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Eating Disorder Stories

The Skeleton In My Closet

My graduation dress made a surprise appearance from the back of my closet last spring. The kids dug it out in an effort to supply vintage clothing for a fashion show the local high school was hosting.

The fabric was brittle with the accumulated filth of thirty years; the yellow chiffon muted under a layer of dust. The green velvet ribbon around the empire waste had faded to a melancholy gray, the elongated bow dropping like the ears of a well loved stuffed toy.

My daughters covered their mouths in mock horror as the dress slid off the coat hanger and slumped to the floor -- their guffaws echoed in my head as I reached for the gown. I heard the faint rattle of bones as the skeleton I had zipped into the folds of yellow chiffon was suddenly released. The secret I had hidden behind the wedding dress, bridesmaids gowns, out dated Christmas outfits, the 'large' clothes, the winter coats, and the maternity dress I couldn't bare to part with, lay blatantly at my feet.

"What's wrong Mom?" my eldest daughter asked as I felt the color drain from my face. I held my breath, and vainly searched for words.

My youngest daughter gingerly gathered the dusty folds of fabric in her arms, cradling them like an antique doll. "Can I try it on?" she asked.

I looked into the healthy faces of my two teenage daughters, at their cheeks faintly bronzed by their arms, muscled and firm.. their bodies, strong and feminine, and cursed the guilty secret that was not out-of-the-bag.

"You can 'try' it on," I said tentatively, "but I don't think you'll be able to do it up -- I was very thin in high school."

I stand five foot nine, in my stocking feet. The dress is a smidge smaller than a size six. Aside from a fading snapshot, safely tucked in a smaller than a size six. Aside from a fading snapshot, safely tucked in a photo album at my father's house, there is no evidence of what I did to myself in my grade twelve year -- except, of course, for the dress itself.

The dress reappeared in my doorway - draped over the slim frame of my fifteen year old daughter. She's much shorter than I was as a teenager, more fit, more athletic...prettier. Billows of material mounded around her feet -- but the back of the dress gaped open, the zipper strained. It was impossible to close.

We all walk with demons, of this I am fairly certain, but sitting face to face with one I had never acknowledged was as unnerving as anything I have ever experienced.

I have never admitted to anyone that I was bulimic...hell, the word hadn't even been invented when I discovered what I believed to be the ultimate weight control program.

My daughters eyed me dubiously, waiting for an explanation.

"I had an eating disorder in high school, " I finally whispered surprising myself with the frankness in my voice. "My mother had to have the dress specially made for me when I graduated."

My mother.........My mother had been frantic as she watched her healthy teenaged daughter melt away. She marched me into Doctor's offices....pounded desks with her fist, and demanded that they get to the bottom of whatever it was that was causing me to lose so much weight. They never did. I feigned innocence. My monthly cycles stopped. I exercised like a fiend, ate like a horse and quietly disappeared into the bathroom immediately following every meal. Then we couldn't find a dress to fit the skeleton I had become. I hated myself.

Twenty years later, when my mother was diagnosed with cancer. I fought with the demon again. She died never knowing my secret or the fact that her grief stricken, painfully think daughter was starving herself again.

The room was suddenly static with disbelief -- my youngest daughter let the dress fall from her shoulders. It landed with a silent puff at her feet.

"Why did you keep the dress?" my eldest daughter asked.

I scooped the musty fabric from the floor. "As a reminder I suppose," I said, rocking it. She sat down beside me. "Why didn't you ever tell me?" The maternal tone in her voice laced with concern.

"It's not something I'm very proud of, " I whispered. "Or something that ever goes away."

I had confessed.

The appearance of the grad dress forced me to admit that bulimia has walked with me for thirty years. That I have wrestled with its powerful grasp through every major event in my life. That even now, when the world around me spins out of control, I look inward to the thing I CAN control and fight the urge to take its hand again.

As I eyed the soft fabric in my lap I realized that eating disorders never disappear, they simply shuffle themselves to the backs of closets and lurk. Whether mine was waiting for control or acceptance, I'm not sure. But now that the skeleton is out of my closet, I hope I can learn to accept the teenager who wore that dress, and perhaps forgive her the dark secret she's been hiding.

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