Craving: From One Extreme to the Other.
My eyes burst open.
It’s happening again. Shit.
The room is completely dark, aside from a thin sliver of light underneath my doorway.
I roll to my left and look outside, poking my fingers between the long, plastic blinds.
The Fraternity Quad is quiet. The moon lights up a patch of grass, making it appear snow-covered and giving the entire space an eerie calmness. Everyone is sleeping—but me.
I swing my legs over the side of my bed.
I’m just going to the bathroom, I lie to myself. I’ll be quick.
The door creaks like a scream as I slide into the hallway. My sisters’ doors are plastered with photos of us performing musicals, dressing up for Halloween or Christmas parties, and attending Steelers tailgates. The bright, golden nametags announce the beautiful faces that live inside.
In the teal-and-white tiled bathroom, I am alone. I am surrounded by single-person showers and cute shower caddies with animal loofas and fancy hairbrushes inside.
I hang my head in my hands. How did I let it get this far?
My gnawed-sharp nails dig into my frail skin, begging for an answer.
In the mirror, I stare her down.
Who are you? What have you done?
My eyes are sunken deep and my cheekbones pronounce that I am still alive. My arms are striped like a tiger, with long blue veins traveling up and down. I look awful.
Like a covert spy, I inch along the hallway—passing my bedroom. I hate the thought of going downstairs on my bare feet, so I tiptoe as high as I can. Soon I have arrived to my heaven, my dungeon: the kitchen.
Each of the twenty-three girls I live with and I have our own “cubbies” for our food, much like the cubbies containing shower caddies upstairs. They are labeled with perfect cursive handwriting and adorn the entire wall to the right of the huge refrigerator. In the fridge, we each have a portion of shelf. A diagram hanging by a magnet lets everyone know the borders.
Just for the humor of it, I open my cubbie. Diet Hot Chocolate, Splenda, and some sort of fiber-bran cereal stare back at me like a cruel joke.
Then it takes over.
My hands begin to shake, my vision begins to get very blurry and I become frantic.
I have to eat. I have to eat. I am going to die!
I tear open cubbies. I reach fork-first into Chinese leftovers. I stuff Triscuits in my mouth. I barrel into M&M bags.
I can’t stop. I will die.
I am a heroin addict in a room of needles. I am an alcoholic in a liquor cabinet.
Please help me, someone. Please.
But when the morning comes and my stomach hurts and my sisters are yelling “WHO ATE MY FOOD?” I can only think one thing: How did this happen?
I was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to a stunning Amazon Architect and a handsome American businessman. My tall, thin mother was straight out of a Victoria’s Secret catalogue. She kept her seductive, black hair cut short like Posh Spice. During Carnival, she wore glittering barely-there outfits and danced on the streets with local dance teams. Mom’s skin was cocoa brown: part natural, part kissed by the shoreline sunshine. Her eyes were a deep emerald-blue, which I called “dinosaur eyes.” Her delicate arms displayed a quasi-ballerina silhouette.
My father had a classic charisma about him—like old Hollywood. Dad had shimmering green eyes and fair skin sprinkled with light brown freckles. Dad’s low voice hinted at his southern roots; I loved when he sang me the Temptations. He kept himself impeccable. I tottered around in diapers as he combed his caramel brown hair each morning. Dad maintained his strong physique through Air Force exercises and jumping rope every morning.
We were a Brady Bunch family, both parents previously married with children. I was the sixth Brady child, light-skinned compared to my Brazilian siblings, with freckles and brown-red-blonde hair that grew in tight, little Shirley Temple curls on the top of my head. A happy energetic child, I ran around singing REM’s “Shiny Happy People” and dancing my way though our apartment on the golden shores of the beach.
But life wasn’t always shiny or happy. My household was a battlefield. The kids from both sides weren’t welcoming each other or their new parents. And the cross-culture mix of ages (me, four years old; my siblings six, ten, eleven, twelve, and eighteen years older) made for erratic dinner table conversations where nobody seemed to be truly heard.
We moved constantly. Dad worked for a big gas company that took us to New Jersey when I was four and a half. Aside from culture shock, my family was enduring the pain of splitting up—as two of my sisters decided to stay in Brazil and two other siblings went to live with their mother.
