Note: A name has been changed among the victims request
The nagging impulse, frequently urgent, has been familiar for years. It has probably led Haley Garfield into the brightly lit kitchen of her mother’s house, where she has stood countless times contemplating the fridge or the snacks that lay within the dark wooden cabinets. It has led her to taking laxatives and tragically, that same impulse led the 21-year-old woman to a point where she would not eat, unless she knew she could regurgitate it afterwards.
For Garfield, the binge-and-purge cycle was, and from time to time still is a seductive voice that has made a comforting home deep inside her mind. “It’s there to calm the worry,” said Garfield, referring to her disorder as bringing her relief at times. “I fear living a lonely life, aka a non-fulfilling life. I want to feel connected to the environment where I live, I want to be successful on my own terms, I have high expectations of myself – so that’s why I think the bulimia came to me.”
Eating disorders do not just affect women; it’s a silent epidemic for men as well. Nineteen-year-old Devin Guerrei is one of these victims.
“I didn’t realize I was dealing with anorexia until I was 17,” he said. “At that point, it had been going on for two years. I would come very close to passing out at work and never ate at school. There wasn’t one moment in particular that it struck me, but it was just kind of a fact to me. The little bits I did eat at home never stayed down because I also developed bulimia.”
Guerreri admitted that he believes his family helped spark his two eating disorders. They would never mean to, but he believes it initially came as a result of their intolerance to his sexuality. “I come from a very Christian household where being gay is a very big sin,” he said. “When I came out, they were all very unreceptive and afraid.”
There was a lot of anger, a lot of fighting and a lot of resisting on his part. His family tried to put him in therapy for his sexuality and force him to believe it was a phase, and since he wasn’t “good enough” at home, he felt he had to be skinny enough to be accepted at least by society.
“Even being a male, there is such a high expectation to look a certain way. You’re either supposed to be this big macho man, or this skinny little trim figure. In reality I was a pretty normal build and weight, but what I saw in the mirror was a gut and a weird face. Unfortunately there was no real role model at the time like there is now, so I just felt even more pressure,” Guerreri said.
Garfield first developed what she would formally call an eating disorder when she was in high school. Now, six years later, she can finally say she is hopefully on her way to recovery.
Garfield unknowingly went a good amount of years without realizing she had bulimia. After going away to college, her purging was occurring on a much more chaotic scale – about 10 times more frequently than before.
“I had been practicing this for a while but I was in denial about it for years,” she admitted. “July of 2011 I started to realize my behavior was “off” but I thought “I don’t do it that often” and “I don’t have a problem, I can control it” … But one day at UConn – I realized I had to sneak around a lot more and I had to plan it, which freaked me out.”
According to her, once she was living at school, something snapped – her high expectations of finally being a UConn undergraduate caused a lot of anxiety for her resulting Garfield’s bulimia to become an everyday thing.
“There was a point where there was a time where I wouldn’t eat unless I knew I could throw it up after – I started missing classes,” said Garfield.
Practically no one knew, or even still knows of her battle with bulimia. Six of her friends know, as does her boss, a doctor and a therapist – but no one else, including her family.
When asked “why no family?” the answer was short and sweet, it was because they don’t need to know. Sitting there though, with a blank stare on her face with her mouth open, you could tell more words were anxious to come out, and after a minute or two, they did.
“They don’t need to know because they’re wrapped up in their own problems, they’re just like ‘woe is me’ and they’re not so engrossed in big problems,” she said. “I don’t want to place a bigger burden, also I know how they handle things and I don’t think they’d take it well.”
Garfield proceeded to explain that her mother’s initial reaction would probably be accepting, be then she’d dwell on the news and blame herself.
“I don’t want her to think it’s her fault,” she noted, “also, there’s no way for just one family member to know, once one knows they all know, so I never thought of it as a smart thing to do.”
In July of 2012 Garfield knew something had to be done so she took it upon herself to start seeing a family counselor specializing in young adults with eating disorders, and has been seeing that same therapist once a week ever since.
Checking in with where Garfield is now; she has recently just taken the year off from UConn because she couldn’t handle being in a full time relationship with bulimia and go to school full time. Her goals within the next year are to go back to school, take two or three classes but commute from home so she can remove herself from that atmosphere but put her foot back in the water. Doing this will give her enough time to also go to therapy sessions 2-3 times a week, see a dietician twice a month, and work a part time job.
“My therapist and doctor recommended a rehabilitation center in St. Louis that would be for six months,” she said. “Part of me wants to go but there are a few things that are holding me back. 1) Money 2) my family would have to find out and 3) I feel like if I remove myself from my life and I build myself a new life while there, I would just relapse when I came home.”
Is it really a true recovery, she wondered aloud?
In a way Guerreri somewhat answered this lingering question in her mind through his own experience. “As much as I would like to say I’m fully recovered, I know that I’m not. I did go through intensive treatment and therapy after my best friend told my parents I was struggling, and it changed me for the better, but there are still days I struggle. Days I don’t eat, days I lock myself in my room. I have fully recovered from bulimia but it did take a toll on the most important thing in my life.” The prime example he brought up was his career in singing. The acid that comes up ruins vocal cords so he is still working on getting his voice and skills back fully.
“I don’t want to be off of this for just 10 years, I want to be off this for good,” she ended with. “And I want to know that I did it myself.”
Guerreri finished by saying anorexia and bulimia have made him a much stronger person. “I was always afraid to speak out for what I believe in until I went through treatment, and I’m one hundred percent more confident now. It’s allowed me to open doors to other opportunities and has given me an appreciation for what I have.”