Because I am still sometimes ashamed to talk about my bulimia
When I first got in to eating disorder recovery, I religiously went to Overeaters Anonymous meetings (not that I was an over-eater at the time, but it was kind of a catch-all for whatever eating disorder was destroying your life). I found a new way to think of God to make my time in the rooms palatable, I proclaimed powerlessness, I worked the 12 steps (which was one of the most intense and transformative experiences of my life, I have to say) and I got firm footing in the program. I sponsored people who looked to me for guidance. I talked about being better because of the program.
I went to meetings more days than I didn’t. I lived and breathed my recovery in a way that I can only describe retrospectively as just hanging on. White knuckling my time between meetings because I felt so busy and crazy and terrible in my skin that I wanted to explode. Sitting hungrily between meals that were enough food to not raise eyebrows, but not enough food to feel satisfied. Deeply digging my heels in to try to control my body, while looking like I was getting better.
And then I stopped going.
Because my best friend in the program told me that she had to avoid me because she found herself judging the way that I ate. I had spent more hours than I can count talking myself into the idea that it was okay to eat in public, that no one gave a shit what was on my plate beyond it being enough to not look anorexic. I still don’t know what she meant when she said she was judging my food, but I know what I thought she meant- TOO MUCH. In an instant, all the self-convincing dissipated and I was left standing without my protective armor.
I was in grad school anyway. I was falling in love. I was probably looking for an out, and that was it.
There is this idea, I think in most 12 step programs, that if you leave, you’re fucked. To some extent, I think that’s correct, at least for me, at least at first. I left overeaters anonymous a recovering anorexic and compulsive exerciser in September, and by December I was sneaking away to throw up. I have memories of moving from San Francisco to Oakland and trying not to throw up in my new house for two weeks before failing. I have memories of throwing up in airport bathrooms. I have memories of puking coffee and a gluten-free cookie in New York City, of deciding I have to tell my partner, of watching his face crumble. I have memories of having no skills to keep myself well, of resenting OA so much but not having an alternative on deck.
I wish I could say I stopped throwing up after I outed myself to my partner, but it took awhile. Sometimes I was okay enough. Terrified of food, but not hiding with my face in the toilet. Some days I was power walking maniacally around my block trying to do anything but puke. And somedays I was still throwing up. I was more ashamed of my bulimia than I had ever been of anything in my life, and that remains true today. For whatever reason, anorexia and compulsive exercise are just straight up more publicly sanctioned than bulimia. Bulimia is terribly disgusting and a mess. It’s not fun to be that mess.
I tried returning to OA, but when I did, I felt nothing. The room smelled musty. The words weren’t comforting. I didn’t want to talk to the people after the meeting. It became clear to me that my behavior was about trying to do anything I could to quiet the voice inside of me that said my body was wrong, that told me my mind wasn’t of value, that I, as a person, just wasn’t up to par. It bums me out to say that I used controlling my food and body as a way to do anything to feel okay about myself, and that going to meetings became just another substitute for that act. I could have been starving, or running as fast as I could, or throwing up, or working such long hours that I could barely remember my name, or obsessively going to meetings and I was doing the SAME THING. Busying myself until I was so tired that my self-hate became a dull hum.
I stopped throwing up for real, when I decided I was a role model for young girls. When I taught high school health class and my students asked me if veganism was another eating disorder and it became suddenly vital to prove to them WITH MY ACTIONS that the answer was no. I stopped throwing up when I stopped hanging out with people that still threw up. I am trying to negotiate that truth, because fuck, people who throw up need friends, too. Just maybe not sick or vulnerable or impressionable friends. People who throw up need friends who would never consider throwing up.
I thought that if I could get more self-esteem, I would stop throwing up. But how was I supposed to do that when my actions weren’t something I was proud of? I got self-esteem AFTER I didn’t throw up for a month, two months, a year, two years. I got self-esteem when I realized that my self-hate was actually not a real part of me, that the voice that told me I wasn’t good enough was an asshole who shouldn’t be listened to. I got self-esteem when I started lifting heavy things at the gym. When I gained weight when I was no longer puking and was still okay.
I get self-esteem every day from writing about things that are hard to talk about.
Love you guys.