From Darkness to Light / Part 1

Posted on November 20, 2010


“Where is she?!” The familiar voice was getting closer and closer.

I thought I was safe in the shower.

I froze.

“In there?” Whap!

The shower curtain flew open and my worst nightmare stood in front of me. Towel…where was my towel?!!! She wouldn’t let me pass. I was stuck, in shock and humiliated.

My college ballet teacher started ranting about how I looked. “Blah blah blah blah blah ….too thin…blah blah more blah blah this can’t go on any longer!…blah blah blah…” When she’d had her say she slithered away. I turned off the shower and slinked into the locker room trying to avoid eye contact with the other dancers who were quietly watching me, all other conversations on hold.

Oh, great. Here she comes again.

Across the studio, to my side, staring at me with her hands on her hips.

I just kept up with the barre exercise, throwing my leg up to the side as I tried to remember to count and to breathe.

Slam! My leg hit her hand meeting it at shoulder level. I almost fell as she shoved it back towards the floor.

“Harder!” she said  staring at me. “Higher!” I never looked at her. I just told myself to keep going. You can do this. This is what the military must feel like. She was relentless. Just don’t cry. If she sees you break she’ll know she got under your skin. Eventually she tired of the game and went to sit near the piano.

This scene repeated itself in different variations for months. I felt such intense anger for her…and fear. Everyone would tell me, “Betsy, she cares about you. She’s just trying to help.” Then leave me alone and let me dance.

How did I get in this nightmare? And when was I going to wake up and be a normal person like everyone else on campus? What was happening to me? I had no answers, just clues.

It’s so hard to go back to the feelings of those years in college, about 30 years now. I was a ballet major, minoring in languages. I remember distinctly walking across campus one day from one dance class, sweating still and feeling upset about something that’d happened. I don’t remember the specifics, but dancing was getting so awful. I was not able to separate my love for dancing from the emotions of competing needed to stay in the program.

The thought as I walked was to try anorexia. Just stop eating. I could compete with myself and I knew I could win. The bad feelings I’d been having from class were suddenly forgotten and I felt lighter than air knowing I had a new mission to focus on. Where had that thought come from? I’d only just recently heard the term anorexia. I knew nothing more than it was associated with extreme weight loss. That was it. But, the most important aspect of this new thing going on in my life was that it was a secret.

I felt so much power in that.

The adrenalin from that decision carried me through the initial struggles I had with overcoming the urge to satisfy my hunger. I began seeing the weight slip off. That’s not a difficult thing when you’re dancing all day in between classes that take you back and forth across campus.

When I started seeing progress the adrenalin spiked again. I’d offer to walk into the city if anyone needed anything, no matter what time of night it was. I have a memory of carrying a 25 lb. bag of potting soil back to the dorms for someone, and a dozen bagels from the Bagel Nosh for many others. That was weird! I started swimming a mile in the campus pool at 5am every morning, and running around the football field at nighttime before bed.

I was so hungry. All I thought about was food. But, when friends started commenting on my weight loss I felt very conspicuous and couldn’t let anyone see me give in to eating because that would mean weakness. It would mean that I didn’t have any self-control. But I was very much in control. And I was going to win no matter what anyone said, what anyone did, or what temptation came my way. I was so naive.

From Darkness to Light / Part 2

From Darkness to Light / Part 3

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