Anorexia: Four Women Tell All (Meg’s Story)

Anorexia Interview Four (drawing by Cat Saunders)

Drawing by Cat Saunders

“Anorexia is a wake-up call to everybody. It is showing us that we
are not honoring the things that are of real value in life.”  —Meg

Author’s note: This interview is one of four in a series: Meg’s Story, Leah’s Story, jill’s Story, and Cat’s Story. The same introduction precedes each interview.

By Cat Saunders

As I write this introduction in September 2011, it’s been nearly twenty years since I conducted in-depth interviews with women who were or had been anorexic. I was one of those women.

The interviews were completed during research for my doctoral dissertation, which examined the relationship between functional neurology and eating disorders, and also offered a holistic approach to healing anorexia.

When I began working on the interviews in 1992, it was a difficult decision to “interview” myself as as former anorexic, particularly because the interviews cover intimate details about family issues. Recently, when I decided to finally publish the interviews, I went through another layer of fear about making my personal story public.

The admonition not to talk about the family outside the family is strong. But if nobody ever talks about the family outside the family, how can we ever learn anything about what works and what doesn’t? Besides, we’re all part of the human family, so it’s impossible to talk “outside” the family because we’re all in the same one!

In the end, I realized that if I didn’t share my own story, I would be hiding. Making myself vulnerable in the same way I was asking the other women to be vulnerable felt like the most honest thing to do.

Of the women I interviewed, two of them (jill andLeah) graciously gave me permission to publish their interviews. Sadly, one of the other women (Meg) was killed in an automobile accident, but her husband gave me his blessing to use her words. Please note that Meg and Leah are pseudonyms to protect their privacy, while jill and I decided to use our real names.

At the time of the interviews, we ranged in age from 33 to 46. For all of us, our parents were present during our childhood years. With the exception of Meg’s mother, all the parents were still alive at the time of the interviews.

In the years since the interviews were conducted, the rest of us have lost one or both parents, and some of us have lost a brother or a sister as well. The interviews are published here as originally written, in present tense, when speaking about family members who were still alive at the time.

It’s important to note that these women’s stories are told from their own personal perspective. This may seem obvious, but some of the women expressed fears about being unfair, since their perspective is the only one being published.

I assured everyone that the interviews would be presented simply as one perspective, with the understanding that there are many perspectives within any given family. In making this promise, I hoped it would help the women feel safe enough to tell their truth, including the details of any abuse they experienced.

Anorexics tend to hide their truth and often take too much responsibility—even to the extreme degree of taking responsibility for their own abuse.

By sharing our experiences openly, we are giving ourselves the chance to be seen and heard and valued by others. Unfortunately, our openhearted sharing also puts us at risk of being discounted and criticized and shamed.

By offering a personal glimpse of our family experiences and our dance with eating disorders, I hope that others can gain a deeper understanding of the pain—and the power—of the anorexic path.


Meg’s Story

Do you consider yourself anorexic now?

I’m not actively anorexic, but I notice that the tendency is there sometimes.

If you could describe when you realized that most of the major symptoms were over, what would you say?

About five years ago, there was a general shift in focus, a lightening in perception. It coincided with a writing project I was doing, in which I took a look at my life, incident by incident, and wrote about it in detail.

The project was one Twelve-Step group’s way of doing the Fourth Step, which is to make a fearless and searching moral inventory. But instead of only making a list of things we thought we had done wrong, we set up a specific time each day, and we each wrote about the incidents of our lives for that period of time.

For each incident, I wrote the time it happened, my age, where it happened, and exactly what happened, including what I thought and what I felt. I did this every day for 15 months. When I was done, I put it all into chronological order. I have thousands of pages.

Through this process, I was able to identify patterns of behavior and thought, which enabled me to gradually sort out which of my behaviors were supportive and which were held over from incorrect perceptions of early childhood. The project was very revealing for me, and it was during that time that a lot of things started to lighten up.

How would you describe the onset of anorexia?

