This is how I wake myself up:
I have been back nearly two weeks. They have been a blur of emotions and days and I cannot quite recall them in minute detail.
I have existed: gone through the motions, done what’s expected of me at work or home.
I have not eaten. I have eaten too much. I am now full of emptiness; of leavings and longings and loss.
In the middle of the night when I couldn’t sleep (too scared to close my eyes, too numb to keep them open), I wandered into the kitchen in my underwear and started foraging for food.
The sight of my mostly naked body was simply an annoyance. Instead of halting me, it spurred me on. I made pasta without thinking about it. I could have gone to sleep hungry, but instead I started looking for comfort in carbohydrates, for happiness in the bubbling tomato sauce and for love in the soft, melting cheese. I let it caress my insides with warmth. I let it soothe me. I ate sitting on the floor with my fat rolling out around my panties and bra, cushioning the agony, shielding me from the dying sensation that will not leave me alone.
I sobbed into some wine. I wailed in a bubble bath. Tears and snot and mascara mingling with the grimy water, dull as my soul.
I am a tomb of nothingness.
We went out for sushi last night. I had eaten some grapes and nothing else all day. By the time we got to the restaurant I was ready to cry from hunger and agitation.
My boyfriend’s food came first; all four plates of it. I kept waiting for my tofu and rice to materialize. All I kept thinking was how f**king tired of being hungry I was. I am always hungry. Always. I can never fill the void. I don’t know what it is like to not be hungry. I am hungry as I write this…starving, empty.
After we stuffed ourselves my boyfriend complained about how much he had eaten.
“Are you going to throw up?” I asked.
“No. Why? Is that your plan?” He raised his eyebrows at me.
I laughed and continued shoveling rice down my throat, “we don’t talk about that. I’m old and ugly enough to do what I want.”
“You’re not allowed to do that,” he said in all seriousness.
I laughed some more. Nothing on earth would come between me and purging this meal.
When we got home I shut the bathroom door, turned the water on and threw up. It felt right and good and I was relieved afterwards. During the day I had accidentally caught sight of my reflection when I was taking a ballet class. It made my skin crawl. I am aware of how fat I am, but sometimes it still shocks me.
When I came out of the bathroom my boyfriend looked at me:
“You look guilty…”
I didn’t make eye contact, “of what?”
“That’s what I am wondering.”
I didn’t respond. I couldn’t sleep for hours because of the pain I was in. My kidneys still hurt.
The next morning I mentioned how awful I was feeling which is normal after purging.
“It must have been all the food we ate,” my boyfriend replied.
I shook my head, “it’s not the food.”
“Why would you say that?” He asked suspiciously.
I am not sure if he was asking me if I purged or is just hinting at it. Did he want actual confirmation? I don’t care to talk about it. I don’t need him to know and to ask questions and to fight me on this. I prefer to stay disordered. I don’t need help – I am beyond that. I don’t need saving – there is nothing worth saving. He can love me as much as he wants. I will never love myself.
You can get away with a lot when you label things. I met my boyfriend’s family at Thanksgiving and was nervous about the food situation. When you say you are vegan or vegetarian you can hide a lot of disordered behaviour. On top of that, I always explain about my hypothyroidism and the need to watch my calorie intake. It works like a charm. No one questions my obviously bizarre attitude to food.
On the first morning Heath’s mom suggested that we take the kids to McDonalds for breakfast. My heart started pounding and I could feel the anxiety rising. When we got there he looked at me and asked if I would eat anything. I shook my head and shot him a pleading look not call attention to it. He is so good that he just goes along with everything and doesn’t make a big deal of it.
Later in the day when I was doubled over from starvation, I told him I had to have celery.
“I love celery.” I said without even thinking about the stupidity of the statement.
He laughed, “No you do not!”
We went to the farmers’ market and were given a free muffin each to sample. Without even batting an eyelid, Heath held his hand out for the muffin he knew I did not want. I gave it to him and he pocketed it. No one even saw it happen.
At dinner he tried to help me navigate the vegetables that had been cross contaminated with meat or drowned in butter and sugar. There was nothing safe to eat. I wonder if my panic was obvious.
For the actual Thanksgiving meal, they decided on Raclette and not turkey which was not good for me. I am dangerous around melted cheese on anything. I ate with abandon. I knew after two bites that I would be purging the meal immediately. I drank most of a bottle of wine to help the process. I made an excuse to my boyfriend and went downstairs to throw up. The house was so busy and loud that I am sure no one even noticed.
At one point Heath’s dad talked about my “healthy” eating of fruits and veggies and I went into a detailed explanation of my vegetarianism and hypothyroidism. He marveled at my ability to eat so little then said that all I was waiting for is to get married and then I would eat everything I can see and weigh 400lbs. It has become the running family joke. It is funny because it will never happen and they don’t know why.
