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It is difficult to place an exact date on when everything began. But when I consider the age that the invasive thoughts began to enter my mind, I would estimate that the tendencies began at around twelve. I am still searching inside myself to determine what triggered the negative thoughts. Had I taken offense to a comment that was meant as a gentle tease? Had the stigma forever lurking behind the thought of ever being overweight finally gotten to me? Was I harmfully influenced by what is commonly considered beautiful in this modern society? Or had my twisted determination to achieve perfection and independence finally tightened its claws around my life? I believe that all of these factors brewed together with typical ever-raging hormones, approaching puberty, and common teenage pressures resulted in the self-destruction that would follow.
In what I perceive to be “beginning,” I was spending a lot more time than usual in front of the mirror behind that closed door of the bathroom. I stared, not in admiration, but with harshly critical eyes. I despised my baby fat, how my stomach stuck out when I lifted up my shirt, how my slightly “pudgy” face looked when I grimaced at myself. I turned to the side and examined myself, attempted to twist around to the back, and returned to the front again, the whole time, critical, cutting comments running through my head like an eternal neon marquee. This soon became a regular practice whenever I visited the bathroom. I would often remain in there so long that suspicion would rise as to why I was still in there.
Soon afterwards, I began to wonder if there were ways to rid myself of this unwanted “excess weight,” at the ripe old age of twelve. At the time, I might mention that I was what most people would call a “healthy eater,” meaning I devoured anything and everything in sight and still managed to be hungry about an hour later. I remember that this was also the time that we began to watch these particularly frightening shows on TLC about morbidly obese individuals. Now, I’ve been an avid lover of horror movies and supernatural horrors galore ever since my first at about age 5, so it usually takes a lot to frighten me. But these images of 700 pound women and 300 pound little girls not much older than me marinated in my permeable mind, and I felt real fear. Is that all it took to be overweight, to eat a lot? I ate a lot. On Thanksgiving, I would ask for seconds, thirds. Well, really, I asked for seconds and thirds pretty much everyday. I had dessert on the weekends, soda on Fridays, three sizable meals everyday, with substantial snacks in-between. I began to dwell upon my eating habits. In the back of my mind, I heard a dull echo of a voice that would soon grow in prominence within my life.
Now, I do not want to provide you with the wrong impression here. My habits did not begin solely because I feared obesity, exactly. I think it was combined with the fact that I tend towards obsessive compulsive behaviors at times, and I like to control my life, resulting in an admitted hardheadedness. I feel that my family is geared on perfectionism, thoroughness, and discipline, which does result in a very structured life. But I think that my mind manipulated these diligent tendencies and, ironically, altered their purpose, resulting in a very amorphous few years. I suppose I tend to go to the extreme. I think about things very seriously, and both significant and relatively insignificant events in life can mean more than a great deal to me, whether it be school, social life, relationships, or words that are exchanged.
Anyway, I eventually began to associate food to weight. The fear of corpulence never far from my mind, I began to feel guilty when I begged my parents for my favorite Cookies and Cream ice cream, asked for my mother to buy me a Hershey bar at the checkout line, ordered the largest hamburger from the adult restaurant menu, nearly finishing it all. I felt guilty about my forever incurable hunger and my constant cravings for more, more, more. Was this hunger? Or was it greed? I think my turning point was when I began to actually pay attention when friends and family teased me for eating so much. My friends asked how I could possibly be so skinny after all that I ate during lunch dates. This, as many times as I’d heard it before, made me feel self conscious. Was there a double meaning behind those words? Was that a hint of sarcasm that I detected? During family gatherings, I felt that my laughter that had once been genuine was now forced when I was teasingly asked if I wanted fourths. Terms of endearment such as tiny, bones, meatball, and roundy, nicknames that I once enjoyed hearing soon became names I dreaded hearing. Tiny and bones? Did I detect yet another hint of sarcasm? Meatball and roundy? Is that true?
When was the first time I threw up? It disturbs me that I cannot remember exactly when my habits began to set in. I just remember that in the foggy beginning, the whole process was sour, like acid. I’d stick my finger all the way down my throat until I tickled the ball at the end, activating my gag reflex. A rush of orange-brown and sometimes red would plunge into the blue toilet water, trickling down my hands, running down my face, watering my eyes. Sometimes the toilet water would splash up at me onto my face, and I would ignore it as I jammed my finger into my throat again, tears filling my eyes again. When I was done, I would feel absolutely disgusting, like an ugly animal. Gasping for breath, I’d flush the toilet, attempting to swallow down that burning feeling in my raw throat. My face and hands would be covered in nasty fluid and pieces of chunky vomit. Still crying, I would scrub my hands and face with soap and brush my teeth fiercely. I felt that the smell of vomit still lingered on my body even after I washed myself, so I would baptize myself in perfume and scented lotion to mask the smell that still reached me.
