Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Careless Words

It started innocently enough. No harm meant, just friendly words of encouragement. Sara was the oldest on the gymnastics team, and therefore the biggest, naturally. Her coach, Elaine, certainly hadn't meant for her to take it as far as she did. All Elaine said was, “I think you'd have an easier time with these new tumbling tricks if you were a bit lighter.” That's all it took. Even Sara didn't know how bad the final impact of those words would be.

You probably knew Sara in high school. An over-achiever, in all the honors classes, didn't go to the parties, didn't drink. Didn't swear. (Though sometimes, when deep in thought, would twirl her hair.) She had friends. A few close ones. Nerds like her, all of them. But between studying to keep her straight A's and gymnastics every weeknight, she didn't have time for much social life. On the outside, you saw a fairly confident, if not a down-right snooty and aloof girl. On the inside, though, she was a mess.

She wasn't a natural gymnast, far from it. What she was instead, was determined. And yes, stubborn. She'd set her sights on the sport, and no lack of talent was going to limit her. She'd just work harder. And boy, did she work. Elaine was the most dangerous of coaches, a former gymnast, a really talented one, whose career was cut short by a devastating injury. To make up for that, she drove them hard. Upon arriving at practice, they were to complete the bar exercises. Ten reps each of many torturous strength training exercises, these varied from under and overhand pull-ups to the dreaded stalder lifts. Most cheated. Sara didn't. She'd ask for a spot for the ones she couldn't complete alone, and she always finished them all. At the end of practice, the same set of exercises were repeated right before dismissal. Then they were sent home with stretching exercises to do each day. Sara, of course, always did them all. She found great satisfaction in checking off each item as she completed it.

This determination made Sara one of the strongest on the team, if you count brute strength, and also the most flexible. You can get far in gymnastics without talent if you have these two attributes going for you. Of course, losing a few pounds would help, too. Elaine had said so, and Sara always did what Elaine said.

She'd never dieted before. All the gymnastics had left her lean and muscled and she'd been perfectly satisfied with her size 5 jeans. Until now. Maybe she was too big. Maybe she'd learn the round-off back-handspring faster weighing less. With the same determination that she approached everything else, she attacked this goal. She cut her portions in half on everything, and soon lost ten pounds. That felt kinda nice. The baggy jeans made her feel skinny, and there was a certain euphoria that came when really hungry. And she felt in control. This was one more element of her gymnastics training she could control. So she kept at it.

The praise from Elaine was wonderful. “Wow, Sara, you're looking more and more like a real gymnast!” But her mother worried. Elaine reassured her that since Sara was working out so hard, no lean muscle would be lost, only fat. That satisfied her health nut mother just fine. Fat was bad. Vegetables were good. Soon it became easy for Sara to not eat very much. At all. Since she was always at gymnastics at dinner time, before this she'd just eaten her dinner when she got home. Her mom didn't notice that now she didn't eat dinner at all.

Sara did well in gymnastics that year. Finished 6th in the state for her age-group, despite breaking three bones. (It wasn't until later that she thought about how her eating habits might have contributed to fragile bones.) It was time to quit, however. Three broken bones in one year had been a lot to overcome, and by now she was in marching band, school had gotten more complicated, and she was working every evening. Good-bye gymnastics for her. She was still teaching it to others, though.

I hope you don't start gaining weight now that you're not working out.” Those words came at her from Elaine, who was her boss by then, and of course, her mother. They didn't need to worry. There was no way she was going to gain weight.

For her senior year in high school, Sara moved across the country with her family. It was horrid. She'd been attending a fairly average public high school, with about 250 in her class. At this small, private, Christian school, her class had 62. She didn't make friends, they were too clique-ish. You know those teenage movies where there are the mean girls who torment the new girl? You probably think Hollywood is exaggerating. They're not.

It wasn't easy to keep hiding how little she was eating, and more and more she was feeling dizzy when hungry, so Sara started eating just a bit more. Nothing drastic, just three meals a day. It wasn't long before her jeans didn't fit. (Of course contributing to the weight gain was the fact that once she quit gymnastics and that rigorous training, puberty kicked in full force and she got boobs all of a sudden, and a fairly regular period. This was not at all a welcome development.) It was obviously time to do something about this.

In her new city, she stumbled upon a great baby-sitting job. Sara and her family had been staying in one of those hotels for long term guests, mostly displaced business men on long-term assignments, or families like hers who had to be “moved” before the closing on the new house. The family in the unit next to them had an eight month old son, and both parents worked. They were thrilled to have Sara as their part-time nanny. Sara was thrilled to be alone all day where no one could nag her about what she ate.  Or didn't.

And the sad thing was, no one did notice. On the outside, she was a slender girl. No one looking at her would have suspected her secret. But on the inside, an illness was raging, and this was just the beginning. She'd graduated, and was heading for college. And an all-girls' dorm is a perfect breeding ground for this illness. Sara's story has a lot more chapters. You'll probably get to read them, though, now that the silence lies broken. You see, I am Sara.