It definitely had to do with sexuality. My breasts grew large at an early age. At first, I remember being very excited about that. I thought my breasts were very beautiful. But I got a lot of negative feedback about them from family, friends, and schoolmates. I ended up feeling ashamed and embarrassed. At the age of 11, I began to perceive myself as fat.

Other things were happening in my family life. The chaos seemed to be escalating, or perhaps I was just becoming more aware of how crazy it was.  I knew other kids’ parents weren’t trying to run over each other in the driveway in the middle of the night!

About that time, I had a very abusive nun for a teacher in Catholic school. I also had my appendix removed the same year. I didn’t become anorexic that year, but that was when food started to seem out of control for me.

There was some deprivation going on in our household as well. Things were really tight financially. Though I don’t ever remember going hungry, there were times when there wasn’t quite enough food. Around that age, a secret thing started for me with food. I noticed that I would hide food.

Were you ashamed of eating?

Yes. I also had a craving for sweets that my brothers and sisters didn’t have, and I was ashamed of that. At Christmas that year, I remember sneaking candy from a box of chocolates that a great uncle had brought to us, and then trying to rearrange the box so it didn’t show. The first real devious stuff about food began happening then.

I didn’t get actively anorexic until I was about 15, and by then it was definitely binge-purging. I needed the comfort of food, but I desperately wanted to be thin as well.

If you feel comfortable telling me, what was your height and weight at your lowest point of anorexia, and what is your so-called normal weight?

At the worst of my anorexia, I was a little under 5’7” and weighed about 105 pounds. My normal weight is about 140. My brother gave me a bad time for being chunky, which I now know just meant I had breasts. He called me “tits on a stick” when I was at my low point.

How did anorexia manifest for you in terms of behaviors?

I did binge-purging, and I was also into starving myself. There was a solid year, from about mid-sixteen to about mid-seventeen, when I literally lived on Diet Pepsi, cottage cheese, and lettuce.

I was throwing that up a lot of the time. and it took me years to recover from that. That set off a whole chain of events, like thinking I was pregnant because my periods stopped.

I went to a doctor who didn’t know what the hell he was doing. He told me I was pregnant, and I wasn’t. I even went through a process of giving up a baby for adoption that I wasn’t carrying!

Along with the food behaviors, I would work and exercise compulsively. I would ride my bicycle and jog in place for hours. Or I’d stay up all night stripping a hardwood floor and redoing it.

Do you think you were anorexic before you admitted it?

Yes.

Did others know you were anorexic, and if so, who did, and how did they treat you?

I think my mother knew, and she would nag me to eat. A couple of my girlfriends would tease me. but my mind just said they were jealous because they didn’t have the self-discipline I had.

What was it like growing up in your family’s home?

Dangerous, very dangerous. I had two brothers, two sisters, an alcoholic father, and a rage-aholic mother. I think my mother was possibly manic-depressive. She was very out-of-bounds, with uncontrollable moodswings. Both my parents were very violent with me. My father was primarily emotionally abusive, but my mother also beat me a lot, along with being emotionally abusive.

The feeling was that no matter what you did, it would never be right. The best thing to do was to not be a moving target. All we could do was have our antennae out all the time, pay attention, and be vigilant with every breath. We were never safe.

Were boys treated differently than girls?

Definitely. My oldest brother got the worst of it. He was beaten so much and so badly by both parents that it’s amazing to me that he’s still alive. On the other hand, we girls were Daddy’s little girls.

More of the “little princess” stuff happened to my older sister and my younger sister than it did to me, because I was “the smart one.” My dad told my sisters all the time how beautiful and pretty they were, and I was the smart one.

He didn’t tell you that you are beautiful? Was he blind?

You got it! My mother’s mother would describe my father as, “Blind in one eye, and can’t see out of the other!”

How were you treated differently, exactly?

I was treated more like the boys. I got more of the boy-type chores to do. I got approval for that, so I took it on. Mom called me her tomboy. My sisters were the “girl-girls.” It’s interesting, in terms of what I said about my developing breasts. There must have been a real confusion: I liked it but I didn’t like it.

