So here’s the thing about eating disorder recovery.
It is so freaking hard to write about.
I’ve started out posts multiple times with some tips or some techniques I’ve learned but then I realize that it’s impossible to describe how I’ve implemented them into my life because some of them have only worked once and some of them work always but I ignore them on purpose because I’m kind of messed up in the head like that and I don’t want to lead anyone astray.
But now I’m just kind of like, fuck it.
As long as you know that the information below is only my personal experience, and I’m certainly no doctah, and what you read could also trigger you into a binge or a relapse, then I’ll write it. Read at your discretion and know that I’m not here with any concrete answers, only the things that have worked for moi.
So here goes.
First of all – let me just fill you in on what I’m actually recovering from. I started secretly bingeing at age fifteen. I hit puberty at age fourteen on a family cruise to Alaska where I was too afraid to try tampons and thus spent the entire week staying out of the hot tub. It was fantastic.
At fifteen, I was no longer wearing cute little size three flares and tube tops from Wal-mart. I ballooned to a size nine within minutes it seemed. My dance teacher was less than thrilled with my “pooch pouch” that was forming below my belly button because it meant that two piece costumes at competition were out of the question. While the older girls in class were still able to wear low-cut jazz pants and sports bras to class, I was stuffing myself into leotards and covering them up with jazz pants and then another shirt on top of that. I guess “thick” would be a good word to describe my fifteen-year-old self. Dancing twenty hours a week in front of mirrors made it impossible for me to deny that that my body was changing rapidly.
I was just so sad that this was all happening. I didn’t know what to do about my expanding hips and my soft back fat and my stretch marked thighs, so I ate to forget. My parents would leave me home alone because I was old enough and I would eat all the Ritz crackers with jelly. All the chocolate peanut butter chips – straight from the bag. All the cheese, all the ice cream, all the pickles. Oh my God and the Better Cheddars. We were ALWAYS out of Better Cheddars. Sorry.
Take this story all over the east coast – from Pennsylvania to Virginia (college) to New York City (auditioning) to New Jersey (boyfriend) to Hilton Head (performing job) to Albany to Fort Lauderdale and all the way back to Washington Heights, NYC where everything came crashing down around me, finally, a decade after I first learned how to eat myself into a coma.
I came to find that I was an emotional eater. A compulsive eater. A secret eater. A food addict. And an extremely disordered eating female with depression and anxiety and no way to get help through my measly health insurance.
And through reading and my own tweaks and my own journaling, this is what I’ve learned.
- I have to keep all the food in the house. Fuck this Weight Watchers “keep your environment safe” bullshit. I need to have the Nutella and the ice cream and the cheese and the pesto and the cookies and the pizza and the beer in the house. For ten years I kept it all OUT of the house and spent nearly $40,000 on binges where I’d go and get it anyway, bring it in, eat it all up, and throw the containers in the garbage outside so that in my mind I could say “it was never inside”. For me to feel safe, I need all of it IN my environment. Now when I started doing this, yea, the ice cream disappeared within hours. But a month into it, I kept a carton of cookies ‘n’ cream in the house for an entire two weeks. Six months later, and I kept it in the freezer so long I forgot about it (community housing – it got hidden behind everyone else’s stuff and I totally forgot it was there). A year later, and I can bring multiple flavors into the house and they can be in there anywhere between one day and one month. It depends on my PMS and how hot it is outside, but it no longer scares me to have it in there. I need to know it’s there for my convenience at any time, and all of a sudden, it doesn’t consume my thoughts anymore. Hence why we’ve had two monstrous containers of Nutella from Costco in our pantry for over a month and I’ve only eaten an eighth of one jar. (I was going to show a picture but HELLO triggers – not appropriate today.)
- When I’m hungry, I need to eat NOW. I spent ten years ignoring hunger signals and only eating carbs for breakfast but never dinner and always before 7pm and every three hours and not at all and counting points and when I finally hit that rock bottom, I learned to listen to my body. My beautiful intuitive body that I never gave any credit to. My body tells me when I’m hungry and I listen now. It took me a year to figure out exactly what those signals are – the hunger signals and the full signals and the “i need protein” signals – but it was worth all the listening because I’m not one of those people that wakes up every day at the same time and can eat oatmeal for breakfast for the rest of my life. I need change and I need options and I need to eat when my body is ready – not before or after. Diets never taught me any of these things, and it was only after I stopped dieting that I could really spend time with my own body and learn the way it speaks. And it took me A YEAR y’all. As in, TWELVE MONTHS. As in, A WHILE. It did not, I repeat, IT DID NOT happen overnight.
- Oh my God the triggers. None of this “Healthy is the new skinny” shit on Facebook and no recipes. Nooooo recipes. No Women’s Health, no Glamour, no Cosmo. Twitter is a constant trigger no matter who I unfollow so I just stay off it altogether unless I post. Facebook has a mind of it’s own so I choose to follow Astrology writers and Ram Dass and “I Fucking Love Science” instead of all this Mind Body Green shit. I can’t see lists of things to eat and things not to eat and not be triggered. Know your triggers. Does seeing a list of things to do with chia seeds trigger you? Unfollow. Do ads for beer or weight loss or life coaching trigger you? Unfollow. Unfriend. Unlike. Immediately. Like it or not, social media is a humungous part of our lives. It’s how I’ve reached all of you. Thank God. I fucking love you and would not trade this for the world. But know your triggers – even if it’s me and my page – and cut them out.
- Friendship/Significant Others/Family: Be straight up. Don’t tiptoe. This might not be your style, so perhaps emailing them one of these articles could be helpful as well.*
Table for Three: You, Me and My Eating Disorder (a straight up guide for friends and loved ones)
Tips for Family (from the Renfrew site)
*There are many many many like TOO MANY articles on how to stage an intervention and how to try to get help for a person with an eating disorder but not nearly enough articles on what to do once they are in recovery and are seeking help. Especially for significant others. This is something I am determined to work on and will post as soon as it comes. If you know of one, please post it in the comments below so we can spread it far and wide. Mahalo.
With friends, family, and loved ones, do not be afraid to tell them exactly what you need. My family, well, those who understand anyway (grandparents don’t count – they forget and they don’t understand and they really just want to “fatten” us all up with cookies and how can you get mad at that?), knows to not say a word about my eating choices. When I eat, what I eat, and how I eat it (yes, mom, sometimes I wrap cheese around a pickle like a pregnant woman and put sriracha on it and I don’t even have an answer for why) is off the table for comments. It took them a few years to fully commit to this but this summer with my seven weeks home really helped them understand. Not eating at dinner because I’m not hungry? Sorry mom, that pasta looks delicous, but I might not be ready to eat it til 9pm tonight when you’ve already cleaned up. And I say, that’s okay because of where I’m at on my journey.
When it comes to loved ones, ask and you shall receive, for the most part. My mom was amazing and understanding and never once pushed me this summer when I ate at weird times with weird condiments. My dad is still learning, but he’ll get there and he’s aware and that’s what matters. Talk to your friends and your cousins and your girlfriend and your hubby and be as straight up as possible.
“I need to keep this nine dollar jar of organic pecan butter in the house and I need you to not comment on it’s price, it’s size, or it’s taste. It is my choice right now and it’s part of my recovery and I need you to support me.”
“I need you to pick the place for dinner tonight, and if you say it and I wrinkle up my nose because it doesn’t sound good to me, I need you to not get frustrated. I realize that I am frustrating you but I am not in a place to make decisions because I don’t know what I want and I would really appreciate your patience in this decision making process tonight.”
Okay, whatever it is, there is no harm in asking. And if your friend/boy/mom can’t understand why this is, I ask you to also be patient with them. They may accidentally make a judgemental face that they have no control over when they see you pouring animal crackers on top of a bowl of ice cream and they may accidentally ask you why you need to order pizza AND pasta AND salad AND dessert and the more patient you are with them, the more patient they will get with you. It’s a give give situation here. No one is perfect and this is a touchy subject that needs care and compassion from all sides – including yours.
5. Know your other “vices”. Cigarettes and TV are mine. When I am emotional and want to binge, I don’t reach for the beer so much as I crave a smoke and an SVU marathon. And you know what, I fully accept that laying on the couch on a beautiful beach day and choosing Olivia and Elliot over the sunshine is absolutely part of my healing process and a choice that I make when I don’t have the energy to go live life in the sand today. It’s a distraction, it’s a simple comfort, but you know what? It’s not a jar of Nutella and as long as I’m aware of it, I carry on with my marathon and do my best to forgive myself. The cigarettes – not so much, because I’m a role model for my students and I had such a hard time quitting that buying a pack would just send me into hardcore reverse. But occasionally I’ll bum one and feel satisfied and I do my best not to feel shitty about that too. I’m in recovery from an addictive habit – and most disordered eating is addictive if you really think about it – so knowing what you are using instead of eating/refraining from eating as your new vice is super crucial to your recovery and a healthy life. Forgive yourself for the replacements and give yourself a little credit for being aware and just do your best today. That’s all you, or anyone else, can ask for.