___________________________________________






I've been encouraged by several friends to write about this part of my life.  So I got brave and did.  And it fit with the theme of 10th Daughter of Memory, a group of writers I've recently been introduced to.  Head on over there for more stories on the theme of "the silence lies broken".

24 comments:

Deb and Barbara said...

Is this really you? So hard, so sad. I have a friend whose daughter has been diagnosed and it is a constant struggle for all of them, where every waking moment is a battle and dreams for the future have been put on hold. I know another woman who is in her fifties and still struggles with eating and self-esteem issues.

"It's the one thing we can control." That seems to be the crux.

xo B

Viki said...

This must have been so tough. I don't know why adults put this weight thing in kids heads. I'm happy that your able to speak out about it.

Brian Miller said...

oh nice unveil there at the end...the things we put our bodies through...my brother was a wrestler...and i remember him abusing himself trying to make weight...and i know many that have suffered under an eating disorder...

Ellen Stewart (aka Ellie/El/e) said...

I have a big piece of Sara in me too, but she didn't show up until I was in my early 40s. Such a dark time...

Cheryl said...

I've been there and revisited time and again. Right now I'm trying to pull out of one of the worst times I've ever had. I came clean too. It's helped a little. What's more important is that coming clean has allowed me to finally take a look at this disease and begin the work of rooting out the true source, making peace with myself, and finally moving on.

I'm here if you ever need to vent.

Good luck and I hope you are or have healed.

5thsister said...

Oh Tina! I was Sara too! )))HUGS((((

the thrifty ba said...

xoxoxo

Rayna M. Iyer said...

You are so brave, Tina, to say this publicly!!!

I was Sara too till the time she stopped eating (right down to straight As, and not cheating on exercises, and doing things with sheer grit even without talent).

But I was really lucky I fainted in the middle of a busy street soon after my school leaving exams, and the doctor and my mother took charge and made me start eating. At that time, fainting seemed the worst thing that could have happened to me, but I now realise it was the best.

*hugs*

GardenofDaisies said...

You are very brave for sharing your story. And I hope that you are well now. Hugs to you.

JeffScape said...

Word. I'm of the school of thought that one should write about everything. Literally. Excellent leap.

My name is PJ. said...

You are brave and a talented writer, Tina! I knew you could do great justice to this issue and you have. I'm proud of you for sharing and giving us this very intimate, behind-the-scenes look at how this happens.

There are so many peripheral issues that stem from eating disorders. I'd love to see you give it another whirl or two.

I'm proud of you!!

willow said...

I had a Sara chapter in my life, as well.

Jane Doe said...

A touching story, very well written. Kudos to you for breaking your silence. This disease afflicts far too many young women, it is a terrible thing to try to overcome.

Tom said...

i'll bet i knew a few girls like you in high school, and never even knew it...nice storytelling from start to finish

Aging Mommy said...

Oh a tough subject, you are so very brave to be speaking out about this. It is such a life debilitating illness and something that sadly never goes away. I am interested to know the rest of the story.

Not For Jellyfish said...

I don't typically have difficulty writing about the difficult things in my life, but I do have difficulty letting go and being completely out there and honest about every detail, to my and my writing's detriment. I hope this writing journey goes well for you; you write it well.

x said...

i am glad you stepped out of that silence and wrote it real. it keeps the demons from making a home. i have felt this one as well.

Maha said...

It's good you pointed out it was your story; from the first lines, I just felt it was not fiction.

She Writes said...

I knew it. I just wanted to get to the bottom and write to you- Is it you? and it is. Very moving, courageous write.

Katelyn Likes This said...

I felt like I was reading the diary of someone I went to highschool with. I miss gymnastics. My body, is indifferent.

hvninhell said...

Painful and relate-able. It's shame that we don't think about the future consequences and self-censor our words to others. The ones that hurt us the most say it's in the interest our well-being and the truth is meant to improve...they very well couldn't lie, could they. I am still told that I am too fat, lazy and unhealthy. I will NOT intentionally do that to my own.

emily wierenga said...

oh friend... how well you write, about such painful subject matter. i'm so glad to have 'met' you. i would love to learn your recovery story at some point. i attribute mine to my faith. it's hard, not being seen, no? i hope you feel seen now. you write lovely. i'd like to invite you to join me for imperfect prose on thursdays. thanks for stopping by my place today! e.

kendal said...

Just stopped over from Emily's where you commented about your own struggle. Me too, TIna, me too. As an adult rather than a student. And I have very frustrating days, weeks, months, in which I feel I'm scarred for life. I wrote about the journey in a book called, Full. You can check it out at my blog if you want. Your post is beautiful, by the way.

Ella said...

Thank you for sharing! I don't understand adults feeding us this weight switch. It can be innocent, but not everyone is built the same.
I am so sorry for what you have endured~(((hugs)))