating disorder.
My parents are healthcare professionals who gave us a great home and many advantages growing up, but there were unspoken high expectations. We were the “perfect” family outwardly, but my heart kept growing cold when I did not receive time, love, or attention from my father. Unknowingly, I was beginning my quest for that certain male/father figure that would later bring me great misery.
So, I excelled in everything that I did, whether it was being valedictorian, being the best dancer, being the best all around … you name it. I did it and did it well. But I still never got that hug from my dad. I still never got that “twinkle in the eye/I’m so proud of you” look.
I don’t remember when it started, but for about 20 years of my life there was nothing less than a roller coaster of addiction, emotional chaos, blackouts, swollen faces, and nonstop searching for a way out. When I was drinking, my eating disorder was in the shadows. When I tried to restrain my drinking, I’d turn back to unhealthy eating. As I tried to “stabilize” one addiction, I’d be de-stabilizing the other.
Men enjoyed being around me when I drank, and men looked at me in a new and exciting way when I would starve myself. I was finally receiving the attention from men that I had longed for, and perhaps, I didn’t need my father’s attention.
I went to two different colleges because I felt that I would be “safe” being an unknown. I never had close friends. I was very good at having acquaintances who thought I was their friend. I showed interest in their lives but they never knew about mine. I would rotate my “friends” like I would rotate my liquor stores.
Despite the moving around that I did, the shame, fear, and insecurity never left. The ongoing search for my father’s attention led me into many affairs that left deep scars. Guilt and depression overwhelmed me. I soon became an expert at isolation. I felt trapped. I felt like I was in that hole in the movie The Silence of the Lambs and I was never going to escape.
I found almost total peace when I took my last drink and admitted to God that I was powerless over alcohol. I started slowly crawling out of that hole and enjoying life. I applied to law school at the age of 26 and got accepted. I was at the peak of my recovery from alcoholism. I was finally feeling that fatherly love from my AA family. But I could still hear that voice in my head saying, “You’re not perfect enough. You’re FAT. You’re worthless.”
So, I began taking as many as 30 laxatives three to four nights a week. I spent many nights and in between classes in the bathroom. My face was swollen from the purging. My hair was falling out. My teeth were breaking. And, yet, I still felt like I was in control.
It wasn’t until I was vomiting blood and bleeding internally because I had three bleeding ulcers, due to my purging, that I was tired of “being in control.” I was tired of looking for the man that could love me in a way that a father loves his child. My search for that love ended that day when I realized that my father is God, who loves me unconditionally.
I graduated from law school and have been practicing law for several years. As a female attorney, I will always struggle to be “perfect” and want to control my surroundings. There will always be life challenges. However, when I find myself feeling lost, alone, and controlling the situation, I remind myself that I am a precious child of God and he is the director of my life and the basis of my recovery.
Today, I am happily married to “my gift from God” who is the complete opposite of my father. God sure does have a sense of humor.
Warning signals of an eating disorder include isolation, compulsivity, many trips to the bathroom, frequent illness, weight fluctuation, inappropriate focus on exercise and food, and an inability to maintain intimacy in relationships.
If you think you have an eating disorder, consult a professional. Without treatment, it will never go away.