It is with great apprehension that I write this post and confession.
Two weeks ago, I reentered a treatment program at the hospital, because I have relapsed into bulimia, and can’t fight this alone.
The treatment program will last at least seven months, involving multiple weekly visits to the eating disorder (ED) clinic at the hospital, where I will participate in supervised meals, various groups and one-on-one therapy. This is my third time going into treatment.
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I wasn’t sure what to do about this blog.
The hypocrisy of preaching healthy eating while doing ED treatment fills me with guilt. Journalistic integrity and my general spirit of unabashed honesty leave me with two choices: either stop blogging until I’m healthy, and keep bulimia a secret; or, confess, and keep blogging.
So damn me, I have chosen the path of confession.
Let there be no mistaking my position: I am embarrassed, and fear your judgement. I anticipate a mother’s worried phone call, awkward looks from my roommates, and the likely occurrence of borderline hate mail and humiliating Facebook threads. I am prepared for the possibility that anything but support will aggravate my self-destructive behaviours.
Despite these fears and the temptation to recede into seclusion, I see this blog as an opportunity. An opportunity to be honest about what I’m going through, if only on behalf of the thousands (millions?) of women who battle eating disorders in secrecy.
(At least I didn’t call the blog “eat like a healthy person.” A perusal of google hits for “celebrities with eating disorders” I think disordered eating is in fact more part of the rockstar diet than not. Just another challenge, I suppose.)
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People have many ideas about bulimia, and in my experience, most of these ideas are incomplete, if not utterly wrong. There is one misconception I would like to address immediately.
“People with bulimia throw up to lose weight.”
This statement represents a simplistic, and basically false interpretation of bulimic behaviour.
Binging and purging (B/P) – the rapid, compulsive consumption of an uncomfortably large amount of food, followed by self-induced vomiting or compensatory exercise – is an addictive behaviour that results in increased weight. Most bulimics are of average, or slightly above-average weight. It also causes visible swelling of the face, jawline, neck and stomach, and does irreparable damage to the teeth and digestive system.
I’m not stupid. (I probably know more about nutrition, fitness and healthy living than the average person.) I’m sick.
I want to be skinny, probably for the same reasons many people want to be skinny. The difference is I have psychological issues like low self-esteem, a history of abusive relationships and sexual assault, and poor emotional management that cause this common desire to become an obsession. When I feel sad, mad, or stressed, I tend to under-eat. Deprived of adequate nutrition, hunger eventually overwhelms me and I binge, feel disgusted with myself, and then purge. And feel even worse.
To be perfectly clear, I don’t throw up “normal” meals, and I never binge in front of anyone. Binging and purging is a private act that lurks in the shadows of my life, late at night, alone on a rainy day.
After ten years of on-and-off binging and purging, I am under no illusions. Even though B/P makes me gain weight, and I want so desperately to look beautiful and slim and healthy, I continue to do it.
Recovery from bulimia involves two components: eliminating disordered behaviour (B/P, compulsive exercise, obsessive weighing and body-checking in mirrors, associated behaviours of overspending, drug abuse and binge-drinking, etc.) and correcting the underlying thought patterns and emotional mismanagement that result in these behaviours.
In previous experiences with recovery, I have normalized my eating, eliminated self-destructive behaviours, and even achieved decent levels of confidence about my self and body.
But I didn’t go far enough. I failed to gain true insight into how and why I developed an eating disorder in the first place. As a result, when I was sexually assaulted three years ago, overwhelming negative emotions – rage, humiliation, pain – threw me into a relapse. The stigmatized nature of sexual assault makes it difficult to talk about, and so it was the perfect trigger for my persistent inability to deal with intense negative emotions.
Oh, the anguish! I had tasted recovery, possessed the knowledge, studied the roots, lived it. And yet when faced with a painful experience, I watched myself slip down the deep dark slope back into full-fledged bulimia.
So for me, an eating disorder is a coping mechanism. I go about my happy surface life, working one or two jobs, texting, blogging, teaching music, writing music, touring and performing, dating, making friends, running errands, and so on. Feelings like anger, sadness and pain stay deep inside, where they fester like fetid wounds. Rather than deal with bad feelings and memories the way normal people do – talking to close friends, having hugs and crying, doing good things for myself – I wait until everyone’s in bed, and I binge and purge until, exhausted, I collapse into a troubled sleep and wake up to face another day.
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In the coming months, I hope for your support. It has been ten long years of a fight for me, and I am so, so tired. Tired of hiding, tired of doctors notes and being late for everything and staying up till 5 am. I’m tired of buying enough groceries for a family of three to sustain my horrible binge-and-purge cycles. I’m tired of nobody understanding why I take forever to order food at restaurants, and why I have so many special requests and substitutions. I’m tired of people assuming I see beauty when I look in the mirror. I’m tired of living two lives.
I am a musician, and a foodie, and writer, and so I will continue to blog about all things rockstar-diet-related. And now I may do so with a clear conscience.
Wish me luck.