Perfectionism and Protection- A Teen’s Story of Addiction and Control

 She’s a petite 17-year-old girl, with little makeup and a kind smile. She is an only child. She has good relationships with her friends and loves to talk with them about boys, school stress, and gossip. She would never talk specifically about struggle she’s dealing with at home, but she will hint about them indirectly with her friends. She doesn’t talk to any of her friends about serious issues that she’s dealing with nor does she talk to her parents. I innocently asked, who’s there for you?  Her response,“that’s why I now have a therapist.”  She explained how when she was 16 years old she had everything bottled up inside her and struggled with depression, extreme mood swings and sought solace in drugs and alcohol. She talked about how her depression hit an all-time low at one point and she overdosed. Her drug of choice ecstasy and alcohol of choice vodka. Once this happened she had to come clean to her parents and tell them about the depression and obviously the drugs and alcohol. She was extremely scared because she had never opened up to them about “anything” before. When she told her parents about the drug issue her mom cried and her dad was sad. She was surprised by how open and comforting they were about her situation and sent her to rehab. The thing she feels the worse about is that by coming clean to her parents, she’s basically admitting to them that they don’t know her. She’s been lying to them. Lying about who she is and what she does. This truly bothered her the most. She said that time heals all when talking about going into treatment for her drug and alcohol issues. She then tells me that on top of the drug and alcohol issues and the depression, she also had an eating disorder. She had become anorexic for a period of time as a form of control over her life. She felt hiding the eating disorder was very easy to do. She stressed to me that it had nothing to do with body image at all, it was all about control.

 

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One Teen’s Struggle with Perfectionism and Bulimia (Narrative)

I am a six or seven out of 10 on the scale of self-esteem.

I am not some teenage girl on the Disney Channel who writes in a diary and cries about a boy who doesn’t like her. No, that’s not deep enough. That downgrades my issues.

I don’t have a diary.

I don’t write, “Dear diary, so-and-so doesn’t like me back.”

No – when I have a bad day, I scream, punch pillows, and listen to angry music at the highest volume until everything else fades away.

Or I smoke weed.

Or, I used to throw up until I passed out.

Have you ever seen that on the Disney Channel?

I am a six or seven, but this wasn’t always the case. There is one thing I need you to clearly understand about me before you walk away: I HATE who I was a year ago. Who I am today, right now, is not who I was even a couple months ago.

I have struggled with bulimia since the fourth grade.

I’ve always kind of had people make fun of me for my weight. I’m not fat but I’m not thin. Boys especially like to point this out every chance they get. Like recently a guy told my friend that I was a chunky girl. He said that only black guys would ever like me because they’re the only ones who could handle my “thickness.”

What? Excuse me? 

I would usually take a comment like that to heart, but this time I didn’t let it affect me. This time, I confronted him… well, yelled at him actually. I’ve come a long way.

But the main source of my bulimia doesn’t stem from cruel comments about my weight.

It all started in the third grade when my dad moved away. My mom was kind of unstable. Sometimes she was more than kind of unstable; she was CRAZY. Other times she would just come home from work, go to her bedroom, and shut her door for the night. About a year ago, she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. But at the time I had no idea. No idea at all what was going on with her.

So I raised my sister and me. Even though she is older, I helped her with her homework and did her laundry. She’s kind of a princess. I was always the one making meals, doing the chores… all that stuff. It got to be too much. A fourth grader shouldn’t be cooking dinner every night and making lunches every morning, you know?

I felt like I was losing control of my life. I had to put myself and my energy into something.

So I put them into throwing up.

Later I discovered that one of my friends had anorexia. I didn’t know at first because I was too trapped in my own head to focus on other people’s problems. When I found out, our relationship changed. We were both obsessed with our eating disorders and would root each other on.

She’d call and say, “Did you eat lunch today?”

I’d say no.

She’d say, “Good. Don’t. And here’s why you shouldn’t eat dinner either.”

It was not a healthy friendship at all, and I can see that. Now, anyway.

My relationship with boys wasn’t healthy either. In middle school, I got a bad reputation for being a slut. I craved attention. The feeling of having someone who “wanted” me took over. When a guy noticed me, I would think, Oh my God! A guy actually WANTS me? I would do anything then, you know? And guys turned into huge assholes, using me all the time.

Between boys and bulimia, I was a mess. When I started coughing up blood and passing out, my mom and dad decided to take action. They sent me to a hospital and from there I went into residential treatment.

My anorexic “friend” would call me while I was in rehab. She’d be like, “Oh my God. Are they making you fat? I bet they’re making you SO fat.”

But they weren’t making me fat; they were making me myself again. An amazing thing happened there: I found tools. Things I liked. I got back into horseback riding and played volleyball. I quit cheerleading. THANK GOD. Cheerleading was so incredibly negative.

I had to just kind of get to know myself again, you know? Find out what I liked because I had NO idea. After trying to please my parents and boys for so long, I didn’t know how to make myself happy.

I was completely absorbed with attaining perfection.

I forgot who I was.

Now I know: I love volleyball and horseback riding. I like feeling completely out of mind, not consumed by any thoughts. I like having something to put my energy into other than throwing up, something to strive for, something to focus on. I like having healthy and reasonable goals.

Before rehab, my goal would be something like: Okay, if only I can lose five pounds and get down to 110. Then it would change to: Okay, now if only I can lose five more, you know? Not good. Now I can set goals like moving up to the next level in horseback riding or achieving first place in my next volleyball competition. Much better.

