This is an excerpt of my book “Shattered Image”. Shattered Image is the story of my struggle with, and recovery from, a compulsive behavior clinically known as Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD). That struggle has included recovery from bulimia, anorexia, alcoholism, and addiction to cocaine and steroids. I also suffer from clinical depression. For decades, I engaged in self-destructive behavior with the single goal of correcting a terribly distorted sense of self-image, a self-image rooted in early life experiences. Release date is August 2013 See what people are saying about Shattered Image!
Summer 1971. I’m at Emma Kaufman Camp near Morgantown, West Virginia. Emma Kaufman is a summer tradition for countless Jewish children from Pittsburgh, and it was a tradition in our family. My brothers went. I went. But that summer of ’71 stands out in my mind, marking some of the earliest memories I have of feelings I’d later associate with embarrassment and shame about how I appeared to others.
It is the night of the Emma Kaufman Camp annual talent show. I walk up to the front of the wooden stage. I sweat a little more with each creaking old wooden board echoing throughout the structure. I am suddenly facing 100 ten and eleven year olds. They are laughing and joking with each other. In my mind, they are laughing and making fun of me. I am terrified. I am nervous and nauseous. Teeth and braces grinding enamel. The musty smell of the wood building and the damp rain falling on the leaves outside intensify the feeling.
The Beatles hit, “Let It Be” is the song. There is no microphone. There is no music. I am standing naked and exposed in front of a hundred other kids. I remind myself that this was my choice. I chose to sing this song, nobody was making me, and I chose to sing because I wanted to take control of my fear. To cast aside uncertainty. To become popular. To be noticed. If I could sing “Let It Be,” my weight would not matter. My shyness would not matter. I hoped this would be no different from the piano recital. I handled those. I could handle this. Take a deep breath. Count to ten. Focus on a fixed point. In recitals it was the piano keys. I focused on the wooden floor in front of me. I was too terrified to look at the kids staring me down, talking and laughing. I opened my mouth.
The only sound that emerged was a guttural groan, such as a wounded animal might make.I started to sweat. Kids were laughing. Now I was sure they were laughing at me. I was humiliated—not much different than the humiliation of shyness and the shame of body that constantly gripped me, but this time the feeling was focused like a magnifying glass in the sunlight bearing down on a blade of grass.
Continuing to focus on the wooden floor, I walked off the stage and moved quickly through the door. I broke into a run back to my cabin. I cried. I knew that the worst was yet to come. My cabin mates would be back soon. Some were just waiting for the next excuse to ridicule me as if they were bored with calling me fat. Our cabin counselor would intervene and tell them to leave me alone, as he had done before. I wanted to go home. I couldn’t
My fellow campers filtered back into the cabin. One made his way straight for me as I lay on my bunk. “Not only are you fat but you sing like shit.” Still crying I jumped up and attacked him. I ran at him as hard as I could and used all of my 200 pounds to knock him back onto the bunk bed. I had stood up for myself. It felt good. He never bothered me again, but I was banned from the Camper vs. Counselor softball game, the one event where I felt I’d be comfortable around my peers.
The talent show was just the beginning of my embarrassments. At Emma Kaufman, I had a camp crush. I remember her smile, dark skin and long, dark flowing black hair, almost Greek features, as she stood on the porch of her camp cabin. I remember making any excuse I could to get within feet of her in various camp activities. I tried to befriend others who were her friends to be close to her. No matter how close I got, I was unable to say anything other than mumbling, barely audible hellos as I looked at the ground. She sometimes smiled and hello back, but that was as far as we’d get. I finally remember her laughing derisively to the unwanted and embarrassing shout from my friend that I had a crush on her.
Man, I hated camp.