Purging: You Can’t Just Get Rid of Emotional Weight
March 2, 2017
**disclaimer: This post may be a trigger for anyone who has ever suffered with bulimia. This is going to get real. And I’m so sorry if this hurts you or reminds you of your demon in any way. Remember. This is so you know you aren’t alone. And so your friends and family can get a better insight into why you do the things you do. I’ve been there. I still think about it sometimes. I get it. So if you need to walk away, you can. I understand. I validate you. And I congratulate you for how strong you are becoming on your journey - that you want to get better more than wanting to read a stupid post that could ruin your progress. You are amazing. I love you
Throwing up. Barfing. Puking. Upchucking. Spewing. No matter what slang word you use to describe it, it’s gross. Even that picture I found of a toilet full of glitter. Nasty. Vomiting isn’t something anyone actually enjoys doing. Normally it’s a means to an end. You’re sick with food poisoning? Throw up and get that ‘poison’ out of you. Have a virus? Same idea, do everything you can to get that sucker out of you. Throwing up is our body’s natural response to getting out some kind of evil alien - which depending on the case, could ultimately kill you. Or maybe you’re just pregnant, but hey, don’t children also try and kill you someway or another? I kid (not really).
I’m going to take a guess here and say you’ve thrown up before. So you're familiar with the feeling. The nausea beforehand. The tossing and turning of your stomach and its contents seconds before. Feeling bits and pieces come back up your throat. Having to watch everything, half digested, fresh with stomach acid, floating around in a toilet or in a trashcan. The putrid smell. The awful taste left in your mouth. Ugh. I actually want to puke right now. Seriously. I just had to walk away. But there’s a point into me grossing you out to the point of never reading my blog posts again. Sit with that mental image for a minute. Let the smell linger. Don’t cringe from the taste in your mouth. Don’t click exit. Don’t run away. Remember this feeling of pure disgust. This feeling is important. This feeling is everything.
There is another just as important feeling for those of us who have ever suffered from bulimia. The immediate lightness you feel after throwing up. After you flush the toilet. After the smell has wafted. After you’ve brushed your teeth and only taste the weird sting of mint toothpaste. It’s a feeling of less. Of being less. But less in a good way. Less of a mass. Less of a burden. Less of a mess. Less of any kind of problem you think you have or think you are. The feeling is liberating. And when you spend months and years searching for this kind of freedom, you begin to change the instant you find it. This flying feeling becomes euphoric. This feeling is a drug. This is the feeling we THINK is everything.
I didn’t start purging until I started drinking. The idea of displacing my food this way never occurred to me before that because of how much I hate throwing up. Ugh I hate it. It’s the worst. I'd rather touch some kind of demon Australian spider than throw up. I know it definitely causes me more anxiety now, because of what doing it so often did to both my body and my psyche. But I'm getting ahead of myself here...
The first time I purged it was totally on accident. I was still new to drinking. It felt like I was always playing catch up with my ‘experienced’ friends. I pretty much just played follow the leader and drank everything my friends did. Or at least tried to drink what they did. Sorry, Jager bombs will NEVER be for me. Only problem with this was that I never actually knew what my limit was. Some nights I'd get lucky and only feel the buzz. Other nights I'd get a little too lucky and spend the next day confined to a dark room. My friends consisted of some pretty big dudes and some girls who could drink most guys under the table. Then there was me, tolerance of a baby deer, drinking just as much just as quickly as they did. I didn’t have time to figure out my limit or figure out how different kinds of alcohol actually affected me. Instead of toeing that line, I was sprinting and tripping and falling head over ass miles over said line. My friends taught me drinking games. Tricks to get drunker faster. Most importantly, they taught me the concept of rallying. Get rid of the alcohol in your system by throwing it up, and after a few times, you're supposed to feel better than ever. Super cool. And super effective in your college party years. It’s legit a second chance at a night out. Sweet! (FYI the correct answer is no, it's not. It’s not sweet. Do not be an idiot and do that.)