I didn’t do it every day. At first, it was only once a week. Then a few times a week. Because, truthfully, I initially hated doing it because it hurt so badly and made me feel disgusting. But I felt like it was my duty. I was very upset to find that I was hungry immediately after I purged. Sometimes it was a ripping, painful hunger, as if I would just die if I did not cure this hunger. Thus, the bingeing. I ate even more than usual, and everyone noticed it and sniggered at it, but I didn’t care. I would eat fast and furiously, everything in sight, and then some. I would ask for more, and eat that as well. Afterwards, I would be extremely full and I would feel more guilty than before, so I would go and make a huge mess all over the bathroom again… and soon afterwards, that same hunger would return. Sometimes I refused to give in to that hunger, and when I went to bed at night without giving in to it, I would feel triumphant, despite the ripping pains in my stomach that I couldn’t tell apart from hunger or aches from being forced to throw up so many times. But in the morning, I would eat a lot of breakfast… and the cycle would continue.
For the latter part of my 12th year, I had been throwing up in plastic Wal-Mart bags. And I stashed these Wal-Mart bags in one huge black plastic bag. With every bag I added, the black plastic bag grew heavier and heavier, and I kept them. For some reason hoarding them made me feel a bit giddy. I should have thrown them away, but I was scared someone would find out about them. Sometime later, my mother went in my closet to get for me some pillows, as I was having very bad period aches and I needed to lie down. I was dizzy, my hearing was dim, my vision was blurry, and I had thrown up involuntarily, which caught me by surprise because I was used to vomiting of my accord. Anyway, my mom saw the black bag, and despite my weakness I felt very fearful and I got out of bed and pushed the bag aside and told her I was doing some spring cleaning. She scolded me and told me to not leave trash in my closet again and I agreed enthusiastically, really just wanting her to get out of my closet. I could smell the bile rising from the bag, or maybe it was just on my breath. I didn’t know. I couldn’t tell. I was just really scared that she could smell it too, so I really wanted her out of my room so I could do something with the bag. Later, I wondered, offhandedly, why I was so eager for her not to see the bag, and then I realized that I didn’t want her to find out what I was doing. So, even then, I knew that what I was doing to myself was wrong. I didn’t want anyone to know about my problem but me. It was embarrassing, I was ashamed of it, and, worst of all, I would be made to stop.
That day, I knew that this would have to be my dark secret. I would carry these demons alone.
After that episode, I stopped saving my bags. I disposed of the large plastic bag and continued to vomit in the toilet. By that time, I was thirteen, and very accustomed to throwing up. In fact, it had become second nature. I didn’t even need anything to stimulate my throat. My body was trained to reject food, and just with a slight lurch of my throat, I could bring the food back up into my mouth. I sometimes even did it in front of my family without realizing it, and they didn’t even notice. Sometimes it took awhile with certain foods, so I would sit in front of the toilet, lurching my throat like a disgusting cat regurgitating a hairball, until the food rushed into my mouth and into the toilet. I had begun to hold tissue paper under my mouth when I threw up so that vomit and toilet water would not splash at my eyes. It still got all over my hands, which made me feel nasty, as usual. But there was a change in the emotion that I felt while throwing up… I felt something of a pleasure when I did it, as if with every stream of projectile vomit that I flushed away, I was becoming thinner. This sensation went away when I tried to cure the monstrous hunger again.
One day, I went away from everyone to my walk-in closet to think for awhile, because I decided that this— this— bingeing had to stop. I’d seen my stomach in the mirror. In my mind, it was growing larger by the minute. This had to stop. Throwing up was not working; I had to do something else in addition. Then, it began to dawn on me. A diet. Of course! Isn’t that what diets are for, to lose weight? At the time, I was measuring my weight based on how my stomach looked in the mirror. That would soon change.
At age 13, dieting was very difficult. It began with skipping breakfast occasionally. It was hard to focus in school when I didn’t eat in the morning, but I still got A’s. But I found that by lunchtime, I was very hungry, so I would eat something moderate, and then admonish myself and throw it up. It seemed now that everything was second to this slowly creeping mental monster that judged me, criticized me. I now feel that I must have seemed irritable and bitchy to “outsiders…” as that became the term I applied to everyone else. I was wrapped in my own little world, only worried about my weight and food. The happiness that I once applied to food fell away. Food didn’t make me happy, it was simply a tool to use when I wanted to cure my “hunger.” At least, that’s what I led myself to believe. Because there were foods that I enjoyed and often craved, such as chocolate, trail mix, oatmeal. Those were my main go-to foods whenever I was hungry.
