Greta Gleissner, MSW '10, grew up dancing and dreamed of kicking up her heels with the Rockettes. When she got her chance at age 24, she auditioned and was cast in the Christmas Spectacular in Branson, Missouri.
"I had watched them my whole life," she explained as she reminisced about sitting in front of the TV with her mother, enjoying the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. "They are pretty much an American tradition."
What should have been a career high point turned out to be one step in the downward spiral of an eating disorder. This journey is chronicled in Gleissner's new memoir, Something Spectacular: The True Story of One Rockette's Battle with Bulimia.
Now a recovery coach at Hazelden's new sober supportive collegiate housing in Tribeca, Gleissner noted, "Even if I hadn't danced, I would have still had the eating disorder for sure."
Growing up in Kansas, Gleissner said she battled self-esteem issues and received mixed messages from her family about food. A series of personal losses in her early adolescence -- including her parents' messy divorce -- exacerbated her pain in a family where emotions were kept under wraps. By the time she was a freshman in high school, she was experimenting with restricted eating and dieting.
Within two years, Gleissner had turned to full-blown bulimia as a way to cope with her feelings and gain a sense of control. Another source of internal conflict that plagued Gleissner throughout her teens: coming to terms with her sexuality. She binged and purged through her twenties, and as she danced in Branson, and then made the step up to Radio City Music Hall, she experienced a series of hospitalizations and time in recovery programs before leaving the Rockettes for good in 2001.
"Now as a clinician I know it's so classic," she said. "The eating disorder served as my voice to show my family, rather than tell them, that I was in pain and I that I was trying to have my needs met."
After living in Tampa for a few years, where her successful recovery took place, Gleissner was healthy again and ready to pursue graduate studies.
"I always thought that besides dancing, the only other thing I knew so well was eating disorders and psychotherapy," said Gleissner. As far as she was concerned, the only degree she wanted was an MSW and she wanted to return to New York.
In her current role at Hazelden, Gleissner counsels college students battling substance abuse, including a few people dealing with co-occurring eating disorders. Gleissner loves being able to assist her clients in their journey to a better life and to see them increase their self-efficacy and confidence. She also knows that her own story can inspire her clients, and hopefully her book can have the same effect on readers.
"I want to give people hope because an eating disorder is so isolating and people feel such shame and embarrassment," she said. "My experience is rather extreme. If I can get through that, I know I can help others."
Photo by Ken Burns