I actually remember the first time I binged and purged. I was in eighth grade and we were at Thanksgiving dinner at my grandparents’ house. My grandma used to make these huge elaborate meals, with like 5 or 6 different pies and all sorts of mashed potatoes and stuffing. My cousin Jenny, who is a year older than me, was there. She was like, everyone’s princess. Everyone was soooo excited because Jenny had made the cheerleading squad at her high school and she was in the homecoming court. Up until that year, me and Jenny had always sat there during Thanksgiving and giggle and eat all the pies together. But this year, she barely paid attention to me. She wore these tight jeans and kept her portions small. She was like a real teenager. My mother looked at her admirably and said she was so proud of how beautiful Jenny had become. She also said that it was smart to watch her figure now that she was no longer a little girl. My mom then looked at me and said nothing as I scarfed down my third piece of pie. I had never really thought about it before. I mean that’s what we did on Thanksgiving. We ate my Grandma’s pies. Even my Grandma turned against me. “Eat less pie Emily! Be more like Jenny. Look how thin and gorgeous she is now!” I felt horrible. My own (not name brand) jeans were unbuttoned to make room for my swollen belly and I felt how greasy my hair and skin had become. After dinner, I excused myself to the bathroom and I don’t know how or why, but I began searching through the medicine cabinet. That’s when I saw the chocolate ex-lax. I knew what they did and I knew that I could use them to get rid of the pie. I don’t know how I knew to use them. I guess I’d heard of it somewhere… and so I took three pills. I remember thinking that I should take more than it said on the back, but I didn’t want anyone to notice that they were gone. The laxatives kicked in that night. I sat up all night running to the bathroom. And although my stomach felt ravaged and I was in terrible pain, after my bathroom trips, I would step on the scale and see how much weight I’d lost. It was amazing to me that the pounds were just dropping off. And that’s how it started. Later that week, I made myself throw up after eating a milkshake and onion rings from Burger King.
And that was my descent into the dark years of bingeing, purging, taking laxatives, and starving myself. I kept trying to be more like my cousin Jenny who showed up at Thanksgiving every year more and more beautiful, with perfect grades, the captain of cheerleading, with a football player boyfriend. And me, I became more and more isolated. I had put on a lot of weight and I wore all black, smoked cigarettes and had kept my hair dyed black and pierced everything I could. I didn’t really have a boyfriend, though I did sleep with a lot of boys, but no one wanted to get serious with me. I kidded myself into thinking that I didn’t care. But I was depressed. Really depressed. I used to cut myself on the arms and legs sometimes, just so that I could emote because I felt, I believed that I was completely alone. My grandparents seemed to tolerate me, but didn’t have a lot of interest or pride in me. And my mother sort of seemed disgusted by me. She knew about my activities with boys and told me that I had no self-respect. Food was a lot of what comforted me. I would eat full pizzas on my own after school and wash them down with diet cokes. I’d go days eating nothing, just drinking coffee and diet coke and eating pixie sticks to keep me going. Then I’d collapse, cut school and go to the donut store and eat a dozen donuts in the parking lot, wash them down with diet coke and laxatives, then throw up in the bathroom of the gas station, and then drive around town buying food to binge on and find gas station bathrooms to purge in. I just wanted to be normal. I wanted to be like my cousin Jenny. I wanted people to love me and I wanted to be beautiful and cared for. I thought that if I could get thin enough, I’d be okay. But my bingeing and purging continued all through high school, and shockingly, I still was able to get good enough grades to get into college.
I stopped purging in college, but became addicted to diet pills, marijuana, and sometimes even cocaine to keep me from eating. I finally lost all the weight I wanted to, but my body was breaking down. I suffered three fractures by the second semester of my sophomore year. I realized then that I had to stop with my eating disorder. But I couldn’t. I had no idea how to eat normally. I tried to eat three meals a day, but it always ended with me bingeing. I managed to stop purging, but I was still bingeing and then restricting. I did manage to graduate from college, but my grades really weren’t very good. I barely went to class and when I did, I didn’t pay attention or get much out of my classes. I really wasted my mother’s money.
After college, I tried a variety of things to help me lose weight. I tried different diets, I tried nutritionists, I tried a 12 step group with a food plan. But all of those things made me just binge when I fell off my food plans or diets. Eventually, I decided to start seeing a therapist. I knew I had an eating disorder and was ready for help. It was really hard at first because I felt like my therapist just couldn’t help me with the thing I most needed help with– I wanted to lose weight, I wanted to stop bingeing. I told her to just tell me what to do and fix me. She gave me lots of assignments, many of them were about eating 3 meals a day, whatever I wanted, but I had to eat mindfully. She sent me to a nutritionist who specialized in treating eating disorders, and she also recommended that I see a psychiatrist to help me get some meds that might help with my depression. I spent a lot of money. A serious amount of money between all those specialists. But I was desperate.
Talking to my therapist really felt like a relief. We talked through a lot of the pain, depression, and through a lot of my childhood. I realized that a lot of my eating disorder wasn’t about the food and it wasn’t about me getting thin. It was about me feeling really badly about myself. My Dad left my Mom and I when I was 5 years old, and I always thought it was my fault. The more I began to understand how I felt completely flawed my whole life, the more I understand that it was a myth– a story that I told myself. And that through that myth that I had conceptualized in my 5 year old mind, I began to act the way I believed I was. I tried desperately to get love and attention from men, but ultimately, I felt so worthless, that I let them treat me like crap– letting them have sex with me then ignore me the next day. My mother said I had no self respect, and she was right. But she never taught me how to respect myself. She never quite let me think I was worthy of love and admiration. I wasn’t any less smart or less beautiful than Jenny, I just believed I was. She had a mother and a father at home. I had no Dad and a Mom who was angry and felt rejected and resentful. She came into therapy with me several times as we discussed her own feelings of being worthless after my Dad left her for a much younger woman. As I began to understand my own sense of worth, I started to try and take better care of myself. I learned to sit with my feelings, I learned to HOLD myself with respect. That was huge. I didn’t have to be super witty, nor did I have to do everything for everybody to make them like me. I didn’t have to be anything. I just had to respect myself. And so as I did, my eating disorder began to have less of a hold on me. As I talked through all those things, I realized that the drive to be thin was really just a drive to be accepted. So I learned to accept myself. It has been really hard for me to accept all those lost years, it’s like my whole teen years and most of my 20s were stolen by my eating disorder. But in learning to accept, I’m just trying to respectfully mourn those lost years.
I’ve been 100% free from any eating disorder behaviors since September 18th, 2010. That was the day before my 28th birthday. I am not afraid of Ed any longer. I know that I have the tools to work through whatever life should hand me. And if I do relapse, I know that I can’t lose the recovery that I have.
*Name has been changed.
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