International Women's Day

This is an incredibly raw post. In fact, I've never told anyone a lot of these things, and I've told very few people most of it. I've been wanting to write this for some time. It has very little to do with wine, but it does tell a story about how I got to where I am now. Since it's international Women's Day, I wanted to post something very brutally honest about my journey as a woman. It may possibly give other women courage. 


I started my period when i was 8 years old. If you can’t handle the first sentence, stop reading. When I was 7 I was subjected to a series of medical exams that included hours of blood drawing, an MRI and several physical exams where I undressed and had doctors poke and prod me. I had no idea what the fuck for. I just knew that they were telling me I would start my period soon. Within the last year I had changed from a little girl to a woman that had hair under my arms, breasts and could officially be a mom. I found out only 20 years later that they had thought maybe I had a brain tumor which was causing an accelerated growth pattern. At the time I just felt embarrassed about my changing body, awkward and ashamed. To make matters worse my dad would lecture me about how I was a woman and had responsibilities (in third grade).

I began to hide my body away so others wouldn’t see it. Which of course they saw it. I was a foot taller than everyone else, had a c cup and weighed over 100 pounds. But in my mind, I thought perhaps I could succeed at hiding it away. That feeling of needing to cover up my body and hide it in shame stayed with me for 23 years. Hell, I still sometimes feel that way. I was so jealous of the girls who were still little and thin and undeveloped. I looked at my body and hated how I had curves and stretch marks (honestly I do not remember what my body looked like without stretch marks) and gigantic calves. I didn’t tan and I couldn’t wear all the cute little clothes they wore. I never got invited to a dance until my junior prom. I developed a way of communicating with the world that gave off the vibe “I am just a naive girl who needs to be loved” because that is all I really wanted and felt like I didn’t have the chance to experience. I didn’t ask for what I really wanted because that would draw attention to me. I didn’t show all my strength because people would make fun of how beastly I was. I didn’t stand up for myself because little good girls don’t do that. I also learned not to talk about problems. I learned to instead pretend they didn’t exist. This came from my dad’s many, many drug rehabs and subsequent obliteration of family life as I knew it. I just pretended everything was ok. If I just acted naive, if I just stuffed those feelings I had away, then … I don’t even know, then it never happened? 

All of this led to my biggest and most brutal challenge in life, which was ED. Not a guy. It’s what we in the know refer to an eating disorder as. We personify it, which I guess makes it easier to talk about. 

A little back story. I grew determination. That was my most powerful strength. I determined that I was going to go to college. I determined that I was going to major in genetics. I determined that I was going to be a winemaker. And once this was determined, I fought, failed, fought and persevered. When I finally graduated from the University of Georgia with a degree in genetics, I moved out to California the very next day. I felt liberated, like dreams actually come true. I had no job yet, but of course I would get one. I did. an amazing one. I became the enologist at Sanford Winery in the Sta. Rita Hills of California. It was absolutely incredible. I remember the day I secretly bought a book on how to overcome overeating. First of all, I didn’t really have an eating disorder then. I just liked to eat. I weighed around 135. This is not overweight at all. But I wasn’t really thin, and I felt like I ate too much. I determined I had an embarrassing problem and had to overcome it. The book was actually great. The first part was based purely on getting your eating under control. Keep a food journal. Then start to declare meal times. Only eat during those times. Weigh yourself once a week. I started to do this and I actually stuck with it. I started to feel great! I lost weight, I started training for several races, including a half marathon…things started going so well in my life. I never made it to the second half of the book which dealt with the cause of overeating and the steps on how to work through that. THIS WAS A HUGE MISTAKE. By the time I got down to my “ideal weight” of 115, I felt so fat and ugly. I began restricting my food more and more. Then harvest of 2009 started. Sanford Winery made 32,000 cases that year. I was the enologist, as I said, and sole lab person for the winery. Not only that, I was falling hard for the vineyard manager of Sanford’s vineyards. So I remember waking up at 5 AM to go watch grapes being picked in the dark before I would go to work. The first day of harvest was picking sauvignon blanc grapes from Happy Valley. It was pitch black as it was 5 AM and it was so unbelievably exciting. The guys were flying through the rows picking grapes, Tractors with huge lights were driving all around. I was so into the moment that by the time I had to leave to drive to Sanford Winery I looked up and was astounded at how sunrise had snuck up on me. I will never forget how gorgeous the sky was with streaks of purple and pink and blue. As harvest wore on more and more and more needed to be done in that very moment. I woke up at 3:45 so I could work out before being at work before sunrise to get everything done. I worked for 60 days in a row. One night during mid October the winemaker came into my lab at 8 PM and said, “Don’t get burned out”. I thought he was f’ing insane. How could I get burned out? This was the best thing in the world. By the end of that month I was so worn down. I didn’t even allow myself to understand what was happening to myself. I remember driving to work down a bucolic paradise and feeling my shoulder mussels cramp up as I saw the winery and thinking to myself hhmmm, that’s strange. By this time I was obsessed with every calorie I ate. If I ate more than I was supposed to eat, I would feel like such a failure. One night towards the end of harvest all the cellar guys and I were out back under the stars with a bonfire making s’mores. I ate one and couldn’t stop myself. I ate like 9 of them. It was the first time I’d eaten any sort of refined sugar in months. It made me so sick. I had uncontrollable diarrhea. I went to doctors to find out what was wrong. Nothing was wrong they said. It made me feel even more embarrassed about my body.