I am sick again. Every other month I come down with something. It is as though my immune system is so overwhelmed that it barely functions. Two weeks ago after days of purging, I ended up with a sore throat. Cue swollen tonsils, purple streaks down the back of my throat and the inability to swallow without pain. I tried to be good and keep purging to a minimum where I couldn’t avoid it. I hate being sick. It means I cannot go to gym or hot yoga because exercising seems to prolong the illness. Most days I am battling chronic fatigue or migraines as it is. I do not need this, but I know it is my fault. For my birthday we went out for dinner and I was unknowingly served meat in the bread. Who puts meat in bread? Without making a scene, I left the table and went to purge.
The next day the sore throat was back worse than ever. Today I woke up with a full blown cold: coughing, snotty and spaced out. I didn’t have the energy to get out of bed never mind hit the gym or even go to work. I called in sick which gave me debilitating anxiety. I spent the day in bed alternating between hot and cold, awake and asleep. Not sick enough to be in bed; not well enough to be at work. The worst kind of sick where you can’t justify either. Sadly my cold hasn’t made me sick enough to lose my appetite. I wonder why I can’t get the kind of sick that makes me not want to eat. A few days of that would surely do me some good. More good than purging up what I do eat. I am so tired of being hungry.
I had a birthday this weekend which means I have now had this eating disorder for 22 years officially. I have been sick for more than 2/3s of my life. I had an EKG today and blood work as part of a referral to outpatient treatment. I have no intention of going to the treatment centre. That would mean missing three months of work and confessing to my boyfriend that my ED is out of control. If only I was thin enough to justify all of this; to make it worth while.
I restrict all day to counter the bingeing of yesterday. I am determined not to eat until tomorrow. Somewhere around mid-evening my resolve snaps. I decide that I can eat cauliflower and hummus rather than go on another binge. Once I have made the decision to allow myself to eat, I cannot wait. It is urgent, serious, life threatening. I drive to the grocery store. I am frantic. I hit every red light. It is the longest drive in the history of driving. I grip the steering wheel. I want to bang my head against it out of hunger and rage. I am on edge knowing that I could lose control and buy anything, everything except that cauliflower. It is my sole focus.
In the grocery store I run crazily looking for the damn cauliflower. An old man is shuffling in front of me and I am shaking. He blocks the aisle and I want to shout from frustration. There has to be a faster way to get food than this. “Don’t binge. Don’t Binge. Please, don’t binge.” I mutter like a mantra as I start to panic. There is no cauliflower anywhere. I must be delirious. How can there not be the one food that I am allowed to eat? I ask the store clerk for cauliflower. He says he will check in the back. I stand amongst the vegetables ready to weep. I will lie down by the lettuces and sob if there is no cauliflower. I am so terrified of going on a binge if I cannot find the one safe food I crave. I must eat a cauliflower. My existence has been narrowed down to this.
Eventually he returns with one and I am beside myself with relief. I take it, ecstatic. I know I am sick. I am so excited about this cauliflower that I want to cry. I try to rush out the store. The line ups to pay are agonizingly long. Another old person is strolling in front of me. I will not make it. I will not survive this. It will finish me. I will die of this starvation holding a f**king, miserable cauliflower in my hands like it was the holy grail.
When I was growing up, my mother told me often that “everything in moderation” was good for me.
Perhaps she could already see my extremities even then. As a Libra (represented by scales), I am perpetually amused that my life is not balanced at all.
Today I ate 2lbs of mini cucumbers for breakfast. I was so hungry that it felt like I would die from it. I woke up full of bile and acid. I binged and purged my way through uncountable amounts of food last night. Never full enough to be satisfied; never empty enough to be loveable. To look at me you would never know. My fat rolls negate any signs of illness; the cellulite and stretch marks blind everyone to how sick I really am.
I left ballet untouched by my overdose of vegetables and raced wildly for dinner. Obsessed, demented, focused: all I could think about was tofu and rice. It is all I want to eat at any given time. It is on my safe list. Sometimes I can almost justify it.
I start eating and cannot stop. I register that I am full and continue to shovel anything-drowned-in-soy-sauce and acceptance down my raw, sore throat. When I am done, the panic sets in immediately. What have I done? What was I thinking when I imagined not throwing this back up? I pay and run from the restaurant like I am fleeing the hordes of hell. My demons keep pace. I have about half an hour before I am meant to meet my boyfriend at home. I drive with purpose – agitated – run inside and start purging the calories that are sloshing around my insides. The relief is instantaneous. I have minutes to spare before my boyfriend is home. I wipe my face, fix my makeup.
I find a bottle of wine and settle outside on a beautiful, end of summer evening. No one will ever know. Too empty, too full…all I know is it is not enough. I am not enough.
I am vomiting blood in a restaurant bathroom.
I shake from purging hard and fast and only realize it is time to stop when I see the tell-tale, bright, red swirls.
My boyfriend sits at the table, hopefully unaware of what I am up to, even though we have discussed my eating disorder at length during dinner. I have been as honest with him as I can without giving him details. So far he hasn’t asked for them. We have just enjoyed an Italian meal: bread, pasta, more bread and wine. Everything about our evening has been romantic except the disgusting amount of food I have consumed in front of him. I clean myself up, rub the teeth marks off my knuckles, smooth my hair down. I return to the table and smile at him. He raises an eyebrow at me, but he does not ask.
