There’s a memory that stands out very clearly from my formative years. One that keeps bubbling up unbidden and unwanted, like something unspeakable that just won’t vanish down the U-bend no matter how many times you press ‘Flush’.
I’m 14, on a lazy summer afternoon, in English class. Exams are over, everyone’s relieved, and we’re enjoying a shared lunch of pizza to celebrate. As the hands on the clock inch their way around to the end of class, my friend Ellen digs me in the ribs and motions towards a girl slipping out the door amidst the pizza frenzy and ghosting into the hallway. Cara – popular, striking, and very very thin.
“Look, there she goes again,” Ellie whispers.
“What do you mean? I whispered back. In reply, Ellie sticks her finger into her mouth and makes a gagging noise.
“Oh, no way – you reckon?”
“Yeah, she’s always doing it after lunch.”I shrug, and utter the immortal words:
“Stupid fucking bitch.”
Now, it is me who is the stupid fucking bitch.
Yep. Hi everyone. My name is Jem, and I have an eating disorder. Actually, my real name isn’t Jem, and I sure as shit am not going to reveal it here. Because the number of people whose attitudes towards eating disorders mirror my own at age 14 is shockingly high. Bulimia, like many of the darker quirks of the human psyche, is really badly misunderstood. It’s easy and expected for a normal person to think, “How the hell does someone start doing something THAT stupid?”
One of the things that’s very hard for us as human being to accept is that if circumstances are just right, all sorts of sucky things can befall us. The rich salesman slagging off ‘lazy’ poor people and their ‘bad choices’ is only a redundancy away from joining their number. Those who see addicts as ‘weak’ are merely fortunate that their genes and life experiences never set them off on that path.
For myself, I certainly never expected to find myself crying my eyes out in eating disorder therapy. That was for stupid girls, pathetic, vain types who preened and primped and only cared about calories and looking like Kate Moss. I just kept looking around, dazed, thinking “How the god damn fuck did I wind up here?”
Well, as they say, its complicated.
Contrary to popular belief, bulimia often isn’t about looking thin – not at the core. It’s about looking for solace and comfort from painful emotions in food and eating – basically a low-level form of addiction. Momentary pleasure to mask chronic mental torment. Bulimia is the only reason I’m still alive today. Without anybody to talk to or help me through my painful early experiences with death, my brain had to find a way of helping me cope before I hurt myself. Bingeing and purging numbs emotional pain incredibly effectively, and though I initially didn’t really understand what I was doing or why, I knew it made me feel better. So I kept doing it.
The challenge now, of course, is not to do it whenever I start struggling emotionally. I’d thought I was completely recovered, but experienced a series of disappointing lapses after breaking up with Biker (hence my long period of silence). Fortunately I have a fantastic therapist, am committed to using new, healthy coping mechanisms, and truly hope the worst of my struggles are behind me.
I’ve wanted to write about my experiences with bulimia for a long time, but it’s hard and scary so I pulled the covers over my head and procrastinated. I know many people won’t be convinced, and to them I’ll always just be a weak, shallow loser that should never be allowed to breed or reach out or love lest I hurt others with my sickness.
But if you’re reading this, I had the balls to push ‘Post’. So here I am – out of the closet (or perhaps the pantry). Here goes nothing.