My Hardest Truth

One day, when I was about sixteen, which is the age when someone I loved and admired told me I looked horrible, that I’d gained weight and needed to change that, and wouldn’t look me in the eye when he said it, I ate a lot and a lot and a lot and then I walked into the bathroom and I threw it up. I did that off and on, every week or so, for too many years.

It’s taken me twenty years to say that publicly, even privately. No one except my immediate family knows that I suffered from bulimia. No one. I have best friends who might contact me, stunned, after reading this–or not, out of embarrassment or shame or anger or confusion.

And I don’t know why, sitting here alone in my living room on a Wednesday night, I suddenly feel that now is the time, at least as good a time as any. I’ve thought about writing this before. That’s what writers do—observe, think, see, and write so that we can understand and hopefully touch others in a way that makes them understand, too.

But I’ve never written it. Never even started writing it. A teller of “true stories,” it’s been the elephant in my room. “Well,” I’d ask myself, “when are you going to tell that story?”

I’m a private person. That’s been my justification. Which might seem odd—I put a lot of myself on the page openly. But I’ve shared mostly safe things. And the thought of neighbors and acquaintances and extended family reading these words is almost enough to not write them.

So I’ve told myself: this is incredibly private. It’s also a disorder of shame—there is nothing cool or interesting about sticking your finger down your throat. It’s not like holding a rocks glass of whiskey in the tips of your fingers or snorting a line of coke on a mirror or smoking a cigarette under a furrowed brow, all the (misguided) romantic notions of addiction. Who, really, wants to hear about leaning over a toilet? It’s a disorder of shame and secrecy to begin with, and imagine the shame of letting everyone in on that secret?

But over the almost two years since I started this blog, I’ve listened to women cry as they describe what it feels like to be raped. What it feels like to abort a baby. What it feels like to lose something, to miscarry, to struggle and yearn for a child. What it feels like to have PTSD, to lose a brother, to be at the butt end of racism.

These people tell me their stories and maybe it’s simply because I ask. Maybe it’s no more than that. But still, they share. They give me, and you, a part of themselves. And so I feel like a fraud, because if I were to ask myself, “What is the truest story you could share?” this would be it. And as these people, these storytellers, have had the courage to cry to me, to show me their fears, I’ve kept silent.

So I guess this is about truth, as a person and as a writer.

But this truth doesn’t define me. It is one of my struggles, one of many past and many to come. I know now that it’s not just about eating. It’s not just about weight. It’s a way, a dysfunctional way, to deal with stress. It was the outlet my sixteen-year-old mind found to deal with divorce, loneliness, grief, and feeling ugly. I didn’t do drugs. I didn’t drink. I didn’t skip school. I was too Type-A for all that. Instead, I committed my teenage rebellion in the darkness of a bathroom. By myself. Because I couldn’t show those who loved me that I wasn’t perfect.

Yes – I thought those who loved me might not really. Because why do we all do those shameful things? Why do we hide liquor bottles in the back of a drawer? Why do we start shooting up not at parties, but alone on a Saturday morning? Why do we eat and eat and eat and then lock the bathroom door and turn on the fan so no one hears? Because we’re unhappy and because we don’t feel, or feel we deserve, love.

So this is partly about truth and the courage to tell it, but it’s also about my daughter. Because as much as bulimia isn’t only about body image, it is all about it. And God help the person who makes my daughter feel like she doesn’t look the way she’s supposed to look. I’m going to have to get used to talking about this. Because I’m going to tell her what I’ve done. How could I claim perfection doesn’t matter and then hide the most imperfect part of myself?

And then I’m going to tell her: “See those dimples on your thigh? They are you. Your crooked smile? You. Your short legs? You. Your raspy laugh? You-est. And most importantly: the first time someone tells you that you need to smooth out your legs and straighten your lips will be just one of the many times you’ll have the privilege to know what it feels like to stand up for yourself, to love yourself, and to kick out of your life anyone who makes you feel less than. That is what I want for you, sweet Clara: to be able to defend yourself the way you would anyone else you loved.”

And if my daughter, then every daughter.

So I’m not sure why tonight, exactly. But I’ve learned, thankfully, to follow my instincts, trust my gut, listen to my heart above all other hearts. Others have shared their hard truths in this space and now I’ve shared one of mine.

