What It's Really Like To Have Bulimia + How I Finally Recovered
Sitting with my mom and stepfather at a restaurant, my eyes twinkled as I observed the colorful plates of food covering the table. I would have believed you if you called me weak when, at 14 years old, I obeyed a soft voice inside of my head that whispered, "Eat and drink until your stomach aches." I gulped my food with enthusiasm and as my belly expanded, I ignored the discomfort.
After my meal, I excused myself and walked to the bathroom in excruciating pain. Happy to be alone, the same voice said, "Now stand over the toilet, slide your fingers down your throat, and regurgitate the pain." Once again, I obeyed.
Thus began my bout with an eating disorder.
"No matter what the problem is, our experiences are just outer effects of inner thought." —Louise Hay
In the beginning, it was an interesting game I played with myself. I thought it was cool that I could eat as much as I wanted and then get rid of it shortly after. That was, until I felt it necessary to do it every time I ate. Even when I snacked, I drank tons of water, soda, or juice in order to expand my stomach so that I could purge.
I didn't know it was called bulimia until I attended college and a group of girls who lived in my dorm would each order a large pizza, eat it, and adjourn to the bathroom to relieve their pain.
My roommate told me the girls were bulimic. Hmm, I used to do that, I said to myself. For a brief period, the memory of me bingeing and purging surfaced but I quickly buried it and I didn't think any more of it until I wrote my novel.
Brené Brown says, "Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren't always comfortable, but they're never weakness."
And even though I don't exactly feel courageous talking about this now, I do feel strong.
Although I lived in an abusive household, somehow I willed myself to overcome bulimia before I graduated high school. I literally woke up one day and said, "ENOUGH. I have to stop this. This doesn't feel right." Please don't take this the wrong way—I'm not saying just anyone can do the same. If you have this illness, please seek help. Don't go through it alone and keep it a secret like I did.
My past does not define me.
I love that Louise Hay's book, You Can Heal Your Life, connects emotions to diseases. She states that bulimia is hopeless terror, a frantic stuffing and purging of self-hatred. I wholeheartedly agree with this, and I also believe that my inner thoughts led me to my bulimia.
Now, 37 years later, I understand the depth of my terror. Fear of my stepfather paralyzed me and I felt powerless within my home. The one thing I controlled was my ability to stuff my mouth with food and regurgitate it whenever I desired. Although there were moments that I thought I hated my stepfather, I actually hated myself. I hated being alive. I hated tiptoeing around the house praying I wouldn't get in trouble because the house wasn't clean enough (my stepfather was a neat freak).
I hated that my biological father abandoned me by allowing me to leave New Jersey and move with my mother to California without a fight. So, I embraced the amazing sensation of eating and the unique feeling of my stomach stretching until it hurt, knowing that I could quickly relieve the pain.
I controlled my pain, right?
That's what I thought until the other day when I began a body detox and my throat became scratchy. As I covered my mouth and coughed, a picture of the raw throat that came from sticking my fingers down my throat years ago popped into my brain. Where had this memory lived all these years? This detox is bringing up old issues, I thought.
That's also when a memory of me baking cookies and eating large amounts of them with milk, and then purging, appeared. I cried because I realized I had suppressed these memories and the pain associated with them. At that moment, I decided to confront it, to be truthful, and be brave enough to write this and share my story.
The more I talk about this, the less ashamed I am because I have learned that my past does not define me. Yes, it shaped me but I can reshape who I am by renewing my thoughts. I have choices. I can allow the scared teenager to rule my present moment or I can let her walk out of my life and practice the lessons that I have learned from my past.
One great lesson I have learned is that my stepfather abused his authoritative power, and since I know the horror of being abused by someone in a "higher" position, I refuse to use my parental position to abuse my children. Second, I learned that bulimia is an emotional issue related to self-image, and through this experience I have learned to uplift and edify my daughter and other young women. I strive to help people see their self-worth and their beauty from inside out. Third, I have learned to forgive myself for the pressure I placed on myself and for the shame I carried for being bulimic. In forgiving myself, I have also forgiven those who abused me and those who didn't protect me.
I breathe easier because this secret no longer hides in the recesses of my mind. I was vulnerable then and I'm vulnerable now. Maybe I am courageous for telling my truth (I'm not sure), but what I know for sure is that vulnerability is never weakness—which means I am strong.