Dedication: It's dedicated to myself and to all the girls and women out there struggling with eating disorders, shame and guilt.
As I’m sitting here wanting to spill all my life secrets to the world with the hope of coming clean and rebuilding my whole life, I couldn’t even bring myself to share with my beloved boyfriend who has been here for me through and through.
Little did I know my life was about to change into something I couldn’t even imagine when I first came to America, the country I thought was full of wonderland and advanced living style. Throughout my childhood and most of my teenage years, my life was surrounded by academic goals, fulfilling my parents’ dream of getting an education, and family. I was doing very well in school as my parents expected me to. Aside from that, I have always been conscious of my body, how it looks like, and how I wanted it to look like. I couldn’t figure out when I started to notice my body image. Maybe since I was just a little girl with a little extra weight getting teased by strangers, neighbors, and school mates.
Comments like “you look so fat and ugly!”, “no man would want to love you and marry you!”, “look at that fat little girl!” and even from my grandma “I might have to pay any man to marry you as you grow up “; has made me aware of my body image and more so made believe that I deserve less than I should because of how I look. I started my weight loss journey without any knowledge of health and nutrition in my early teenage years. I ate less, starved my body, and exercised more. Although it has already sounded bad for a teenage girl, the worst has yet to come.
Up until senior high school, everything besides my eating disorder (hasn’t been acknowledged by me yet!), had seemed to be great. I maintained to be on top of my class, semi confident about how I looked despite of my crazy diet, and about to be international student which was a dream of every teenager in my country. To be honest, I was very proud of myself that I was about to be the history of my family to be the only kid who studied abroad.
Due to my academic background, it wasn’t difficult for me to come to America as an international student. What difficult was finance. I didn’t come from a wealthy family; although my parents did a very good job of raising me with all the love and support, they could provide, and I didn’t have to worry about money. However, $5000 a school semester would be too much for them to handle considering they are making Vietnamese dollars. Still, they provided me with the first year of college.
The differences in life have overwhelmed me without me even noticing. Differences in diet have triggered me into obsessively controlling what I consumed, and exercises. Differences in languages and culture have humbled me. Differences in financial situations have put me into deep distress. All of those have come crashing on me for the last 10 years.
I became anorexic because I was afraid of gaining weight. Then when I found out away to “get rid of” what I put into my body, I became bulimic. Little did I know that was the start of everything I’m currently living in. Back then I didn’t even know what those illnesses were called.
I started to eat anything I craved for a long period of time without gaining weight and that was a win-win for me. I would eat with my aunt’s family at the dining table then would secretly make myself throw up in the bathroom afterwards. I would endlessly snack on my favorite chips and candies. Until my aunt’s family decided to move across the country to start their business, they refused to come with them. Up to this point, I can’t think of any reasons why I didn’t come with them besides the fact that I could freely binge and purge without risking anyone finding that out. I just told them I needed to finish my degree for school although I had just been staying in college as long as I could to avoid university tuition.
During those 3 years, I worked under the tables at a few restaurants for some extra cash. During summer, I would travel to my aunt’s place to work for a nail salon for tuition. They knew my situation and agreed to pay me in cash. As you may or may not know, I can’t legally work in America because of my international student status. I saved up and paid for education.
After they moved, I struggled with my eating habits because now I had to pay for food. I could barely afford school; it was hard for me to pay for my excessive amount of food. I started to stealing food from my landlord. Anything they kept in their cabinet and refrigerator; I would secretly take and eat them with the hope of not being caught. I really thought they would never notice. Silly me! One day, the landlord called my aunt from across the country telling her that I was stealing food from them. She chose to believe me when I denied it.
At that point I thought I was invincible, and I was doing great at hiding my secret. I had no intention of stopping. Fast forward a few years of me struggling with my eating habit and financially, I now moved to a different state after I met my ex-boyfriend. I really thought I could leave all of those behind and start a new life. He was helping me with my tuition in college, insurance and housing expenses which was a big thing for me especially since I had been struggling all those years in the past to maintain getting education. Thankfully, I found a job at a restaurant to make extra money to help him. I seemed like I was getting my life back. Despite all of that, I was still secretly binge and purge. I would make dinner after school for him, and we ate together then I would force myself to throw up in the bathroom afterwards. I would stay up late at night pretending to study for exams, to eat a large amount of food, throw up then go to bed. The cycle never ended. I did love him, so I didn’t want to put the cost of excessive food bills on him. I began this toxic cycle which I thought would never harm anyone. I would keep all the receipts of groceries then pretend to make returns for the money back. What I did was take the products from the shelves at my next grocery trip to the return booth using the previous receipts for the money back. That way I didn’t have to spend a lot of money on something that would eventually end up down drain or toilet. I was stealing technically without feeling any shame or remorse. I was justified as food waste. You know when the products were no longer up to standard to remain on the shelves at the grocery store, they would get thrown away. I never put those food into my body. Although I was stealing at the grocery store using that method. I never stole anything else.