During this time a couple of other things happened to me that created this epic fuck storm. The vineyard guy I was in love with-totally stopped talking to me, not even a fucking courtesy goodbye. Did I talk to him about what was going on? No. Of course not! I was a meek little girl who didn’t deserve real answers. My roommate left to go to South America and I was by myself in the middle of nowhere (it was actually next to a vineyard and you could see the milky way at night, but it was very lonely). And I had thought I would apply to UC Davis grad school in enology, but I was so beat down that I didn’t. So imagine this. I’m 25 years old. Living in wine country. I am a scientist in a lab where I see maybe 3 people all day at work but mostly I’m by myself in a lab. Then I go home where I’m all by myself. If you’ve ever been to Santa Barbara wine country, there ain’t much going on, so it wasn’t like I could stroll to get a beer if I felt bored. 

This is when I say ED really took control of my life, although looking back, it had been months before. I had starved myself so much and become so lonely that I started to eat uncontrollably. I would eat anything. I ate every single bit of food that was in the kitchen at Sanford Winery. I ate all the sugar in the sugar container. I took all of the food out of my house so that all I had left was vegetable oil and raw oats. I ate all of that. I didn’t even cook the oats. I ate them raw with the oil poured on top. I ate an entire stick of butter with bread one night before I drove down to Ventura to see a movie with my friend on the way to LAX to visit my family for Thanksgiving. My world became one big stomach problem and weight gain. I gained 20 pounds in 1 month. And since I weighed just over 100 pounds I only weighed 123 then. Which now I look at 123 and think that is an incredible weight. At the time I thought my life was over. Of course I did not stop gaining weight. I got up to 170 pounds or maybe even higher. I hated to look at myself. I lost touch with every single person because I was so ashamed. I hid. In my little corner of the world I hid away where no one could find me. And I ate. And I ate. I was so fucking miserable and alone. I had gone from a renaissance in my life to my definition of hell on mother fucking earth. 

The more I hated myself, the more bad decisions I made. I started to go to counseling and got into an outpatient program that was in a cute little room that overlooked the pacific ocean. I was surrounded by underweight little girls. They were exactly what I wanted to be and could not be. It was just like my childhood that I never left. 

I wish I could say I healed from the program. I wanted so so so so so god damned badly to be better and lose weight. I wanted to lose the weight and I thought that was the answer. The program did begin to teach me about expressing my feelings. About talking through things instead of pretending they don’t exist. This was terribly painful. Excruciatingly painful. While all of this was going on I still worked at Sanford Winery. I didn’t magically get better, but in my awful disgusting pain I kept pushing forward and finally I applied to the UC Davis grad program and got accepted. I made all the arrangements to go. I got a full scholarship. I met my classmates. I registered for classes. And I didn’t go. 

