Every morning I would step on the scale and every morning the number went down. I wanted to lose weight, so it was a victory. Whenever people would tell me “You’re too thin” I would take it as a compliment. To me it was the same as if they had said, “You’re so beautiful!” My hair started to fall out, my clothes got loose and I felt tired and hungry all day, but I still wanted to be thinner. I remember one day my mom, obviously worried, finally asked me “How much do you weigh?” I gave an evasive answer but she took me to the bathroom and had me step on the scale. I weighed 105 pounds. At 5’8” that meant my BMI was at 16 (anything below 18.5 is underweight). I was a typical anorexic but I denied it. I just wanted to be skinnier.
Pedro and I discussed ways to pay for inpatient treatment, if Sarah should choose to get help at an eating disorders center. Since we still struggled to pay off Pedro’s cancer debt we hoped she wouldn’t choose our second option. We have since learned that our threat had no teeth in it because insurance companies have a warped standard for providing care for an illness of the soul.
Fortunately, she chose the mom and dad plan and agreed to eat again. I went with her to her first counseling session, and she made an appointment with a nutritionist. Slowly, she put on weight. At one of her doctor’s appointments, I remember the doctor telling her, “It takes about seven years to recover from anorexia and other eating disorders.”
Yeah. I don’t think so, I said to myself. She’s already improving. Besides, I thought, she didn’t really have an eating disorder: orthorexia isn’t as bad as anorexia and female athlete triad syndrome is more of a problem of being too athletic.
At the end of her junior year, we started weekly dates. Laura, Sarah, and I had decided to run a half marathon together in September, and Sarah wanted to set a school record for the annual Mt. Ellis Climb (a free-for all three-mile scramble to the top of a local peak), so we decided to start training for both events once a week.
Training involved hiking up a local hill each week and going farther and farther down the trail until we could easily hike to the top of Baldy (elevation 8,914) and beyond. After each hike, we would go to the local co-op grocery store and each choose a decadent (but healthy) dessert and spend forever savoring it and each other’s company. From the café tables, we had a perfect view of the rugged peaks we had just descended.
By August we easily hiked/ran the 20.55 miles along the top of the Bridger Ridge range—with 6800 feet of official elevation gain (more, since we got lost once and had to free-climb an extra ridge) and 9500 feet of elevation loss. Sarah had recovered her energy and vitality and proved that doctor wrong.
Four weeks later, Sarah blew the school records off the mountain when she became the first girl to ever reach the top of Mt. Ellis before any of the boys. Two weeks later, we all ran in the half-marathon and Sarah came in 5th for her age group. It seemed as if life had taken a turn for the better and Sarah had recovered from her brush with an eating disorder.
Sarah has always demonstrated creative talent that blows me away. She sings like an angel (whilst I need a bucket to carry my tunes around in). She creates intricate designs and artwork (I CAN draw stick people and horse heads). She auditioned for the senior play and won the part of Jo in a production of Little Women. Her ability to quickly memorize hundreds of lines of script and to enter fully into the life of Louisa May Alcott impressed everyone.
As her senior year marched to its inevitable conclusion, Sarah struggled a little with choosing a college major. Pedro had entered the throes of job-hunting, and by April he had accepted a position as principal at a small, private Christian school for Native Americans in northern Arizona. Life turned into a whirlwind as we started packing the house and preparing for a huge series of changes. I naively thought that everyone in the family had embraced the future as expectantly as I did.
On our last date of the school year, Sarah confessed to me that sometimes she ate too much. “Do you purge afterwards?” I asked, dread creeping up from my toes to wrap around my heart.Why is that we often miss the internal pain of the ones closest to us? #write31days Click To Tweet