I was working at the restaurant for almost 3 years, and it seemed great at first. I made some friends and was treated right by the owners. I gained their trust and became an assistant manager there. Everything seemed great until I felt resentment towards them. Overtime I felt like they made me do everything, finishing all the tasks and taking duties as a manager without getting paid properly. They wanted me to do more without giving me a proper raise. I never got split tips with the rest of the crew because they said I was getting paid under the table. I felt used. There was always anger and rage within me at my job. I managed to keep it under control because I still needed the money. Until I started to take things I wasn’t supposed to. It started with some little things like liquid eggs, soda, coffee, and noodles which I could binge and purge on, then soaps, sanitizers, things I could use around my place. I never got caught until I became greedy with the tips I was never got shared. I’m confident that I always am a hard and dedicated worker, always delivering the best service I can, which contributed to my action of keeping tips from customers. One day I was caught on the camera pocketing $3 from a customer, they fired me. 3 years of hard work and dedication of mine wasn’t as worth as $3 for them. I was in rage and anger. But at the same time, I was swallowed by my own guilt and shame. I was beating myself up repeatedly. In the back of my head, I thought nobody would want this version of me. How could I turn to someone I would never think should be accepted by society.
During that time, the method mentioned that I used to get free groceries became reckless stopped. Moreover, I just secretly took groceries and put them in a grocery bag and just paid for the cheapest item such as bananas. I would walk out with anything fit in a grocery bag. I still didn’t feel bad for what I was doing. I still thought there already has been a large amount of food waste, one grocery bag of food isn’t much considered. I would go to different grocery stores to finish my grocery lists and pay as little as I could.
Fortunately, I found a new job at a grocery store working for a coffee kiosk. I felt great about that. I now could make more money and “grocery shop” after my shifts. I was doing everything right in the beginning until I noticed their bad management. Their employees could have the worst work ethic and would never get fired. I learned quickly and did everything well. I put everything I had there and successfully pretended like I was the happiest person everyone needed throughout my shifts. I became everyone’s favorite barista. After a few months, I could no longer surpass my urge of stealing and true self coming out, I would take products off the shelves when I came in at 5 am to get the kiosk ready to serve coffee. I somehow thought nobody would see me or catch me. I started with frozen sandwiches and coffee then followed with milk, yogurts, some other grocery items you could possibly think of. I put them in my backpack and walked out after my shift without paying.
My coworkers have terrible work ethics. They left me alone at the kiosk plenty of times to the point where I had to struggle to help everyone out. I was doing two people’s jobs without anybody offering help or sending help. I was devastated and struggled again. To justify it, I collected the cash from whoever paid for their coffees with cash and thought no one would know. I was alone all the time. And I got away with it thinking I was the smartest person on the planet. I was able to outsmart a whole corporation. I became obsessed with it. I didn’t feel guilty or bad about what I was doing. For almost 8 months, I stayed out of trouble and feel great. I also somehow started my gym membership and stopped my 9-year cycle of binging and purging. I put on muscles and gained weight. I started to feel very good about myself until everything once again came crashing down on me.
I was pulled into the store office by an asset protection lady and the store manager. I knew right away what trouble I had gotten into the moment they told me to follow them. On the way to their office, I knew I couldn’t get away with it anymore, I knew I had to fix it no matter what and I had to be honest. I was afraid of going to jail and had to admit to my family that I was broken. I did what they told me to do, I gave all the cash back that day, I told them why I did what I did, I told them what I had been stealing and that I was willing to pay it all back. All the guilt and shame accumulated all those years rushed through me and consumed me for that hour sitting in that office, it had made me be honest with myself in front of two strangers. The idea of lying never came across facing her. I had to be honest I had to spill my darkest secret to a stranger and accept the consequences for the sake of me. I had to resign from the position and was requested to leave the store and never come back.
It was an experience that made me feel shameful and disgusted with myself. I felt unworthy of love and of who I had become. It’s going to be a journey of me gaining myself and my life back. It’s going to be a journey for me fighting every urge of falling back into the toxic cycle. It’s going to be a journey of mine overcoming my shame and guilt.
I’m sitting here writing this in hope of owning up to my mistakes, my illnesses and my life worst decision and once again fixing myself. I hope whoever is reading this doesn’t have to go through what I am going through. I’m hoping my story could help anyone who’s feeling alone, desperate, and hopeless.
You’re not alone! Your story probably isn’t the same as mine but I’m going through something as you are.