Bulimia, What Made Me Feel So Much Better?
Those days I didn’t feel alone, I just wanted to be left alone. Something about binging then purging my food calmed me, but why?
It was years before I got a better understanding of it all. Between years of doing it and not doing it, the issue began to dwindle. It was during the times my bulimia seemed to be non-existent and then spontaneously seemed to start up again that I gained my best insight. When the binging and purging would return after long periods of normal eating/living, the psychology became clear.
Was I dating someone that was wrong for me? Or hanging out with the wrong people? In a job that made me miserable? It seemed that whenever I was making or living poor choices, I’d find myself in the bathroom vomiting sometimes four or five times a day.
Finally, after more than a decade of living like this, I began to see the pattern. My behavior was similar to the behavior of an alcoholic who turned to drink. Rather than confront my issue I ignored it through the mind-numbing compulsion that is the disease bulimia.
This I did despite knowing how dangerous anorexia or bulimia can be.
It was during the final and worst romantic relationship of my life that I began to see these patterns. Why was I throwing up again? Wasn’t I suppose to be happy that I was with a nice guy for once? Nice is an adjective far from what he truly was. I think even then I knew the truth, but by then it was too late; I was already on my way down a landslide without any footing. The red flags were there and I didn’t want to see them. The longer I stayed, the more I threw up.
At the height of my vomiting, when our relationship finally began to unravel, we got into an argument over it. It disgusted him, I disgusted him, but even that wasn’t what the fight was about. “You could just stop but you don’t want to!” he shouted.
“What are you talking about?” I demanded.
“Just don’t do it anymore!”
“You make it sound so easy! Don’t you think I’ve been trying to do that since I started? It’s not that easy to just stop. Bulimia is a disease.”
“Ha,” he scoffed, “it’s not a disease. You could stop at anytime, if you wanted to.”
“Are you serious?” I asked. He seemed unmoved on his stance. “Um, no you’re wrong.” He didn’t like hearing that he was wrong although he was wrong often, “It is an addiction and addictions are considered diseases of the mind.”
“That’s bullshit. Lupus is a disease. Cancer is a disease. But bulimia is not a disease! It’s bullshit and you can stop at any time! Like I said, you just don’t want to!” Right then, I sat down at his desk and went to my trustiest source, Google. Sure enough I was right: it was a disease and he was as still and always will be wrong among other things.
It wasn’t the argument that hurt so much as the contempt he had for my situation. “Just stop.” Right. Tell that to the alcoholic or drug addict who faithfully peruse the revolving doors of rehab or to someone suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder. Just stop is not the solution but the grand finale of a long process of occurrences and efforts; of work and focus; of often therapy and the support of others; of incidents and instances that sometimes take years. When struggling with something like this for a lengthy period of time, it is obvious why you can’t just wake up one day and say, “I’m never doing that again!” Not to say that doesn’t happen, but even when it does, in some of the best cases, the road to recovery is complex and potholed with nasty things called relapses.
When your addiction or disease revolves around food, relapses can happen at any time.
If you were trying to break a substance addiction, physically, it would be simpler. It is easier to avoid, alcohol, for example, than an every day thing like food. You don’t need alcohol to live but food is a necessity. Recovery for a bulimic differs greatly from the instructions given to the recovering alcoholics that attend alcoholics anonymous or even drug addicts that attend Narcotics Anonymous. At AA they suggest that you stay away from the people you hung out with when you were drinking, that you stay out of bars, and that you abstain from buying alcohol or keeping it in your home. Additionally, they recommend abstaining from situations in which you may be tempted to drink, holiday parties for example.
If you tried to treat an eating disorder in the same way as alcoholism, the suggestions would sound something like this, “Don’t hang around with your friends or family anymore, stay out of all grocery and convenience stores (anywhere where food is sold, really), and whatever you do, do not purchase food or keep it in your house.” This in not realistic. You cannot abstain from food without inevitably meeting your mortality. This idea to just stop, sounds much easier than it actually is.
Though the suggestions of how to abstain from alcohol differ greatly from the steps for a recovering bulimic or wanna-be-recovering bulimic, similarities can be found. The recovering alcoholics in AA recognize that recovery from this disease called addiction is a process. They attend weekly meetings. They have sponsors that they can call at any moment of weakness. They do and live by the virtues of The 12-Step Program.
Below I’ve posted an adapted version of 12 Steps. It has been reworked to suit any type of dysfunction or disordered behavior (i.e. not just alcoholism like the 12 Steps were designed for). When just stop isn’t an option, there are lots of free resources online and in the community that can help you break your unhealthy patterns and addictions. The 12 Steps is just one of them. My favorite of these steps would be step 12 “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other addicts, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.” I don’t claim to be awakened, but I have been through my own personal hell and have shared as much of it as possible via my writing. I will continue to do so in hopes to help other survivor’s of rape and domestic violence as well as those of us with addictions and those of us who could just use a dose of optimism and positivity.
Just stop, is not helpful advice. Do not hang around someone who says something like that to you, rather surround yourself with supportive and empathetic people. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. Like street lamps on a dark night, there is help all around you illuminating your path, you just need to know what it looks like and when to ask for it.
You can read about Nicole, one person who’s making a big difference in the lives of those suffering and recovering from eating disorders, at her blog (one of my faves!) Nicole and Gwendolyn: Blogging about Life After Bulimia
The 12 Steps for Recovery
Step 1 – We admitted we were powerless over our addiction – that our lives had become unmanageable
- Step 2 – Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity
- Step 3 – Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God
- Step 4 – Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves
- Step 5 – Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs
- Step 6 – Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character
- Step 7 – Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings
- Step 8 – Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all
- Step 9 – Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others
- Step 10 – Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it
- Step 11 – Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood God, praying only for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out
- Step 12 – Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other addicts, and to practice these principles in all our affairs