As we approach Eating Disorder Awareness month for 2014, I think back to the fall of 1979. My freshman year at Penn State University. I was a brutally shy teen who had been fat shamed at home by his mother and bullied at school over his weight, even physically assaulted. A teen who wanted only acceptance from his mother who called him a “fat pig” when he ate too much and the kids at school who teased him over his protruding stomach, telling him he should “wear a bra” That child had few friends and preferred the isolation of his bedroom where he could fantasize about holding a girls hand. Going to the prom. Hanging out with the kids who rejected him either explicitly or in his mind. A depressed, lonely child who finally decided that the only way to achieve these things was to take control of the only thing he knew how, food.
That boy began to starve himself. Deny himself food. He began to lose weight, Lots of it. He weighed himself obsessively. He continually looked at himself in the mirror. He was mystified, depressed and in agony every time he saw his reflection. Nothing had changed. He still saw a huge stomach. He still saw a “dumb bunny” as his mother had called him so often. No matter how much food he denied himself and how thin he got, he saw a fat, stupid child that one wanted to be around. He had become anorexic. He had no idea what that was. He just knew that each meal he missed, each pound he lost, was one more step towards the acceptance he wanted so badly. He would hold a girls hand. He would kiss a girl. He would go on a date. Tomorrow would be different. Just one more pound…
The pounds kept coming off. The mirror image never changed. Something had to be done! He discovered bulimia. He had no idea what that was either. He just knew that it made him feel good. Like the denial of food, binging and purging me him feel normal each time he did it. For a brief moment. Then the shame set in. Tomorrow would be different. Depression became more intense. Another binge and purge cycle to get that normal feeling again. The vicious cycle of bulimia. A cycle that would not release its grip for twenty-seven more years.
That boy became a man. He graduated from college and law school. He was still the eleven years old. He still saw that terrible image in the mirror. In the store window. Binging and purging game him temporary relief for an evening. He discovered alcohol to deaden the pain. He became an alcoholic. He discovered drugs and steroids to create someone new who was confident and unafraid.. He became a drug addict. None of it changed how he felt about himself. The disgust. The distorted reflection. Finally the suicidal thoughts.
That boy who became a man. Unable to sustain relationships. Married and divorced again and again. Unable to open up to those who loved him. Unable to be intimate on any level because he was so ashamed of his body, hiding his bulimic behavior.. The overwhelming shame of a male with an eating disorder and now Body Dysmorhpic Disorder.
That man feels deep into the abyss Total darkness. Gun in hand. No hope that that eleven-year-old boy would ever be normal. Then finally he saw a light. The light of love. The light of not wanting to lose those he loved because he was unable to help himself. He had to take a step forward. A step into recovery. A step into the light. Just one small one. So hard. So Afraid. An inch forward with honestly. Honestly about where he had been. Honesty about where he was. He took it. No one laughed. No one shamed him. There was only love and support. He took another. Then one more. The process of recovery from a life of destructive behavior designed to do only one thing, change that distorted image in the mirror to gain love and acceptance. The more steps he took the more he learned that love and acceptance is for how he was, not whom he thought he needed to be. He only needed to be himself. His true self. Here I am. Brian Cuban. I am still recovering. I am alive. I will take another step tomorrow. I will love myself. It’s a process.