by June Alexander
My Christmas at age 11 was not happy. If you are dreading this Christmas, hold on to hope for things will get better. My wish for you is that you will seek and follow the well-lit path that provides healing and happiness, self-belief and self-compassion. I searched a long time to find this path. I am glad I persevered, because now I’m free to embrace not only the joys of the festive season but also every day. Keep searching for your recovery-of-self path. You will be so glad you did. The following excerpt is from my memoir, A Girl Called Tim, when I was 11, and lost in an eating disorder:
There was one social event I could not avoid. One evening during the week before Christmas, everyone in the Glenaladale, Woodglen and Iguana Creek district gathered for our primary school’s annual concert in the “Glen” hall. Gum tips, colorful paper streamers and bunches of balloons camouflaged the unlined timber walls. The Christmas tree was a big cypress branch, standing in a 44-gallon drum covered in red and green crepe paper. Our mothers helped us to decorate the foliage with balloons and paper chains, angels and Chinese lanterns that we had made with small squares colored of paper, scissors and Clag, (a glue made from flour and water), at school. Set in the corner beside our little performance area, the tree evoked much excitement as the mother’s club ladies placed gifts around its base. “Which one is mine?” the children looked at each other and giggled. Anticipation mounted as we presented our carols, skits and nativity play. Our parents laughed and clapped.
Normally I would be as excited as everyone else but tonight I stood in the back row, trying to hide in the shadows of the tree. The concert over, a bell clanged and the children clambered to sit on the front wooden bench, as big, jolly Santa entered the hall the door, waving his bell and singing “Ho, Ho, Ho”. He called to us, one by one, asked us what we wanted for Christmas and gave us our gift from the tree. Over the years I had asked for a pony, a gun, and a cowgirl suit. I didn’t know what to ask for this year and didn’t care. I could not laugh or smile. Santa gave me a pen, commemorating completion of Grade Six, and I hurried back to my seat. I wanted to go home. I felt removed from my friends and people were looking at me.
My chest was flat and my periods were sporadic; my mind was full of thoughts of food and exercise. Anorexia had dominated my final year of primary school.
Christmas Day was not happy for my family that year. My city cousins, who gave me an excuse to sleep on the veranda, didn’t visit because they had moved from Melbourne to Portland, on the western side of Victoria, too far to travel to our farm.
So there was just Mum and Dad, Joy, Grandpa and a few old family friends for Christmas dinner. My parents gave me a beautiful, solid timber, locally made desk. Complete with pencil tray and drawers, it was an encouraging acknowledgement of my budding writing passion. I’d been writing stories at school, reading them to the class, and some were published in the Australian Children’s Newspaper.
For Christmas dinner I tried to please Mum by eating a boiled chicken leg, my first meat in months, and a big serve of boiled cabbage. Lately I’d been eating a tomato for lunch so this was a feast. By now Mum had accepted that putting food on my plate was a waste if I said I would not eat it. There was no point giving me roast beef, lamb or pork, roast potato, pumpkin, and thick, brown gravy, or any of the plum pudding, served with warm custard sauce and cream. Mum did not need to hide any threepences or sixpences in a pudding serve for me that year.
If you are in the grips of an eating disorder, or know someone who is, know that with the right support and guidance, things will get better.
Helplines and links
- Australians needing support with eating disorders or body image issues are encouraged to contact Butterfly’s National Helpline on 1800 ED HOPE (33 4673). For urgent support, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
- Eating Disorders Family Australia: www.edfa.org.au
- F.E.A.S.T. (The global support and education community of and for parents of those with eating disorders): https://www.feast-ed.org
- NEDA (USA): https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org
- Beat (UK): https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk
Mentoring – writing your story
Would you like help through the narrative, in healing and writing your story? As a writing mentor, I offer understanding and guidance in expressing what you want to say with the written word. The process of writing your story can be very therapeutic. To arrange mentoring assistance, write to me at email@example.com.
Would you like to share your story with others on this website? Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I have written nine books about eating disorders since my recovery (my “reconnection with true self”) from anorexia nervosa and other long term mental health challenges in 2006. In 2017, I graduated as a Doctor of Philosophy (Creative Writing). My contribution to the eating disorder field was recognised at the 2016 Academy for Eating Disorders International Conference in San Francisco where I was awarded the Meehan/Hartley Award for Public Service and Advocacy. I am currently a co-chair of the NEDC Steering Committee Evidence of Experience Group, a foundation steering committee member of the annual World Eating Disorders Action Day, and an Advisory Panel member for F.E.A.S.T.