Actor Robyn Cruze-Harrington looks back on the moment that changed the course of her 18-year battle with food.
“You are the big fat liar!” I declared, holding my fork mid-air. “I will eat this chicken. I will not purge, starve, binge, or harm myself any more!” Stabbing it with conviction, I began to chew with a half-smile, half-snarl. And just like that, 10 years ago, after many attempts to tackle my problem, my recovery began.
As a model and actor I knew the manipulation that went with the industry. I knew that most of the “glamour” was smoke and mirrors, but I wanted to be the exception. I was seeking perfection.
My friend Rebecca said to me one day, after I’d spent a Christmas holiday alone in a blackout from diet pills, “The difference between you and me, Robyn, is that I am not willing to kill myself to look good.” I was. I didn’t want to die, but I didn’t care how close I came to death if it gave me a chance to be at the weight I believed I “should” be.
I vacillated between binge eating and bulimia, with a brief stop at anorexia. I was trying to create a sense of empowerment, a distraction from the reality that I had so little control in my life – over my mum’s health, over my parents’ rocky relationship and, most of all, over how other people felt about me.
If I starved, I binged to medicate. If I binged, I purged to medicate. Each time I binged, purged or starved, the aftermath was the same. My skin would crawl. My heart would race. I felt as if I were about to lose my mind. It made me want to spit on my own face and punch it unmercifully. Sometimes I’d just lie there – bloated, conquered, ashamed. Then I’d get angry. I’d promise myself I’d never do it again. It was the same every time; only the location differed.
I believed that being thinner made me more lovable. Everyone said it wasn’t true, but I saw how my friends got more attention for being thinner. Or did I?
Looking back, what I really saw were women who appeared comfortable in their own skin – and that was stunning to me. I had never known what that felt like. I believed that if I could just reach an ideal, then I could start living. But life was happening without me. I had wasted so much time.
This created an anxiety that made me scramble for quick fixes. I imagined the time it would take to wade through my illness and seek recovery. I floundered in that torturous sea for years, my head bobbing up and down as glimpses of the shores of recovery teased me.
It was not a particularly special day when I declared defeat. The night before, I had binged on marshmallows. I awoke covered in sweat. I’d given myself food poisoning and was vomiting in the bathroom of a friend of a friend, someone who’d graciously allowed an aspiring Aussie actor to stay in her Los Angeles home. I had lost my dignity to an illness that promised me perfection.
I started to review what had happened. I was 29, severely depressed, broke and clueless as to who I really was. And I was exhausted. After all, I had been fighting since I was 11 years old. I sat, breathless. And then, on that bathroom floor, I had a new thought: what if I just said no to my eating disorder?
There, sitting on a kind stranger’s floor, I understood for the first time that I could walk away. I didn’t know how I would achieve the happiness I longed for, but I realised that my eating disorder wouldn’t get me there.