I’ve been thinking a lot about what topic I should cover first (there are honestly so many things I cannot wait to talk about on here), and have decided to go with the first thought that crosses my mind in this very moment, while I sit staring at this blank word document. For some reason it happens to be eating disorder based again, so I apologise to those who are waiting for more broad topics. This blog post is going to be based on a personal experience- a memory. The topic I am going to be covering today is purging (often used to describe the symptoms of Bulimia Nervosa, and/or Binge Eating disorder), so if this is a trigger for you, please wait for my next post, and stop reading now.
My first experience with purging is one of the most vivid memories that I have from my childhood. I know, thats sad, but this is a place to be honest right? It happened during the early stages of my eating disorder. I was around 13 years old at this point, and I had been obsessively monitoring and controlling my diet for a few weeks, which had led me to become hungry and moody (hangry as we call it these days). I knew that I didn’t have any calories left on this particular evening, but I was starving, stomach rumbling- head spinning- hands shaking- starving.
My mum’s friend, who had come over to visit mum that night, had brought me home a “healthy” chicken wrap for dinner. I hastily told her I’d already eaten, but I think she could tell that I was hungry (must have been the eyes, these big blues hide nothing), and handed me the wrap anyways. I took it reluctantly, and continued reading my book (Twilight) for several minutes, before I finally decided to peel back the foil wrapping. It smelt amazing, salty and fresh, nothing like the tin of low fat tuna I’d had an hour previously. I remember biting into it, it was delicious, sweet, spicy, crunchy and creamy…
“CREAMY! Oh s**T!” I was mortified. I’d accidentally eaten some high fat, high calorie, creamy dressing. I instantly began to panic and fret about all the hard work that I’d just undone. I sat the wrap on the table, next to my spot on the couch, and planned the sit ups I would do later to counter act this mishap. Then a strange thing happened, suddenly, and completely out of nowhere, something in my brain changed. It was like someone flicked a switch. One second I was carefully counting calories in my head, and in the next I had the wrap in my hands, then in my mouth in huge gulps. I ate so fast that it hurt my jaw, making it ache and click. It was almost as if I was in a trance. I inhaled the wrap, and all of its creamy goodness, in under a minute. In hindsight I know that this was my body instinctively taking over, trying to stop me from starving, but at the time I just thought I was weak willed, and felt like a complete and utter failure.
The next half an hour was hell on earth. It was painful, unnatural, and I almost gave up several times. The calories adding up, and flashing through my thoughts, however, pushed me forward. After I was satisfied that I had gotten every ounce of food out of my stomach, including the innocent tin of tuna. I flushed away the evidence, and crawled into the shower, which was conveniently already running. I had turned it on so that mum and her friend wouldn’t hear what I was doing. I sat on the cool metal of the shower floor, the hot water running down my back, making me tremble. I felt empty, completely empty. It was almost a serene and euphoric feeling, something I’d never felt before. The voice in my head had stopped barking it’s orders, and it was finally still and quiet in that bathroom. I didn’t feel guilty anymore, I didn’t feel sore, I didn’t feel sad. I felt nothing… and this was the beginning of my long lasting relationship with purging.
After this, purging became my solace, my method of self soothing. I would eat forbidden foods, with the full intention of ridding them from my body immediately afterwards. I would plan it when I felt sad, or whenever something negative happened, such as a fight with my siblings, or a mean comment from some boy in my class. Slowly, as I became more unwell, the indulging element of the cycle became too scary, and I began just purging. I would purge when I was stressed, I would purge when I was anxious, and eventually I would purge for absolutely no reason at all. It was a vicious cycle, that lasted for a few months, until I was admitted to hospital for the treatment of EDNOS (Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified), and was put on a 24 hour watch.
I remember one time in the hospital, I wanted so badly to purge in front of my nurse (poor woman, I am truly sorry for that). I shoved my fingers up into my throat, my food tray still warm on the table above my lap. I was testing the waters, I wanted to see what her response would be. She quickly became aware of what I was doing, and moved over to me, grabbing my tray off the table, and moving it strategically out of my sight. She looked me right in the eyes, not saying anything, a sad, tortured look spread across her face. I knew she felt sorry for me, I knew she was disappointed in me, but it wasn’t enough to take away the desire to be sick. I just wanted the noise to stop, I wanted the pain to go away, I wanted to feel empty and clean. That night I sobbed myself to sleep, as a nurse aid sat at my side, supervising me, staring at me in the dark, as I snivelled away. It was the worst night I ever spent in that hospital bed.
After months of not being able to purge, the compulsion did begin to fade. Once I was discharged from the hospital, I focussed on changing my image and my personality, by changing my name (to Violet, for those of you who missed it), and dying my hair a dark, blue tinted shade of black. We moved towns, and I gained a whole new identity at my new school. For years, even through another move back to Dunedin, moving in with my teenage boyfriend, and transferring to a third high school, I only purged on rare occasions. I would cave in to the impulse maybe once every few months, when I was extremely anxious or upset. Then when I was 21 I went through my first big break up.
