My Old Friends: Ana, Mia, and Ed

​I know what I did. I know why it happened. I am not sorry for my actions.

If you’re a new reader… actually even if you’re not… you might not know that I had/have an eating disorder. It’s hard to pick a tense for that kind of thing. I used to have an eating disorder that people find disturbing. In recent years I’ve stopped practicing it, but that doesn’t mean it’s gone away. It’s kind of like the fact I’m a lapsed Catholic: I don’t go to church, but I can still spout off all the Catholic doctrine I ever learned if inclined. Likewise, you never forget the things you learn when you have an eating disorder. You don’t forget that even vitamins and lip balm contain calories. You don’t forget the look of pity and horror on people’s faces if they ever figure you out. You don’t forget what it feels like to be empty. You don’t forget how good food can taste. You don’t forget what it’s like to realize that whatever you just ate didn’t taste that great, but you were so hungry that you ate it anyway and you have to punish yourself for that doubly. You don’t forget the highs, or the lows, or the shame, or the pride… You don’t forget any of it. You just learn to compartmentalize it as a part of your life that happened, and try to fight the want to go back to it.

A lot of people struggle with eating disorders, which is why I think it’s so fascinating that the image of eating disorders is always the skeletal white girl with thinning hair and dull teeth, dead behind the eyes but still standing in a power pose that shows off those hip bones. Those girls exist, obviously, and oh how I have spent a lifetime romanticizing and idolizing them, but more often the face of an eating disorder is a lot less… blatant. It’s a rare kind of person that can be a dedicated anorexic. I don’t have the willpower myself.

For the record, while I give anorexic credit for the self discipline they develop, and I obviously hold a certain amount of adoration for them, I don’t advocate getting yourself an eating disorder.

The face of the common eating disorder can be almost anyone. That surprises a lot of people. It can be men or women, of any race, with any kind of appearance. Someone with an eating disorder might be thin, fit, stacked, fat, or something akin to what an “average” person looks like. It depends on which version of an ED they adopt and how dedicated they are to it.

I was never a wisp of a girl. I’ve never been confused with a fragile person. No, I’m a fat girl. I’ve always been a fat girl, though I’ve been different kinds of fat girl over the years. As a result, when I got into bulimia, no one was concerned that I was losing weight, or how fast I was losing weight, or how I was even doing it. To be honest, for months no one even really noticed. I remember when I bought some new clothes and my boyfriend grabbed me around the waist for some reason, and just went, “Holy shit.” It was a good feeling.

A lot of things were happening at that point in my life. It was turbulent on a good day, but on a bad day a million things could happen. I feel like most people could describe age 18-25 that way, but for as many different reasons as there are people. For me, that time was a whirlwind of medication, bad life choices, and just trying find something I felt like I could control…. something… anything…

I think I’ve touched on the fact that I never thought I’d live this long. That’s not a thing older people like to hear, but it’s true. I never saw the future coming. I dunno what I THOUGHT would happen, whether I’d die or just hit some age and never get older or what, but I didn’t think I’d have to deal with life after elementary school, much less when life persisted and I ended up a high school graduate trying to figure out what I was supposed to do with the rest of my life. Adolescence had been hard enough, but learning to be a really real adult was like some kind of psychological torture devised by a wrathful god. So the first thing I decided to do was see a shrink.

This is not the story of how my shrink somehow tricked me into an eating disorder, or how they ruined my life. I loved my shrink. She listened to me, and I have spent a lot of time wishing that someone would listen to me. What she did do, was after a few sessions she prescribed me Effexor, which I quickly had to stop because my mom said it made me a terrible human being. After a few other sessions, she changed her diagnosis and so began the pursuit to find drugs that could control my bipolar mood disorder. The diagnosis evolved, and I got a few other shrinks, and I was on and off all kinds of medications from anti-depressants to tranquilizers and anti-psychotics. It was a running theme in my life to try and remember how I was supposed to take this one, and whether I took anything that morning, or if I was supposed to take them at night.

Aside from that, I’d started college. I never did well with moves to a new institution. I was nervous, I didn’t know where to belong in a world where no one seemed to flock together. My first day of college I tore all ten fake nails off my hands. They ached for days afterward. I just didn’t know how to deal.

My boyfriend was oblivious. He was a nice guy, but not the kind of guy someone like me was going to keep. He did what he was told, but didn’t have ambition for life. He didn’t do things like ask me about myself… he was just a good constant, in retrospect. Nice guy, but laden with his own problems, like his bipolar mother and brother. He escaped into video games, and I guess he just thought he could add me to his collection of bipolars that mostly took care of themselves. He was just around to pick up the pieces if one of us fell apart or got in trouble (which his mother did often).

This was also when I started binge drinking.

