Four doormat size pieces of plain cheese pizza with extra marinara sauce. Two fudge brownies. And a pint of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream. This was my daily go to for comfort only to be vomited up asap. Heaven forbid an ounce might be gained.
It was mortifying to go down to my local New York City pizzeria and bodega next door. It felt like they all knew that I was a closet puker. It was hugely embarrassing to be addicted to food. Somehow, as wrong as it is to say, it seemed much cooler to be addicted to alcohol, or drugs, more rock-n-roll, Keith Richards style.
Being a food purger is done in isolation. Many addictions can end up being solitary, but I am pretty sure nobody ever became a bulimic at a group barf party. Regardless, all are devastating situations.
There are approximately 4.7 million women and 1.5 million men in the United States alone that suffer this disorder. Mostly, bulimia is more common in adolescents, but has been discovered in children as young as six years old. Yikes. 1.5% of all American women will suffer bulimia-nervosa in their lifetime. Yikes again.
I had been playing this deadly routine for years while living in an Upper East Side shoebox with my roommate Paula. She never knew. I was stealth like in my abilities to hide my hideous relationship with food. It became necessary to adjust to softer foods like pasta marinara because it was easier to regurgitate. It was also quieter and caused less choking. Anything too heavy such as a double cheeseburger and a bucket of fries was pretty painful to pull back up.Yeah, I know. Gross.
Hiding the evidence of empty food containers and vomit spots under the toilet seat was of the utmost importance. The cost to continually feed myself as if I were a family of ten was straining my limited finances. My deepest relationship, if you could call it that, never made it past a one night stand. No one including my gray cat Tasha would see me in my undies, let alone naked.
I was lost. The perfect storm of growing up with an alcoholic father and overdeveloping at eleven years old started the tailspin. Overdeveloped is an understatement. There was no over the shoulder boulder holder that could contain my gi-normous size boobs that hung low like large pendulums. And I lived in Florida. The land of the bathing suit. Egads.
It was difficult to hide and there was a lot of duct tape involved which only created a large shelf that I could almost set a plate on. Convenient, since food became my closest friend. Some would say how lucky one is to have a “set”. Well, I guess if you consider porn style ta-tas that have deep red stretch marks and point straight down, then sure.
Sorry, no. My eleven year old self did not know how to manage.
I had my secret fetish. It went with me everywhere. It was challenging to vomit quickly and quietly in group bathrooms. Like the one with those awful florescent lights when I worked as a receptionist at MTV, or the overcrowded, smokey ones when I was night time bartending in the East Village. It did not matter where. Flights? One can barely stand straight up inside those miniscule port-o-pottys let alone bend over the bowl. And yes, holidays required extra care in going undetected while the entire extended family cajoled in the festively decorated dining room for Thanksgiving. Or Birthdays. Or anytime.
The guilt. The shame. The embarrassment. It kept me in the closet for over a decade.
But the feeling. The counterfeit comfort of consuming the food was like a love drug, satisfying some deep dark hole that seemed bottomless. It didn't matter that it was reeking havoc with my finances or ruining my skin, or my teeth. How does one stop an addiction that is required to survive? Like a crack cocaine addict using just a wee bit. Kind of a conundrum don't you think.
The Mayo- Clinic lists some risk factors caused by bulimia:
When I finally felt I was bottoming out and told my roommate, she didn't believe me. My secretive skills were that good. Turns out there was another level of bottom. After going back undercover for another year with my vicious food cycle and self loathing, my health started to deteriorate.
I called my mother. This is the single most difficult call of my life so far. It was the most important one and as you can imagine, emotional.
I had a breast reduction surgery. Finally. It was an immeasurable sigh of relief to be able to wear a t-shirt at twenty-five years old. The difference that it made was enormous. But it didn't stop the purge cycle. It was the beginning of the end. Although, I have been recovered for over twenty years, the process to my individual healing was a long one. Until eating disorders are viewed as symptoms instead of the problem, recovery will remain limited in success. Bulimia is beatable and there are no easy answers like “Just stop.”
Perhaps the questions are more important the answers?
1. Why are we afraid to reach out? How bad is it going to have to get before one makes the call for help? This is the hardest part. It takes tremendous courage. No way around it. Just gotta go through. Putting my fears on the page helped push me to take this critical step. And reaching out goes both ways. My mother had a feeling something was wrong and understandably did not want to hurt me. She had her own darkness to deal with and was doing the best that she could. If you suspect someone you love is battling this problem, then be brave and say something. Yup, and it's going to be uncomfortable but you just might help someone open the door to healing. Make the call to a loved one. It can save a life.
2. How are we influencing our children? I cringe anytime I hear an adult say anything about dieting around a child or teen. How about good ole healthy eating? For me, one of the pivotal points for my recovery was to stop dieting. Food is not the enemy. Our relationship with it is the foundation of a healthy body and mind.
3. What are the triggers? The exact cause of bulimia is unknown. Many factors could play a role in the development of eating disorders, including genetics, biology, emotional health, and societal expectations. Learning to identify certain triggers is an integral part of healing. It helped me a lot to deal with this in therapy. Finding a good therapist and/or group is likely to have a profound effect on recovery success.
4. Why are we eating when we are eating? Keeping a journal was and still is a great help in catching my run away feelings. Pouring yourself out on the page is like purging. Except that you don't need to spend any money and risk your health. Back when we used day-planners instead of technical devices to organize our lives, I marked a smiley face (the original old style emoji) each day I made it though without vomiting. X marked the days I didn't. Little by little, there were more of the smiles. As silly and perhaps small as this might seem, tracking my progress was empowering and helped beat the inner critic that drove me to gorge.
5. What messages are we receiving and sending on Social Media? All media? This is the gorilla. It can be a trigger for self doubt and wondering why we all don't look perfect in a dental floss thong. It all looks so smooth, sparkly and fabulous out there! We have the power here to be aware of what we put out on these platforms. How can we be better messengers?
6. And finally: How can we make friends with ourselves? Especially the parts we don't like so much? Maitri. One of the most powerful things we can do for ourselves and be of benefit to others. It means fully embracing all of our qualities. Yes, those parts of us that have mood swings, our internal struggles and yes, our cellulite. I remind myself often that there's strength within my sensitivity which many, including myself, sometimes perceive as weakness. We are not broken. We heal when we practice radical acceptance with ourselves. Sure, there are things that can be worked on. Like one of many times I have had a tantrum when my brother and I disagreed on politics. (That is putting it lightly in the hopes this article won't spark another argument.) When we can meet ourselves with kindness instead of an internal hammer, we can connect better with others.
Bulimia is not beautiful. It's power has affected celebrities like Jane Fonda. Princess Diana. Lady Gaga. Elton John. I know! Rocketman! It's comforting to know we are not alone. Healing from this traumatic disease is absolutely possible. Make the call.