I am a non-practicing bulimic. Meaning, I'd really love to stuff myself and then puke it all up, but I don't. I've been struggling with bulimia for twelve years. I picked up the habit toward the end of college while struggling to maintain the lowest weight of my life, keep my grades up, and get into law school, all while my Gim was back in the hospital because her poor old heart just wasn't the firecracker she was. Believe it or not, I sort of stumbled on to voluntary puking, not unlike stumbling on a basic cable T.V. show that no one else is watching, but you find mildly entertaining.
The first time I did it was actually at the hospital. Sitting around the ICU waiting room was throwing me off the eating and work-out schedule that had allowed me to lose about 138 pounds and I began to feel like I was losing control. One night I ate a sinful apple, became overwhelmed with guilt, went into the public restroom and got rid of it. I didn't realize it at the time, but I was also developing an anorexia problem because I would go days without eating (the record was three) and no matter what I read on the scale I felt like I still had the figure of a defensive linebacker.
These days I suffer from anorexic amnesia, a sad condition where I forget not to eat. But I'm still a true blue bulimic even though it's been a while since I hung my head over the cold porcelain of the toilet. I know I'm still an addict because the thought of a good old fashioned binge & purge tugs at my mind almost daily. And because once a bulimic, always a bulimic.
Bulimia is truly an addiction and, like any addiction, cannot really be explained, but must be experienced. I think people have a hard time relating to the bulimic over other addicts, which is completely understandable since vomiting is vile and no sane person chooses to do it. But, if you think it's about the food, it's not. If you think it's about weight loss, it's not. If you think it's something only college girls do, think again. It's about control when you feel you have none. For me, it's about peace when I'm adrift in turmoil.
Imagine if you felt like you were in constant chaos, but there was a pill you could take that would, temporarily, give you a sense of peace and calm. Wouldn't you take the pill? That's what bulimia is to me, a temporary cure for what ails me-feeling totally out of control. See, there is a very real chemical reaction that occurs in my brain when I induce the spew, resulting in a feeling of calm and serenity. I have never experienced a similar state of peace at any other time in my life. Trust me, I know how crazy that seems. Being the open person I am, I've shared my condition with non-bulimics and fallen into conversations like this:
Isn't it gross?
Don't you get puke on your hand?
What do you do?
Wash it off.
Why do you do it?
Because I'm compelled to do it.
At first, bulimia rocks. It's so easy! Just eat till it hurts then bring it all back up with a finger down your throat. What could be simpler? But then you start to not feel so hot. Your throat hurts, you're exhausted all the time, and before you know it you're devoting a couple hours a day to the habit. Time that should be spent studying is now spent sitting on cold bathroom floor tiles retching up a bag of Oreos, a bowl of oatmeal, and a Hungry Man Dinner. The worst is when you binge, but can't purge because you've worn out your gag reflex. Talk about panic! That's when you swear, absolutely swear, you'll never do it again. Until you do, of course.
One day you look up from the toilet and realize you've been doing this for a year or maybe two. You are no longer in control of your actions and haven't been for a long, long, time. Yet you cling to the belief that every time is the last time. It was almost killing myself with 14 laxatives that made me realize I had a bit of a problem. I started seeing a therapist and things got better-not over night and not without missteps, but better.
I continue to battle the urge to purge, but manage to keep it in check. There are days like today that I long for that feeling of peace to wash over me. Like when the baby is crying because he wants someone to hold him at the same time my three year old is crying for me to hold her because she fell and bumped her head. Then a plateful of scrambled eggs and watermelon (don't ask) is dumped on the floor while I try to hold both crying children in my lap. I wanted to cry too, but couldn't because I'm the mom. It was the moment that I swallowed my tears that a longing for the purge welled up inside of me. A whisper saying, "just one time, just a quick round. You'll feel so much better." No, I won't do it. Not tonight. Tonight I will write it out until I no longer need to cry or anything else.
But if you think you don't know any bulimics, think again. If you think it could never be you, I pray you're right. And if you think you're alone with this disease, you're not.