Skip to Content

Drowning out Emotion: Cathy's Battle Against Anorexia

Crissy Field Swim WWS.jpg

This two-part article was written exclusively for by Cathy Harrington. In this article, Cathy talks about the repeated abuse she encountered throughout her life, her struggles with anorexia, and how she was finally able to find the help she needed.

I am writing this to bring a little hope to anyone out there who might be struggling with an eating disorder and feels that they will never recover. I have been free from anorexia and purging for almost nine years now. I had suffered from disordered eating since I was 11 years old. I am now 57. There were times during my journey when I believed there was no hope for me and that I would never make it through to the other side.

Drowning out Emotions

I did not grow up in a stable household. My father and mother divorced when I was 4 years old, and I was sexually abused by a neighbor when I was 5. After the abuse, I felt like there was something horribly wrong with me. However, that wouldn't be the only time that someone would violate me sexually during my childhood. Each time it would add to the belief that I was dirty and that something was wrong with me. I developed the belief that I was only put on this earth to be a play toy. I never told my mom what was going on because I was just too afraid.

When I was 9, my mother married my stepfather. He and my mother did not agree on how children should be disciplined, which led to many arguments. Many times these arguments would go into the wee hours of the morning. I don’t remember if I compensated with food at that time, but I clearly remember my mother put me on my first “diet” when I was 11. She thought I was overweight. From that point on, I kept a strict watch on what I ate as to not make my mother angry with me. I can remember being so hungry at night that I would cry myself to sleep.

The Magic Answer

For as long as I can remember I had always been involved in sports, and when I was around 12 I joined a year-round swim team. The swim team became more like a family to me than my biological family. My family rarely went to any of my swim competitions, so the mothers and fathers of my teammates became my surrogate parents. When I aged out of the swim team I became extremely depressed and started to binge-eat to drown out my emotions. I put on a lot of weight the year after I quit the team.

I left my parents' house when I was 19 and took a temporary job at the Grand Canyon working in a cafeteria. I was allowed unlimited access to the food pantry at the cafeteria, so I continued to gain weight at an unhealthy level. After that summer I moved to Flagstaff, Arizona, and moved in with some friends from church. It took me awhile to find a permanent job, and since I wasn't working I didn't feel like I was worthy enough to be eating either. However, I was also mortified about the fact that I had gained so much weight previously and was determined to lose it all. When I began losing weight, people started complimenting me on my self-control. Later, I learned that I could eat and throw up after and still continue to lose pounds. I thought I had found the magic answer.

Miraculous Births

After living in Flagstaff for about a year, I started dating my future husband. He was the first boy who I had ever really dated or had a romantic relationship with. We were married after dating for only three months. A year after we got married, I became pregnant with my daughter. It was also around that time when my husband started to abuse me verbally and emotionally.

I had continued to restrict and purge during my pregnancy. I am very fortunate that my daughter was born healthy. I did have some complications during the pregnancy, and I’m sure it had to do with my disordered eating behaviors. My husband became more violent after the birth of my daughter. I always thought the abuse was my fault because I wasn't pleasing him enough and that this was why he was always so angry. I did what I could to appease him, but nothing seemed to work.

I became pregnant with my first son two years after my daughter was born. During this pregnancy, I didn't gain any weight and was constantly at the hospital getting tests done to figure out why. I never told my doctor or the nurses about my extreme fear of gaining weight. I had kidney failure towards the end of my pregnancy and was put on bed rest until my son was born. I was miserable because I could not get up to go to the bathroom after I ate. As a result I just continued to restrict my intake and only drank water and coffee. My son was born at a normal weight, and my doctor was amazed.

Click here to read Part II