Written by: Greta Gleissner
Prior to recovery, when my bulimia started over two decades ago, in 1990, I didn’t know anyone else with bulimia. That seems strange now, since bulimia had been a diagnosis in the DSM-III since 1980. In any case, I knew one person who identified as a chronic dieter and overeater, and one who (my peers) identified as an anorexic. At the time I didn’t actually know her, but I was intrigued that someone else did secretive things with food. At the beginning of my eating disorder, the one bulimic I knew of was Meredith Baxter, the actor who portrayed the part of a bulimic in the movie, Kate’s Secret. As far as bulimia went, I was the only real-life Somebody I knew.
In the early stages, the eating disorder made me feel, for the first time, like I was somebody—instead of just some body. Rather, some nobody. Up until the eating disorder, my sense of self came from being a good student, cheerleader, dancer, etc. I felt like just another body on the squad, another body doing grand battlements at the ballet barre, etc. And that body was far from perfect. Moreover, the external roles I played in my daily didn’t give me a secure foundation because I lacked a good-enough internalized sense of self.
This new identity I quickly latched onto seemed to hold more weight than other parts of myself. Not only was it something that made me feel in control (in the beginning) and made me feel I had something special that was for only me to know (in the beginning), it served as a distraction and became my go-to coping mechanism for all of the pieces of the self I wanted to abandon—feeling different, inadequate, like a chameleon, average, stupid, imperfect, ugly, acne-ridden, my awareness of the yearning for connection, the gnawing ache of emptiness, and many more. For a long time, I entrenched myself in the belief that I needed to be that Somebody—who else would I be without it? My suspicions about whom I would or wouldn’t be without it served as a major maintaining factor for holding onto the eating disorder and a barrier to my recovery for many years.
In reflecting on this year’s National Eating Disorders Awareness Week’s theme, I realize that during the early years of the bulimia, I became the Somebody my friends thought of in relation to knowing someone with an eating disorder. Of course, not too long after I started the bulimia, I befriended the girl rumored to have anorexia, and later learned that she, too, was bulimic. And then there were two. I didn’t know then that so many others shared our problem. While the eating disorder initially brought me closer to my friends and some family members, as the bulimia progressed, being that Somebody ultimately blocked me from have close relationships with people in my life. I hated myself more than I could’ve imagined. I wanted nothing to do with that part of myself. Unfortunately by the time I realized this, it was too late. The eating disorder had taken me from enticement to entrapment.
Two decades later, and many years of recovery, I am reminded of that Somebody, almost daily. Young women mirror versions of my former self as I pass them on the street—in my neighborhood, at the gym, at the FroYo shop, on the bus, at the park. While I am no longer that Somebody, I see her everywhere. I seem to have a hyper awareness of young women whose present shares my past. Sometimes I notice her because of her physical presence, while other times it may be an energy she gives off or, perhaps, it is the emptiness behind her eyes to which I used to relate so heavily. I also know that many more women (and men) with eating disorders pass by me who cover it up so well that no one would think that they could be that Somebody.
While I used to envy some of the young women I’d see while in my own eating disorder, today I feel empathy. I know that pain and wish I could take it away. I want to her to realize that it isn’t worth it. I wish I could snap my fingers and she could be free from the shackles of the eating disorder. I also know that everyone’s process is her own, which gives me hope that she will come out on the other side.
It would be nice to not have to write about this theme, as it is most unfortunate that Everyone Knows Somebody. The more we can spread awareness, the more activism we can do, the more hope we can offer, and the more we will be able to say…
Everyone Knows Somebody… WHO HAS RECOVERED. YOU can help. So PLEASE, do what you can today and the days that follow to take action for the prevention and intervention of eating disorders.
Greta Gleissner, LMSW, is a New York City-based psychotherapist and author specializing in eating disorders, substance abuse and co-occurring mood disorders. In recovery herself, her first book, Something Spectacular: The True Story of a Rockette’s Battle with Bulimia, is a raw, personal chronicle of the devastating effects bulimia exacts upon her personal and professional life during her time as a Radio City Rockette.
Greta has been a recovery speaker and writer for the world-renowned Sierra Tucson treatment facility in Arizona. Greta writes for Huffington Post, Psychology Today, Gurze Books publishing blog, and publishes a personal blog about eating disorder recovery. Greta has appeared on HLN’s “Showbiz Tonight,” CNN, FOX News and in publications such as XOJane, Fox News Health, The New York Post and The Advocate.
Greta received her Masters in Social Work degree from New York University. Greta previously worked as the Day Treatment Team Leader at The Renfrew Center of Old Greenwich, Connecticut and as a Recovery Coach for Hazelden New York. Greta maintains a private practice in New York City and works for Carolyn Costin’s Monte Nido treatment facility. Greta has dedicated her life to the field of addiction and eating disorders, and uses her experience as a platform to help others, both personally and professionally.