I began to dislike eating in front of people, because I felt like everyone’s eyes were on me as I ate, critical. Social situations were boring, and it became uncomfortable to hang out with my girlfriends, because it was difficult for me to change my negative, moody attitude when that really was how I felt. I think my friends got this vibe, which turned them off, and I immediately assumed that it meant that I was boring, which caused a greater bout of sulkiness and touchiness. I only wanted to stay in my room and do school, play around on the computer, and read. I hardly ever ventured from my room anymore. I only wanted to be alone. I liked being alone, being by myself. It was peaceful. No more having to fake happiness, to express false emotions. That was tiring. Because truthfully, I was depressed. There was no other way to put it— sometimes I would just lie in bed in the middle of the afternoon, my lowest time of day. I hated the feeling I got when I was depressed. It was like I was falling forever down into a black hole, and I would feel very tired, and, for some reason, aged. Ironically, it was like I was being weighed down by a pair of invisible ship anchors. Nothing excited me very much anymore. I was sure that I was the biggest failure on the Earth. Every disappointing ninety percent grade, every frown that I received, every time I looked in the mirror, was another opportunity for me to think negatively about myself.
I think that was around the time I started to cut myself. Sometimes I got this inexplicable jittery feeling after throwing up, and that paired with whenever I was upset with myself when I disappointed my parents, or sometimes for no reason besides the fact that I was depressed, I would dig my pair of sharp left-handed scissors into my right arm, always my right arm for some reason, always in the same spot, and slice open my once pure skin that would stain red. It hurt, and I cried at the pain, but I dug the scissors in harder with the same flighty feeling. It didn’t happen a lot. It happened occasionally, when I got that giddy feeling— but I felt disgusted with myself afterwards, what was I turning into, some sort of drug addict? What the hell was I doing? (I never cussed out loud, never cussed towards anyone, but I frequently cussed myself.) Often I would go into the bathroom and admire the scars and run my fingers across them, and when they scabbed over, I would scratch off the scabs so that they would bleed again. Eventually, those scars healed, but I felt ashamed of them and I always wore long sleeves and hoodies to hide them. Once when I was careless, I wore a regular short-sleeved t-shirt. Then, my mother asked what the marks on my skin were. For a short moment, I felt like telling her everything. But I shook the thought away, as if it were a bad thought. And I mumbled that I scratched myself outside. Because how do you tell your mother that you purposefully harm yourself, that you’re making yourself vomit, and you think you’re fat? That’s how I rationalized my LIES in my mind.
I think my 14th summer can definitely be described as the worst of my life. I literally fell apart that summer. For the first part of the spring, I actually somewhat convinced myself that what I was doing was wrong, and that I needed to stop. So, for that short amount of time, my habits stopped. My effort of doing right was short-lived. It happened, strangely enough, because of a visit to the doctor’s office. The nurse took my weight. I believe I was over 120 pounds. I disintegrated inside my head, but on my face I upheld a façade that I felt was steadily crumbling regardless. The number on that scale resonated with every heartbeat for the rest of the day. That number scared me. Would I continue to gain 10 pounds with every year… would I never stop losing weight… would I be morbidly obese like… yes, like the patients on TLC. That became the medium to compare everything to. That week, I made up my mind. No matter what, I was going to lose weight. I would NOT be fat, under ANY circumstances.
It began slowly. I began secretly skipping my breakfasts in the mornings again. But by lunchtime I would give in to “temptation” and eat something. I would throw up from guilt. Afterwards, I would eat dinner. Throw up. This process continued similarly over the last few months of school. No breakfast. Lunch. Throw up. Dinner. Throw up. Breakfast. Throw up. No lunch. Dinner. Throw up. No breakfast. Lunch. Throw up. Dinner. Throw up. No breakfast. No lunch. Dinner. Throw up.
The pattern of going without breakfast and lunch became customary. At some dinners I would binge in hunger and then run to the bathroom to vomit. Bingeing was something that happened occasionally, despite all of my efforts to avoid it. This is around the time that I began to write in a journal, to inspire “self-motivation.” Within the journal, I would mostly criticize myself. But I also spent a lot of time writing down complete lists of everything that I ate and drank each day.
After about a month, I was too exhausted to even write anymore. Those last days were a blur, and are so fuzzy in my memory; it is hard to remember clearly what happened exactly. Everyday, I was extremely dizzy, my eyes were blurred, my ears pounded, and I dreamed of food. My worst physical sensations were during exercise. When it was hot, and I hadn’t eaten very much, and I was vomiting after eating only vegetables (for this is what I was down to during meals… I convinced myself it was because I was supporting vegetarianism, something I had been authentically interested in when I was younger because I was in to animal rights, but in the back of my mind I knew I was using thoughts that had once been genuine to my own advantage, not to a cow’s). Yeah, I always thought about food when I was starving, who doesn’t. At the same time, I felt like it was disgusting of me to be thinking about it, especially when I kept thinking of it even after I’d eaten something. I would think of the sugariest, highest calorie foods in existence, the foods I’d mentally banned, like cakes, pies, ice creams, milkshakes, burgers, cheesy dripping pizza…
Sometimes, I would get so agitated that I would go inside and jam some spoonfuls of sugary grape jelly in my watering mouth and guzzle down gulps of apple juice straight from the jug because I wanted some sugar so very badly and I couldn’t stop thinking about it until I got it… (strangely, I only craved sugar, nothing else, except sometimes I craved cheese) then I’d go and make myself throw up again, as hard as it was with hardly anything in my stomach, and I’d vomit even the juice.