6. Therapy. Finding a therapist isn’t easy. Depending on where you live, you might be lucky enough to have an eating disorder clinic in your area that offers outpatient therapy. If you’re not so lucky, and you live in Hawaii like me and there is absolutely NOTHING pertaining to eating disorders at all (on the Big Island anyway), ask your health care provider for a list of counselors in your community and buck up and give them a call. I called around today, yes literally today before typing this up, and talked to some “therapists” that didn’t even ask my full name or what I was looking to get out of counseling. NEXT PLEASE. Then, when I was about to give up, I called a woman that has a PhD and asked appropriate questions and has already sent me forms to fill out so I can show up and just have a relaxing appointment. Shopping around is clutch – it’s like finding an agent as an actress – they are working for you, not the other way around. Trying them on for size takes time and is a real pain in the ass, but at the end, the payoff is something healthy for YOU. You get to take away the benefits of therapy and apply it towards a happier healthier life.
Holy shit, my arm hurts from typing this so fast. But you know, it’s been calling to be written for months now and I can’t keep putting it off until I find the right pictures or the right title or the right statistics to offer you. Please, for the love of all things healthy, pick up a copy of When Food is Love by Geneen Roth and allow yourself to become aware of your patterns. Or start from the very beginning and find solace in others like you in Feeding The Hungry Heart. I don’t love Geneen so much anymore because she charges you for everything and doesn’t really like to communicate with her fans but you know what the bitch can write and she writes it all and she helped me and I can’t deny that for a second.
Body love is a whole nother topic in this whole recovery thing and I’ll be on it very soon. It’s actually a huge gigantic amazing fabulous component that deserves a post all of its own.
I hope this list helps and I hope you find something here that sheds some light. Share it with someone who needs it. Print it out and put it in an inspiring place. YOU CAN DO THIS. I HAVE FAITH IN YOU. YOU ARE STRONGER THAN YOU REALIZE. YOUR LIFE IS YOURS AND YOURS ALONE. I AM YELLING AND I AM SHOUTING IN ALL CAPS BECAUSE I BELIEVE ALL THESE THINGS TO BE TRUE. YOU ARE FUCKING AMAZING AND YOU DESERVE RECOVERY AND THERAPY AND LIGHT AND BREATH AND SANITY AND FEELINGS OF SAFETY AND CONTENT.
AND, last but not least, you know you can always email me at email@example.com with questions and concerns.
All my love and support and congratulations for being open to help and doing what you can to recover –
I totally get it. It’s a weird thing to bring up. Addiction. Eating disorders. Depression.
But enough with the tiptoes.
It takes balls to open up about such personal and damaging issues. Those of us who have been diagnosed or have been to rehab or who are in therapy are struggling to keep our head above water sometimes. But that doesn’t mean the whole process is a sad, tragic, terrible thing. Out of disaster can come beauty. Out of heartbreak can come freedom. And if we are lucky to have friends that stick by us in every step of the transformation, then there will come times to laugh and to reminisce and to celebrate.
Friendship is about sticking out the bad and rejoicing over the good and being there for each other even when nothing makes sense and the tissue box is empty. I know that my friends know and believe this as strongly as I do, but I have experienced a lot of tiptoeing around the topic of my binge-eating disorder since I’ve been home this summer. Naturally, New York City is where the majority of my friends are based, and where many of my bad habits formed, but my compulsive and unhealthy eating habits started long before I boarded the Bieber Bus to Port Authority. My issues started at my dance studio in Pennsylvania, and in high school, and although there are many factors that caused my issues to accelerate when I was young, my eating disorder is not anyone’s fault. It’s everyone’s fault and it’s society’s fault and it’s my fault and it’s nobody’s fault all at the same time. But it’s not YOUR fault. And that’s why I want to raise awareness on how to keep friendship as strong and mighty as it was before the eating disorder, before the addiction, before the “coming out”, before it was all real and gross and honest and nitty and gritty and on the table for all to see.
I hate preaching, and I hate speaking for a group of people. These thoughts I offer you are based on my personal experience and my personal journey. But I can bet on my pantry of Reese’s Oreos that some of your friends are experiencing the same things that I am on their journey to recovery and self-discovery. I speak for myself, but as always, I speak for all of us. So please take a deep breath in and let out an audible sigh of relief. We can move forward and frolick and eat and laugh and hail cabs at 4am just like we used to – just with a little more awareness.
After all, awareness is the salt of life. You can live without it, but it makes almost everything better.
1) To start, I know that it’s hard to understand what food addiction even is. Addiction is rarely on purpose, and I look at it as a coping mechanism that gets out of hand. It’s an unfortunate sickness that affects millions of people. Put simply, most people find themselves addicted to things that they started using occasionally to fill a void, or to distract from pain, or to find comfort. These occasional habits escalate and become the only way the addict knows how to deal with stress, depression, or anger. Stress-eating or emotional eating are common terms associated with food addiction because they are habits that escalate beyond the addict’s control. Food addiction and eating disorders are often very intertwined. In my case, they go hand in hand. Other times, it’s the addiction to avoiding food that becomes the issue.
Food addiction becomes a little tricky once the recovery process begins. First of all, it’s food addiction. It’s not meth. Although addiction is addiction is addiction, people can’t just give up food cold turkey – it’s our fuel and life source. Most food addicts have to completely re-learn how to listen to the hunger signals that we’ve ignored for so long. Either we’ve been dieting for so many years that we learned long ago to only eat certain things at certain times, or we eat when we’re emotional and struggling. For me, it was a combo of both. Sometimes, I would end up eating eight meals in one day. Sometimes, I didn’t eat a single one. Regardless, what I was eating and when I was eating it has had nothing to do with actual hunger for over a decade. Overcoming a compulsive eating habit of any sort requires a trust in my body that I somehow lost in the madness long ago.
2) It is completely okay if you do not understand what binge eating disorder is. The Renfrew Center defines it as this:
“People with binge eating disorder suffer from episodes of uncontrolled eating or bingeing followed by periods of guilt and depression. A binge is marked by the consumption of large amounts of food, sometimes accompanied by a pressured, “frenzied” feeling. Frequently, a compulsive overeater continues to eat even after she becomes uncomfortably full. Those identified as having Binge Eating Disorder generally do not purge. Although many who meet the criteria for this category are larger than average, many are of average size and weight.
Binge eating can lead to serious medical problems including high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease and depression.”
This list of symptoms (also from The Renfrew Center) was the story of my life for my entire professional performing career, long before I went off to college for musical theatre.
- Eat large amounts of food when not physically hungry.
- Eat much more rapidly than normal.
- Eat until the point of feeling uncomfortably full.
- Often eat alone because of shame or embarrassment.
- Have feelings of depression, disgust or guilt after eating.
- Have a history of marked weight fluctuations
A lot of compulsive eaters go through periods of dieting and extreme eating limitations only to then “fail” at these impossible rules, which is when the real danger of bingeing comes into play. Bingeing alone, stealing food, and stuffing my face with it faster than I could swallow were very common habits in my late teens and early twenties. Binge eating disorder is the reason that I have gained and lost over 700 pounds in my lifetime. I share this with you so that if you share these symptoms, or know someone who does, that anyone who needs it can get help.
Moving on to more social matters…
3) Ignoring the fact that I was diagnosed with an eating disorder last May, was severely depressed, moved to Hawaii, fell in love, haven’t auditioned in a year, started teaching dance, and am forty pounds heavier than when I left, is awkward for everyone. Especially if we are extremely close, you have seen me eat an entire ice cream cake, and/or you’ve seen that beautiful yellow purse that I ruined by carrying around a jar of Nutella with me for all of audition season in 2012. For some people, addiction and eating disorders are extremely private and a very sensitive subject. I on the other hand have been blogging about it for over a year.
If we are friends, and if we have been friends for as long as some of us have been friends, let’s just get it out in the open. Ask me the questions that you want to ask. Ask me how I would like to deal with it in our friendship. Ask me if there’s anything that’s too personal (with me? impossible) and ask me what I need from you in terms of support.
I’m speaking for myself of course, but if you are close friends with someone who is dealing with an eating disorder or an addiction and they’ve filled you in on their struggles, my suggestion is to ask them what they need from you. Maybe all they need is to know that you’re there when they have a funny story about rehab. It’s not all tears all the time, believe it or not. Things come up in therapy that you just have to laugh at, once you’re done crying over them. Friendship is friendship is friendship. Don’t let the eating disorder or the fear of saying the wrong thing come between you.
4) Asking me to lunch is not the same as asking a recovering alcoholic for a drink. Again, once someone quits drinking, they can survive without it for the rest of their life once they overcome their addiction to alcohol through rehab and counseling. Although food is my drug, I gotta eat sometime, or we’re gonna have a new issue to work out. There’s no need to feel weird or uncomfortable when you’re asking me to dinner. You can even suggest a restaurant we used to frequent. It’s okay. You won’t throw me into relapse. None of this ever was, or ever will be, your fault, and I don’t want you to fear saying or suggesting the wrong thing. Ever.
5) Asking me to make the decision where to eat, personally, is sometimes too stressful, mainly because I’ve been away
from NYC for a year and there’s 45 billion restaurants to choose from and I get overwhelmed just picking which 99 cent pizza place to order from. As you can see, I get very overwhelmed when I have too many choices. So suggest away. I appreciate it. No need to tip toe.