Normally, I was pretty smart about drinking. I’d eat my carbs. Drink a lot of water. Have Gatorade or PediaLight or some other form of electrolyte ready to help replace the ones I was about to lose. Yes I was going to be a bit of an idiot. But I refused to be the girl who lost control and needed to get her stomach pumped. That’s a freshman move. And I was trying to be perfect remember? This night however, I wasn’t smart AT ALL. I wasn’t even planning to go out. It was a Friday after a super long week. I just wanted to stay in and go to bed early. I had just come home from a spin class/extra cardio session at the gym. I was dehydrated. I was running on zero food. I was already tired. I probably ate a cup or so of sautéed veggies and 3 oz of lean turkey or chicken because that’s what I tried to live on back in the day. I had taken a shower and I remember coming back downstairs to a mini party happening in our living room. This was kind of normal actually. We lived in the center of campus housing, so we usually had people popping in and out on the weekends. One of my roommates handed me a drink she was experimenting with and not wanting to be rude, I took a sip.
The sip turned into a an accidental chug. OMG was it good. Especially to my calorie deprived brain. Plus sugar is basically cocaine. She jokingly asked if it was okay and asked me if I would like a full glass of the magic she was concocting. I took a second to think. Back in those days, calories ruled my being. If someone offered me something, it wasn’t a simple yes or no answer. It was a long math calculation of calories in vs. calories out and what I could afford to add in or what else I needed to take out. I had decided that since it was a restrictive kind of week and I had just done so much at the gym, an extra drink or two wouldn’t completely break my bank. So after the longest five minutes in America, I said “Yes please!”
The train of bad decisions continued. That drink turned into 4 more. My night of catching up on sleep turned into losing it. Before I knew it, I was on the front porch of some frat, learning the proper way to chug a beer without feeling sick from the carbonation. After the third beer of an attempt (and in case you're wondering, this is still a skill I haven’t been able to master) I suddenly felt like I was going to die. I looked at my roommate with the biggest baby-doe-eyes I could and she immediately got my telepathic message. We were too far from our house, but she found me a bush between some houses and stood guard while I got every bit out of me that I could. And I mean every. freaking. bit. It felt like I was puking for an hour. Honestly I don't think there was even any acid left. It was bad. So so bad. I emerged from the alley of shame and she immediately came over and asked if I was okay. Normally, I would have been crying - as I said, throwing up is my least favorite thing to do ever. But weirdly, I was okay. In that moment, I actually knew I was more than okay. I was on an all new level of high. Now I don’t know what drug addicts feel on their highs, but for me, in this moment, this feeling was my heroin. I went into that alley scared, depressed, and uncomfortably full of emotion, mental distress, and alcohol. But when I came out. Yes I was still depressed and full of mental shit and emotion. But in that moment I didn't care. I emerged feeling confident and euphoric. For the first time in years, I felt skinny...
I couldn’t believe what I had just discovered. I tricked the system. Not only was I getting rid of the excess alcohol, but I was also getting rid of the food I had eaten for dinner. 2 birds one stone as they say. I had only thrown up once before from drinking and all I threw up with the alcohol was a bit of the ‘carb shield’ I had loaded up on before. To my sick brain, that didn’t count. But this. This time was different. This time I was throwing up actual food and I didn’t completely hate it because of alcohol buzz. Yes it was still messy and gross. But this way made it feel more doable. This way made me want to do it. This was just another means to an end. A short cut to all of my mental math problems. This was the excuse I lived by. This became the newest chapter in my psychotic eating bible. I changed my life to fit this new commandment. I became "more fun". I started always saying yes. I started going out more frequently than I had been (but please note I was never the "party girl" stereotype"). I drank more. I stayed up later. I knew where every single bathroom was in any of the places we decided to go. I knew every spot I could hide if we were traveling to another location and I couldn’t wait any longer.