In regard to boys and girls being treated differently, it wasn’t anything concrete as much as it was undercurrents. It was definitely there, and it was palpable. But it’s not like my older brother was told it wasn’t okay to cry. It wasn’t okay for any of us to cry.

It wasn’t okay for any of us to have any emotion at all! Any emotion was grounds for torture. They would beat us and then say, “Don’t you dare cry.”

Were there any different expectations for boys and girls?

I don’t think my parents had any way of setting up goals, gender-related or otherwise. It’s just that everything you did was wrong. It was always, “How can you be so stupid?” But you didn’t know what wasn’t stupid.

How did your parents treat you when you went through puberty?

When I started my period, my mother said, “Well, it’s about time! I was beginning to think there was something wrong with you!” I was 13, and I started about a year later than most of my girlfriends.

I think my mother was embarrassed when my period started, even though she was a very sexual woman. When I was in grade school, they passed out these little booklets and invited mothers to come watch this movie with their daughters.

I didn’t have a clue what it was about. My mom said, “I’m not going to watch that movie!” She didn’t want to make it any rite of passage at all.

I remember when I wanted to start shaving my legs, and I asked her if she would show me how. She thought that was really stupid.

Ever since I was a young child, I always liked rites of passage and ceremonies for things I felt were important. I took a lot of flack for that. I was nicknamed “Sarah Heartburn”—a take-off of Sarah Bernhardt—because I was “dramatic.”

What was your father like in regard to your developing body?

He was embarrassed about it, too, but he would make snide little comments about me getting “busty.”

Other things were happening at the same time. There was an intellectual development going on in me. Dad was very right-wing, very fascist. His political opinions were all I knew. But when I was in the seventh grade, I had a teacher who heard me spouting all this paranoid right-wing political crap I’d learned from my father.

She said, “You’re too intelligent for that! You don’t get to say anything in my classroom again until you read this book.” She put Hiroshima down in front of me. I read it and was forever changed.

So at the same time I was changing physically, I started to say, “Wait a minute, Dad.” That’s when terrible arguments started happening at the dinner table. I think my father felt betrayed. I wasn’t supposed to have a developing mind or a developing body.

How was it when you started dating?

My father had moved away before that, though I did have a few dates before he left. He was very strict about it, but much more so with my older sister—you know, she was the beautiful one! I guess he figured he didn’t have as much to worry about with me, because I was just the smart one.

My parents definitely tried to control how we dressed. We had curfews, and we weren’t allowed to date until we were sixteen. My older sister and I had a slumber party one summer with about thirty girls. It was a blast!

We slept in the barn, which was some distance from the house. A bunch of high school guys had gotten wind of it, so they were driving up and down the lane next to the barn. Of course, we were all hanging off the barn squealing. My father came out with a gun and stood at the corner of the barn, yelling at the guys!

Would you give me a word-picture of your father, from your understanding now?

He was an alcoholic and always a total extremist. Even though he doesn’t drink now, he’s still a fanatic. He used to be a fanatic, foaming-at-the-mouth Holy Roller Baptist. He’s anti-communist, a McCarthy-ite. Totally for Nixon. A card-carrying John Bircher.

But no feeling-level stuff? It was all passion for ideas?

Right. By the time I was 14, I could see that he would get on a tangent and be there for a couple years, and then completely change. If you didn’t drop whatever you were doing and hang with him, you were stupid and wrong!

My father is a very frightened man. I think that getting involved in the way he was—and still is—with narrow, right-wing, paranoid groups, is symptomatic of people who are very fearful of being in the world. Anyone or anything that is different, is very frightening to them.

You mentioned that he left your mother?

My mother made him leave. My sisters and I got together and told her that if she didn’t make him leave, we were going to run away.

I thought you liked your mother even less.

Well, by that time we just wanted them apart, and we knew there wasn’t any way we were going to get away from Mom. The love-hate thing with Mom was too strong.

I think that’s common for anorexics—incredible love-hate relationships with their mothers.

Yes, and codependent to the nth degree!  Needing her so badly.