So, after all this, I’d go outside and run in PE… for about two seconds, and then I would stop, because my vision would blackout, my ears would grow fuzzy, and my head would swim… I would want to fall over, and I felt very pathetic and angry with myself. Cutting was something I hadn’t been doing very often, but I resurrected it during these times, it became my coping method whenever I was in physical or mental pain… to cause more pain. I mentally told myself I felt good, but honestly I didn’t. I had never felt so awful in my life… everyday went by like a blur of “whatever.” I only wanted to sleep. I don’t remember doing much for pleasure, either… reading only caused the words to twist and turn…
Nearly everyday, I skipped all meals except dinner. If I did eat, I ate something small like some milkless cereal, oatmeal, or toast. Dinner was problematic for me. The portions that hadn’t changed a bit now looked overwhelmingly large. Eating all that was on my plate led to what I now understand was overextension, because my stomach had shrunk, but what I, at the time, coined “over-fullness.” I felt so terrible that I would go and vomit again, of course, still without any stimulus, though it was a bit difficult because my throat was now always either swollen or constricted or both. Afterwards, I would go to sleep or stay awake all night, either one, I couldn’t be sure at that point, because either way, I was always drained in the morning. Either my sleepless dreams or lethargic thoughts consisted of food, or the supper that I could have eaten the previous night, but didn’t. I got out of bed later and later each day. Even when I was awake I wanted to just lie there like a paralyzed vegetable. Hunger was something ever-present, an “annoyance” that I simply became accustomed to. I later told myself that my hunger measured my “progress,” so this was a feeling that I should come to enjoy. Eventually, this feeling of hunger did not even come to me any more. The smallest meal would result in a bulging stomach and a terrible painful fullness, and I hated it. I had not the slightest idea that it meant my body was starving.
The last time I weighed myself, before my family found out about my issue, I was 105 pounds, at 5 feet 8 inches tall. I felt that I had never been prouder of myself. I was nearly “there.” I had nearly reached my goal. I was almost at 100 pounds. 5 pounds more, and I would stop. Only 5 pounds more, and this would all be over. 5 pounds more, and life would be normal again…
I told myself this… beneath the snatches of mist that were my mind.
I told myself this… beneath the snatches of mist that were my mind.
I still remember the day that I came out about my eating disorder… or, more accurately, the day I was forced to come out about my issue. Because honestly there is no way that I would have done it on my own. It was November of 2011, my 14th winter. I was slumped in my computer chair, and I heard light footsteps approaching me from behind. I turned my dead eyes towards the doorway and smiled faintly at the sight of my father. He looked tired. I understood how he felt.
“So your sister came to me this morning, telling me that you weren’t eating. Is this true?” He stared at me. Stared through me. I don’t know what made me say it. Maybe it was the split second his impassiveness faltered. Maybe my brain was so fried I completely lacked the ability to contradict anyone. Maybe I was sick of lying to myself and everyone else. So I said, “Yes.”
With that one word, I felt my entire world collapse around me, while at the same time I felt a refreshing, uplifting sigh of relief. A jolt of cold fear shot through me, and a blanket of warmth encircled me. The devil in my stomach whispered “NO,” and the angel in my heart smiled at me.
I’m not going to pretend that recovery was easy. In fact, I am still “recovering” to this day, and I struggle at times. You don’t cure an eating disorder. Instead, it’s more like turning down the volume and learning to never twitch your hands towards the “un-mute” button on your television remote. This is something I will live with for the rest of my life.
Without the support, love, and understanding from my family, my best friend, and God, my health would have only gotten worse. My family is helping me to learn not to treat my eating disorder as some forbidden topic, but as something that I should be open about. I was made aware of all the health issues that can arise from my negative eating patterns, the high death rate, the fear of an institute placed into me. I have felt anger towards them in the earlier months because I felt that my privacy was invaded, but that was the kind of environment that I needed to recover- an environment lacking secrets. I was watched to make sure I ate, and anytime I entered the bathroom, the door had to stay open. I was weighed every morning to make sure that I was gaining my weight back.
So for now, whenever I hear a bit of white noise, it’s becoming just a bit easier to mute the volume.