Over the course of the last few years, I've gotten a number of requests to talk about how I got over my bulimia. I've always shied away from that conversation because while I know how I learned to stop taking wine to bed and get through my life without being stoned, I still don't know how it is that I came to stop using toothbrushes to empty entire grocery bags of food from my stomach into my studio apartment toilet.
But I did. I learned how to do that. And this blog post and some others that will follow are my attempt to explain what happened to me, and how I recovered from it. Please note that it's graphic, and that there might be some triggering language.
I cannot remember when I started to hate my body.
I want to say it was around 5th grade when I gained that prepubescent weight and my ass grew large and the boys in my class started calling me Big Butt and a family member started calling me Cottage Cheese Stomach. But who knows. All I can remember is that something had happened to me, was happening to me, and it was wrong and unattractive. I remember jumping off the diving board one summer and into the pool. The boys saw me coming and they yelled to each other to get out of the way. Shamu was coming.
By the time I entered junior high, I weighed 120 pounds, which is the same weight I do today, only I was 6 inches shorter. I wasn't by any means obese, but I was a chunk, and I felt like a chunk. A chunk with a bad perm. And then one day I grew vertically, and the weight came off, and I became one of those skinny people I'd so longed to become. I wore size zero jeans and if you were my friend, you knew this about me because I told you.
Size zero hung around for a few years, but then I got a car, and my parents got divorced, and people stopped watching whether I made it to 3rd period. Or maybe they didn't stop watching. Maybe they were unable to care. Who knows. I became obsessed with 10am Whoppers and my BFF and I stopped at Hometown Buffet on the way home from school most days. By age 17 I wasn't what you'd call fat, but I hated my size 5 jeans.
Around Christmas that year, my last year in high school, my friend's boyfriend told me he was going to kill me. He left a voicemail on my Airtouch pager, and by the time I made it to dinner that night with my family, I found that for once in my life, I couldn't eat. I passed on the fried chicken and Spanish macaroni, and something inside of me danced. This is how you get back to zero, Holly. This is how you disappear.
By January of my senior year, I was down 10 pounds, and by February I was down 30. I knew the calorie count of every food known to man, and I made it through my days on 600. I weighed myself every morning, and my mom took me to the doctor, and people said things that ranged from "I'm worried about you" (to which I silently screamed YOU SHOULD BE) to "you look amazing" (to which I silently screamed FUCK YES I DO). All I did was not eat food, and all I thought about was food, and if there is a secret hell known to women on this earth, it is this one. I forgot how to eat, and yet all I thought about was doing it.
When college came around and my pot and alcohol use increased and my prefrontal cortex was given a break from having to remain so hypervigilant, I started to come home in the evenings and eat everything in the house. We had a Fry Daddy, and I'd drunkenly fire that bad boy up and drop anything I could find in it. I'd take the food to my room and when I was done eating, I'd hide the plates under my bed. Some mornings I would wake up to a belly so swollen it hurt to breathe and I'd try and purge out the pounds of food that were stuck there, but all that would come up was pain.
I was a shitty shitty bulimic at first. But the thing about me is that I don't settle for being shitty at things.
The early ots are blurry when it comes to my eating stuff. Because I know at some point it became less of an issue. I know my weight normalized, and I know I wasn't starving myself, and I also know that sometimes something would possess me and there I'd be, eating all the food, and throwing it back up. I told myself it was okay to do it on occasion because I'd come so far.
The shame around this racked me.
Bulimia would come and go as I moved through my life. It reared it's ugly head full force in 2005. My boyfriend at the time was controlling, in every corner of my life and my world, and I felt trapped, and there I was leaving work in the middle of the day to run home, eat all the food, and throw it back up. I told him about it, and he told me I was sick, and it made him even more controlling. One day he broke into my house to try and catch me in the act. He'd missed it by 10 minutes. I swore I'd never tell a soul again.
For whatever reason, it waned in those years post-him. I was down to a once a month B&P sesh, and for the most part, it was just this thing that I did. I would restrict myself, I would rebel against the restriction, I would purge the rebellious act right out of me, and there I would lay. Cleansed, satiated, numbed, shamed, and shaking.
In 2010, I started living with a boyfriend and began to do the same things I did when I was with The Controller. Except I'd do it in his house with his food and throw in booze. Puking in a man's toilet is so fucking disgusting. After him came an even more fucked up relationship. It was a secret one, and I lost even more control. One weekend he dropped me off at my friend Sally's to cat sit, and there I was, eating all of her health food and puking it up. Only this time it was exaggerated, more intense. There were sessions. Binge. Purge. Binge. Purge. Bathe. Binge. Purge. Bathe. Sleep.
Bulimia didn't slow down this time. It sped up. I started mixing alcohol in with the whole process, and of course my beloved pot. Most weekend days went like this: wake up, get high, drink, go out to get enough food to feed a small family and more booze, drink, eat, puke, drink, eat, puke. I started to learn the schedules of all the convenience store clerks in my area, not only so that they wouldn't notice the amount of booze I was buying, but also so they wouldn't notice that I had already bought 3 boxes of Kraft Mac and Cheese and 2 loaves of bread that day. I found takeout restaurants that delivered wine. I became furiously intimate with Waiters On Wheels. A typical order was from California Pizza Kitchen. 2 salads, 2 pizzas, 2 artichoke dips, bread with extra butter, 2 desserts. I made a show of asking for place settings for four. Each time the food came I vowed I would actually enjoy it as I was eating it and make it last all night. I would end up eating as much of it as I could in 15 minutes, puking it up to make more room, and finish the rest. I would bathe, clean the toilet, pour more wine, and tell myself that I was going to make it to bed without doing it again. But then I'd be at the liquor store buying pints of ice cream and Jameson and I'd have to clean the toilet again.
I would realize somewhere along the way that I never opened my eyes when I threw up. I would realize that I left my body there on the floor of the bathroom, headband around my head to catch the spray of vomit, hair pulled back, toothbrush or sharp object inching further down my throat until it caught the place that made it come up. I would realize that I was blacking out on purpose.
At some point, I stopped caring if the toilet bowl was stained with brown-red grease and that I was maxing my credit cards on food. Somewhere along the way, I stopped looking in the mirror.
I think it's funny how much I talk about alcohol, how little I talk about its partner-in-crime, bulimia. Not funny haha, but funny weird. I wonder if it's because there is more shame around this than I realize. Writing this still makes my throat close up. I can still see and smell the five Hefty trash bags of food and wine remains, the ones that would accumulate over the course of a weekend. It still feels unbelievably heavy. That moment when I'd find the strength to gather them up and bolt for the elevator to make it to the trash bin on the second floor without being seen, breathing only out of my mouth to block the stench, the pool of rotted waste on the floor below them. The moment I would toss them and walk away like I'd just dumped a body. The times I realized that I personally smelled worse than the trash, and thought I wasn't any different from the trash. Wasn't I decaying in that way too? When you smell like trash, what does that mean for you as a human? As a woman?
Through all of this I didn't think of myself as having a drinking problem, or a severe eating disorder. Rather, I thought of myself as someone who just needed to get past this "thing" I was doing. I would make promises to myself that I wouldn't do it again. I would clean up the crime scene and I would go out into the world and I would act like a normal person and I would tell myself No more, Holly. Only I wouldn't say it that kindly. I would scream something like You dumb weak piece of shit stop doing this.
(To be continued).