But she didn’t deliver?

Absolutely not.

Have you ever heard about “Skinner boxes” and the behavioral experiments they did with pigeons? Do you know what happened when they gave pigeons food on a random basis? It’s a picture of codependent behavior!

First, when they gave pigeons food pellets on a regular basis, the pigeons learned to peck on the food door on a regular basis, and they would only peck at those times when they knew they would get food for pecking. The pigeons wouldn’t peck the rest of the time.

But if they dispensed food pellets at random times, the pigeons would peck constantly. I think that’s similar to what happens when you have parents who are randomly affectionate—children learn to “peck” constantly in an effort to get affection.

[Laughter.] Yes!

Would you give me a word-picture of your mother, from your understanding now?

I think she was terribly frustrated and never had a clue that her life could be better or different. I think she saw herself as a victim, and in many ways, she was a victim of her own chaotic and abusive upbringing.

I suspect but don’t know for sure that she was sexually abused. I know that she married young, and had so many kids—five kids by the time she was 22—that she never got to be a kid herself.

At the same time, my mother was full of life and was a powerful, charismatic person. She could be the most wonderful, loving person. But she was also the most vicious, cruel, wounding person I have ever known in my life.

I think that a part of her knew she was vicious and cruel, but there were almost classic signs of schizophrenia. She could be wreaking havoc in the lives of her children, and at the same time, there was a part of her that was oblivious to it.

When I was about 17, I was getting ready to leave home, and she was just starting another family. I remember trying to talk to her a little about it, and realizing that she didn’t have a clue. It wasn’t that she wouldn’t admit to some of the things that happened when we were kids. It’s just that, honest to God, I think she was in denial about it. On some level, she really didn’t remember.

Where are your mother and father now?

My father is in California, remarried. My mother died six years ago of a brain tumor. She died of rage, I think.

It took a year for her to die after she was diagnosed. I felt like the brain tumor was totally appropriate for the way her life had been. She never had any peace ever in her brain, and perhaps in her life.

What was their relationship like when you were growing up?

They were very different people. They were constantly violent with each other. My earliest memories are of their fights in the middle of the night. There would be huge holes in the wall, and broken furniture, broken glass, and broken windows.

Everybody would act like nothing was wrong, except sometimes in the middle of the night, Mom would pick us all up, throw us in the car, and go to Gramma’s.

Even though they were very different people and had a lot of conflict, I was aware from a very early age that my parents had a very strong sexual thing going on. I doubt if it was a healthy sexual thing! But they certainly had passion for each other.

Do you know anything about your birth?

I know that my mother went into the hospital, and the doctor was late, so they held her legs together. It was a Sims birth, which is when the woman gives birth while lying on her side.

They had my mother tied down on her side, holding her legs together. She gave birth on her side, because when they finally freed her, I came out before she could roll over on her back.

I suspect that my mother—at 19, pregnant with her third child, and in a bad alcoholic marriage—probably wasn’t thrilled about the pregnancy. But she did tell me that when they opened her legs and I flew out, she had the most incredible moment of physical and emotional joy of her life.

Intuitively, do you think you were wanted as a girl?

If my mother said it once, she said it five hundred times, “I wanted five boys.” I don’t know about my dad. For him, wanting or not wanting us probably wasn’t anything personal. It was more about him being a good Catholic.

Other than your birth—which was probably traumatic for your head because of the squeezing—did you have any head injuries or accidents before the onset of anorexia?

Yes. I suspect that I had brain hurt from being beaten around the head. I was beaten with a big, heavy paddle, and with belts. My mother also hit me with her hands and fists.

I’m sorry you were so hurt. Have you ever been suicidal?

Yes.

Have you ever tried suicide?

Not overtly. I think that’s what the drinking was about, and on some level, the eating disorder was about eliminating myself.

Do you consider that you were emotionally neglected or abused?

Yes, both.

Physically neglected or abused?

Yes.

What was your parents’ response to your having needs?

I wasn’t supposed to have needs. It was very dangerous to have needs.