6) It’s possible that something about a particular restaurant (or food truck, or bakery, or coffeeshop) will trigger something in me, which is a) very important for me to observe and b) going to happen for the rest of my life and something that I have to continue to deal with on my journey. That trigger is not normally about how they give you two pieces of chicken parm instead of one, or about how rich the chocolate soufflé is. The trigger is not about the actual food. The trigger is the memory associated with the place you may suggest. Maybe it’s the place we ended up after Stallion broke up with me, or the place where we celebrated my first off-Broadway gig. The trigger could be a devastating memory or a happy memory, but it’s important for me to experience the trigger and then feel the emotions that come up instead of eating to make them go away.
7) I’m still deciphering what it’s like to eat for pleasure and what it’s like to eat my feelings. This may seem like an insane concept, but I deal with it every day. Obviously, I’m known for my obsession with Nutella.
I used to eat jars of Nutella when things got really bad, and unfortunately, I still associate Nutella with pain, sadness, and heartbreak. I love the taste of Nutella, but sometimes it’s hard for me to know when I eat it for pleasure or eat it for comfort. The same applies to Numero 28 pizza and Two Little Red Hens Brooklyn Blackout Cupcakes and the pistachio tart at Le Pain. I overthink the process at this point.
On one hand, I’m in New York City for a limited amount of time, and leaving the city without spending time at my favorite bakeries and coffeeshops makes no sense to me. Sometimes, I can walk in to Amy’s Bread with a friend and know exactly what I want, and I order exactly what I want because it tastes good, and eating can be pleasurable, and there’s no harm in that if it’s every once and a while. On the other hand, I used to do this multiple times a day when I wasn’t hungry, when I needed copious amounts of sugar to calm me down and keep me company in times of stress, worry, or self-doubt. So even though I know when I walk into Schmackary’s with Bronson that there’s nothing wrong with getting a cookie for the sheer enjoyment and pleasure that comes along with it, I do start to second guess myself since I used to eat that S’mores cookie to deal with a bad day.
This is a really great place to be in my recovery, and things could be a lot worse, but this might help explain why I don’t always know what I want to eat when you ask me, or why I say no to our old haunts. Sometimes, I just don’t really crave that pie right now. Maybe, I never really did, but it was there in times of sorrow and it helped me deal. Maybe I’ll never crave it again. And that wouldn’t be bad or good, it would just be another learning lesson for me to take in.
8) You don’t have to filter yourself around me. It’s more awkward to listen to you talk in circles to avoid sensitive topics than it is if you just fill me in on your life regardless of what it entails. First of all, I’m not going to diagnose you with an eating disorder just because you only ordered coffee on our lunch date. Does it break my heart when you tell me you can’t eat this week because Spamalot auditions are on Friday? Absolutely. Do I understand and empathize with you? More than you will ever, ever, EVER know. It might be a sensitive subject that I left the business (for now) because I couldn’t maintain a small enough body size (without going to extreme measures) to continue on the same career path that I started. But you’re still in the business, and you have to deal with these issues, and maybe they don’t affect you the same way they affected me.
The same applies for the opposite end of the spectrum. If it comes up that you got cut from an audition because your body wasn’t right, or if it comes up that your director asked you to lose fifteen pounds before rehearsals, I’m not going to preach at you to leave the business. I know what showgirls have to look like. I know what baseball players have to look like. Drink your protein powder and run your miles and just do you. Please my darling, don’t avoid any topics of conversation because of me. Everyone has a different journey. Mine is mine and yours is yours and although I’m here for you if you are concerned about your lifestyle and want to ask advice or questions, I’m not trying to be your therapist or your doctor or your mom. We can talk story just like we always have. The bottom line is, you shouldn’t have to filter yourself around me.
What I’m saying, above all, is that it’s okay to acknowledge the pink elephant in the room sitting across the table from us at Veneiro’s. An eating disorder is now present in my day to day life and it’s going to be a part of my journey forever. That’s not a morbid thing, it’s just a thing. It’s forever a part of my medical history and my emotional development and although I refuse to let it define me, it is a part of me. And as a friend, I would rather you acknowledge this and remind me of how far I’ve come when I’m feeling discouraged, than ignore it completely and pretend that everything is fine when it’s not.
Friend, I want you to know that my life up until this point has been a twisted path lined with chocolate covered obstacles and hidden speakers blasting showtunes. Yes, I’ve tripped and I’ve scraped my knees on my travels, but I’ve also belted along with the music and learned that 90% cacao is disgusting. I’ve learned and I’ve grown and I’ve fallen and I’ve always found my way back onto my feet even if my clothing is forever stained with sweat, tears, and melted ice cream. Your path might be more well-paved than mine, or you might have said “fuck it” to the rocky road ahead of you and just started bulldozing the forest to your left. If we have been friends this long, it doesn’t matter what our paths look like, as long as they intersect when we need them to. You don’t have to walk a mile in my shoes to understand what I’m going through – just tie your own real tight and let’s take a walk together. No filters, no sidestepping, and for goodness sake, no tiptoes.
*If you or someone you know thinks they may be suffering from food addiction or disordered eating, speak to your doctor or family member. Please visit The Renfrew Center’s “Do I Have An Eating Disorder” page if you want to do some private research before seeking help. And as always, I’m always here to answer questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
So last week, I wrote about Johnny.
This week, he wrote about me. He even came up with this week’s title. Ladies and gents, a guest blog post from the man I’m dating, Johnny Burkhart.
Beauty & The Beast
What It’s Like To Date A Woman Recovering From An Eating Disorder
When Amanda asked me to write a guest blog, I was hesitant to say the least. Could I really be honest about what it’s like to date a woman with a binge eating disorder and would she still love me afterwards? I pray that the latter part is true.
Another reason I was hesitant was because she wanted me to respond to an article entitled 5 Reasons To Date A Girl With An Eating Disorder written by an anonymous guy on the misogynistic website “Return of Kings”. The author of the article, who writes under an alias (ahem, coward), claims to “specialize in dating culture and social intelligence”. Before I read the article, I glanced at the comments below it which were strewn with hate for this anonymous guy and disgust for the article. Alrighty then, this oughta be great. After I read the actual article, I realized this guy had no idea what he was talking about. The article did not contain any intelligence, but was possibly his attempt at humor? One can only hope.
Apparently any idiot can spew out a bunch of nonsense and have it posted on the internet. So why shouldn’t I give it a shot?
This post is in no way a response to that article, and if you have any sense at all, you will totally ignore that article and not give it any more energy than it has already received. What I have written below is simply my experience dating Amanda and is not a blanket statement about what it’s like to date women with eating disorders or specifically binge eating disorders.
Honestly Though! – One of the things that most attracted me to Amanda was her honesty. I don’t think we would be together today if it weren’t for her brutal honesty. I read her blog before we ever went on our first date, so I knew what kind of craziness I was signing up for. I was in awe of how honest she was in her blog, and even face to face with people. It’s truly inspiring and sometimes a little scary, especially when she writes about me in her blog.
Something that came to me after reading her blog was that I had grown up with a binge eater. I had never called it that or thought of it in the terms she puts it in, but my mother was/is a binge eater. I watched her slowly put on the pounds as I grew up and saw the toll that it took on her body. She is now in recovery for it and working on getting healthier which I am incredibly proud of her for.
This realization caught me off guard, and I was afraid that if Amanda found out, she wouldn’t want to date me. I was afraid that she might think that I was trying to heal some old shit with my mother – which could be true, let’s face it – and that she wouldn’t want any part of it. I mean, we did meet when we were at a retreat center where she came to do some major healing around her ED. But I knew that honesty was the only course of action here, so I told her.
Honesty plays a big role in our relationship today and it has to. It has to go both ways. We have to be honest with each other. That could be said for any relationship really, but when you’re dating a binge eater that is especially true. Even when it’s hard and I feel that pit in the bottom of my stomach, no pun intended, I know that I have to be honest with Amanda. So bear with me as I get real honest about some shit here.
Shame vs. Accountability “You ate all the cookies?!!” – When we first started dating, Amanda told me that I couldn’t say “anything” to her about her food decisions. I understand that shame plays a big role with women who have ED’s, I get it! But there’s a fine line between shame and accountability when you date/live with a woman who is a binge eater.
There are times when I bite my tongue because I don’t want risk her feeling shamed by me. Look, I don’t want to sound like her mother or anything. But we do share food and expenses, so there does need to be some form of accountability for what we consume. So when I ask where all the Fudge Mint Cookies are, I am not trying to shame her. I just want some fucking cookies!
I have learned to know when to pick my battles. Sometimes you can’t win, no matter what, you just can’t! When she does eat all the cookies, I know better than to say “why did you eat all the cookies, what were you thinking?” That would be shaming. I have also learned that if she buys cupcakes and there’s only one left, I better not eat it without asking her first or there will be hell to pay.
Now, when she asks if we can go get some ice cream, I know better than to say to her, “Really? Ice cream? Is that such a great choice right now?” I either say “Yeah, let’s go get some ice cream”, or “No thanks.” It can be that simple. I know better than to try and play her mom and monitor her food choices – I think that’s part of the reason we’re in this whole mess in the first place. That’s not my job nor do I ever want that job. My job is to love her no matter what her food choices are that day or that moment and to try to encourage her to be the best she can be.
The Emotional Roller Coaster Ride – They say that women are ruled by their emotions, and having an eating disorder just adds to that equation. Dating a woman with an ED can be quite the emotional roller coaster. The ups and downs, good decisions followed by bad decisions, craziness and uncertainty make for some interesting times.