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75 thoughts on “My Hardest Truth

  1. Wow. Thank you. This is so beautiful and the way you write about shame is the opposite of shame. Your writing is fearless.

    I too understand this dysfunction. For a decade I barely ate and then for another decade I overate and stuck my finger down my throat. And still even though I am over that, I still want food when I’m unhappy.

    Thank you so much for sharing this – especially for outing the shame, which I felt too.

  2. All I want to do right now is give you a BIG hug! I had no idea Jess. I knew you were going through some rough times in those years and always felt bad that there was a distance between us. It was our high school years though and as it goes, we hung out with different crowds and were in different classes and such. I am so thankful that you got the help you needed and are healthier now. It angers me that you were made to feel that way. You have always been one of the most beautiful people in my life and I have envied you for as long as I can remember. I really want to go punch that person in the face. 🙂 Seriously. I would. Give yourself a big hug from me today! Love ya!!

  3. Beautiful, Jess. Yes, we all have imperfections. Thanks for sharing with honesty. Your words will help others, including me, to remember this:

    “And most importantly: the first time someone tells you that you need to smooth out your legs and straighten your lips will be just one of the many times you’ll have the privilege to know what it feels like to stand up for yourself, to love yourself, and to kick out of your life anyone who makes you feel less than.”

    Yes. Again, beautiful. Your daughter is one lucky girl to have you as her mom. And I am lucky to have you as a friend. Thank you. xo

  4. Oh, Jess. So beautifully written and so brave of you to share. I wish I could give you a big hug.
    When I was 16, my on-and-off again boyfriend was home from college. We went to a movie (Casino, which of course is the longest movie ever) and during the intermission he turned to me and asked how much weight I had gained since he left for college. He said he was talking about it with his buddies and bet I had gained at least 10 pounds. He said my butt was starting to look like a bubble butt (he referenced a girl at school in comparison so I would understand just how big my butt was.)
    I should have smacked him across the face, left the movie and never talked to him again. But because this was someone I thought I loved, I didn’t. I stopped eating. I kept Dexatrim in my school book bag so I could take it if I felt hungry. Although I never really thought of myself as anorexic because I never got super skinny, looking back I did struggle with my body image and my lack of eating was so noticeable even our tour guide in Spain on our class trip said something about my lack of appetite.
    It took me years to come to terms with my body, to love it the way it was made. Now after 3 kids, trying to love this new body isn’t always easy, but I do love it. I’m comfortable in my own skin and I am with a man who loves me just the way I am. And I thank God he has never once made me feel anything less than perfect.

    • Ugh, Ginny, I’m so sorry you had to hear that. I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to eliminate all the idiots out there, so we just have to refuse to allow them to wound us. Hard (I know) but still–it’s the thing that finally stuck for me: why was I allowing someone to tell me what is beautiful?

  5. This made me cry. Especially this: “And if my daughter, then every daughter.” Yes, every daughter needs to hear words like these from every mother. Thank you for your honesty and your important words (maybe the most important words I’ve read in a long time). I’m so very glad you followed your instincts and wrote this.

  6. Sharing this was both difficult and brave, Jessica. We all have demons and you have written about your struggle with bulimia beautifully and sensitively. Both Henry and Clara are lucky to have your unconditional love. YOU have mine as well. Proud of you, Jess.

  7. Wow, Jess – so brave of you and I didn’t know! Your words are always so meaningful and beautifully written.

  8. Thank you for trusting us by disclosing such a personal, private remembrance. While I have seen you only from the one inch photo box next to your stories, I (and all of us here) know you much better right now. We all have experiences in our life that we disclose to no one, keeping them hidden in that back room of our brain. Embarrassed, frightened to release such personal items, they brood alone, festering and pestering. They clammer to be released, promising us that if we have the courage to do so, we will be emotionally healed a tiny bit. We usually don’t trust that to be true, thrusting them deeper inside. You give us courage to reconsider (and perhaps address) our doubts and fears, and by doing so, to begin healing and living our life like God intended. I thank you for your sharing. Today, YOU are my blessing.

  9. Wow. Thank you so much for sharing this part of you with us, Jess. Your beautiful writing reminds me of why we write, to find truth in experiences we may not have understood before, and help others see that truth as well, and realize they’re not alone.

