Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Life after bulimia

I am at a point in my recovery where I have no problem talking about my eating disorder to most people. There are still members of my family who pretend my eating disorder never happened. Within the context of my family, it's a taboo subject that no one wants to acknowledge. I'm not sure if it's because acknowledging makes it real and they want to project the illusion that our family is perfect, or if it's just that they've never been able to understand the seriousness of it all.

Regardless, for the most part, I am open to talking about my anorexia. I am obviously open to writing about it. I am (God willing) teaching a 50-minute lecture about anorexia in poetry in December at the graduate school I attend in Los Angeles. I'm not scared for people to know I was anorexic. I don't mind talking about it. I want to create awareness. I want to admit that though my eating disorder is something I still struggle with, I've made progress and progress is possible.

But I've realized that my bulimia, well, that's an issue I'm not so comfortable opening up about. But why? Bulimia is just as serious as anorexia. It's just as frightening. It's just as devastating and damaging. I think the reason I have trouble owning up to my bulimia is that anorexics tend to think of bulimics as weak. Starving oneself becomes an act of skill and restraint, so binging and purging represent those instances of corporeality that the anorexic tries to suppress. If the anorexic wants control, bulimia is the loss of that control. At least, that's how it goes with my own experience. Certainly I no longer feel this way. I know that both anorexic and bulimic behavior is dangerous, deadly, and weak. Neither behavior signals strength. There is only strength in recovery, and I have recovered (and am still recovering) from both.

So why can't I talk about bulimia?

Why do I try so hard to forget?

Is it the physical act? Because it's so gross? Who wants to hear about vomit?

It's so much more than that. I'm not going to pretend that society understands eating disorders because I know that society does not. But even within the context of society, anorexia is typically glamorized whether directly or indirectly. Thinness prevails. It is to be aspired to. People make fun of bulimia, in my experience, far more so than anorexia. It's thrown around as an insult like it's something stupid, vapid girls do. I guess it's just harder for people to see bulimia as a legitimate eating disorder. It's about more than just throwing up after you've eaten. When I was bulimic, not throwing up after a meal was not an option. I had to throw up. I had no choice in the matter. I was throwing up 7 or 8 times a day when I was at my sickest. By that time, it was almost purely a physical reaction. I threw up without thinking about it. It's something my body learned to expect. It's like getting an itch and automatically reaching to scratch it without being fully cognizant of the action.

Only now can I see how horrifying it is.

How dangerous.

How could I have ever done that to myself?

Starving myself was bad enough. But then to give my body the food it needed so much only to take it away again? How badly I've mistreated myself. Maybe that's why I can't talk about my bulimia--because I'm ashamed.

I try to forget all of the time I spent bulimic. That entire segment of my life was chaotic and miserable. Part of not wanting to talk about being bulimic is inevitably my way of not wanting to remember those painful moments in my past. That was my rock bottom.

My God.

Whenever I feel like relapsing I think of those moments spent in agony crying on the bathroom floor. Sick from puking. Sick from laxatives. I remember the time I took NyQuil on an empty stomach because I felt so guilty and so ashamed of myself that I just wanted to sleep. I didn't care if I woke up again. I hadn't eaten in days. My body couldn't handle the medicine. I was falling asleep and throwing up at the same time. My mother found me passed out on the bathroom floor.

It seems like a dream.

It wasn't.

I feel so guilty for even remembering it.

That was four years ago. How did I ever make it back from that dark place? When I think that recovery is impossible I remember how far I have come.

I always tell people that there is most certainly life after anorexia. But that's only half of my story.

There is life after bulimia too.


  1. Aw/: You shouldn't feel guilty or hesistant to tell your story. All parts of it. I mean, you could change lives! We could all tell our stories and then maybe create more awareness and help prevention of eating disorders. And yeah, i remember my darkest days too. I would take extra tums and drink an unthinkable amount of water because i thought the food would come out quicker and i wouldn't gain as much weight from it. Eating disorder are so dangerous, gross, and scary. Hopefully we can all make a difference to finally stop it.

  2. wow that was very, very intense to read. it is so personal, yet there are so many girls out there who live the same live as you did back then. it is so good of you lecturing about anorexia, it's important to spread awareness! maybe one day you can lecture about bulimia as well.

    you have come SO far in your recovery, i'm proud!


  3. i cried a lot at that - hugs

    i became anorexic at the age of 12 while my mum had terminal cancer, i read about it in a book and decided to limit my calories as i thought i was fat.

    in hindsight i suppose i thought it was the only control i had over my life. i started off skipping meals, then hiding food, then went on to being sick every meal. it made me feel powerful. my weight went down to a BMI of about 17 .. 7 stone for a person of 5'7" by the time i was 14. my periods stopped and my formerly 36D boobs sank.

    despite all of this i still felt powerful. like i had some sort of control over what was happening. i was sole carer for for my mother who had terminal cancer. after 6 years we lost her.

    15 years after i lost her i still miss her like crazy. and i still feel the same about my body. my boobs and periods have come back but sometimes i wish they hadn't and i still had the same concave stomach, visible ribs and twig arms i had back then.

  4. and also-

    as a former anorexic it absolutely disgusts me how fat i've become.

    even though people say i look lovely, you can see the glint of digust in their eyes.

  5. Danielle is right! I think you should be proud that you were able to come back from the “dark side.” I know that you’ve gone through a tough journey to recovery, and I commend your determination to win the battle against this disorder. And sharing your story will inspire lots of people, especially the ones who are suffering from this problem.

  6. OK I'm late to this post but I'd just like to leave a comment for posterity. I keep seeing this assertion that anorectics are the "successful" starvers and bulimics are "failed anorexics" because they give in and eat. (As if there are any winners here...)
    But as a restricting anorexic myself ive always had a shameful envy of the bulimics. I know it must be a terrifying experience and its even more brutal to the body...but i envy that somehow.
    It's such an act of violence against the self and the body and in a sense it takes control over food and the body - food can go in and come out again- just like that the boundaries are something to be toyed with. I just fear and avoid food and my boundaries are rigid and untested, that's not strong that's weak. And I'm a slacker, my disorder is defined by a lack of action (lack of eating). I'm weak and controlled by food. I'm only resisting it so successfully because I'm scared.
    I'm not dumb and crass enough to say I *want* the binging and vomiting aspect of an eating disorder (my body is wrecked enough already) but I certainly feel like my restricting passivity lacks the violence and acted out pain I perceive in bulimia. There's a big element of rebellion in taking in sustenance and choosing to reject it. It's a rejection of normality and health and the foreign body of the food. A society that thinks anorexia is stronger and better is an anorexic-thinking society where women deny and disconnect from their bodies and appetites rather than using them as a form of protest.
    OK. I'll shut up now, just wanted to say I never saw bulimia as more shameful or inferior to anorexia, but I understand the general perception is otherwise. I can't even speak about my anorexia out loud. thanks for blogging so honestly and eloquently and raising these issues. It's a big help to me to read someone else's struggles and insights in recovery.