Was there any emphasis on appearances, either in terms of how you looked, or in terms of how the family looked?

Yes. We were definitely supposed to be clean and mended. Once again, though, you never quite knew what was okay. There was a lot of ridicule about appearances, like, “What a stupid thing to wear!”

Even though we were very poor, I have an early memory of being beaten once before my first day of school, because I couldn’t find a pair of socks that matched, where at least one of the socks didn’t have holes.

Wow. Was there any need to keep things inside the family, or to idealize that you were a good family?

Yes. But it was a thin veneer! I was so aware of what bullshit it was!

My parents were such liars in the way they talked to the neighbors about our family. For example, when I was in preschool and was learning how to rollerskate, I had terrible bruises on my body from my mother beating me.

She actually pulled my pants down in front of a bunch of neighbor ladies and kids, showed them my bruises, and said the bruises were from me being such a klutz on skates.

It’s not like she had to give any explanation for it. The bruises weren’t even showing! She was just lying to herself in her head.

Obviously, there was a lot of conflict in your family. Was there denial about the fights that were going on?

It was none of our business. If you did get involved, or if you tried to stand up for a brother or sister who was getting it, you’d get it, too.

My parents laid down the law, absolutely. It was definitely, “Do as we say, not as we do.” They were nuts.

Did you kids know they were nuts?

I think so, but we were scared to talk about it, even with each other. We were scared to death.

Were you also shamed and criticized?

Constantly. By both parents, and by each other, since that’s what we learned.

What was your family’s relationship to feelings?

Don’t have them.

No direct communication either?

Never. It was always sideways, under-the-table. We had to listen for all the clues and try to figure out what our parents really wanted, because even in trying to clarify it, you would get, “That’s not what I said!”

But if we asked, “What are you saying?” the answer would be, “Are you getting smart with me?”

Congratulations for surviving that insanity! What was your family’s relationship with food, meals, and eating?

Well, once again, it was about conflict. At mealtimes, somebody was always in trouble, somebody was always in tears, or somebody was not allowed at the table.

There was also a major control thing around food. It was another one of those areas where it wasn’t clear how you were supposed to be with it.

If you had a good appetite and were really hungry, you were a pig or a glutton. If you weren’t hungry, you got in trouble for that, too. If you weren’t hungry, it was, “You’re so goddamn picky!” or “You will eat everything I give you!”

Were you sexually abused, either covertly or overtly?

Yes. I don’t really know for sure how, except that I think that the ridiculing was a kind of sexual abuse.

When I was a little girl, there was some inappropriate sexual behavior with some older male cousins and one female cousin. Then, when my breasts were developing, my mother made me pull up my shirt and show my breasts to neighbor women and other girls.

Also, in my therapy work, my last counselor suspected that I was seriously violated, but I don’t have any actual memories at this point. I do know that my father would hold us and stroke us inappropriately when he was drunk.

As a child, there was a pleasurable aspect to it that I liked. That’s part of why it was so confusing. Now I know it was abusive.

Does anyone else in your family know there was sexual abuse?

My next older sister is homing in on it. She knows about the covert aspects, and she definitely knows there was something funny around her dating. My father was terribly jealous of the boys she dated, and my mother was personally jealous of my sister. She and I are just starting to talk about these issues.

Did your sister also have an eating disorder?

I think she’s been anorexic off and on for a long time. Since puberty, she has almost always been very, very thin.

What were your family’s main rules, in one-sentence cliché form?

Don’t be.

That pretty much covers everything, doesn’t it? Was there any affection in your family that was positive?

There was some nurturing and affection, but you could never trust it. I remember feeling so grateful for it, and sometimes surprised, because it was just like the eruptions of anger. All of a sudden, you’re being stroked? All of a sudden, you’re being beaten? Either way, it seemed to come out of nowhere.

The last years that my mother was alive, we were more like friends than mother-daughter. I think my inner child got some strokes from her then, which I either hadn’t been previously capable of receiving, or she hadn’t been capable of giving.