  10. Jessica, A friend sent me your blog and as I was reading this song by the band Mercy Me came to mind. I pray that these words are embedded into the soul of my daughter and all little girls, as it is the longing of every girls heart to be loved.

    Days will come when you don’t have the strength
    When all you hear is you’re not worth anything
    Wondering if you ever could be loved
    And if they truly saw your heart they’d see too much
    You’re beautiful , You’re beautiful
    You are made for so much more than all of this
    You’re beautiful , You’re beautiful
    You are treasured, You are sacred, You are His
    You’re beautiful
    And praying that you have the heart to find
    Cause you are more than what is hurting you tonight
    For all the lies you’ve held inside so long
    And they are nothing in the shadow of the cross
    You’re beautiful , You’re beautiful
    You are made for so much more than all of this
    You’re beautiful , You’re beautiful
    You are treasured, You are sacred, You are His
    You’re beautiful
    Before you ever took a breath
    Long before the world began
    Of all the wonders He possessed
    There was one more precious
    Of all the earth and skies above
    You’re the one He madly loves enough to die

    • Thank you, Brooke, for coming by and sharing. Love is usually the answer, right? Except we have to teach girls that we don’t just mean the love from a man or a boy, but the love from parents and friends and self.

  11. This was incredible and I’m not sure how I stumbled upon it. You are not alone. I too have struggled with this and overeating and binging. I have found peace in the 12-step rooms of Overeaters Anonymous (OA) and saw so much of their stories in yours. Overeating, shame, weight issues, binging, restricting, whatever it is about food, it’s not about food. That’s the power of sharing and not isolating with these stories and information. Then it has no more power over you, or at least you are then not alone and you can seek out help and recovery in the communities out there who love you and prop you up. I’m so glad your shared. I’m so glad I found your blog. You are lovely and beautiful and so is your daughter. 🙂

    • Thanks so much, Kerstin. (It’s the beauty of the Internet, right?)
      Yes – all those words — “a weight lifted” “release it” — they’re true. To write it out or say it to someone is to release it, to share the burden. It takes too much bad energy to keep it inside.

  12. Jessica,
    You are so very brave and beautiful and I thank God everyday that we are family. Your voice brings courage and strength to many, keep up the great work. I love you with all my heart! Aunt Patty

  13. Jess, glad you found the courage to write and share this. Reading your story brought back so many memories of feeling just as you did. I recall skipping meals and feeling embarrassed to eat in front of people worried that someone would whisper about my weight. It has taken me many years to feel happy about who I am and how I look. I just hope I can emphasize to my kids the importance of acceptance, kindness, and self worth. I hope they will come to understand that the most attractive quality is confidence.

    • Oh, Michelle, thanks for your comments, too. I hate what we do to ourselves. So much time and energy and thinking wasted. I was writing with someone else today and we came up with a plan — every time we are about to say “My butt looks huge” or “I need to lose weight” we say, “I look hot” even if we don’t think it. Especially if our kids are listening.

  14. Jess, reading this (and everything else you write) just confirms what I have known for a long time. You are an exceptional woman and a GREAT writer.

    Pam

  15. What a brave and brilliant post! I think telling these truths about ourselves is another way to accept who we are and to love who we are, and love all those out there like us.

    And that quote about what you want your daughter to know–absolutely wonderful. Your daughter is so blessed to have you as a mother. I’m so glad you shared this with us.

    • Thank you, Deborah. Now having said this all out loud, I think you’re right–somehow I knew this was another step I needed to take. I thought I was basically healed but I feel so much lighter than I did yesterday.

  16. Thank you for your courage in revealing this truth. You remind me how when a women speaks her truth it allows others to find the opening within her to do the same. I’ve been worrying about revealing some of my own truths in my writing- you just transmitted some courage to me to do that, so thank you.

    • I’m so glad; thanks for letting me know. It’s true, we can help each other. I’m glad I helped you just a bit, like I’ve been helped by the countless others who share their stories.