There are days when she feels good about herself and she makes good decisions. She’s confident and it seems nothing can get in her way. Those are the days when she loves me and I can do nothing wrong, she’s supportive and nonjudgmental. Even if I say the wrong thing to her she can just laugh it off.
Then there are the days when she doesn’t want to get out of bed, let alone get dressed. She makes unhealthy decisions, like eating cake just before going to sleep. She has zero confidence in herself or what she’s doing in life. Those are the days when if I make the slightest comment about anything she wants to kill me and I would rather be anywhere else but by her side. Thankfully there are less of these days and more of the good days or I might have to reconsider the situation.
Amanda is one of the most ambitious and positive people I have ever met or had the pleasure of being in a relationship with. But when she has bad days, there’s not much I can say or do to bring her out of it. As much as possible, I try and let her find her own solutions to things and encourage her to look inside at what’s really going on. I know from experience that people need to really sit in their shit and feel it before they are ready to come out of it.
The same fire that fuels her passion for dance and performing is also at the heart of her addiction in some way.
“It is a beast, this thing that stirs in the core of her being, but it is also the star of her innermost nature. We have to care for this suffering with extreme reverence so that, in our fear and anger at the beast, we do not overlook the star.” – Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul
Body Image & Sex – When I was 19 years old, I told my live-in girlfriend that if she got fat that I would leave her. OK, OK, put down your weapons ladies! That was a long time ago and I have learned to be more compassionate. I’d also like to think I’ve gotten a lot smarter about how to talk to women. Key word, “think”.
Many years later, I find myself in a relationship with a woman whose weight has slowly but steadily increased since we began dating. Now I would never say anything to her about this because it really doesn’t matter to me anymore. I find her just as sexy and attractive as when we first began dating.
Sexy to me isn’t about being rail thin or starving yourself or working out 8 hours a day. Sexy to me is about how you carry yourself, the love that you share with others and being emotionally present. Amanda has that; I mean did you see her Roar performance? This woman has got that attitude and drive that just does it for me and it doesn’t matter what the number on the scale says.
Amanda has asked me before if I think she is fat or has gained weight but I don’t take the bait. I’m not going to stand over her shoulder as she steps on the scale either. It’s not my job or place to say if she’s gained weight or needs to lose a few pounds. Again, my job is to love her just the way she is, fat, thin, clear skin, or broken out.
I’m not saying it’s always easy because it’s not. Having sex with someone who just engulfed a bowl of vanilla ice cream covered in chocolate chips doesn’t exactly do it for me. Then there’s the days she wants to make out in the morning with a huge whitehead on her upper lip from binging on chocolate the night before. “Um… hey babe maybe you uh… can you take care of that before we uh… um I mean have you uh… oh boy!” Thankfully those times are the exceptions and not the rule.
The “D” Word – Recently Amanda asked me if I would be willing to do an Intolerance Test with her. Not sure what she was talking about I asked her to explain what that meant. She proceeded to tell me how you weren’t allowed to have any gluten, dairy, corn, sugar, bread, processed foods, or bananas for 3 weeks. Oh, and no eating out at restaurants either, my personal favorite. “Well,” I said, “as fun as that sounds, I don’t really like doing Diets!”. Then the earth actually stopped spinning for a few seconds and she said “IT’S NOT A DIET! It’s an intolerance test don’t call it a Diet!” Yep, I actually said the “D” word to a binger, my bad.
Not realizing what the “D” word meant to someone with an eating disorder, I had some back peddling to do here. I proceeded to tell her that I would help support her in any way I could without actually doing the intolerance test with her the whole time. I’m willing to try some new recipes and things but giving all that up for 3 weeks basically amounted to torture to me. I’m of the philosophy of everything in moderation.
Amanda used to tell me about her experiences with trying to cut out sugar and desserts and how that would just lead to more bingeing. So I wasn’t so gung ho about this intolerance test to begin with. She would always say that it’s better to have some of her favorite foods around just in case the cravings came on and she could try and hit them off at the pass before full bingeing mode kicked in.
So a few days later she started her “intolerance test” and the fun began. I really should have seen it coming. It hit me like that magical visit from Aunt Flo each month. When you take away sugar and all the deliciousness of most foods away from a binger, it’s not a pretty picture at first. Luckily that only lasted a couple days.
I was surprised that she even wanted to try it, given her history of trying food restriction, and I was honestly skeptical of the whole thing. She eventually settled into it though and seems to be hitting her stride now. She really is handling it amazingly well. It speaks volumes for her recovery that she is able to stick with it, and I am so proud of her for that.
So #Blessed – One of our closest friends, John Reardon, was the catalyst for our relationship. He is always saying to me how blessed Amanda is to have me in her life. I can literally feel Amanda’s eyes roll back in her skull and cringe every time he says this or texts it to me. But like, it’s true. Some of you know or have experienced what it’s like to be in a relationship where you don’t feel supported by the other person OR their behavior just seems to trigger you into doing things you shouldn’t. When you find the “right” person, they should lift you up and encourage you, not trigger your bad habits and addictions. I think, (again, key word, “think”), that I lift Amanda up instead of triggering her, and that’s why John always says how blessed she is to have me in her life.
I am also so blessed to have Amanda in my life. Her love and enthusiasm for life are infectious and I am so inspired by her. So much so, that I agreed to learn a duet tap dance with her for the May recital with the dance studio she’s teaching at – in front of an actual audience. I have mixed feelings about this decision, but it’s all happening now, so I’m just gonna go with it. I was also inspired by her to write this post and put it out there to you all. All of her passion and love for life make all of the craziness of her ED seem so insignificant.
“The uniqueness of a person is made up of the insane and twisted as much as it is of the rational and normal.” Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul
You see, Amanda and I are both a little twisted and insane, but in a way that supports each other. And for that, we are both so blessed.
Seriously Though! – Dating a woman who is recovering from an eating disorder isn’t as scary as it might seem. As I started out saying here, the key is really all about honesty. Like Amanda always says, “everyone has their shit” that they are dealing with – some more than others. But if you’re honest about your shit, it makes all the difference in the world. Hiding your shit really only makes things worse in the end.
So ladies and gents, if you think that hiding an eating disorder or an addiction from the person you are dating is a good thing, or the safe thing, I want you to reconsider. I strongly encourage you to share your shit with your partner. It may help explain some of the crazy shit you do from time to time. I know that if I didn’t know what Amanda was dealing with, I would have been out the door a long time ago. Knowing what she’s going through allows me to be more compassionate with her when she’s acting like a crazy bitch. Seriously though!
I don’t try and heal Amanda. That’s not the intention here. You are honest not so your partner can help fix you, but to bear witness to what you are going through. I’ve dated, and was even married, to women who were a closed book and would never reveal what was really going on, not even to a therapist. They carried a lot of extra baggage around to basically try and save some face. It eventually catches up to all of us at some point. I can’t speak for everyone, but I’m thankful everyday for Amanda’s honesty – even when things are rough between us – because it’s the foundation of our relationship and the reason our love is so strong to this day.
Let me just remind you – like I remind Amanda often – of the second agreement of The Four Agreements: Don’t make assumptions. You cannot assume what your friends or your significant other will think if you open up to them about your issues. Never assume. And if you open up to them, and they make an ass out of you, then seriously though, they are NOT worth your time.
Well, I think I covered all the ground I wanted to here. I’ve been trying to come up with a good way to close this all up, but I’m a little stuck, so I’m just gonna let Bob Marley do the talking.
Lots of aloha from Hawaii,
Next Week’s Posting:
I’m not sure but I’m sure Amanda has something good to say
Everyone keeps asking me what my aha moment was. To write this blog, to start living, to start healing, to re-surface.
I don’t believe that my “aha” moment was this big bolt of lightning that struck me on my way to Schmackary’s for my second red velvet cookie of the day. No one gave me the “aha” moment in a gift-wrapped bag. No quote on Pinterest inspired it.
It was sort of just, another little moment in time, just like the rest of my previous moments in time, that was way more profound than all the others.
Sometimes, your moments have to lead you to a very dark place before the next moment can come along and change everything.
And my God, have I had quite a variety of little moments that have added up over the years.
So I think I want to explain the timeline of my personal little moments, in hopes that it will inspire you to turn around and think about your own. I actually wrote this timeline on August 1st, 2013, on my six hour plane ride from Phoenix, Arizona to Honolulu, Hawaii. I have all sorts of documents on this computer of mine, meant for blog posts at a later date, and this one hasn’t seemed appropriate until now. Because, as I begin to retrace my own steps with my beloved Geneen Roth books, since I’ve been finding myself sneaking entire bags of mint milano cookies (Karen Walker’s favorite!) during momentary setbacks this week, I feel that now is the best time to share what got me to this point.
I hope that this week’s post helps those who are looking for answers, or looking for someone to relate to. And if you yourself don’t need this help, I hope it invokes empathy in you for someone you love who may be stuggling with similar timeline events to mine. As unbelievably therapeutic, and occasionally hilarious this was for me to write, I encourage you, my strong, courageous, ferocious readers, to consider doing the same for yourself. It’s okay to embrace our funny and sad and ironic and amazing pasts so that we can learn from them, find gratitude for them, and then look to the future with hope. Because remember, my friends: all the little moments, the teeniest, tiniest of moments, have added up in their own unique ways to get all of us to right here, where we are right now.