But as far as childhood goes, the way I summed it up in a poem was the way I’ve heard other kids—especially Catholic kids—say it: “Cuddle ’em with one hand, and cuff ’em with the other.”

There was never any balance or dependability.

Was there any joy in your family?

We had fun sometimes, but that’s different than joy. I would have to say no. There was such an underlying foundation of trauma and abuse and sadness, at least for me, that there was no joy.

Was there anything in your family, or in your childhood, which you think positively contributed to your sense of self?

No, nothing. If you’d asked that question a few years ago, I probably would have glibly told you that yes, I had some wonderful teachers who befriended me. Also, from an early age, reading sustained me and was helpful to me, though I now think of reading as my first drug of choice. Yes, there is no doubt that there were some positive things there.

But the reality is that something had happened, or I was genetically programmed so early, that it was too late. I was already so twisted around in my inner thinking that I didn’t believe I was any good. As a result, those positive things that happened didn’t really have a good effect.

In so many ways, my parents loved me, and I love them and feel compassion for them. They had horrible childhoods, too. They did the best they could, and in so many ways I forgive them.

Since I’m still in process—that’s what we’re here for—perhaps it’s still too soon for me to tell what was positive about my upbringing. Maybe later in my life I’ll have yet another answer to this question.

What’s your relationship with your body now?

Definitely up and down, but I have longer periods where we’re friends. It’s so wonderful!

At forty, I’m really interested in the changes that are happening to my body. Some of them I watch with chagrin, but there’s some amusement to it, some acceptance and affection.

I feel sad sometimes about the changes brought on by having to take increasing numbers of supplements, since I don’t have ovaries anymore. I had a complete hysterectomy at age 37, because endometriosis was so rampant. I had terrible pain and excessive bleeding from the time I was 14. I would even pass out in school.

If you imagined anorexia like a tree, with many roots, what would you say are the roots of your anorexia?

Confusion. Lack of control. Lack of being able to feel like anything was solid. Serious discomfort about feelings. Not having a clue about how to take care of myself.

The confusion was about everything. It was sexual. It was about the world in general. It was about that incredibly vacant place of pain and anger and terror.

Another root was the schism between who I found myself actually being, who I thought I was supposed to be, and who I wanted to be.

At another level, I have talked to many people who have had an eating disorder, and they say that for them, it was a way to stop feeling. But for me, it was a way to get out of a “dead” place, a way to “jump start” myself.

Even if it took a little while, the anorexia and bulimia were acts of violence against the body, and they would finally shift me into a different place, out of a dead zone of numbness. They put me into a sort of altered state.

Yes, I think it goes beyond numbness into an altered state. What do you think anorexia is about spiritually?

I think that people who end up being anorexic have had some kind of trauma, traumas, or constant trauma, which has made them feel like they are living in a lie. It’s about that schism again.

Anorexics can’t hear the spirit, the voice of the spirit inside of them. The spirit is there, and you know it’s there. But you feel like you’re living in such a state of disconnection from it that the eating disorder becomes a way to kill one or the other. Either kill the body or kill the spirit, but get out of the dilemma of being pulled back and forth.

For all kinds of reasons, you can’t pay attention to the “still small voice within”—the voice that’s telling you what’s good for you or where to move next. You know you’re betraying something in yourself, so anorexia involves a denial of the spiritual. It is not just about denial of the body. It only looks that way.

Yes! Our bodies would do fine if we weren’t taught to deny our spirits.

That’s right. My body would have been exactly the way it was supposed to be: a beautiful, healthy, woman’s body.

Do you think food will ever be a non-charged issue for you?

Because I’ve actually experienced moments when it was a non-charged issue, I have high hopes for that, and I think it’s possible. In the least, I know it’s possible for me to get to a place where I wouldn’t use food to reward or punish myself.

What have you learned by taking the anorexic path?

I’ve learned that external crosses to bear are a symptom of spiritual illness. This relates to what I was saying about not listening to—or not being able to listen to—my spirit.