This wasn’t my first break up ever, with my teenage love. My first breakup wasn’t the situation that everyone warns you about, where the guy breaks your heart, and you revert back to your eating disorder to cope, that happened later. Instead it was me who ended that relationship. I had fallen out of love, or realised that I didn’t know if I’d ever been in love my partner (Im still not completely sure which), and I made the decision to end it, to move out flatting for my first year of university. This was when I met my second boyfriend, and my first epic love.
He was a very affectionate guy, different than the person I’d been with before, and he liked to do things like shower with me. This of course cancelled out the excuse of showering to sneak a purge, a habit which i’d formed previously, just in case I ever needed the relief. We also lived together (do not get involved with your flatmates guys Im telling ya) so I rarely, if ever, was left alone. I slowly forgot about purging completely, as I became more obsessed with my first turmultuous romance (more about this, and the issues that come with co-dependancy, in a later blog). Strangely enough this relationship kept me from purging for over 2 years straight, right up until it came to an end.
Now this breakup, was exactly the type everyone warns you about. I was a heartbroken mess, and no-one/nothing could pull me out of it. It felt like a vice was slowly being tightened around my heart, squeezing it, leaving it bruised, so that it ached even when I was out with friends, or in a university lecture, things that usually filled me with joy. I tried my best to resist the urge to make myself sick, because by this point, I knew how dangerous and unhealthy it was. One night, however, I just couldn’t take the empty bed space next to me anymore, and I did it.
It wasn’t the same as it had been before I had my heart broken. I did it hoping that it would, at least momentarily, take away the pain, but it didn’t work. This pain, the horror that is heartbreak, was too great to be silenced with any physical competitors. I was forced to go back to my bed, alone, still hurting, and still broken. That was the last time that I purged. It was March of this year.
Part of me is afraid to say that, I don’t want to be judged, or told that I should have told my friends and family at the time. I want to be a positive role model, and I want to be able to say that it does get better. Here is why I am admitting to that night: Yes I purged, yes it is a part of my mental illness, and yes it was not all that long ago. But, am I better now? Better than I used to be?
The answer to this, is also, yes.
The last few months have been very transformational for me. The heartbreak that I experienced, forced me to assess why it is that someone would not want to be with me. I examined the things about me that I thought someone else wouldn’t like. I them came to the realisation, that no matter how much I disliked myself, it would never change who I truly am. I am overly emotional, a type A personality, a perfectionist, and a bossy know it all at times ( I’m sure my sister will be stoked at my admitting this).
Instead of hating these things about myself, I decided to accept and embrace them. I questioned myself, asked myself what I wanted to do to make things better. After going on medication (SSRI’s if anyone is currently considering medication types), to help with the circumstantial depression I was dealing with, things began to turn around for me. I began to be ok with my own company and thoughts, because they became kinder, and more accepting of the mistakes that I sometimes make.
This all leads me to where I am now, 6 months later. In no way, am I perfect, or healed 100 percent. I don’t think I ever will be, but I also don’t believe that is the solution, or ultimate end-goal anymore. I know that sometimes things will go wrong, and I may relapse, or struggle with mental health issues, such as purging, again, but I also know that it will never be the end. I will always have the next day to turn it around, and to chose to be kinder to myself. That to me is recovery, the knowledge that no matter what, I will be ok. The complete acceptance of myself, and all of my flaws.
If you are struggling with purging, binging, or both, my advice to you is to ask yourself why it is that you do it?
Is it singularly linked with your body image issues?
Is it because it makes you feel something?
Is it because it makes you feel nothing for a change?
Is it easier than dealing with the other issues in your life?
Ask yourself honestly what you could do to work towards stopping it. It doesn’t have to be this big, daunting, all or nothing recovery, that is often bragged about. Take it one step at a time, the first step is learning to love and forgive yourself, no matter what, the rest will eventually come. For me this meant slowly letting go of purging, by replacing it with other, healthy outlets, such as art. I did not wake up one day, and suddenly decide that I would never purge again. I honestly think that doing this would have set me up to feel like a failure. Instead I took it day by day, and every day the urge subsided just a little. Today, I am happy to say, there is no urge at all.
Thank you so much for reading this. I cannot ever tell you how much it truly means to me. If any of this has made you feel uncomfortable or sad, I apologise, that is not my goal. I am posting this in the hope that it may be able to make someone out there feel a little less alone. Sometimes it is a great comfort just knowing that there is another person out there, who has felt what you are feeling. I am so grateful to you all ❤
Love yourself always, and remember that it does get better xox