Ladies and gentlemen, a story.
Once upon a time and all that jazz, sometime around the age of 18, a girl found herself in a land called Rock Bottom. Girl has never been quite sure how she got there, but all of a sudden, it was her new home. A home that she didn’t feel at home in.
Girl had freckles, blue eyes, unmanageable curly hair, and a tiny indent of a scar on the very tip of her nose from a chicken pox scab that she scratched when she was 4. She started dancing when she was three years old, around the time that she learned how to sing “Ten Little Angels” in church. She grew up riding forewheelers and horses in Pennsylvania. She always loved the winter because it meant hot chocolate and sledding on huge hills on her grandfather’s farm with her cousins.
Through many series of events, girl came to love food. The comfort of it. The memories it could bring back to life. The holes that it filled during times of confusion, loneliness, insecurity, emptiness.
Without her realizing it, a lot of moments in Girl’s life led her to her new home in Rock Bottom. Some of it was growing up in a dance studio, comparing herself to the other prettier, skinnier, more talented girls in full length mirrors every day. Some of it was being a band nerd instead of a cheerleader. Some of it was dating a gay man who didn’t know he was gay. Some of it was just part of growing up.
When Girl arrived in Rock Bottom, she knew that it was a place she wanted to leave immediately. So for the next six years, she came and went a lot. No really, like, a lot.
First, she went to college. For musical theatre. Some might say that was the first mistake. Looking back, it really was just all part of the journey.
She left Rock Bottom with a suitcase packed with t-shirts from every show she ever did, Abercrombie & Fitch tank tops that were too tight and too short in the stomach, pink tips at the bottom of her waist-length hair, and a broken heart. Not only did she get rejected from NYU’s Cap21 Musical Theatre program, she was dumped by her high school boyfriend that you met in Blog Post 5. So she arrived in Winchester, Virginia at Shenandoah University in August 2005, where she hung her dance pictures (aka cut-outs from ballet calendars, thank you for your time) on her closet door and decked out her entire side of the dorm room in Little Mermaid garb. Basically, Girl was nailing it. In every way.
While at Shenandoah, she discovered she couldn’t sing well enough to be in the fall musical, Sweeney Todd. So, she decided that the spring musical – the tap-dancing, showgirl-packed The Will Roger’s Follies – would definitely be where she would get her chance to shine.
Too bad there were five months in there to steal pie from the dessert bar in the cafeteria. Too bad there were no parents around to tell her not to eat peanut butter out of the jar. Too bad she discovered her tolerance for Natty Light straight from the keg.
Too bad that by the time auditions for The Will Roger’s Follies rolled around, she weighed 189 pounds. Showgirls do not weigh 189 pounds. Girl did not get a chance to shine once while at Shenandoah. Too bad, so sad.
Somewhere in there she talked to her friend Christine from high school and found out about AMDA – The American Musical and Dramatic Academy. It was a two year musical theatre program in New York City. It was her ticket out of Virginia. And after all, she really only ever wanted to be in New York City. This was it. It felt right.
So, after just one year, she left her friends and her chance at a four-year college experience at Shenandoah behind.
Just want to throw in there the near-death car accident Girl had on July 8th, 2006 which made her immobile for most of the summer before her transfer to AMDA – helping her maintain the 189 pounds with flying colors.
Girl moved to New York City in October of 2006. AMDA happened. It was great, at the time, for what it was. Are there things that could have been better? Absolutely. Were there teachers who promoted staying fit in order to make it in the business? Yes. Did Girl take those teachers seriously? Yes. Could Girl control her binge-eating, knowing that if she could stop binging she had a better chance at being cast? She tried. She really tried you guys. But no.
At this point, Girl had done Weight Watchers twice – once after her car accident and once during her second semester at AMDA in 2007. Full out, no marking, Weight Watchers program. Tracking points, losing 25 pounds, keeping it off for a hot minute, and binging it back on in a matter of days.
Girl was struggling. Trying. Trying. Boy, did that bitch try to keep that weight off.
Graduation came. There Girl was. Freshly 21. Freshly graduated. Freshly clueless. In New York City.
Over the next few years, she made frequent trips back to Rock Bottom but always left as soon as she had the chance. She was given a lot of opportunity to run away from Rock Bottom and she always, ALWAYS, took the opportunity. But she also, always returned to it. She was always so unclear on how she got there to start with, but at some point, it just became her permanent home base.
Life after AMDA looked like this:
May 25th, 2008: Girl graduates from AMDA. 160 pounds. This is fifteen pounds heavier than she was two months before when she auditioned for her senior showcase.
May 26th, 2008: Girl says good-bye to her best girlfriend from AMDA who goes home to New Jersey for the summer…and stays there.
May 27th, 2008: Girl starts bartending at Broadway theatres for survival job. Pounds are being gained.
July 2008: Girl and fellow AMDA alumni start talking about doing an all AMDA-alum production in the city.
August 2008: Girl gets drunk and meets the chef from Peru, who we shall call, The Little One, who strung her along for a year and a half.
September 2008: Girl starts working at Jake’s Dilemma, a frat-boy bar on the Upper West Side of NYC. Girl continues going home with The Little One after working all night. She also starts rehearsals for the AMDA-alum production. Pounds are being gained. Cigarettes are being smoked. Beer is becoming a staple.
October 2008: Girl, age 21 at this point, produces and choreographs Lucky Stiff in Times Square, and forms a non-profit theatre company while cocktail waitressing and trying not to piss off every friend she’s ever made with her insane mood swings and binge-drinking. What the fuck? Too much stress. Too much stress.
November 2008: Girl starts guest bartending at McFadden’s (Douchebag Central, 42nd Street and 2nd) and Turtle Bay (Douchbag Central Overflow, 51st and 2nd).
January 2009: Girl starts working at Equinox Fitness at the spa in order to get a free gym membership. 170 pounds.
Sometime in 2009: Girl’s only female cousin gets engaged.
Sometime in 2009: Girl realizes she has to sing in front of people in a bridesmaid dress. Girl gets a personal trainer through Equinox. Girl drinks a lot of Carnation Instant Breakfast and eats a lot of tomatoes with salt and pepper.
June 2009: Girl gets a sweet job working at Poco, a new restaurant downtown in the east village. Spanish tapas. Sweet, specialty cocktails. Pounds are gained.
August 2009: Girl is making so much money as a waitress and bartender. Auditions? What auditions?
Labor Day Weekend 2009: The Little One fucks up royally and girl finally cuts him out of her life before heading to New Jersey to visit previously mentioned girlfriend who was bestie at AMDA.
Labor Day Weekend 2009 continued: While visiting best girlfriend in New Jersey, Girl sleeps with the man she will proceed to date for the next two and a half years. His name in this blog is New Jersey. I know. The cleverness.
October 2009: Girl continues working at Poco. New Jersey comes to visit a few weekends and between that and a lot of phone dates they decide they are official. Cousin’s wedding comes and goes. 160 pounds. The thinnest Girl has been since March of 2008.
October 31st, 2009: New Jersey tells Girl he loves her.
Thanksgiving, 2009: New Jersey meets Girl’s family for the first time.
January 1st, 2010: Girl starts Weight Watchers for the third time.
Audition season, 2010: Girl gets called back for everything she auditions for. She is still working with personal trainer. She gives up her mild attempt at following Weight Watchers and just eats 1100 calories a day. And a lot of Splenda. She weighs 148 pounds and she is ripped.
May 2010, right before Girl’s mother’s birthday: Girl books her first professional gig at an Equity theatre. Damn Yankees. Happy birthday, Mom.
Night after booking first professional job: Girl starts a two week binge period that takes her weight from 148 to 157 in mere days.
June 2010: Girl goes to get measurements done for her Damn Yankees costumes. She tells the girls (who are dear, dear friends now) that she has just returned from vacation and they should take an inch off of all the measurements because she never weighs this much. Girl was lying.
July 2010: Girl starts rehearsals for Damn Yankees AND moves apartments during tech. Strong life choices.
August 2010: Girl closes Damn Yankees and goes to live with New Jersey for a month while doing next professional job – Anything Goes. She arrives for the first day of rehearsal 15 pounds heavier than when she auditioned. New Jersey does not ever want to have sex.
October 2010: Girl is sitting on the couch eating a pint of blueberry ice cream and gets a call that she booked Mame in Florida.
November 2010: Girl finds out New Jersey has a porn addiction. Girl drinks a lot of alcohol and looks at herself in the mirror naked a lot.
December 2010: Girl goes to Florida. Rehearses for Mame. Keeps porn addicted boyfriend a secret until halfway through the contract. Meets some of her best friends in life.
February 2011: Girl returns to New York from Florida.
March 2011: Girl goes to upstate New York to play Fraulein Kost in Cabaret. Costume designer is disgusted by how curvy all the women in the show are. Costume designer makes sarcastic comments about the size of corset all the Kit Kat girls need.
May 2011: Girl returns to same theatre to dance captain Crazy For You. Cheats on New Jersey. Dates new guy from contract. Weighs 170 pounds.