This worked for a bit. Maybe a month or so. But one night, as I swirled in my dark spiral of thought, I asked myself this question, "Why do I need to wait and drink so much before I throw up?" I didn't know the answer. I didn't know why I was waiting til I drank almost too much alcohol. It seemed silly to waste calories on that much alcohol just to throw it up. #duh And my next formula was born. Now I just took a few shots waited a bit. Then chugged something carbonated to force myself to throw up. I stopped waiting for the alcohol to even hit. Which was the point if you remember - the buzz and drunkenness made all of this easier. But I guess in the end that wasn't enough. I hated myself that much that I wanted to go through all this suffering. Sometimes, on nights where I was really hating myself, I completely forced it. I'd drink a glass of wine and give myself the middle finger as I tried to escape and get rid of what was actually eating me. But that’s the thing. No matter how much you throw up. No matter how much you want to just get rid of it. The mental weight behind bulimia doesn’t leave when your food does. If anything. It gets stronger with every flush.
I would have kept up with this spiral. I know I would have. My Type A all or nothing personality wouldn't have let me just fall off the wagon. Eating disorders aren't a choice whether you believe that or not. They're a dictator. They're compassionate. They're everything you want to be. They show you a means to get to the perfection you so desire. They show you a world where all you are is happy. Because deep down that's all we really want. Is to be happy enough with ourselves to be happy in our actual life. I know now that my eating disorder only lied to me. That it made me miserable. It made me unbearable at times. It closed me off to so many people and opportunities. My eating disorder almost stole this life I have now away from me. I would have gotten to the point of not even drinking. Of just stuffing myself to the point of utter disgust and get rid of it the only way I knew how. Fortunately, I got a big fat wakeup call. One night I went to partake in my drinking ritual. We were at our place so I went upstairs away from everyone. Gag. Splash. Cough. Flush. I washed my hands. I kept the water on so I could brush my teeth. Something about this time felt different. I wasn’t sure what though. I brushed my teeth and thought about what had just happened for what felt like ten minutes and I spit into the sink. But instead of the normal minty foam, the sink was pink. The foam was stained with my blood. Holy. F***. I didn't go back downstairs. I immediately changed into sweats, grabbed my laptop, and forced myself to read every single terrible thing that can happen to you if you don't recover from bulimia.
Here's a short list FYI:
Tooth decay, toothaches, swollen gums, gum disease (gingivitis), and erosion of tooth enamel. These are caused by acid in the mouth from vomiting
Electrolyte imbalances and changes in metabolism that can lead to heart problems, such as arrhythmia and even death
Dehydration, which can lead to weakness, fainting, or kidney damage
Inflammation or tears of the esophagus, which may cause bloody vomit
Swollen salivary glands
Fainting or loss of consciousness, usually because of low blood pressure
Low body temperature
Suicide risk when feeling discouraged about having bulimia or a relapse or about ongoing body image issues
Long-term problems with bowel movements because of laxative abuse
Overuse of medicine (such as ipecac syrup) to cause vomiting can lead to diarrhea, weakness, low blood pressure, chest pain, and trouble breathing. A person can die from prolonged overuse of these medicines.
I immediately burst into tears. Why does it take seeing actual proof of the harm we’re causing ourselves to realize it’s not okay? Unlike cutting, I DID promise myself there and then that I was never going to forcefully throw-up again. I couldn’t do it anymore. The high was no longer worth it. No matter how good it felt in the moment, it was a lie that always hurt beyond comprehension later. Every time I said I had to go to the bathroom, every time I went to go get another beer and took a detour. The time I lied and told my roommates I thought I had a 24 bug – when in reality I was just depressed and kept making myself throw-up for an entire day to deal with the depression. The dryness and scratches in my throat. The croak in my voice that would last days sometimes. The gross film over my teeth I was convinced I could never get rid of. The uncomfortable feeling of letting just one appropriately portioned meal digest. It was all excruciatingly terrible. It reminded me why I hated throwing up in the first place. That feeling I told you to remember from before? The after throwing up feeling? That feeling became my entire life. Constantly nauseas. Constantly panicked I was going to have to run to the bathroom. Constantly insecure someone knew my secret. Constantly felt the imaginary food in my throat. I was becoming a bathroom driven zombie. I was so exhausted all the time. I couldn’t even continue the lie anymore. I was done.
