For those of you looking to understand eating disorders better, from the inside perspective of someone who has survived the worst and lived to tell her story, here’s an emotionally honest and highly readable new book on the topic.
In Table in the Darkness: A Healing Journey Through an Eating Disorder, author Lee Wolfe Blum tells her dramatic tale of a smart, emotionally vibrant young person raised in an outwardly perfect family. It's a clan in which expressing one’s “real feelings” is shunned and parents model less-than-ideal modes of coping with anger, depression and alcoholism. Wolfe Blum’s early life is shaped by countless moves, adjusting to new schools, her parents’ divorce, her mother’s needy, serial relationships and her father’s alcoholism. Amid the chaos, the impressionable, eager-to-please author comes to the conclusion “I’m not good enough” and “I have to try harder.”
She becomes president of every class and organization she joins, it seems, acts in school plays and gives her school’s graduation speech. Things fall apart at her sleepy Kansas college, however. After a family member teases her about gaining “the freshman fifteen,” she begins dieting and compulsive exercising, leading to a broken relationship and a transfer to the larger University of Kansas.
There things go no better, and despite a positive summer interlude working at Minnesota Christian camp, the grip of Ed (the author uses the moniker for her disorder popularized by Jenni Schaefer in her book Goodbye Ed, Hello Me: Recover from Your Eating Disorder and Fall in Love with Life) is just too strong, and she ends up in a Kansas treatment center. She leaves with a treatment plan that she ignores and the knowledge that Ed is still in her back pocket, just in case.
Despite handsome boys with chiseled features falling hard for her, she is terrified to let them see the “real” her, convinced they will turn away in disgust. One, Chris Blum, sees through her fear and ends up marrying her, but not before a dramatic suicide attempt that opens the book and which Wolfe Blum returns to later in more detail. She describes her near death experience as a fight between God and Satan, with God winning by a hair. From then on she relies on her religious faith to help her through recovery.
Although the book does not discuss the genetic component of eating disorders, it is alluded to in one scene where a nurse asks if there is a history of drug or alcohol abuse in the family and Wolfe Blum's father admits for the first time that he is an alcoholic.
Some of the strongest parts of the books are Wolfe Blum’s accounts of her inevitable relapses and eventual recovery. When she first acknowledges that she is ready to engage not in an occasional vacation from, but a real fight-to-the-death with Ed, she grapples with the deceptively trivial aspect of the disease that can deepen the agony and shame of sufferers. She writes, “So what is brave? Brave is climbing Mount Everest. Brave is speaking in front of thousands of people. Brave to me did not equate to eating a hot dog or pizza. Or did it? Because that is what brave became for me. “
Wolfe Blum endures being “on trial” during pre-marital sessions with a conservative Christian counselor, and conceives of every meal eaten as a step away from death and toward life. The book ends happily with marriage and the somewhat miraculous birth of her three children after being told by doctors that her body may be too damaged by her eating disorder to sustain a pregnancy. At the book’s end, we learn that Wolfe Blum now works in health education training professionals who work with eating disorders patients.