The other day I was at my University class, which happens to occur right over the dinner hour. I was starving, but didn’t eat anything. I sipped at my Diet Coke and tried to concentrate on the lecture. It’s not like we aren’t allowed to eat–it’s pretty much par for the course in an evening class and all around me people were snacking on grapes, opening zip lock bags full of cookies, and peeling those tiny BabyBel cheeses. I couldn’t. I can’t.
During my first university degree, I had a pretty serious eating disorder. Somehow I managed to get up, take two buses to get to the university, sit through class drinking Diet Coke, and return to my apartment 8 hours later only to collapse on the couch from exhaustion. I remember that it took too much effort to lift my arms to wash my hair, so I didn’t. If I caved from hunger in the evening, I ate what I could find in the fridge and washed everything down with a carton of chocolate milk. Then I went to visit my aptly named bathroom fixture: American Standard. The next morning, I would begin again.
So of course, during those days, no one ever, ever, ever saw me eat. On dinner dates, I would pretend that I had already eaten previously and therefore couldn’t partake in the meal. I know there were more than a couple boys and girls who were frustrated/confused by my refusal to order anything other than a salad, which I then left untouched on my plate. These days–almost twenty years later–I can eat in public with very good friends, but I can never eat in public around strangers. Some things stick with you.
And that got me thinking about how those four-plus years of my life have affected the rest of my life. In random order, here’s my list of how an age-old eating disorder continues to fuck with my now happy life:
- Waking up in the middle of the night to throw up . . . for no apparent reason.
- Retching until I throw up first thing in the morning . . . for no apparent reason.
- Swallowing a pill . . . and then immediately throwing up.
- Coughing during a cold . . . and then throwing up, not because I have the flu, but just because.
- Keeping an empty bucket in every bathroom . . . just because.
- Brushing my teeth and tongue. . . and then retching. And maybe throwing up.
- Eating a little too much at a party . . . and then throwing up. Not because I want to, but because my body thinks there is no alternative.
- Looking in the mirror.
- Looking/Not looking at old photos of the thin but unhealthy me.
- Daydreaming about recovering the sense of power and control I felt I had, no matter how unhealthy it was.
Long ago, when I was in Recovery, the doctors told me that my “trigger” for vomiting might be compromised and that it would always be easier for me to throw up. Turns out they were right. But retching and throwing up are the easy part. The hardest part is looking in the mirror every day and trying to convince myself that I am indeed better off now than I was. Fuck you Anorexia. Fuck you Bulimia. Fuck you. I am better than you.
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