  17. As always, this is beautifully written.
    And no one who knows you will judge you for this. As hard of a time in your life that no doubt was, it has made you who you are today. And for that, anyone who knows you is thankful.
    One of the few things I’ve learned so far in my life is that no matter what the outward appearance, everyone and every family, struggles with something. It may not be something that other people, if they knew about it, would think was a big deal, but I promise, the person dealing with it thinks it is. When I’m feeling down about the issues my family has, I take heart in knowing that I’m not alone. Everyone has something. It doesn’t matter if they are big issues or small. They’re dealing with something. And it’s usually the “alone-ness” that adds to the burden.
    I’m definitely not writing this as eloquently as you would, but because I know everyone struggles, I applaud and support your bravery in putting your struggle into words. You probably feel a bit better now that the cat’s out of the bag?

    • So much better, yes. It seems obvious now, but as I wrote above, it’s a lesson I keep learning over and over: getting it out makes it lighter, not heavier. You know, now that I think about it, I’ve never been let down by opening up to someone. I wonder why it’s so hard for most of us to do it…

  18. Jessica, I wrote just a little while ago about my own eating disorder during college. I had never talked about it publicly, and even members of my own family didn’t know about my anorexia during that time. I felt such shame about this “weakness” in my past. But I began to feel even more shame about me — as a mother, as a writer, as a feminist — keeping this secret. I realized that my own struggles and journey toward recovery could be helpful to other women who are struggling and have struggling with the same issues. Shame is such a powerful thing. I listened to my heart too, like you, and let it go.

  19. Beautifully written and I’m sure so hard for you to write. As always you make me proud of you and your courage to do the right thing. I love you more and more each day. Mom

  20. Hi Jess. Hard truths seems to be a hot topic right now. A very brave post written so eloquently. I’m sitting here thinking back to high school. I believe it was English class we sat next to each other. I never would have thought it, nor would I have thought you were going through hard times. My memories are a sweet, friendly, girl with a warm smile and like me, didn’t drink, do drugs or skip school.

    In this world, so many people have hard truths they keep inside. Whether it be out of fear, embarrassment, shame, self-consciousness, we ALL do it. Usually, there is more than one thing. Once we do find the courage to share it, even with one person, it’s amazing how much freer we feel. So, for that reason alone, I’m happy for you that you found the courage within you to share and release your young heart.

    One of my hard truths happened 10 years ago. The short version: I had a large wedding with 400 guests. While on our honeymoon, I had a gut feeling. After we got home, I researched it and my gut was right on. Four weeks after my wedding, I met with a lawyer to discuss an annulment. I learned my husband was gay. Thank goodness we never had sex. I kept it all inside and only my lawyer knew. The next two weeks, I planned my escape, rented an apartment and made sure everything was in order. Then, I told my parents, who were upset I hadn’t confided in them earlier. I moved out and then served my husband the papers. He had no clue I knew and of course he denied it. It took 9 months for the annulment to go through the courts. It’s probably the worst experience of my life. I felt every emotion in the book all at once and to top it off, I had to face the whole world with it. Not only that, but had to feel guilty about all the wedding gifts people gave that I couldn’t give back. When I told people, they all had the same reaction. They would laugh and then look at me and say, “Wait, you’re not joking? How did you not know?” Now, it’s one of the first things I share with people I meet. It probably freaks them out, but I feel better just getting it over with.

    During that rough time in my life, I re-found my art and have been drawing ever since. So I guess that would be my silver lining. I think you have a silver lining too.

  21. There’s a Hemingway quote that I’ve recently started using on my website that goes something like, “Write hard and clear about what hurts.” I’ve heard other folks say that for years, that that’s where your best writing comes from. The painful and dark places. Meh. I don’t know. When I write out of painful, dark places, it seems true enough.

    I don’t know why you shared what you shared when you did, but I think it’s awesome of you to be so brave, and selfless. One day, I may write about my own eating disorder. I doubt it, though. “Black people don’t have eating disorders…we can’t afford them…” is the running joke. But yeah. Maybe I will. One day. Reading this post just made me feel a little bit closer to that day. Thank you. 🙂

  22. Jess
    You’re writing is absolutely amazing as always. The courage you have is something to be admired. With just these few words I’m sure you’re going to help more people than you know!

  23. Oh Jessica! Thank you for sharing this truth with your readers and friends because there is always someone out there who can relate to it. Maybe it will help them and maybe it will help them feel less alone. I read somewhere where the question was asked, “If there was one piece of advice you could give to your younger self, what would it be?” My first thought was “Don’t fit in.” I was a very self-conscious child and teenager (fostered by an unhealthy upbringing that I won’t go into right just moment) and spent my time hiding within myself.

