You gotta admire bulimics. I know: bulimia is a disease. A scourge. A tooth-rotting, bowel-bending, gut-rupturing plague. But the sheer persistence and steely-eyed determination it takes for bulimics to do what they do, day in and day out, is really something special. If I needed, say, a trench dug in the searing heat of August, or a pyramid built, or a Rubix Cube solved, I would totally hire a team of bulimics. They’d dig and heave and twist ‘til the thing was done, and done right. Anorexics, while cheaper to feed, tire easily and tend to faint. Bulimics, on the other hand, are the workhorses of the eating disorder world, industrious little beavers damming up the river of obsessive-compulsiveness with their mucky mounds of purge.
I stumbled upon this realization one winter’s eve while ramming a toothbrush down my throat. This was not an ordinary occurrence for me by any means. Sure, I had entertained the thought on occasion – Christmas dinner, for example, or The Day I Ate My Weight In Pie – but never followed through with it. The guilt of overeating was strong, but actually hurking up my meal seemed…well, too hardcore. Like jumping from pot to heroin without at least a brief layover at cocaine.
That night, though, was different. I’d been to dim sum that morning. Ahh, dim sum. Nirvana for us devoted overeaters, where it’s not binging – it’s SAMPLING. So many little foods on so many little plates! Generally I lapse into a Zen-like state of pure gustatory awareness, broken occasionally by bouts of chopstick incompetence (seriously, who eats with sticks?), and don’t emerge until the button on my jeans is begging for mercy. This time, however, I flew through the meal like a pro. I didn’t get teary when my favorite carts weren’t available. I didn’t order food to tide me over ‘til the “good stuff” came around. I ate until satisfied, not stuffed. La dee da, I thought as I waltzed out the door. I’m golden.
Then…evening. I was on the couch, watching TV with my sister, when it found me. One minute, I was happily judging cougar moms on Dr. Phil; the next, I was overwhelmed with a maniacal need for crackers. My head was full of crackers, anything crackery would do, anything crispy and salty and grainy and crunchy, anything, but NOW, that’s the thing, I had to have it NOW and it has to be NOW and it’s not gonna let up ‘til I get it in me NOW, and I bit down hard on my lip and sucked on my cheeks and picked at my cuticles and jiggled my leg but it wouldn’t shut up, it wouldn’t wait, but no way am I gonna do this in front of my sister, no way is she gonna see it, and if I can just hold out and I don’t have to give in to this I can manage to…oh, she’s going upstairs she’s having a shower and suddenly I find myself walking into the kitchen, opening the cupboard, cramming my face full of crackers, standing in the middle of the kitchen, listening for the shower, still cramming face, handfuls at a time, chomping them up small, stuffing them in, feeling the crumbs on my face and the salt on my tongue and my mouth bulging, thank GOD…
And, scene. Pillage complete. Remains of crackers returned to cupboard. Crumbs hastily brushed from face, chest, hands, floor. And I felt really, really good – round and full, like a happy little chipmunk with his cheeks full of nuts, bathed in the wholesome goodness of sunshine and birdsong – for about 1/10th of a second. Guilt, an old, dear friend, arrived with his traveling companions Shame and Disgust in tow. I stood there, in the middle of the kitchen, feeling lost, empty, scared. Feeling like a total freak. No wonder I can’t lose any weight, I thought. I’m an out of control eating machine. I probably just got fatter, just now.
I fought with myself as my sister returned and I headed up the stairs. I fought with myself as I tied my hair back. I fought with myself as I grabbed my toothbrush, lifted the lid and locked watery eyes with the bowl. It’s just this once, I thought. I won’t do the cracker thing again. I won’t do this again. I took a deep breath, and slid the handle of the toothbrush down my throat, ready for a hardcore half-eaten cracker replay.
Nothing. Nothing? A few delicate coughs, but no spewage. I tried again, further down this time. I wiggled it, thrust it, made circles – still nothing. What the hell? How hard can it be to barf? People do it all the time with no help at all, yet here I am going at it like a supermodel and nada. Zilch. Zero. It took me a good fifteen minutes to get two wimpy little spit-ups of mushy cracker crud before I finally gave up. My throat was sore from the toothbrush and my pride was sore from my failings. I felt like a fool: I didn’t want this, to purge. I'd scared myself by even getting to this point - I didn't want to go any further.
It really drove home how hard bulimics must work at their behaviour, how devoted to it they must be. The practice, the secrecy, the ritual – an awful lot of effort goes into cultivating and maintaining such self-punishment. I wonder: is it partly that which makes bulimia so difficult to “cure”? I mean when you’ve worked that hard at something, something you believe in and that means something to you, something you’ve really made your own…how ready and willing are you going to be to give it up, no matter how good for you it will be?
I'll ponder that while I'm calling the treatment centres. I need my apartment painted.
when I first read this post i felt really cross with you saying we'd be good to build pyramids etc cause we don't give up! thats not true i wouldn't give two F**ks about building your pyramid for you cause i don't want to achieve the end result of a huge triangular piece of stone! its the passion to achieve your end goal that keeps you doing it thinking, visualizing being thin all the time it NEVER rests or goes away. (i only ever throw up my 'normal' meals this apparently, according to my theropist this is called ana-bulimia) but as i read on i really related to the last paragraphs, yes you have to be dedicated and it becomes your friend, that is the only thing that will not let me down..ever cause i am in control of it, like with the toothbrush if you'd have tried harder you could have spewed up all the crackers, it was your mental state that stopped you, although eating the crackers distressed you it was not to the point where it was enough to override everything your body is telling you about making yourself sick. your options were..if i don't make myself sick, i won't like myself very much and i'll feel guilty and fat' my disorder had at its worse progressed to 'if i don't make myself sick, if i can't get this food out, and please bear in mind i'm not some greedy tart who binged millions of calories at once, at worse i'm talking about a weight watchers meal' i would have to get a stanley knife and cut my stomach, arms, legs even on occassions throat. Although i am much better now i struggle every day with the 'sick thing' (i don't cut anymore) i wanted to put the record straight that you shouldn't admire us when we are doing it, for being strong and persistant you should admire the ones that are strong enough and persistant enough to stop. x