Content Warning: The subject matter of this post relates to eating disorders and self-harm.
Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by binge eating followed by purging. Binge eating refers to eating a large amount of food in a short amount of time. Purging refers to the attempts to get rid of the food consumed. This may be done by vomiting or taking laxatives.
She is sitting there on the toilet in the bathroom of the rancid student flat. It is 1989 and she has had enough. Four years of the punishment and the guilt. The adrenaline of the endorphin rush has worn off and she is only left with the pain. She is coming down as she turns slowing inside out on herself and she bites the back of her hand to cope with it. She is worthless and that is the route of her problem. She has allowed herself to be used, and controlled and pushed and pulled until there is nothing left but a raw nub of flesh. It feels like a wound. That she is ugly is without question, whether she can keep hiding it is the key.
She has reached a breaking point. Although it won’t be the last, she believes it will be and knowing that she can’t take any more she does a deal with God. Let me get through the pain and I will never do it again. No more pills. Her brain uncertain, her body relieved, they momentarily come together, united in the terms of her pact. Together they are stronger, temporarily, but it does not last. Back on the hamster wheel of control, she is far from over it despite that moment of divine dealing and there are many more years ahead; including more pills.
As the tears snake down her face she is angry and humiliated and desperate. She doesn’t know how she got here or how she will ever get out. She doesn’t know how to love herself or how to make others understand. She continues with her self destruction, the starving, the purging, the taking risks and the cutting, in the hope that she can make herself feel enough to change. But it seems only to push her further from others and from herself. She becomes such a tiny voice, so little left of herself that by the time she asks for help she can barely be heard. She is dismissed and the magnitude of it all is swept under the carpet along with what is left of her.
Time passes with only a few memories to pin things upon. Trying so hard to recall the parts, they mock her, randomly spaced like snapshots in an album where so many pictures have been removed. And during that time the layers are donned. The disguise grows stronger, the defences cleverer, so that when you look you don’t really see behind what is there. And her God laughs at her as he hears her say that she is healed. That used to be her, she tells them, but a new life is born. And so she moves amongst them, hidden but in full view. The limits sometimes strange quirks but that is all. She is very good at keeping it buried.
Being able to function on a level where she is able to make decisions and choices which are no longer self destructive is part of getting better, but she knows that it does not mean she is fixed. She functions on a level which is, by most terms, healthy and it leaves her reasonably unchallenged by others. She paints over the cracks. It all looks good on the surface, but if you scratch that layer away in error, you can will be able to see what lies underneath. But not to worry, she knows how to make sure that she isn’t often scratched.
When he finds her he sees what she wants him to at first. But slowly, slowly he realises there is more. She teases him with a little, entrusting him with those gems of herself to see where he takes them. And her expectations are outrageous so he fails and she tells him so. But strangely he is not put off. He keeps going despite all the warnings from her and from others. She has sought all this time to heal herself by losing herself in others when actually it was not going to happen that way. She was wrong. It happens quite differently. Not through her taking control but through the slow breaking down of her control.
I see you, he shouts loudly as she cringes. As she argues she expects him to run off, outsmarted but he doesn’t. He stays and he watches and he learns. He isn’t too proud to be wrong, he can say that he doesn’t understand, and he grows taller and stronger. And he begins to challenge her control, to very slowly ease it away from her in subtle ways. He shows her that he loves her, broken though she is. He acknowledges the strange things she does and asks her why. And she tells him, and as she lets go and lets him in, very gently the healing starts.
She didn’t know that she could be healed. She wasn’t ever looking for that. She was looking for functionality rather than feeling. She was looking to not feel pain rather than to feel pleasure. She was looking for less risk and more certainty. But sometimes you don’t get what you are looking for, you get what you need. And more than anything she sees now that she needed this, that she needed him. It is a long road, and she knows that she is only part way along it and that she may never be truly fixed but she is there with him and he is holding her hand and everything seems possible.
Related posts on eating issues:
Food. What’s your Problem? An Eating Disorder Exposed is a sort of informative piece about eating disorers, written for May More’s Food Matters.
Skeleton in my closet: eating issues undressed is about my journey and the way that I am still affected by my difficult relationship with food and with my own body.
Body Image explains the way that some of the body image issues still affect me.
Body Image, Beauty and Balance also looks at where my body image issues have come from and how we have been able to address them as a couple.
While it is important to seek medical help or advice if you think that you, or anyone you know, is suffering from an eating disorder, there are some good online resources which can help you to learn a little more about what might be going on. In the UK, BEAT is a really good one. They have detailed information, helplines and downloadable resources, as well as offering support groups and peer coaching in some areas.