I am grateful that he has not got upset with me. We have only been dating a month and he has had many opportunities to fight me on my disordered behaviour, but he hasn’t. He tells me it is because I warned him not too. He says if it wasn’t for that warning he would have said something. I tell him that I am a lost cause – not to bother.
“I’m still going to try to feed you because I care for you,” he informs me. “Even if you refuse to eat.”
“I always feed the people I love! It’s how I care for them,” I reply. “It must be the Italian in me.”
“Except for yourself.” he says.
“You feed the people you love, except you won’t feed yourself.”
I nod. I am not on the list of people who I love.
We have many conversations that touch on the subject and sometimes he is very forthright.
He asks about rehab. “Why did you drop out?”
“Which time do you mean?”
“Oh you’ve done this more than once?” he shakes his head, reality dawning on him as we leave a grocery store with celery for me. I have made him take me shopping for celery at 10pm and he has obliged without a fuss.
“I just don’t care any more. It doesn’t seem to matter after 22 years. I don’t want to be recovered and gain weight. I don’t even want to be this size. I can’t stand it,” I babble with an honesty that surprises me. I have never shared so much so soon (or ever) with anyone else before. I wonder if not hiding from him will be better or worse for our fledgling relationship.
“But I like you just the way you are. Maybe it will help that I like your body and that I care about you,” he looks at me a little bit too seriously. I look away. I can’t hold his gaze. I cannot tell him that no matter how much he loves me, I will never love myself. I am embarrassed that he knows about my disorder; I am not even remotely thin enough to justify it.
We go to the gym where he coaches fighters and he wraps my hands so that I can take a boxing class. My hands shake and I cannot stop them.
“Are you shaking from hunger or because you are nervous?” he steadies them with his hands.
“Don’t ask that question. I’ve been hungry since I was 10.”
I am standing in the grocery store aisle staring at rice crackers for a painfully long time.
“What’s the dilemma? Which flavour to get?”
“Calories,” I whisper. “Calories are always the dilemma.” I feel my chest tightening. It is hard to breathe. I feel anxiety rising as though I am going to have a panic attack right there at the thought of consuming them. How do I explain to him that rice crackers have that effect on me without sounding like I am batshit crazy? I have already told him I am crazy. I even explained which special brand of crazy.
Another night we lie in bed after I get out the shower dizzy and nauseous. I haven’t been eating much unless I have been bingeing and purging. I try to control my breathing. My stomach hurts; I feel excruciatingly unwell.
He looks concerned. “Are you light-headed and dizzy again?”
“Because of the H-word?”
I don’t understand him right away.
“Because you are hungry?”
“I’m always hungry,” I confess. “The degree just varies.”
He wraps me in his arms and holds me. I want to cry. At some point I know this will come between us. How long will he date me and tolerate this disorder? At what point will he look at me and hate me for who I am, the way that I have done since forever?
Coffee, thyroid medication.
More coffee, an hour at the gym with my foot in a cast.
Celery and hummus.
More celery, more hummus, more coffee.
My coworker sits in my office and lectures me on eating (while he eats). He informs me that I will never have to wear a tutu and pink tights on stage again and therefore I should enjoy food. He mentions that I should get over my issues and I disagree telling him my demons keep me company.
“What do you want me to eat?” I ask as I shove celery down my throat and try not to gag.
“Bread,” he gestures with all of his Russian passion in the direction of my collar bones which seem to upset him. “It is so light; there is nothing in it.”
“I love bread so much. I dream about toast,” I confess like my soul depends upon it. It seems wrong to admit this; like I am betraying the wilting celery that is trying to nourish me.
“You need to eat some bread,” he is pleading with me now. “Good, grainy, dense bread.”
He is the devil. I shake my head as if to remove the picture of bread from my mind. He is always trying to get me to eat.
Dinner at a friend’s house: 4 plates of food, wine, cake. I sit at the table and start to sweat. Panic.
I will die of this feeling. I am out of control after restricting all day.
While they make coffee and dessert in the kitchen, I purge. The relief is instantaneous.
Fast food drive through on the way home from dinner:
2 veggie burgers, onion rings, 2 family size fries (to fill the hole in my heart where there should be a family). I sit in a parking lot as the rain pours down and I shake. I have found love on a Wednesday night. There is ketchup and comfort at the bottom of the brown, paper bag.
Purge, purge, purge.
Bubble bath and a conversation with my boyfriend on the phone: “I’m taking you out for your favourite Italian on Sunday night. Do you want to go on a picnic on Saturday? Maybe we could go to the mountains…I have some wine for Friday.”
I can hear the calories we are going to consume. I just want to lie in his arms and close my eyes and never eat again.
“You look like you’ve lost weight,” my doctor says. “Did you go to the weight loss program I referred you too?”
“No. I went on a starvation diet. I’ve stopped eating again.”
“A starvation diet?” Her eyes are wide; her eyebrows raised. “Do you have enough energy?”
“No, I have none.”
“Oh…” Silence. Awkward, uncomfortable silence. “I will be right back with your prescription. Anything else I can do for you?”
“No. I’m fine.”