My ballerina Mom became depressed.
She missed our family; she missed her home.
Mom’s perfect figure changed as she tried to ease the pain through comfort food and no longer had an interest in playing with me. She became very overweight in a matter of months. Like a good little daughter, I followed suit.
By the time we moved again—this time to Florida—I was severely obese.
When I say obese, I don’t mean it like my sorority sisters did (“Gabby, I look OBESE in this top! I have to change.”) I mean scientifically, morbidly, undeniably obese.
We moved three times in Florida and not only was I always the “New Kid” but I was always the “New Fat Kid”. Friends I had lasted a couple days, until someone made a hilarious joke about my weight and they couldn’t help but laugh. I cried to my mother—without fail—every single day after school.
I wasn’t stupid. In fact, I was very smart. I was recognized as “gifted” and took advanced classes. I could put two and two together and see that I was two times the right weight. I idolized my older sisters, who finally moved back from Brazil to live with us in Florida. They were so beautiful, slender, desirable. They always had boyfriends, always had friends coming over.
After our move, my mother enrolled in a “nutrition” program at the local university health clinic. She brought me to her appointments. Each week, Mom received supplies to make shakes—which was all she ate for months. I watched as she walked up to an ugly, white doctor’s office scale. She always looked so nervous, as if she was jumping into a cold pool. When she lost weight, a huge smile would spread tightly across her diminishing cheeks. “Go Mom!” I cheered with a toothy smile. I noticed the women in the program getting smaller and smaller. I barely knew what ‘diet’ meant but I learned that being thin meant being beautiful, as the women rejoiced when the sliding scale bumped further left.
I need to go on a diet. It was as simple as that, in my fifth grade brain.
I somehow convinced Mom to get me Slim Fast. I stomped my heavy feet in the middle of Sam’s Club and said “EVERYONE MAKES FUN OF ME. Mom, I neeeeeed it!!!!!!!”
Only the Slim-Fast didn’t work. Or at least it never had a chance.
I ripped the obvious label off the tin cans and took one to school for lunch. I couldn’t wait to start my diet!
Charlie, the popular, cute “class clown”, made a beeline for my table, bearing a slimy grin.
“Wait a minute….my mom uses those. Cassie—is that SLIM FAST? HA! That’ll never work!” He blurted out. The entire lunchroom section of ten-year-old’s burst into laughter. Tears involuntarily erupted from my steely glare.
The taunting continued through middle school.
When I read about bullying now, I feel physical pain for the victims. It was one thing for my obnoxious brother to call me a “fat whale”, but another thing for my schoolmates to taunt me every day. Seeing bullying-induced suicide rates skyrocket lately breaks my heart. Who knows what would’ve happened to me if I continued on with this lifestyle. Would I have died first of obesity or of seeking a refuge from the never-ending pain?
But when I was twelve, everything changed. Because of the look in my eyes of desperation or the suffering I’d endured for years, Mom finally gave into my requests to talk to a doctor.
My pediatrician suggested I try a diet program called Weight Watchers. At the time, the program was not famous. You didn’t see Jennifer Hudson or Jessica Simpson doing commercials or have special Points systems. It was very simple: each food serving received number of Points according to a formula and I was allotted a certain amount per day.
A natural math whiz, I loved the counting system. After my first WW meeting, I tore through our pantry, labeling everything with a fat, stinky sharpie. I couldn’t walk into the kitchen without knowing exactly what caloric danger candy or a couple Pop Tarts imposed.
It was too easy.
From middle school to high school, I went from obese to unrecognizable. Those who hadn’t seen me in years were floored by my transformation and people thought I was lying when I told them about my past. What an accomplishment for a fifteen year old to be looked at like an “After” on a TLC show!
In high school, I wasn’t skinny but I looked good. I was in the normal, healthy weight range for the first time. At summer camp, I simply didn’t care much about eating and I came back “too skinny”. Another first.
I trailed off the Weight Watchers system. My doctor and family were so proud of me and wanted me to eat on my own. Boys thought I was super hot and I started to date, drink, and have sex. Things were looking good. I was living the high school life I had watched on TV. I wasn’t a cheerleader dating the hottest football player, but I had a high school sweetheart I thought I would marry and I was happy.
