Chapter 3. The Secret 1967-1982
I have weighed 89 pounds for some time now, my weight in a downward spiral from regular 120 pounds. Married at nineteen and twenty-five at the time of the birth of my third child, I begin restricting my caloric intake and take a handful of laxatives on a daily basis in an effort to lose my ‘baby fat’. I continue this behavior for some time for when I look in the mirror all I see is my swollen belly, as if I am still pregnant.
My Mother says, Marjorie, “What are you doing to yourself? You look awful. People ask me if you have cancer. You need to eat.” I tell her I am not dieting anymore but don’t tell about the little trick that lets me eat and still stay thin: I purge after most meals. Soon my trick becomes a ritual practiced during the hours the children are in school. Strangely, after the ritual, all the tensions and anxiety within disappear, I am left feeling quite peaceful.
My husband tells me he has heard me purge and visited a doctor who assures him purging will not kill me. After all, don’t women vomit during pregnancy?
I am surprised my husband sought out a doctor, but despite his apparent concern for me, what is troubling is the disappearence of the passion and intimacy in our relationship,
leaving us more and more isolated from each other. I am, however, increasingly conflicted by his unwillingness to allow me any financial independence. He does not allow me a credit card, savings or checking account, or allowance. He is generous, but does not understand having to ask for everything is demeaning. But I am unable to change his mind, thus I swallow my anger and smile. It is the early seventies, the end of the Madmen era and the rise of feminism. Gloria Steinem and other political and social activists for the women’s movement become my guru’s. The more I involve my self in the movement, the angrier I get.
When I experience chronic indigestion, my doctor offers treatment for the symptoms never looking beneath the surface for the cause, or mentions my low weight. When I find I am unable to stop the cycles of bingeing and purging I find a therapist. After two years of twice- weekly visits, my relationship with my ritual remains. Out of sheer desperation I act on my unspoken desire to run away from my marriage with a man who offers to take me away from my world and into his. As well as getting away from him and her I think I will also leave my ritual behind. I do not yet comprehend my ritual is an addiction. I think of addiction as a dependence on alcohol or drugs, a substance that visibly alters one’s behavior. My ritual, I believe, is under my control and all but invisible. Ha!
However, it took two years for me to find the courage to tell my husband I wanted a divorce. When I did he simply stood up and left the house without even his toothbrush. When I told my Mother I was leaving my husband she said, “Women don’t leave men like him”. It would be years before we spoke again.
It is while making plans to move to NH I read story in the Boston Sunday Globe’s Dear Beth column, telling of a young woman who refuses to eat anything, who’s low weight is life threatening. She is hospitalized at McLean’s psychiatric clinic where she is receiving IV feedings to keep her alive. The column discusses the explosion of eating disorders now being recognized by the medical community and goes on to tell of the Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Society recently opened in Lincoln, Mass. offering support for persons with these disorders.
I call the office and sign up for meeting. That first day when I enter a room I see it is filled with women like me, middle class suburban housewives. Relief washes over me as I realize I am no longer isolated in battling my ritual while struggling to maintain a dignified life. Most important is my ritual now has a name. Along with the other women I am desperate to understand what it is that holds me in its thrall. When we discover eating or not eating is both a symptom and mechanism for muting our real inner turmoil, I wonder what mine is?
The insights explored at these meetings bring significant relief from my rituals. When July comes and moving day arrives I have qualms about leaving my group, but I am ready to begin a new journey, one I have not yet told my children as they are powerless to change my decision. I think it best to let them enjoy their summer at camp in Maine before telling them their lives have been changed forever. I am counting on the power of love and the adaptability of children to get us through.
As the house will not be ours till October we first move into our ski home, a trailer in North Woodstock. Come October we move down to Holderness without the man who set this move in motion. That he is no longer in our lives is inevitable. Too many differences our passion can not override. That it does not take me years to figure that out and act on it, is positive. More troubling than his departure is my ritual, which returns at first in fits and starts, and then with a vengeance. I am flummoxed by its reappearance. Not knowing where to turn for help I place an advert in a newspaper in search of a support group for persons with similar behavioral issues. From the ad I learn about Womankind, a woman-based therapy practice in Concord, where, with the help and support a wonderful therapist I begin exploring why the joyous, curious little girl with the butterscotch hair, who married her Prince Charming, and lived what appeared to be charmed life, lost her way.
But the future proves to be my greatest adventure, filled with people and events defining, for once and for all, I am at heart and in action, a bohemian spirit. Come along for the ride continuing next week in Chapter 4…