I’d never been a bad kid. I didn’t go to class and I picked up smoking, but I was never a stoner or a drinker or anything else in high school. It wasn’t that shit wasn’t around to do, I just didn’t care to do any of it. I was having enough problems just trying to be a human being, much less a human being with a real habit. I knew kids that got into marijuana, and kids that got into meth; I even know a handful of kids that got into heroin. It just wasn’t my bag, personally.

When I first started going to karaoke with my boyfriend’s roommate, it was just fun to go out with someone older than me. I didn’t have a fake ID or anything, so I’d just hang out and not drink. I was still underage and shouldn’t have been there, but it turns out that if you show up enough, people will just assume you belong there. So, at some point, bartenders just started giving me drinks. Sometimes I paid for them, sometimes they were free, but often I would shoot them more than drink them, and end up black out drunk. I’d tell you stories about that, but I don’t really remember much aside from flashes of driving home drunk or having to call my boyfriend to come get me and my car. That theme went on for a long time.

Anyways, I didn’t feel like I had control of mental health, my college work, my drinking habit, or any part of my life, and my boyfriend was so detached from me that he didn’t really even notice that I was struggling. I was drowning in what it meant to be an adult and trying to figure out how to work and college and party all at once. I was just lost in a sea of things I was not prepared to deal with.

It was around this time that an old friend came back into my life. Somewhere in high school I’d lost track of her, but she popped up on the internet, as pretty much everyone you ever meet is bound to at some point. It honestly could have been anyone, but it was her, and in high school she’d become a pretty devoted member of the Church of Thinspo. I’m still not clear what all lead to it. Her mother had always been preoccupied with her daughter’s weight for some reason, but then I guess her home life got bad when the ‘rents split up. Somewhere in all that, she stopped eating, and for a while that made everything better. Since all that, she’d been to rehab a few times to learn to eat again, and then played with bulimic habits, and eventually had concocted a completely demented relationship with food. It’s all she thought about… but it was everything she hated.

Our re-connection was brief, but the ideas took root, and grew into a weed that strangled the life out of any rational outlook I had on food.

I think that I was technically ED-NOS (eating disorder not otherwise specified). I was definitely bulimic, both in the sense I’d throw up after binging and that I used to track my calories and then go to the gym and try to exercise enough to burn twice as many calories as I ate. Exercise bulimia takes so much time. I used to be at the gym for 4 hours or more, in the dead of night. Also, though, I tried not to eat for days. At one point I existed JUST on Coca Cola. Other days I’d eat normally, and then go home and try to laxative the calories out. My versatility in how I manifested my eating disorder really helped me keep that shit under wraps.
In fact, no one ever found out.

So why did I stop? I’m sure you want to know.

One day I felt good about myself, and I ate 6 hot wings from my favorite pizza place. That was all. No pizza. No binging. Just a normal dinner for a normal girl that was celebrating being alive. As soon as I’d thrown away the box I became violently ill in my kitchen sink. It was completely involuntary, but I’d been doing it so much after eating my body had just done what I’d trained it to do.

I remember sitting on my kitchen floor, bits of spicy chicken still clinging to my mouth as I sobbed. I didn’t know why I was so upset at the time. It felt like a waste of food, but that was what I’d been doing for over a year, so that wasn’t it. It hurt coming up, because it was hot wings, but I’d vomited lots of heavily spiced food. Spicy food coming up was like cutting yourself from the inside. It felt good to hurt. No, I couldn’t have told you why I was so upset just then, but I know now. I’d lost control of the one thing I’d had absolute control over, and it was terrifying.

I never went to a rehab facility. I never told a doctor. I never did anything to get help. I didn’t breakdown about pizza or confide in someone about how much I loved the feeling of being so hungry that it hurt, or talk in group about how relieving it is to vomit everything out after you eat enough food to feed a family of four. I didn’t tell anyone. I probably could have gone to my grave with no one knowing how I lost so much weight that year, except that things have a way of coming out when you least expect them to.

I was in the car with my mom, recently, and I don’t remember what we were talking about, but I ended up saying, “when I was bulimic…” I died a little inside, but Mom was as unreadable as ever. I know it probably hurt her to find out that all that weight I lost was due to an eating disorder, especially since she gave me so much praise for losing that weight, and so much shit for gaining all of it back and then some.

Anyways, to take the long way around, I binged and purged for the first time in 8 years last night… and it felt as good as I remember it feeling.

It was absolutely revolting… Chipotle tacos, a burrito bowl, two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and a big cup of chocolate milk. It came out stick and oddly colored.

I didn’t throw up everything. I’d wager I managed about half of what I ate, maybe a little more, but the burn from the inside from the hot salsa was like hugging an old friend and the feeling of my insides going from bursting at the seams to suddenly having space to move again was nothing but familiar relief.

You never forget what you learn when you have an eating disorder….

And the thing about your inner demons is that they are always there for you when no one else is.

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