Happy wasn’t enough. I always wanted more.
If I could get this far, how much further can I go? I wondered.
When the high school sweetheart cheated, I became angry. I started sleeping around and spending time with “the wrong group of guys”—according to my parents. I dated an older guy who was so emotionally abusive I get shivers when I think about him today. He told me I would never attend college out of state or receive a scholarship. I did both.
College was another world. A thousand miles away from Florida in Pittsburgh, I was finally free from my parents’ protective eye. I went crazy, drinking away most of the first semester. I smoked pot. I slept around some more. I was prescribed drugs for Bipolar Disorder by the school psychologist, but just used them to get drunk on the weekends.
I was arrested for drinking and driving. Although I blew well under the legal limit, I spent a night in jail. I was eighteen.
I was raped. Twice. In six months.
I blamed everything—the rapes, the drunken nights—on my body. I wanted to punish it. Not only had my body brought me so much hate from others in my youth—the taunting and teasing from my childhood obesity echoed in my head—but in my adolescence, after losing the weight and becoming a seemingly healthy woman, my body was also the location of the crimes committed against me.
I called myself a slut in my head a thousand times, as I am sure many of my female peers did.
Joining a sorority meant so much to me. On one hand, I had always been surrounded by a large family and I missed that. On another hand, I had never truly been accepted by a group of beautiful women the way I was now. In high school, I only had a couple girlfriends and—let’s face it—none of us were the prettiest or most popular.
Unfortunately, a phenomenon happens when women come together. We self bash. We use each other as sounding boards for our inner insecurities. Around my girlfriends—who dieted constantly—I was on alert for any chance to scrutinize my body. I reveled in this ritual. It was….motivational.
In college, I kept losing weight. My sister grabbed my arm when I came home and told me I was “disappearing”, a term that echoed loudly like a mantra for the next couple of years.
I bought and threw away half of every meal. What used to be thirty minutes in the gym most days of the week turned into two hours every day. What used to be counting Points became counting calories. The amount allotted per day kept going down as the numbers on the locker room scale crept lower and lower.
I kept a meticulous calorie journal. I bought my own scale and became obsessive about weighing at the same time, naked, every morning—three times. Just to be sure.
In between one-night stands, I had a couple serious boyfriends in college. I could never quite let them into my head. I wondered constantly why they didn’t notice my weight loss. I thought I was just not thin enough.
I replaced food with wine when my friends wanted to go dancing.
I took laxatives.
I made a salt-water emetic.
I popped diet pills like Tic Tacs.
I concocted all types of plans to cut down calories and increase exercise.
I signed up for races and began feverishly running, in addition to working out with a trainer. I had two herniated disks in my back from a rollerblading accident as a child. As I ran, I continued to cause more damage. I now have five herniated disks.
My body changed, and everyone saw it. Except for me.
My Brazilian curves were gone. Replacing them were poking ribs (a sharp reminder not to let anyone too close), jutting hip bones to grab when I felt anxious, and collarbones you could drink soup out of.
I felt like a snake sliding around campus, creeping through doorways, slipping into the shower—never quite feeling warm.
I was constantly sore in strange places; my pulse and blood pressure were dangerously low; I was never sure I would get my period and still not sure I can have children; my hair was thin; my eyes were sunken in; I was disgustingly boney; I was always cranky; and I felt like I could keel over any minute of the day.
I was dying inside, but thought it was all worth it.
Not only did my health decline, but so did my personality. I became a very sour person. Alone in my room at night, I was angry. I looked in the mirror and pinched myself in all different places. My mind screamed profanities at my reflection. In the shower, I’d look down and curse my hips, which were disappearing like soapy water down the drain. I tanned, ran, dyed my hair, wore lots of makeup—anything to make me look better than I did naturally.
When I began sleeping with my fit, attractive personal trainer, I felt so good about myself—that is, until I learned he was engaged.
I cried naked. I grabbed at my thighs.
I try to imagine it now. What thighs?
