Eating disorders are physical and emotional illnesses involving complex relationships with eating and body image.  Since the pandemic, eating disorders are even more prevalent, with a reported 66% increase in hospital admissions.  Elizabeth Cook, member of Tree of Life, Harrisburg, shares her personal story, which inspired her to facilitate a support group called, Eating Disorders and Disordered Eating Support System (EDDESS). Learn more about the support group here.

Journeying with Bulimia and Company

By Liz Cook, Tree of Life, Harrisburg

When I first entered Sol Stone, an eating disorder treatment center in upstate New York, it seemed as if my mind was on a crash course with an angry locomotive.  Thoughts went from racing pathways to abrupt stops to speeding nearly off the rails and chugging on dangerously low fuel.  And the tracks led everywhere, tunnels of guilt, bridges of consequence, intersections of despair and destruction, even yards of shame and humiliation.

And there I was, trying to conduct this monstrosity with blinders on in an already foggy reality.

I remembered the fear and harm this caused, uninvited, and seeing shattered trust smeared across the faces of family and friends.  “Why is Mom so thin?”, “She looks sick!”, “How come she never wants to have dinner together?” and on and on. This reality screamed louder than a train whistle could ever match. I paid it attention and did everything in my power to stifle it.  And that gave it more power.  But that wasn’t all.

Bulimia was the culmination of all things, all thoughts pleasant or painful, neutral or polarizing.  It made sense of the roaring train, giving it a reason to keep moving.  It was the fuel when there was none and the deficit when there was plenty.  It seemed it had always existed, even at birth, just waiting for a moment in the spotlight. It craved glory.

And glorious it was.  It brought me beauty and the disguise of health.  It cloaked me with attention, adoration, compliments and popularity.  Mostly, I had a reason for being.  I had it!  I did it!  I loved it!  And it loved me back, until finally it didn’t.

At times it got grouchy and mean and demanded too much. And it refused to settle down or hide either.  I’d tell it to go away or at least stay out of sight but with every one of my demands it seemed to grow. One day, finally its’ shadow grew too large and I simply disappeared.

That made room for it to attract new friends like addictions, behaviors and illusions that upheld its’ status with a fervor. They voted for it in every election and proclaimed victory over and over again, uncontested and without term limits.  I had lost.

Surprisingly to many, myself most of all, every time oblivion surrounded me I could see just a teensy glimmer of light hiding behind the monstrous shadow. Enough so, I clung to survival.

Six weeks…..a start.  A really, really good start. Bulimia and company are still on the trip too and I’ve decided they can be passengers or nothing at all.  The locomotive isn’t resting at the station getting a spiffy new splash of color or an interior buff and facelift.  It’s still gliding from stop to stop, barricades and obstacles ever present and ready to further materialize.  But what has changed is the constitution of the locomotive itself.

It does have a new exterior, a harder and more callous one, serving as necessary cosmetic.  It is fortified and more tenacious than ever.  And Bulimia and friends are still in there, behind it all, protected in a daring and different way.  They are isolated and living in separate compartments of the locomotive.  They are present but usually in the depths of the sleeping cabins, slumbering and barely aware.

And the locomotive rattles along, hitting the rails at a legato tempo.  It sways gently and uniform.

The ride is fairly consistent although there are moments of rude interruption.  A rattle becomes a wreckage in the wake and the sleeping cabins are jolted – restless and annoyed.  It shakes the latches noticeably until the cabin itself is ready to lodge violently from the body.

But that new tough exterior has an important job; to protect the assembly of the whole.  So Bulimia and friends eventually gets lulled back to rest and the joy, sadness, exhilaration, letdown and everything in between settles down and continues on the journey,

The locomotive continually courts new passengers.  Some have appropriate tickets to planned destinations, others impromptu impulses and still others, stowaways on the caboose.  Not all get on board because the new conductor won’t allow it.  She has a heightened sense of discernment and resolve.

The beauty of this vessel is the vessel itself; the capture of things encountered from station to station.  The beauty is palpable.  Passengers eagerly line up to board her splendor.  The skyline anticipates her approach every day with delight and the trees she winds past appreciates the breeze she conjures.

Thus the journey continues as long as there is a track to travel.  A journey full of adventure and aggravation, hope and opportunity.

A journey that’s worth it, because whatever the destination, the train will arrive. It will arrive indeed.

Written by Liz Cook, Tree of Life, Harrisburg