June 2011: Girl breaks things off with new guy. Girl is a total asshole about the breaking off. Girl is confused. Girl is fat. Girl can’t book any jobs because she is fat and she is a dancer and there are no fat dancers in 42nd Street.
July 2011: Girl starts talking to New Jersey again.
August 2011: Girl bartends the US Open. So. Much. Grey Goose.
September 11th, 2011: Girl moves to New Jersey to be with New Jersey for three months. Understudies a role at a theatre near his house for Equity points.
September 29th, 2011: Girl starts Weight Watchers for the 4th and final time.
December 6th, 2011: Girl gets new headshots at 155 pounds.
January 1st, 2012: Girl and New Jersey break up. For the last time. It’s really over.
February, 2012: Girl is nailing it and weighs in at Weight Watchers at 143 pounds. Girl is doing an off-Broadway show. Forty-eight of Girl’s friends come to see the show. A rich guy starts courting Girl and turns her life around, or so it seems, for two months. Life is good.
February 19th, 2012, 1pm: Girl receives an offer for How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying in Hilton Head, SC.
February 19th, 2012, 10pm: Girl starts a two week binge that just, never ends, that gets her up to 150 pounds by the time she leaves for Hilton Head on April 2nd.
April 2nd, 2012: Girl goes to Hilton Head at 152 pounds. Battles a ten pound window for most of the contract. Living with boys doesn’t help.
Two hours before invited dress rehearsal on April 24th: Rich dude tells Girl he’s not in love with her and cuts all contact. Fries are ordered. Ice cream is inhaled.
Beginning of May, 2012: Girl finds out she booked another contract, George M!, immediately following this current one. Only thing is, she auditioned for it at 12 pounds lighter than she is now. Now what?
May 22nd, 2012: Girl cuts out sugar, carbs, and alcohol for the last week of her Hilton Head contract in order to drop weight quickly for her next contract.
May 28th, 2012: Girl starts rehearsals for George M! and tries not to let anyone see her eat. Ever.
Sometime in May, 2012: Girl starts sleeping with a man who is in a relationship.
July 1st, 2012: Contract ends. Girl orders Bareburger delivery a lot. Continues sleeping with taken man. Gains back all weight she lost during contract.
August 15th, 2012: Girl meets Stallion. The man who will distract her from her depression, binging, and anxiety for the next 8 months.
August 15th, 2012 – March 12th, 2013: Life happens. But Stallion is in it. Life is like, kind of good. Girl choreographs two shows. Does Les Miserables in Illinois. Eats ice cream out of half gallon containers with Stallion.
March 12th – March 22nd, 2013: Stallion says he needs a break. Girl doesn’t eat. Girl wants to look fierce when they have the final “talk”.
March 22nd, 2013: Stallion admits to being depressed and emotionally unavailable. Girl looks fierce though. 150 pounds. The relationship ends.
March 28th, 2013: Girl’s birthday. Single. Unemployed. Many croissants are eaten.
April 2013: Out of all the callbacks Girl has in 2013, nada one works out.
April 14th, 2013: Girl looks great. Hasn’t been eating carbs or sugar. Goes to pick up things she left at Stallion’s house.
April 15th, 2013: The worst of the binging over the years begins.
Beginning of May 2013: Girl returns to Rock Bottom. And stays. Lays there in her gray little bed. Looking at her gray little ceiling. Pretzel crumbs on one side. A Yeungling bottle on the nightstand. Many a “not feeling well, can’t make it to your party/thing/birthday/lunch/housewarming tonight” text is sent.
May 9th, 2013: Girl goes to see her friend, Rachel. Rachel gives her two books, including Geneen Roth’s When Food Is Love.
May 10th, 2013: Girl goes home for Mother’s Day and brother’s graduation from college. Brother graduates with a degree in Landscape Architecture. Girl feels really great about her Associate’s Degree in Musical Theatre.
May 12th, 2013 at 1pm: Girl starts reading When Food Is Love on a bus back to New York City after brother’s graduation.
May 12th, 2013 at 5pm: Life is changed forever.
The story doesn’t end there. The story, this story, my story that you read every week, actually started there. A new, difficult, eye-opening story began there. Somewhere between May 12th, 2013 and May 31st, 2013, it all started happening. The calling Renfrew Center and the eating disorder diagnosis, the taking it all in and accepting and sharing of the news with friends and family, some friends being weird about it – some friends being awesome about it – some friends only finding out months later via the blog, the application and the acceptance to volunteer in Hawaii, and, the decision to share it all on the internet, with you.
I’ve had so many moments that have led me to my “aha” moment that are not the obvious. I listed pretty many of them for you.
I’d say, that there wouldn’t have been an “aha” moment without all the little moments leading up to Rachel handing me that book. I had to really be in a place where I couldn’t stand on my own two feet anymore in order for that book to speak to me.
When I opened that book, and realized that all these years, my binging was not a personal flaw, everything changed. I was using food as a drug and I had no idea. I always thought I was just really weak and had no self control and just didn’t want to be on Broadway bad enough to give up ice cream cake forever.
Sometimes, your “aha” moment will come when you least expect it. In Weight Watchers meetings, ironically enough, they ask new members what their “aha” moment was. Some ladies say it was seeing a picture at their son’s high school graduation and seeing how wide their hips were. Some say it was when they found themselves binging on their kid’s after school snacks while making dinner for the family. Some say that their doctor told them they needed to lose weight or face serious health issues for the rest of their lives.
I guess I didn’t realize that all these years, I didn’t have to be doing Weight Watchers to have an “aha” moment. Because this “aha” moment for me, in May of 2013, was the most important of them all, and it took place on a dirty bus on a Sunday afternoon coming into Port Authority after a weekend at home in PA.
I just want to say, that I think that it’s okay for us to embrace every little moment, no matter how small and trivial, with love and acceptance. Because all of those small moments make up our life. They are what makes each of our journeys unique to us. And without the shitty moments, the great moments wouldn’t stand out so much, don’t you agree?
I don’t really know what I’m doing. One day I want to choreograph, one day I want to write music, one day I want to keep Nutella in the house, one day I’m terrified of walking down the grocery aisle that even holds the Nutella, one day I want to be a vegan, one day I want to move back to New York even though there’s two feet of snow, one day I want to open a theatre in Hawaii. I am constantly changing my mind. I cry a lot. I laugh a lot. I drink too much coffee. I confuse my boyfriend constantly. But if I look back at my past, which half of my self-help books completely ban, I am reminded that I’ve had a lot of moments where I’ve changed my mind or I’ve been utterly confused. Where I’ve drank too much and where I’ve made, ahem, interesting, decisions. But I’ve still landed on my feet.
I might be 178 pounds at the moment. I might not be a showgirl at the moment. But I’m learning from my mistakes, and I’m recording them so I can look back on them when I need reminding. I’m alive and breathing. I can stop at one beer. I can keep chocolate chips in the house for over two months. And at 26, approaching 27, after a year of frightening health scares and depressive periods that scared my nearest and dearest, I’m thankful to be here – not just surviving – but learning, growing, living, loving, crying, laughing, and recovering, one day at a time.
May your personal timeline reveal to you what you need to see, learn, or revisit at this moment in your life. May your personal journal entries and recorded moments inspire you to embrace your mistakes and your successes, your gains and your losses, your failures and your lessons. I said it once, I said it twice, I’ll say it again and again – we all have our shit, dude, and that’s why we have to keep spreading the love to each other. We’re not alone. We’re all in this together, and we got this.
Peace, love, and aloha.
So I have a long history with staying in relationships too long.
Long after it’s over, I’m still hangin’ out. Trying to make it work. Trying to fix it. Trying to ignore how much the bad outweighs the good.
I guess sometimes, we don’t realize that this is our pattern, until something really good comes along and wakes us up. You know, gives us a real good slap across the face.
Like for example…Hawaii.
My seven years with New York City is another tumultuous relationship to add to my very long list. The city gives me so many thrills, but really bruises my heart more than I like to accept. Like a bad boy in a leather jacket with a chain-smoking habit, I am infatuated with the city and it’s ups and downs and how misbehaved it can be.
Hawaii came along and it is just so nice to me. I mean literally, the people here are so nice to me. It still shocks me. And the packaging that this new relationship comes in, is not so bad either. Palm trees, hibiscus flowers, and the sun setting on the Pacific ocean is not really so hard on the eyes.
So basically, the question that has been waking me up each morning the past few weeks is something that a friend of mine posed to me a few weeks ago when he cheated on his girlfriend.
Can you be in love with two people at once?
I believe you can.
Because I’m absolutely in love with two places at once.
And it is the hardest thing I’ve experienced to date.
I shouldn’t say it’s hard. I am actually incredibly blessed to be in love with two amazing places at once. It’s just, extremely bittersweet.
I mean, I got New York City. My roots. My people. My passions.
New York City. Just two and a half hours away from where I grew up. My family always just a bus ride away.
New York City. Excellent bagels. Un-toppable pizza. The best fucking tap water in the world.
New York City. Where the bars don’t close til 4pm and you can get a bodega sandwich at any time of night and home is just a 35 dollar cab ride away.
New York City. Land of auditions, eighteen dollar dance classes, the best voice teachers, and an entire theatre district employing my friends and some of the most talented people in the world.
New York City. Land of auditions, eighteen dollar dance classes, the best voice teachers, and an entire population of some of the most talented people in the world who might never see their name in a Broadway Playbill because of the nature of our current world and economy.
