“Leigh and Lindsey receive the Lori Irving Award for Excellence in Prevention and Awareness at NEDA conference, 2008. “Lindsey Hall Cohn had bulimia for nine years. This was in the 1970s when no one talked about eating disorders and the word bulimia was practically unknown. Like many other women, she believed she was suffering alone.”I really had no idea anyone else in the world had the problem. It wasn’t publicized at that time,” she says.Then, a dream changed her life. In it was a woman named Gurze.”I felt compelled to make a doll out of that woman from my dream. Don’t ask me why! She was very funny looking, with long legs and bright red lips, and her hands were enormous! But there was something about the creative process that touched something very deep inside me. That something became the foundation of my recovery. “Lindsey made more dolls, all life-sized, one-of-a-kind, soft sculptures. She started a business, called Gurze Designs, and began to haunt thrift stores to find just the right outfits to create unique characters. Then, on a trip to New York, as she was waiting for a light with two of the huge dolls hanging out of her backpack, someone standing next to her offered to buy them both.”For someone whose bulimia had taken control, this was a shock. At the time, I had no job, so all of a sudden I discovered a purpose in life, to create these funny-looking dolls which made people laugh-myself included. Life was getting lighter. ”
What’s more, on this same trip, Lindsey came across the first article written about bulimia in a 1976 issue of the magazine Psychology Today. It was written by a therapist at Cornell University in upstate New York. Unbelievably, this was where Lindsey was living at the time! The coincidence was too much to ignore.
“I felt like the universe was trying to tell me that it was time to get well,” Lindsey says. ” I made an appointment to see her, although I binged and purged on the way there. Even though the dollmaking had given me a glimmer of what life might be like without the eating disorder, I was still afraid she might try to take the bulimia away from me. I didn’t feel ready. ”
But she was. From that point on, Lindsey pointed herself squarely in the direction of recovery. She continued to make dolls, which were now being sold in retail stores throughout the country, but she also worked hard at getting well.
“There were no therapists who knew about bulimia at that time, so my husband, Leigh, and I would brainstorm about what might work. Sure, I meditated and wrote in my journal, but we also did some more unusual things, like fighting with boxing gloves so I could get my anger out. I also sewed up a storm, not just because I had to fill orders for the dolls, but because the joy of creativity filled me up in a way food never did. ”
Two years later, on her birthday in 1980, Lindsey wrote her story of recovery in a booklet called “Eat Without Fear” and took it to Kinko’s to print 100 copies.
“That was supposed to be closure,” Lindsey says. “I thought I would be done with eating disorders for the rest of my life. Guess not!” Instead, so many people related to her story that those first 100 copies sold out quickly. So Lindsey switched from dolls to books, and together with Leigh founded Gurze Books, a publishing company devoted to eating disorders prevention, education, and advocacy.
It has now been 30 years since Lindsey’s recovery. Since that time, Gurze Books has grown into a valuable resource for patients, families and caregivers alike. Indeed, Lindsey and Leigh have reached and inspired millions of people through their catalogs and books. In addition, they have talked to many thousands of people both on the phone and at talks and seminars, and answered every one of the people who have written or emailed over the years.
“In the early days, we were the only 800 number. So people would call us for help…and we would talk to them at great length. This was so fulfilling for me. Again, I was touched by the work, just as I was by the dollmaking, and it became a calling. ”
When asked what has been her mission in life, Lindsey answers, “I have always tried to be a mirror, so that I could reflect the goodness that is in everyone, especially those who are struggling with an eating disorder. ”
If you are wondering, the word Gurze is from the Bavarian, although Lindsey certainly doesn’t speak Bavarian! It was just a name from her dream, complete with the unusual spelling. But it turns out to be an informal greeting, like a “Hi, how are you?” But the literal translation is, “I greet the God in you. ”
Lindsey says, “I based my recovery on this idea-that we all have a spark of the divine within. We just have to go into our hearts and see it there.”