today I next-level-ed it: I let my undergrad sexuality class ask me about bulimia. (it was relevant; we were discussing the female sexual body, including body image.) I told them I wanted them to be exposed to it in a real way and encouraged them to ask anything they wanted.
I was scared to death.
I'm not sure of what. judgement? that they'd lose confidence in me as a teacher? that they'd lose respect for me? that they'd find it inappropriate and report it? --I don't think it was any of those. i think it was just the extreme vulnerability.
I planned to write a whole blog about this tonight. I wanted to unpack this a little more. but, as I sat down to write, I got an email: an email from a young academic across the pond. she has written me before, and I shared something she said to me in an earlier blog post.
"L" shared something so vulnerable with me tonight. her vulnerability in sharing this with me (when she has never shared something like this before) humbled my vulnerability in class this afternoon. L asked me if I was willing to share it with my readers, and I feel honored to do so. she didn't feel that she had another outlet, and she didn't feel like that she could post it for herself, but she wanted to feel heard in some way. I'm not posting all of it; I've edited it a little for length and I've removed anything that could be construed as "tips" or things I thought might be extremely triggering for someone in recovery. read as much as you can:
Today, I woke up with stabbing pains in my stomach shortly before 7am. The laxatives I took last night before I fell asleep were kicking in. I lay there for what felt like hours, until the pains become so strong that I knew I urgently needed to get to the bathroom. I stumbled out of the bed and made my way across the hall. The pain is always the same – so excruciating that I swear to myself that I will never again take another laxative. There were tingles all over my body and I broke out in chills. My insides felt as though they were going to implode and for a second I thought about the damage I must be doing to myself. I stripped off and gazed at myself in the mirror, sucking in my belly as hard as I could. I pressed my hand to my stomach, checking to see if it somehow felt as flat as it did yesterday. I breathed a sigh of relief - it didn’t seem like I gained much weight from the horrific 12 hour binge purge marathon I had yesterday. I looked at the scales and wondered whether or not to get on. I knew that I would be horrified at what I saw, so thought it would be best to wait until tomorrow.
In the shower, and felt so weak that every move I made was an effort. It felt like my bones weighed 3 times as much as they should. My arms were so heavy that it was difficult to wash my hair or my body. I always hate the shower; it forces me to confront every inch of myself.
I made it to my desk a little after 11am, and collapsed onto my chair, out of breath and completely exhausted. Two friends emailed to ask if I wanted to go for lunch later that day. I spent over an hour going back and forth in my mind: ‘you can’t eat today - you ate too much yesterday’…‘if you eat you won’t be able to stop and will put on at least another pound’…‘but one more day of binging and purging won’t hurt in the long run, ‘this will be the last day, tomorrow you can start again’…‘if you do this you are throwing away all of the work you’ve put into losing weight so far’…’you’re fat enough as it is, don’t eat anymore’…’fuck it, just today so, tomorrow you’re only having 100 calories’.
And that was that.
I met them at 1pm and ended up eating a pretty large dinner instead of a lunch. To my friends, I looked the same, I smiled at them and laughed at their jokes. But all the while my heart was thumping in my chest. It felt like my thighs and stomach were getting bigger with every passing second, and I wanted nothing more than for them to just leave me alone. As I ate, I was hunched over, embarrassed and ashamed of my body, worried they would think that I was getting fat.
I figured if I just kept eating until I was completely full, I could purge it all up in one go. So I ate more, I bought 2 chocolate bars and ate those at the table, left my colleagues and went to the nearest corner shop. There I spent $25 on snacks and ate it all, and by then it felt like I had ripped the lining of my stomach. Unable to stand upright, for the third time today, the pain was so sharp I had tears in my eyes as I tried my best to get to the nearest toilet. Although I have gotten pretty good at purging; it is still a difficult thing to do, especially when I’m crying at the same time. My throat was still raw and sore from all of the purging I did yesterday. With one hand down my throat, I punched myself in the stomach with the other as hard as I could to help get the food up. Even though I was sore all over, I could feel my entire body relaxing, the panic and the fear became less as I vomited. There is nothing scarier to me than feeling full. I purge quite forcefully, so I was gasping for air as I sat on the floor in the cubicle trying to gain enough composure to continue purging. Sitting on the floor of a public toilet cubicle crying next to a toilet bowl full of vomit was not how I wanted to spend my day.
I cried as I walked from the bus stop to my house. Once inside, I raided the cupboards. Anything at all that didn’t need oven time or defrosting, I threw into my bag. It was 5:30; I was so overwhelmed with panic that I started to hyperventilate. I slammed the cupboards and the fridge, took the stairs 2 at a time, sat on my bed, and ate, and ate, and ate. The pain was excruciating. It was a struggle to breathe because each time breathed in, the pain got sharper and sharper. The front door opened – my dad was home from work. All I could think was ‘I need to get sick!!’ I rushed to the bathroom, locked the door and turned on the shower. I couldn’t bare to undress and actually get into the shower; my stomach was bloated and undressing makes me feel even more ashamed and disgusted with myself. Sometimes sleep in my clothes and tonight was going to be one of those nights. But I didn’t stop there.
I went downstairs, said hello and closed the kitchen door behind me and began prepping food for another purge. I ate the additional food when it was ready. Having purged so much today already, I knew this time would be extremely difficult; my gag reflex was completely gone.
There are already 3 vomit stains on my carpet, now I have a 4th. I cleaned up as best I could.
It’s 10pm and I am completely wiped out. My entire body aches and tingles, and my heart is racing. I lie across my bed, and a voice in my head keeps saying over and over ‘what are you doing to yourself?’
for me, reading this was like a distant memory of a nightmare I had once had. the parts where she talks about the emotions and constant self-bargaining, the body-checking in every mirror, the accelerated heartrate, the self-loathing as she falls asleep. I haven't had a day like that in years. but most of her story was very similar to days I've lived through. they are days I've tried to put behind me and forget about. but I also think that there is value here.
there's value for me: remembering where I don't want to be again.
there's value for those who haven't experienced eating disorders: a tidbit of understanding.
there's value for L: she got something off her chest--and believe me, i know the value in that.
there's value for society:
talk about it,
and get it out there.