I think that right now, I might be one of those people.
I have always defined “success” by having Broadway be the final destination. Always. I just, never ever thought that anything else would happen. I was completely confident that my dream would come true. And I was willing to basically do anything to make that happen. Give up friendships, eat lettuce three meals a day, sleep four hours a night, spend all my money on ballroom classes, you name it.
I quoted my friend Brooke in my last blog post with her words that have kept me going every year. “We knew what we signed up for.”
I have to take back my agreement with that phrase. If I really am being honest with myself, I had no idea what I was signing up for.
When I was in tenth grade, and I was playing Zaneeta Shinn in The Music Man at my community theatre, and I was hugging the gay boys and being included in a community outside of my dance studio and having my hair done by my mom for two hours before every show because there were no wigs, I was having the time of my life. Literally. My mom and I bonded in those two hours, and then I got to go put my face on and dance around a stage with people from all over town that I never would have met otherwise. It was fantastic. It was the most joy I had ever felt.
So when I found out that you could go to college for just this, this amazing joy of performing for the fun of it and twirling your skirt and wearing high heels to dance, I jumped on it. Obviously. I mean I never ever questioned that I wanted to major in musical theatre.
But truth be told, I had no idea what I was signing up for. They don’t teach the “business” in colleges. They sure do try. But they don’t talk about lists that are 500 people long. They don’t talk about how cold it is in February at five in the morning. They don’t talk about how people look down on you for getting up at five in the morning to get on the list so you can get seen before you go to your waitressing job at 2pm. They don’t talk about how audition calls ask for you to show up in a two piece. They don’t talk about how networking really equals happy hour with someone new every day of the week. That’s not what they talk about in college.
So really, I had no idea what I was signing up for. And for years, I played the game. I played along. I tried so damn hard to get to the point where I could wear a two piece to a Casey Colgan audition. I tried so damn hard to put my hair in curlers and calm that shit down instead of letting it be as big as it really is. I tried so damn hard to re-vamp my resume, and send those thank you postcards, and pick songs that had money notes.
Because that’s what I was taught in school. The resume stuff. And the thank you postcard stuff. And the 16-bar cuts of exciting songs.
I wasn’t taught how to deal with rejection. Or how to pick my chin up after nine callbacks for The Drowsy Chaperone tour without a job offer. Or how to recover from five nights in a row of “networking” aka “drinking in midtown” while still auditioning at four different buildings every day for the entire month of March.
So I figured it out on my own. I became the strong one in my group of friends. I became the relentless one who preached about not taking rejection personally. And how much good stuff was coming from auditioning for so many different theatres. And being ballsy.
I was the chick who popped down in a cooter slam in every dance call because at some point, around 2010, I stopped caring what the business thought of me. I was gonna make my name mean something. I might not be able to riff like Natalie Weiss. And I might not be able to do the opening of A Chorus Line with all the grace in the world. But I could do a little bit of everything and I was, again, never worried that I would end up on Broadway.
And then 2013 rolled around. After turning down my Equity card in February, I was sure that my hard work and networking all these years would land me exactly what I needed to finish one more year as a non-equity performer before I entered the questionable world of Equity jobs and, most likely, longer stints of unemployment.
2013. My fifth audition season in New York City. My fifth year going in for the same theatres who know me, love me, and chase me down the hall after I get cut to tell me “we love you and you look fantastic and you’ve obviously been working on your body and we just don’t have a spot for you this year but keep coming back, we will have you with us one day.” My fifth year of eating bananas and tomatoes with salt and pepper all day with two binge days on the weekend. My fifth year of happy hours after good OR bad auditions. My fifth year of putting new colors on my resume and waiting to be seen at ECC’s and preaching to my friends that, “This is the year. This is it, you guys. This is our year.”
Turns out, it was my year. My year to take a few slaps in the face, enough to be knocked to the ground actually, and re-evaluate all of the things I’ve been telling myself for years.
I have been in an abusive relationship with my career for over five years. And that career is the reason that I stayed in New York City for so long. And I stood my ground in my three inch Laducas and I fought back really hard. Really fucking hard.
But I still took a beating. And my soul is legit, bruised.
When asked yesterday at the new dance studio in Kona, Hawaii, where I will be teaching tap and jazz for the next six months, why I’m leaving New York City to teach dance to Hawaiian kids, I was very honest.
I told Miss Seatree, the owner of the studio, that my soul is bruised. And while I’m here in Hawaii, caring for myself and recovering from all the beatings that I voluntarily took with a half smile on my face since 2006, why not pass on the love that I still have for the hobby that I once loved so very much?
She said, “Okay, Miss Amanda. Welcome home.”
So where does this land me in the whole scheme of loving two places at once?
Well. My people, my family, my friends, are in New York City and Pennsylvania. From Washington Heights, to Williamsburg, to Astoria, to New Jersey, to Philadelphia, my nearest and dearest are living in a place that is thousands of miles away from me. But if those people were here, in Hawaii with me, I don’t know that I would miss New York City, or the east coast, so very much.
Which made me realize that it’s okay for me to break up with it for awhile.
Because it’s not the city, or the place, that I miss so much. It’s the loving people who have literally carried me through life with compassion and light and humor since the day I was born.
And to spend a winter in the sunshine – in the ocean – on a paddleboard, instead of trudging through the darkness to the Equity building in my rainboots held together by duct tape because I spent my money on new headshots instead of Hunter boots, is the healthiest thing for me to do right now.
I have never made any decisions in my life based on health. I don’t even know what that means.
But I think I’m getting the hang of it. Because coming to Hawaii was the first step for me in making healthy decisions.
Staying in Hawaii, is the second step.
If home is where the heart is, then I believe I will always have two homes. My heart lies with my sisters, Melissa and Brooke, on a picnic blanket near the softball fields in Central Park with paper cups of wine. My heart lies with my soulmate, Joshua, in the Washington Square diner in the third booth from the entrance. My heart lies with my best friend, Bronson, on his red couch in Washington Heights in front of a Golden Girls marathon. My heart lies with my brother from another mother, Justin, in his Cornell Medical School dorm room. My heart lies with my friends who attend my tap dance classes, and with my audition buddies, and with all of my co-workers from bars and gyms and restaurants gone by. My heart lies with my mom and my dad, in Pennsylvania, at the Railroad House, before visiting my aunt, uncle, and grandparents for some Yeungling and shooting the shit.
But my heart also lies in a deep love of dance, performance, and freedom. And here in Hawaii, where the sun shines every single day, and I can go hiking, biking, and swimming every single day, and I can wake up with the sun just because my body wakes up with the sun without an alarm every single day, I get to dance, perform, and live freely every single day.
And my heart is soaring. My heart is healing. I am literally, as my friend Beth put it before I left NYC, YOLOing, every single day.
So how, can I turn down the opportunity to YOLO every single day on an island that has the cleanest air in the world, to go back to a relationship with New York City that still has me on edge? Although my nearest and dearest are there, so is all of the root of my depression, anxiety, and eating disorder.
When it comes down to it…is it all New York’s fault? Is it all the performance industry’s fault?
No man. It isn’t. Nothing in this world happens TO us. We are treated, in this life, the way we allow ourselves to be treated. Things happen FOR us. I believe that everything that happened to me in New York City – from Stallion breaking my heart, to the rejection of the biz, to the financial distress of living in a metropolis – happened FOR me. To get me to this point, where I am about to give some little Hawaiian babies some real, city girl attitude and passion for 5, 6, 7, 8-ing.
Would I go back and change my relationship? Eh. Coulda, shoulda, woulda.
It is what it is. And now I’m aloha-ing all up on the internet and spreading the love and I really don’t think it should have happened any differently.
So, like I did with all my other exes from past relationships, I am taking this moment to forgive New York City. And I will suck it up, and quote something I read on Gawker the other week that at first I totally looked at in dismay. However, now I will be really honest with y’all and tell you that for now, and I truly mean FOR NOW, not forever, in regards to NYC, “I love her, but I had to leave her.”
For the first time since moving here on August 1st, I cried listening to Sara Bareilles’ song Manhattan. I cried listening to it every day before I departed the city but since I’ve been here, living on the jungle side where we could watch the sunrise but not the sunset, and there isn’t much beach to be had, I haven’t felt an emotional connection to it.
It wasn’t until last night, when I journaled on the balcony of the apartment I’m staying in in Kona, on the other side of the island, where I’ll be moving to teach, when I was watching the sunset and planning out my day today to go paddleboarding, that the lyrics brought tears to my eyes once more.
“You can have Manhattan, I’ll settle for the beach.
Sunsets facing westward and sand beneath my feet.
I’ll wish this away, just missing the days, when I was one half of two.
You can have Manhattan, cuz I can’t have you.”
I was one half of a person for so many years. And for the longest time, it felt like I couldn’t have what I wanted. The whole, Broadway thing. But.
Now, as I sit here with my 100% Kona coffee blend and my apple-banana smoothie that the love of my life, Johnny, made for me this morning, while I was catching up with Joshua on the phone despite a six hour time difference, I am a whole person again. And I might not be able to have what I thought I was gonna have. Broadway might not be my final destination. A penthouse apartment on the Upper West Side bought with my earnings from starring in the revival of The Will Rogers Follies as Betty Blake might not be my final destination.
