Friday, May 30, 2014

On Overcoming Bulimia

For six years, between 1996-2002, I struggled with anorexia and bulimia. Six to ten times a day I would binge and purge - meaning, I would consume copious amounts of food in a short period of time and then violently vomit the food up. I kept nothing down. When I was hungry, I would eat and eat and then throw up. 

This was very time-consuming and I did virtually nothing else during this time period. I was a ballet dancer up until I was 16, dancing up to 8 hours a day in my efforts to become a professional dancer. I eventually lost so much weight (90 pounds at 5'7") that I had no energy to do anything, much less succumb to the excruciating physical demands of ballet. But after I quit ballet, I felt I had "nothing" else to live or work towards and my eating disorder eventually got even worse. 

So I went to college early, starting my classes in English and Philosophy at 16. I had hoped if I couldn't be a dancer, I could at least get my degree early and find a new purpose.  Instead, I merely found my addiction easier to hide behind closed doors and open books. I didn't graduate early. Quitting ballet had no effect on my self-image. The damage was done, the results hideous, and yet I persisted in allowing this self-destructive rage to overcome and rule my life.

I had no friends during this time period and found it difficult to socialize in college because of the age difference and because of the massive secret I was hiding. Who wants to talk about bulimia? Who eats and throws up? That's disgusting. Smoking, alcohol, drugs - now those are conversations people will have. But eating disorders leaves everyone in a deafeningly silent lurch of abhorrence and confusion. It is poorly understood and rarely talked about.

Which is why I am bringing this up. To start the conversation, to reach out to others who are still struggling. I eventually overcame this addiction through years of waning my habit. From ten times a day, to once a day, once a week to once a month. I literally got down to once a year (the last year I "suffered" from it) when I finally "woke up" and realized I had the power to stop completely. I was disgusted with myself, and in a wonderful relationship. I no longer had the desire to jeopardize my health nor my future with my soon-to-be husband with this truly revolting habit.

And it is revolting. Any bulimic will tell you that. Do you know what it is like to eat two boxes of cereal in one sitting, under 15 minutes, and then viciously hurl that entire amount into the toilet, vomit splashing on your face? I got so good at contracting my stomach muscles that I didn't need fingers down my throat.  I got so good at getting everything out that I would step out of the bathroom starving, and fifteen to twenty minutes later, would be at it again. 

Do you know what it is like to have your entire family hate you for binging on their food? For years my younger siblings despised me for stealing their Tasty Cakes and Cinnamon Toast Crunch. When my parents finally stopped buying those foods, I just would steal a car in the middle of the night (and I didn't get my driver's license until 21, mind you) and go to a 24-hour convenience store with a stolen credit card and buy cookies and donuts and milk. I would come home, binge and purge, binge and purge until the food was gone and the sun came up. 

The amount of self-loathing that is involved is off the charts. You have to really hate yourself in order to use food to try and kill yourself. Yes, I was also extremely suicidal during these years and when blood and acids came up through my mouth and nose, I knew that I would be okay, because being dead was surely a better alternative than what I was going through.

But I made it. I learned to love myself enough to care of myself WITH food. I was also unable to afford the addiction, as I could easily consume $40-50 worth of cereal in a day.  I gradually lost interest in my food-centered suicidal drive and became obsessed with living a "normal" life that for years was so impossible. Once I got a taste of that "normalcy" I wanted more. And more. And more. Bulimia became antithetical to my new life and I enjoyed my independence from a hell I had known for so long.

Everyone's story is different. I hope that others will share theirs. I am inspired by those who have recovered and am learning how to be proud of myself for overcoming something that seemed so very, very insurmountable at the time. I honestly didn't think I could ever quit and was certain (and hopeful) that I would die from it. Instead, I survived and now must help others to survive as well. 

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