I haven’t thrown up on purpose since. It’s been difficult. Especially on the fat days. Days where I feel more disgusting than usual. I know on those days I'm probably just bloated, but for the longest time, all I wanted was to rid myself of that all-consuming feeling. I had some really bad days. Days where I knelt at that porcelain throne, once again it's servant. I wanted to beg that Lord to take away my pain. But I couldn’t go through with it. I'd try my best to make myself sick from smelling the toilet water. I'd cough really hard in hopes that would start some kind of reaction. But deep down, I knew I couldn't go through this again. That all the pain from before was going to ruin my life the second a meal came back up. So I stopped. I stood up. I put the lid down. And I walked away. I walked away. That’s a statement I’m really proud of. I’ve worked my ass off to make sure I never fall for the temptation of the quick fix again.
I have, however, thrown up three times from actual drinking too much. And I only want to mention that because of the intense mental toll those incidents had on me. The first time it happened I was back visiting Dayton with my boyfriend at the time. And we actually ran into the guy I dated my senior year. It was so uncomfortable. The boyfriend spent the entire day seething. I didn't want to deal with any of it so I self medicated and drank away all my feelings. Not my best idea. I barely remember that trip now. I just remember sleeping on the bathroom floor, getting a text from the college guy in the morning, and fighting with my now ex all the way home. Maybe I’m glad I was drunk for all of that. That first time doesn't count per say. The second time is the one that almost caused a spiral for me. This was a good 8 months ago. It was towards the beginning of my relationship with Greg. He had never been to Howl at the Moon before, so I convinced him and a bunch of friends to go after a random Pirate Game. It was the most fun. Too much fun in the way I had way too much to drink. But unlike the last time, I wasn’t drinking to forget anything or because I was upset. I was genuinely happy. By this point I was out of therapy and was doing my day to day thing. I was really stable. The most stable I had ever been up until that point. The second I drank the last gulp of my cider I knew it was going to happen. I felt my stomach start to churn. My mouth began salivating. I freaked the f*** out. I knew what was going to happen. But for the first time, I really didn’t want it to happen. Really. I did everything I could to not get sick. I logically knew if I just went to throw up I’d feel better. That I had hit my limit and I’d just drink water for the rest of the night and try to get some bread. But the recovered/emotional part of my brain wasn’t okay with that. It felt betrayed. All the hard work I had done to avoid throwing up - I didn’t want to go back on my promise. I wanted to hold onto the heaviness. I deserved that heaviness for being dumb enough to drink that much in such a short timespan anyway. I had this internal battle for a solid half hour. A half hour of convincing myself not to get sick. That’s a really freaking hard thing to do. Just trust me. It is.
In the end, I lost the battle. But I think I actually won long term. Yes I threw up in a public rest room. But I didn’t let it defeat me. When I walked back out of the bathroom, there was a clear difference in me. Greg immediately asked me if I was okay, and I told him I wasn’t, but I’d talk to him about it later. And I actually did talk to him about it (therapy at least got me to communicate my issues if anything). I told him what had happened, how it made me feel, and why I was scared. He held my hand and looked me in the eyes and said “Well, if you’re scared, that means at least a part of you doesn’t want to do this again. You can’t go back down that path if that part stays strong. I know you’re strong. And I’m here if you feel you aren’t.” In that moment I knew he was right. And more than anything, I wanted him to be right. Because I wanted to be better. Not just for him. Not just for my relationship. But for me. I wanted to be strong for my own life. So I could live my own life without the fears of my past. So I can CONTINUE to live my own life without the fears of my past.
You can do it to. Just stand up. Back away from the toilet. Walk away. Quit giving yourself the middle finger. You don’t deserve this. You’re never going to outrun the weight of your mind. You have to use your words. It’s not until you word vomit that you can give up vomiting all together. I believe in you. I love you. It gets better.