But I sure feel like this, this right here – my outline for my new dance studio syllabus to my right and my Hawaiian Tropic sunscreen to my left – is part of an ongoing journey that might take me to a new destination. It’s just so not about the destination anymore. It’s about the fucking journey y’all.
And at 26, I sure don’t mind letting go of the idea of my “final destination” in order to enjoy this moment, right now. I have so many years ahead of me to figure the rest out.
I just want to say this.
John Mayer has a song called A Face To Call Home. All of you, my friends and family on the east coast, you are my face to call home. And as I spend time here, finding new faces to call home in Kona, Hawaii, I feel like I’m not leaving any family behind – I’m just making it bigger. And I could not be happier, to have so many places, to call home.
Next Week’s Posting:
This week, my best friend Melissa said the most amazing thing to me. She texted me and said, “I have to say. I was blow drying my hair today in my underwear and I looked up myself for the first time in a long time and felt really proud of myself. I’m not tiny but I love the way my body looks right now. It looks connected to how hard I’ve been working with my running and the gym. So I felt really peaceful and happy.”
“[My body] looks connected to how hard I’ve been working…”
I fucking love that.
It got me thinking about forgiveness. Melissa totally forgives herself for whatever has happened in the past with her body and she’s open to loving it for what it is right now.
Forgiving myself for what my body has been, what my body is now, and what my body will be in the future has been a really difficult part of this whole healing process. Remember the process? I said it like 18 times the other week? Recovery is a process. Aghhhhh the process. The process. But hey, listen, I feel what she’s saying for the first time in my life. And it feels so good to feel that connection to my body. And in the joy of that connection, I legit do not have time for hating myself for what’s happened in the past.
So basically, this brings me to this thing called Facebook. And, the thing about Facebook, is that its really easy to flip through your past and look at everything that’s led you up until now.
College frat parties. Throwback Thursday. Opening night parties. Ladies nights at Brother Jimmy’s. Holidays when my mother makes my brother and I take Christmas pictures in front of the tree, with the year written in sharpie on a piece of printer paper, before 8am. You know, the joyous occasions of yesteryear.
Facebook allows us to look back at pictures of ourselves like this:
Dear God just look at that tiny waist! And this:
No arm flab! And in turn we then hate ourselves because we now look like this:
Curvacious. Bodacious. Bootylicious.
See the thing is, the second weight, is not actually that bad. It’s actually pretty great. I mean look at the muscles on that Rosie the Riveter picture up there – mahalo for your time. But the thing is, is that it ain’t showgirl weight. And that’s what I’ve been beating myself up for.
At the “lighter” weight, I was booking jobs, dating a rich man who used me as his toy, and being called back for Jersey Boys and Mary Poppins.
At the “heavier” weight, I’m living in Hawaii, dating a man who is absolutely in love with me (who I maybe manifested in blog post 10?), and performing tap numbers in burlesque cabarets to raise money for Hawaiian Gay Pride.
The “heavier” weight isn’t actually that bad. It’s just…different.
Two very different lives all in the span of two years.
And I have to stop hating myself for that. Each of those lives is mine, and each of those lives are different and lovely in their own way. And so this post, is about forgiveness.
It’s taken me months, but I forgive myself for not looking like that anymore.
This is me now.
Happy, healthy, free, emotionally stable, kind of sane, and strong.
Let me say that again for my own sake.
Dear World, this is me now. Thirty pounds heavier than I’ve ever been during any audition season. More sane, and more happy, than I’ve ever been during a week where I’m starving myself for a showgirl call. Stronger than I have ever been doing any sort of Weight Watchers business where I’m consumed by points but take no time to work out. And healthier than I have been since I’m about twelve years old. This is me now. I accept it. And I forgive myself for no longer looking the way I once did while I was striving for a goal, but not taking care of myself.
“Our job…is to seek a greater capacity for love and forgiveness within ourselves. We do this through a “selective remembering,” a conscious decision to remember only loving thoughts and let go of any fearful ones. ‘To forgive is merely to remember only the loving thoughts you gave in the past, and those that were given you. All the rest must be forgotten.” – Marianne Williamson, Return to Love
UM, HELLO. MUCH EASIER SAID THAN DONE MS. WILLIAMSON.
Homegirl is telling me to let go of the anger, fear, and animosity I have for myself because I’ve gained weight back and I have to restart life and find a new way to take a stand in my career. It ain’t easy. But she’s totally onto something. Instead of focusing on those past thoughts of Weight Watchers and failure and wearing a different size pant every three days, she’s just saying that maybe it would be more helpful to let that go and just focus on the love I had during that time, even amidst the failure, and the love I have now, even amidst hardships of the recovery process.
Here’s how I’ve been working on it.
I wrote it all out. And I hope I inspire you to do the same.
Here are the ways I have been letting go, and moving on, and forgiving.
- I cry sometimes when I think of the comfort that food still brings me. Knowing that through my recovery, I will one day be at a place where I never again fully indulge in a box of Cheez-its, a carton of OJ, a box of Bagel Bites, and a half gallon of cookies ‘n’ cream is hard. Sometimes I just want to finish a bag of Reese’s and be done with it. I forgive myself for that, even though my ego slips in and tells me it’s disgusting.
- I forgive my friends for saying things like “are you sure you wanna eat that” and “you’re stronger than food” because they didn’t know that things like that only made me want to rebel against my own disorder.
- I forgive the teachers in college for pretending to be brutal about physicality but not actually being brutal about physicality. As 19 and 20 year old girls, we were never really properly warned about what lied ahead in showgirl land.
- I forgive the director that taught dance to me in college who will never be down with a curvy girl. I am so sorry that I was never skinny enough to dance in your company. I feel like you are missing out on some excellent skillz, but I finally let that go.
- I forgive the casting directors for the looks on their faces when my weight fluctuated every time I went in to sing for them.
- I forgive the agents at Actor’s Connection for never calling me in after my initial meeting with them. Although I come across “confident in who I am” and “completely comfortable in my own skin”, I also lied about my weight and wore two pairs of Spanx to meet them.
- I forgive the musical theatre world for what it has done to my body, heart, and soul. It’s really not show business’ fault. I’ve been allowing myself to be controlled by it for so long and I was unaware. At the end of the day, the choice is mine. I decide where I fit in. I decide how my body type will fit in. I decide the way my career goes.
I feel like I’m a bit all over the place this week in my writing but I’m just on fire lately. Like, dude, there is a fire under my ass that has pushed me to new edges in the past two weeks and progress is happening and love is happening and acceptance is happening and courage is happening and inspiration is happening and changes are happening and basically…
…this is what I have to say for myself.
When I return to New York City, I will actually be unstoppable. To have let go of all pent up frustration, hatred, and negativity towards show business has turned my entire world around. To forgive the business for what it is, has opened my heart to whatever comes next, and I will embrace it with open arms, a graceful bevel, and full beat. Like my sisterfriend Brooke says, “We knew what we signed up for. We just have to figure out how to be happy within the perimeters.”
There is a strong possibility that I will not be cast as a showgirl, a secretary in How To Succeed in Business…, or a chorus girl in 42nd Street for the rest of my life. But there’s also a strong possibility that after a year of healing, the passion I have for performing will be so ferocious and pent up that when I unleash it on Auditionland I will land exactly where I am supposed to land. And I am willing to let it all go, in order to see where exactly that is. The unknown is so exciting in that sense. I have no idea where I belong in show business these days, but that’s like, totally cool, because all I know is that I belong and that’s all that matters right now.
Take a deep breath and feel whatever frustration, hatred, and negativity that has been built up in your heart around what you really love to do and see if you can figure out the root of it. Can you forgive? Can you really forgive, and then completely and totally let it go?
I wrote a post about three weeks ago forgiving all my ex-boyfriends. The reward for forgiving all of them, and dealing with my emotional baggage since I’ve been in Hawaii, has been absolutely, balls to the wall, fantastically beautiful.
So I suppose this week’s post is the letter forgiving show business. Because you know what? It is what it is. And this is what we signed up for.
Either we drive ourselves crazy trying to fit the mold, or we take a step back and remember that just like any job in the whole wide world, this career does not have to run our lives. I know that it seems like it has to – what we eat, what we wear, what color our hair is, when we sleep, who we are nice to, etc. etc. etc. And most of the time, all of that is true. But the key words are, most of the time. You are allowed to be you within all the guidelines and you are allowed to take the time you need to heal yourself from whatever you may have put yourself through to survive in the biz, or in the city, or in the passion of it all.
Auditionland is always gonna be there. But your life passes by every day and no one else is going to force you to take the time to live it but you. Take it from me. Look where I fucking live right now:
Forgiving people and events of the past has put me in the most loving, supportive place I have ever been in my entire life. Look at my fucking face dude:
Just an average morning in Hawaii, FaceTiming with my best friends. The most supportive, beautiful, compassionate, amazing friends in the whole world. Sending me love every day and encouraging me through my journey. I am blessed. I am strong. And I am on the right path to recovery because I forgive whatever has happened in the past and I’m ready and waiting, with open (and very tan) arms, for whatever is next!
Mahalo for your time! Now go forgive someone! Ahh! Life is good!
Next week’s post:
How To Change Everything In Five Days