I don’t remember much about being 24. I do remember coming home to my husband on our one year wedding anniversary blue in the face and dying in my arms from a heroin overdose. But let me backtrack. By the age of 16, I had progressed from Vivarin and laxatives to full-blown Frosties and purging (because anything cold and creamy makes it all come up that much easier). College was about chain smoking, starving or eating as much as I possibly could and racing my dancer friends to the showers to see who could vomit up everything we just ate the fastest. I never wanted to do drugs. In fact I was adamant in ‘just saying no’ when it came to the hard stuff. It scared me, people die form that. But it didn’t matter that my friends were dealing with kidney failure and heart problems from bulimia. I wasn’t, yet.
Drugs were bad. I eventually got over that fear the first time I did cocaine in a bar in the East Village of NYC. I’m a smart woman. I figured out real fast I could do coke, not eat and work out twice a day because I had so much energy. And get thin. And then whenever I felt sad, depressed, overwhelmed – I’d just binge and purge. No harm, no foul. I became so obsessed with not eating anything containing any amount of fat or a significant amount of calories that I existed on nothing but cocaine and orange juice. I was just a bartender. But back then the credit card companies were happy to give a kid a gold card and it was all about cash advances. And still, no one knew. Even when I did binge and purge I would just hide it with mouthwash, hairspray and perfume. I didn’t do drugs in front of other people except for guys I was dating. I didn’t have crazy parties and share my stash. It was about me. About me not eating. About my chasing that never-ending dragon to be perfectly thin.
Fast forward – I eventually landed on the steps of a church on the Upper West Side of Manhattan after a night of trolling the streets seeing pink elephants and terrified I was going to die. I was blessed with the grace of the women in that 12 step group who took me in. Who made all the calls and arrangements to put me on a bus that took me to my first rehab. 30 days of no drugs. 30 days where I met the man I would soon marry. And 30 days that I didn’t do a single bit of work on my food issues and body image anxieties. I got clean. I got married to an amazing man. I gained weight. And my demons met with his demons and before I knew it I was dealing coke and slamming dope. Because it kept me from eating. Because it kept me connected to the one I loved. Because I was powerless and once again, my life had become unmanageable.
I am one of the lucky ones. I had, and still have a rock star group of friends since childhood who watched me struggle through the years – never judged, always loved and were, and are, always there. So when that day came and my whole world came crashing down as I sat with the love of my life dying in my arms – I didn’t stop. I still turned to heroin to ease my pain. And they were there from all parts of the country to pick me up and get me the help I needed. So I could eventually see that my life is beautiful and has worth, no matter what I weigh or look like.
Today I live a life where I eat what I want. No guilt, shame or emotions attached. As a fitness, nutrition and lifestyle coach for women, my hope is that I help them before they get to that point where it’s completely unmanageable. I eat food. I enjoy it. I know my triggers, I think about what’s going on when I do feel like I want to eat everything in sight to help me feel better. Because at the end of the day, it doesn’t. Food is just food. The effects of drugs fade and the only thing we’re left with is ourselves. There is no amount of food or drugs that can fill that empty heart, no matter how much we feed it. And it is my greatest wish in writing this that I can help women, even one, realize their own worth. That you don’t have to live on cocaine and orange juice or not eat or purge everything you do eat for you to be amazing and beautiful and loved. I’m Gowrie Hayden and I’m a gratefully recovered cocaine and heroin addict, anorexic and bulimic, and thin. To be loved. That it IS possible to be healthy and of a normal body weight while actually eating food and not doing drugs. To love the beautiful skin that you are in.