Why? I didn’t think I was strong enough to take on grad school with ED. Is that true? I don’t think I ever admitted that to myself until this very moment. I came up with several excuses. I was so beat down. I was so alone. I was so tired of being tormented by food all of the time. 

I moved randomly to Boulder instead. I joined Overeaters Anonymous. The bad thing about OA is that they treat food like a drug. And it is actually something you have to have in order to survive. I ate all organic. I ate no wheat. I shunned fried food. I hated myself. I wanted desperately to see food as a beautiful source of family and love, enjoyment and nourishment. Instead I almost died when I forced so many raw sunflower seeds down my mouth in a binge that I couldn’t breathe. I got food poisoning because I dug out of the trash cream I had thrown out 2 days ago and poured it over butter and sugar that I also pulled out of the trash in order to binge. 

I finally figured out why I binge. It’s just like alcohol. Something occurs that I feel like I cannot handle. Like to realize it and know it and sit with whatever it is would be so bad that it would like kill me or something. I didn’t think I would literally die, just mentally I felt like I could not handle it. So I would eat. Sugar acts as sort of a drug. And while I forced food in my mouth I didn’t have to think about whatever it was I couldn’t stand to come to terms with. That high only lasts minutes. That soon passes and then I’m “blessed” with such a feeling of self hatred that it consumes my mind. I think about how disgusting I am. I think about how I HAVE to lose weight. I contemplate how I am going to get over ED. That little thing that I “couldn’t handle” has no place in such important matters as how I need to lose weight. 

What exactly is that thing that I feel like I can't handle? It could be anything! It could be that the roommate I lived with was mean to me. Or maybe I was in debt and couldn’t pay my credit card statement. A big one is feeling alone. I was stunned when I realized how hard it was for me to be alone. How much I needed someone in my life. As introverted as I am. I NEED to be touched and loved. It’s another vital part of being a human being apparently. 

Obviously you know I now live in Oregon. I moved to Oregon for the harvest of 2013. I still had ED. I would secretly eat my roommate’s food. I would die worrying about her discovering I ate all of the sugar. This was another excuse to not face whatever thing was bothering me. She didn’t notice at all. And even if she did, a pound of sugar is $2.50 at the fucking grocery store, who the fuck cares. But to me it was this disgusting secret I kept and tormented myself over.

I am SO GOD DAMNED GRATEFUL to say I am no longer in my eating disorder. I speak of it as a past thing. I eat ice cream almost every night. I have no idea how much I weigh, although I think it’s around 125. I’m not overweight, I eat when I want and what I want. I know when I’m full and usually I stop eating then. Sometimes I eat a ton of cookies, and even that’s not a big deal. It all seems trivial to most, but that’s something I never thought would happen. I thought I would be cursed with ED forever. I can’t even quite say how it happened, which I feel very bad about. I wish I could offer more help to others struggling by telling them all of the answers. I can’t.

The most important lesson that I learned from all of this is that I MUST talk about my feelings. I must be willing to discover what my feelings are and allow myself to experience them. That means that I may be angry as fuck. That means that I may be sobbing uncontrollably. Our society often views this as being a “crazy woman” who’s hormones are out of whack. People view it negatively. I could give a fuck less. It is vital to my health to say what I need to say and feel what I need to feel. This has led me to take more risks and feel more alive than I ever have before in my life. 

Do I feel great all the time? No. Am I incredibly successful? No. Do I have the perfect body? Hell no. Do I still want to lose weight? Always. Do I make mistakes? Every fucking day.

But life isn’t about always being perfect. It’s not about everything being fine. Life isn’t fine. Life is fucking gory. Life is messy. Life is breathtaking and seductive and terrible and wonderful. 

And I am woman. I grew up in a specific roll taught to me by society that has undeniably shaped me and created horrific barriers in my life. Most of these are mental. But I am none the less so grateful to be a woman, and I am proud of who I am and how I look and what I’ve been through. Holy shit! I can’t believe I finally love the way I look and who I am. I like to feel sexy and look sexy and I’m not going to apologize for it. I hope that all women will own who they are and fearlessly live their story.


Natalie Lee1 Comment