I’ve found myself in a lot of ways, but I still feel that nagging pressure to please people. Like my parents. I’m always afraid of letting them down. When I’m really depressed, I won’t go to my mom and say, “Hey, I’ve been feeling really down lately.” I don’t want her to worry, you know? I’ll tell her almost anything, but not the emotional stuff. I don’t want to disappoint, scare, or upset her.

I want both of my parents to be proud. Proud to call me their daughter. I want them to tell their friends, “Yeah, my daughter, she gets straight As.” As opposed to like, “Oh… my daughter? She likes to drink and she is failing all her classes.”

Pressure to please my parents keeps me on track. To a point. I want them to help me control the things I can’t on my own. Like homework. I don’t do it or turn it in unless someone is breathing down my neck. I’ve just never been motivated.

But other times my parents are too controlling. They can’t tell me to clean my room. I get really pissed off. That’s MY area. They definitely can’t take away anything in my bathroom. Especially my makeup. One time they took it as punishment and their plan backfired.

I kicked a hole in the wall.

Other times they tell me what to do or who to hang out with. That’s when I act rebellious and go out drinking on Friday night, things like that. I mean, it’s understandable they don’t want me to drink and do drugs. I don’t take it to heart, but I do understand.

Don’t get me wrong though. I don’t want to fuck up my future, you know? I want good grades. I want to go to college. I just want to have fun along the way. Party on the weekend, study on the weekdays.

Then there’s that other group I aim to please: BOYS.

Basically, if I know I’m going to see a guy during or after school or whatever, I either straighten my hair and put on makeup or hide my face. I feel so much pressure. Even if we’re just friends, even if I’m not into him or he’s not cute, I want to impress him.

I just get so nervous. I get nervous they talk about me the way they talk about other girls to me. They are SO brutal. Like when this guy was getting with this really, REALLY pretty girl. She was so beautiful and he was sitting there like, “Oh my God. She is such a troll. She’s so disgusting. Her face is disgusting.”

What? Well you’re the one hooking up with her. 

It makes me wonder what they say that I don’t know about. I would never have the heart to tell another girl, “Well so-and-so said this about you,” you know? I don’t think people would want to tell me either. The whole idea just makes me uncomfortable.

Regardless, I have had an on-and-off boyfriend for five months or so. He is really, really incredible and treats me well. For the first time ever a boy treats me well! But no matter how sweet he is or how much he tells me I’m beautiful, he can’t see me with curly hair or frumpy clothes. I feel like I have to look perfect. I know he doesn’t care, but I’m uncomfortable still and won’t change soon.

He is a guy after all.

I don’t trust guys.

I’ve been fucked over too many times.

Thankfully, I do have two people in my life I trust completely. I can tell my big sister – the princess – anything. 100%. She’s my best friend. My older cousin too. She’s been through a lot of the things I have and she’s on the other side now. She always has a solution for me.

While you’re not my sister or my cousin, I will still trust you with one embarrassing fact: I watch reality TV. Maybe Disney doesn’t go deep enough, but reality TV takes it too far. It teaches you everything that can possibly ruin you and glorifies everything that should not be held high.

I don’t know if you’ve ever seen Bridalplasty? It’s a reality show where all these women compete for plastic surgery before their weddings – bigger boobs, nose jobs, stuff like that. But the thing is, these women are already beautiful. So beautiful just the way they are.

It is the worst show self-esteem-wise but my favorite to watch. I think because watching it makes me feel like I’m not alone. Everyone, even these perfectly beautiful women, find things wrong with them. So I started thinking, Maybe I’m in their position. Maybe I’m beautiful but just can’t see it because I find all these things wrong with myself.  This crazy show made me realize everyone has their issues and no one is completely happy with who they are.

I’m not, but I’m getting closer. Today I am in the best place I’ve been in a long time.  I’m a six or seven out of 10. I am upper middleclass. I am Caucasian. I am 14. I am a freshman.

How could I also be 10 out of 10 on the scale of self-esteem? I would have to drop every unreasonable expectation for myself.  Perfect skin. Perfect hair. Cute outfits all the time.

If you ask me if I think I can reach 10 out of 10 someday, I will answer softly that I think I can. And if you ask me if I want to reach 10 out of 10, I will answer even more softly that I do.

Maybe someday I will want it enough to speak in more than just a whisper.

Sexual Harassment at Schools | AAUW

The American Association of University Women is one of those great organizations dedicated to helping women. They offer annual reports on research that they have conducted, they post insightful  articles, offer scholarship and fellowship funding for young women to attend college and just all around serve as a very credible source of information for women today. Having worked on college campuses for the past 16 years, they were always a source of information for me. Their most recent report is about sexual harassment on high school campuses. Prior to reading the report, I had no idea how prevalent sexual harassment was among high schoolers.  In addition, the report break down the differences between bullying and sexual harassment so that we have a clear understanding of the two and how they differ.  Harassment occurs in all forms; boys harassing girls, boys harassing boys, as well as girls harassing girls. The AAUW also describes  in this report the different forms of harassment that occur today among our youth in detail with proven statistics.  I highly encourage educators of middle school and high school students to read the report.  The more informed we are, the better prepared we become to handle these situations and take care of our youth.

Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at Schools | AAUW.

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