For me, the crosses have been anorexia, alcoholism, bulimia, drug abuse, and many other issues. But they are all about the same thing for me: they are all symptoms of that same disconnection, that same schism. The mind goes one way while the heart goes another, with a huge chasm—like a void—between them.

What do you think is the role of the culture in anorexia’s incidence in the last two decades?

I think the culture’s role is enormous. There are all those messages given to girls, from day one. Everything from the toys they are given, to the things that are said to them and about them.

One of these messages is: look strong, but don’t be strong. There’s a lot of lip service paid to being strong, but it’s not really about women being strong at all. We’re still supposed to be ornamental, yet functional for certain things.

I think we are still told not to have feelings, not to be angry, and above all, don’t be messy! Feelings are messy, menses is messy.

We’re taught to look good at all times, no matter how we feel. Keep up appearances. Don’t get old. Don’t be who you are! You aren’t good enough, no matter how you are.

Don’t pay attention to anything you think is valuable, because it’s not. Don’t find out who you are. Just stay busy, and don’t stop to think. Be a “good girl.” These are just a few of the messages that come to mind!

What do you think is the most important thing that an anorexic needs to be able to heal?

They have to find a way to claim the events of their lives, and this means everything, not just the anorexia, although that is key.

Anorexics have to own their lives. They need to look at the reality of their lives, instead of having all that gray area that they might not want to see, including their anorexic behavior and any denial about that.

For me, that Twelve-Step writing project I mentioned allowed me to reclaim my life.

What do you think allowed you to take that step to do the writing project?

Desperation. Absolute fear that I was going to die, while a part of me really did not want to die. I needed to want to live in order to take that step.

Has there been anything in your healing work that has not been helpful?

I don’t think antidepressants helped. I was put on them twice, but I’m off those drugs now.

Healing is such an evolutionary process that it’s hard to say what was or wasn’t helpful. For example, I understand in retrospect how certain support groups provided a building block along the way, even though I may not have felt helped by some of them at the time.

In fact, some of those groups gave me another way to beat myself up. I would compare myself—and sometimes lie—because I think anorexics tend to take care of other people a lot.

Some of my therapists seemed to ask me to lie, and since I needed their approval, I did. Sometimes these therapists needed me to be “making progress” and I knew that. They had their agenda for what was “well” and what was “not well.”

They had their ideas about how I was supposed to be doing, as opposed to how I was really doing. That was not helpful because again, it reinforced that I was not okay the way I was.

What do you think is the gift for the world from the presence of anorexia?

I think we’re being called! I think that changing the world—and evolving into our next phase of consciousness—has painful symptoms. Anorexia is one of these symptoms.

Also, changing the world—and evolving as humans—requires change and evolution in each individual person. Everybody has their so-called crosses to bear.

Calling it a “cross to bear” is a perfect way to put it, too, because it’s a redemptive process. It’s about using those crosses—our painful symptoms—to distill the pure spirit within each of us.

Just this morning, I was reading something wonderful about the Dakota Indians. They don’t say to their children, “Be good.” They say, “Take care of your goodness.” That’s it!

We haven’t been taking care of our goodness, our lamps. I think anorexia is a powerful indicator of that. Anorexia is a wake-up call to everybody. It is showing us that we are not honoring the things that are of real value in life. We are not honoring life!


This interview is one of four in a series:

Anorexia: Four Women Tell All (Cat’s Story)

Anorexia: Four Women Tell All (jill’s Story)

Anorexia: Four Women Tell All (Leah’s Story)

Anorexia: Four Women Tell All (Meg’s Story)

For the list of questions used in the interviews for this series, please click here.

The image at the beginning of this interview is one of 1300 daily drawings completed by Cat Saunders between 1983 and 1987, from which a deck of 64 images was created called “Shadow and Light: Images of Change and Transformation for Women in Recovery.”



Cat Saunders, Ph.D., is a counselor in private practice in Seattle, Washington. She is also the author of Dr. Cat’s Helping Handbook: A Compassionate Guide for Being Human (available through Amazon). Contact Cat by emailing her or by calling 206-329-0125 (24-hour voicemail).