I began to night-eat somewhere in the first year of my Anorexia. I woke up at night, terrified of the darkness. Something grabbed a hold of me and demanded I eat. I told a couple friends about it—tail between my legs when I ate their food in the kitchen late at night. They all suggested I increase my daily calorie intake. They’re crazy! I don’t want to be obese again! What are they thinking?
I tried everything to get rid of the night-eating—except change my diet. I tried to move some calories to night time so that I’d be full when I went to bed. I tried to take sleeping pills, cough syrup, appetite suppressants. Nothing worked. I needed to feel the crisp cracks of Honey Bunches of Oats at three in the morning. I shoveled chocolate cake in to keep the screams from emerging. I felt like a drug addict every night.
My life continued to spiral in crazy directions. My friends attempted to take control of my “little problem” by joining me for every meal of the day, planning out my schedule on an Excel spreadsheet and assigning people to my free time. I tried to smile appreciatively when they brought me snacks, but inside I was seething.
At the height of my Anorexia, I was severely underweight. My mother called me constantly to be sure I was eating and I hated everyone who involved themselves in my meals. I like to plan out my six-hundred calorie days on my own, thank you very much.
I continued in a drunken, starving stupor for years. When I emerged from college, I was confused and alone. I had alienated so many people that loved me, including family members. But no one really understood: I felt trapped.
How I managed to get a Civil Engineering degree in three and a half years from a top-ten university still baffles me. I couldn’t keep my personal life together, but boy I sure could whip up a great test score or psychology paper—despite my own wavering psyche.
I knew I was given a second chance to my life when I started my career at a billion dollar company, managing million dollar projects. Don’t fuck this up, Cass.
After battling obesity for years leading up to Anorexia for years, I was just tired of it. I read every single pro-Ana website, every single Anorexic’s memoir, and sobbed in the shower enough times. I could tell you the calorie count to any and every serving of food. I was tired of myself, I wanted out of this lifestyle.
In 2011, I started therapy. I had been in therapy before but never with full disclosure. Even when my college therapist asked me about my plummeting weight I brushed it off with a lie saying, “Yeah I started a new Vegan thing.” But with Cynthia, I was honest. The flood gates opened.
Cynthia lets me plop down on the couch and say what I want. She lets me just sit and cry and she actually gets it. She’s been there too, and she knows the pain that Anorexia can bring to a young woman and those surrounding her.
Every time I read a magazine article about a weight loss experience or a bullied past, I look for something more. Is there a person there that I can relate to? How can I help?
If I had never been through it, I would scoff at a story like this. But according to statistics that the National Eating Disorder Association reports, half the people in this world are suffering or will know someone suffering from an eating disorder in their lifetime. This isn’t like chicken pox—it’s not obvious, it’s not sudden.
And unlike chicken pox, there’s no complete ending. You can’t just get it once and it’s over. I carry that nagging voice with me every single day—telling me to go running, telling me what to eat. My heart jumps when I enter a buffet restaurant. Am I going to eat everything? Will I leave here obese? And you know those Snickers commercials where the friend becomes a “diva” when they are hungry? Yeah, that’s me. I can’t not eat. I freak out.
I don’t go on midnight runs now if I eat a lot. I don’t pinch my thighs or my arms. I sometimes still keep calorie journals and almost always stay awake at night totaling up my day. I don’t, however, measure my worth in pounds—as I smashed my scale a year ago.
I have gained weight, and I look fantastic. Some days it’s hard to admit to myself that gaining weight can be a good thing. Half my life I spent piling it on, the other half I spent feverishly trying to shed it off. I have reached a happy medium now, and I sleep more soundly than ever.
As for those relationships I burned in my darkest days, the healing has begun. I learned that honest conversation can alleviate even the deepest pain. I lost a portion of my life to my past, but have gained back much more.
I know now that nothing is worth that slide to the left on the scale.
Posted on February 4, 2013, in Anorexia, Depression, Engineering, Exercise, Family, fear, Fitness, Love, memories, Relationships, Sex and tagged alcohol, anger, anorexia, Brazil, control, depression, drugs, engineering, family, gain, jail, loss, night eating, obesity, obsession, pain, rape, relationships, sex, sexual assault, siblings, sorority, starvation, weight, Women. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.