Out of the Frying Pan and Into the Fire

From Health to Bulimia

…. continued from yesterday

All of a sudden, the doctor’s words came back and rattled around my head.  I held my breath. Had Sarah jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire? Swung from anorexia to bulimia?

“No.”

The dread receded like the tide on a beach.  “So that’s where all the chocolate chips have disappeared to,” I joked.  “If you eat all of them, what will I do when I crave chocolate?”

She grimaced and tears filled her eyes.  “I’m so sorry,” she said.

“I understand,” I assured her.  Although, in reality, I didn’t.  “Sometimes I eat until my stomach hurts, but I always make sure to exercise extra the next day to burn off the excess calories.”

Sarah nodded her head.

“Do you want to start seeing a counselor again?”

“No.  It seems so pointless since the school year is practically over and I’ll be gone all summer.”

I gave her a pep talk on having confidence in herself and trusting in God. I let the matter drop. After all, she perched on the edge of the nest, ready to venture out into the world on her own.

Two weeks after graduation, Sarah packed everything she would need for college in her SUV and left it parked in a friend’s garage for the summer and then flew down to California to join Laura for their European adventure. The girls had worked for two years to not only help pay for their tuition (Laura for La Sierra University and Sarah for Mt. Ellis Academy), but to spend two months in Europe when Sarah graduated. For the first month they would attend a Spanish immersion program in Sagunto, Spain. During the second month they would tour around Europe with Laura’s boyfriend and his little brother (who also happened to be one of Sarah’s classmate).

The rest of the summer passed in a whirlwind of moving, worrying about the girls, and settling into a new house in a new state. The girls had a blast in Europe and got to spend a week at home before heading to their respective schools. Sarah had chosen to attend Walla Walla University in Washington and major in art and pre-dentistry. She flew to Bozeman, picked up her SUV, and drove herself the 10 hours to college—one of the few freshman girls to arrive without an entourage of anxious family members.

***

I came out of the bathroom, trying to look away as a random girl from the dorm walked by. It was too late. “Are you okay?” she asked with a worried look on her face. “I’m fine,” I mumbled and kept walking back to my room. My eyes were red and puffy and it looked like I had been crying but I had actually been throwing up in the bathroom stall. My head and throat hurt but I had eaten too much. I had the need to get rid of that food, so I did what had become a habit—almost easy. My finger down my throat just the right way did the trick. It was a disgusting mess, but to me it was worth it if I could get some of that useless food out and avoid getting fat.

***

When we saw Sarah at Christmas, she assured us that she loved college and everything about it. But when Pedro and I had a chance to visit her for a weekend in March, things had changed drastically.

On Saturday night around midnight my phone rang. “I just ate too much and I feel awful.  I just want to die,” she moaned.

“I’ll be there in five minutes,” I promised as my heart pounded.  “Where should I meet you?”

“I’m in the prayer room on the seventh floor.  Hurry.”

When I arrived, I found her curled up on the floor with silent tears streaming down her face. “Has this happened before?” I asked.

She nodded miserably.

“Do you ever purge?” I asked, hoping against hope that she didn’t.

She nodded again.

We spent over an hour together, until I had to leave so that I could grab a few hours of sleep before making my early morning flight.  We prayed and she shared a little with me about eating too much and how it made her feel. I tried to explain that food could be just as much of a drug as alcohol or an illegal substance.  I probed gently, trying to discover the root of her pain.  But my inadequate attempts probably did more harm than good.

I cried all the way back to my hotel room. Maybe the doctor had been right after all.

I cried all the way back to my hotel. Maybe the doctor had been right after all. #write31days Click To Tweet

In the morning, I explained to Pedro what had happened and we both encouraged Sarah to see a counselor at the school. After a month of weekly visits, she reported that the school’s counselor hadn’t helped much. When I went to see her in May, she hadn’t been binging and purging as often, but other problems had cropped up.

Sarah had lost her academic self-confidence. She struggled in chemistry class, and kept belittling her ability to read and remember things. Up until this point, she had worked on her own to maintain a 4.0 GPA, and had been accepted into the Honors Program. Neither Pedro nor I could understand her sudden feelings on inadequacy.

Things seemed to normalize once she came home for the summer and we all dove headfirst into preparations for Laura’s July wedding. Unbeknownst to me, Sarah struggled valiantly against depression—not wanting to take any limelight away from Laura’s special time by letting on to anyone how she felt.Sisters and Best Friends

By the end of July, Sarah still seemed adrift and didn’t know what to do. I suggested that perhaps she could return to Spain for an entire school year. She loved the idea, but discovered that she had started the process too late to get a visa for Spain. Her university has an affiliate school in Argentina, so Sarah decided to go there for her sophomore year.

Planning and packing gave her new focus, and we spent the rest of the summer exercising together and going on birding adventures (ok, I thought they were adventures). When she left in late September, we all felt as if this school year abroad would provide a time to keep moving forward with her education (she would have an automatic Spanish minor upon her return) while giving her an opportunity to really think about her career path.

Pedro and I planned to visit her at Christmas time using his pilot brother’s companion passes. By Thanksgiving, Pedro couldn’t believe the change in her. When we video chatted over the Internet, she bubbled with enthusiasm and announced she had a new plan. She wanted to stay in Argentina and attend nursing school.

While I applauded her decision and choice of career, I secretly worried that she had made a bad choice. After all, if one becomes a nurse in a foreign country, how does one return to the US and find a job? I promised to investigate getting a nursing license in the US, but fretted about the Argentinian boy she’d recently met and how much his influence had to do with her career plans. I looked forward to meeting her special friend in person.

Unfortunately, our trip to Argentina didn’t work out as planned.  If it had, would we have understood sooner?

To be continued tomorrow…

Anita currently teaches English to 7th-12th graders. She describes herself as a 'recovering cancer caregiver' who gives thanks daily that her husband has been cancer-free for ten years.

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