It's been quite some time since I've written a book review, but Lisa (who clearly knows me) at TLC Book Tours, reached out to me with a recovery memoir by Jon Derek Croteau, a gay man from an abusive home who suffered with and recovered from anorexia, bulimia and exercise bulimia (obsessive running in his case) titled "my thinning years: starving the gay within."
I love memoir as a genre; we all live and filter our own lives and our stories are ours to do with what we will. I forgave James Frey a lot with A Million Little Pieces because I thought it was innovative and well-done (unlike Oprah I always thought the plane trip anecdote was hyperbolized beyond recognition). The Glass Castle is one of my favorite books.
I enjoyed this well-written contribution to the canon. But.
Eating disorder recovery memoirs are fraught for me. As stated above, your story is your story. That said, I know a lot about eating disorders, therapeutic filters, recent research, genetic components, etc. So the truth of a eating disorder recovery memoirist may (and so far consistently does) collide with my own truth.
I was intrigued with Jon's story and path as outlined on the back cover, "As a child, Jon tried desperately to be his father’s version of the all-American boy, denying his gayness in a futile attempt to earn the love and respect of an abusive man. With this he built a deep, internalized homophobia that made him want to disappear rather than live with the truth about himself. That denial played out in the forms of anorexia, bulimia, and obsessive running, which consumed him as an adolescent and young adult.
It wasn’t until a grueling yet transformative Outward Bound experience that Jon began to face his sexual identity. This exploration continued as he entered college and started the serious work of sorting through years of repressed anger to separate from his father’s control and condemnation.
My Thinning Years is an inspiring story of courage, creativity, and the will to live--and of recreating the definition of family to include friends, relatives, and teachers who support you in realizing your true self."
Now for the "but."
I think Jon's father was a very cruel man and and was enormously insecure. I'm sure his memoir would reveal he was haunted by many demons. He was a really bad parent. Jon's mother didn't protect him as one would hope she night have. BUT I don't think they caused his eating disorders. I don't think repressing his homosexuality caused his eating disorder. I sure don't think any of it HELPED him recover, but that's a different story.
If I ever get another tattoo, it would likely read "Correlation isn't causation." Putting recent scientific research on genetics and functional MRIs aside, it seems relatively simple to see that if terrible parenting (or sexual abuse or bullying or thin-focused media, or fat-shaming, etc.) alone caused eating disorders there would be many more instances of eating disorders than there are. If good parenting could prevent eating disorders, the my life, my daughter's life and the lives of countless friends would be drastically different than they are.
That I don't think any of the above are causes for eating disorders doesn't in any way mean I don't acknowledge their presence exacerbates the difficulty of recovery. I applaud anyone who recovers for an eating disorder. I am grateful for those men who are raising their voices in the cause of ensuring that society knows men can get eating disorders. These men often explore issues of the ways society is cruel to boys and men and they shine a light on the danger of the repression of emotion and self-knowledge society demands of men.
As a footnote to this, I am Facebook friends with Brian Cuban, who has also written a brave memoir, Shattered Image. I admire and support his work as a speaker and activist and I have been gratified that he now incorporates information on genetics and biology in his articles and interviews. This is a favorite piece where he addresses all of this and worth a read.
Final thoughts: my thinning years: starving the gay within is a compelling memoir and it is wonderful to see the evolution of a life of pain transformed into a life of honesty and purpose. If you'd like to read for yourself, I will mail one lucky commenter my (only slightly) water-damaged copy.