    We all have our dark truths and I commend you for listening to your gut to know that now was the right time to reveal it. I love you even more for sharing this part of yourself. And I’m not above hoping Karma has taken care of that asshole who shattered your self-image.

    xox, H

  24. Jessica! Wow! What a beautifully written post about an issue that every single woman and girl faces in varying degrees. Thank you so much for sharing your story. It was unexpected for me because even though I only know you through blogging and that one little picture – I think if you as such a confident, talented woman who is absolutely gorgeous! And, this post confirmed that for me because it takes true courage and love for the self to put out there our greatest secrets & vulnerabilities. Your daughter is so lucky! I hope I can give that to my daughter too (I couldn’t wait after all & found out it’s a girl!) Once you talk openly about something like this it does lose it’s control over you. Good luck in your journey!

  25. Jess, I can’t believe how wonderfully fearless you are. This took real moxie to tell the world. It felt right, your timing was perfect and the weights and veils are now lifted. I hope that you are feeling oh so happy you went to this place.–not only to help others with their own demons, but that you are now benefiting the most from opening this dark closet in the basement.. So, so proud of you. sending love…

  26. Jessica, your honesty and truth will inspire others. You are so insightful about the feelings that you had then and how you feel now as an adult. It’s a triumph OVER shame and so many of us can learn from that. Thank you.

  27. Jessica—as a fellow author and “email friend,” I have to tell you that you’ve made me proud. Proud to know you, proud to know you’ve overcome this, proud you’ve shared, and proud that you have grown from it. Your daughter is incredibly lucky to have you and your experiences to learn from, as painful as they may be. I have a friend who struggled with bulimia all through high school, and I didn’t know about it until college; as hard as it was to hear about it after the fact, I understood why she had to wait to tell me. In the same way, I understand why you did, and why, one day, it just needed to come out. Thank you for your honesty! I hope that many will learn from it as you have. By the way—I’ve been pretty absent on the blog circuit of late (I believe I emailed you about this), but I still catch all your posts. This, by far, is one of my favorites. XOXO

  28. Amazing post! I am so proud of you for sharing your truth. I only share things about myself that I feel comfortable with sharing, too. At least for now. I do plan on sharing two of my biggest truths some day. One, which is about my family and the hardships I went through as a child, will be the hardest to share because of how powerful those memories still are too me, and how much they affected my life when I was little. So I praise you for having the courage to tell all of us your story. This is something that can make a difference in people’s lives -especially young women’s lives. And I love what you’ll tell your daughter when the time comes. She’s lucky to have a wonderful mom like you!

    • Thanks so much, Chrys. I understand how you feel now, completely. I wasn’t ready for a long while. You’ll know when the time is right. I was and still am surprised the way it hit me; of course, plenty of things led up to me being pretty comfortable with it, but it felt sudden.

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  30. Yay Jess! Congrats on opening up about something so personal and the growth and healing that provided. I’m very proud of you and feel even more fortunate that you’re my friend. Also, this is yet another beautiful, soul-touching post that has moved the hearts of many, as you can clearly see in the comments. And those are just the folks who comment, imagine all of the other women and men you’re reaching. As a mom to boys, I will do my best to make them mindful of their words. I miss you so terribly much my love and am so incredibly proud of the wonderful, wonderful woman you are.

  31. Gosh I feel like this is a bigger accomplishment than running a marathon. What an incredible person you are to be honest and trustworthy of your readers. I think you are and have always been such a beautiful girl and with this being said I really admire you Jess.

  32. I read this the other day and didn’t have time to comment. This was beautifully written. I think that’s what gives us the courage to share our hard truths, knowing it could help someone we love. Great post.

  33. Not just for daughters everywhere – for sons. If have two, they’re still little, but I’m trying to show them that all women are beautiful, that all people are beautiful. Because if either of them were to do what that person did to you, I would be devastated! And I would certainly feel like a failure as a parent.

    • A lovely goal, and I completely agree. I hope to do the same for my son. Not only to teach him how to think about and talk about people, but also himself, because boys and young men struggle with body image, too.

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