Bulimia in a Country Town
My name is Rose and I am 22 years old. I’m in my final year studying primary school teaching via correspondence from Armidale, because I live and have grown up in a small country town in Tamworth. I have suffered from bulimia nervosa for about three years and I am heading to Sydney at the end of this year to seek treatment and hopefully I can receive placement full time.
I decided to tell my story to EDF on the advice of a counsellor I have seen through university who has been really helpful to me, and suggested I use a diary as a way to work through some of the things I am facing at the moment. Following are some of my entries and I hope by offering this I might be able to help someone to not feel as alone in their struggles and even to know that even though it might feel like help is not available, it is and sometimes its just about “going the distance” to find what you need.
Just a bit about my life – I come from a large and very traditional Italian family, which has its positive and negative points. I have a really amazing boyfriend, Will, who has been a massive help. I had a pretty great childhood although really bad acne in my early teenage years left my face slightly scarred so I guess my self esteem suffered a bit because of that – but nothing too dramatic. Before I was completely consumed with bulimia, I had a generally okay body image. I try not to think about WHY I just cant break out of bulimia, and WHY I feel so badly about myself, but I do know that the feelings of shame about my body came out of an experience I had a little more than a year ago. I’ve decided to start the journal entries from this stage of my life – and the ones I’ve selected give a good indication of my story so far.
I’m really looking forward to moving to Sydney to get help because I do know that recovery is possible and I also know how crap it is to live life with bulimia!
I don’t know what to say about what happened. No way can I talk to mum about it. I don’t know what happened or why it happened. I just know it wasn’t right.
I ended up speaking to the counsellor today. I really just had to tell someone. Julie called it “date rape” so I suppose that’s what happened. I tried to be as honest with her as I could be – that I’d had a lot to drink, that we had been out a few times, that I thought he was cool but we didn’t really connect. All I know is I said no. Julie said that’s all that is important. I feel like the whole thing was my fault and I’m trying not to think about it. I talked to Julie about my eating, which has gone down hill. Now I’m not seeing anyone I have heaps of time on my hands, I’m binging more than ever. I feel disgusting and I feel like I couldn’t be bothered hiding it anymore.
Mum caught me in the middle of a binge. It hurt watching her cry. It hurt even more that I got the feeling she wasn’t upset for me, but upset AT me. She made me come clean with her. It was good to admit to being responsible for all the missing food. It was good to admit to how often I had been vomiting and taking laxatives. I think I somehow thought that admitting things would make it stop. Mums reaction shattered me. She was so angry. She seemed more upset about how much food I had wasted than about how I was feeling. I kind of just wanted her to ask if I was okay. But all she did was say, “how could you do this? How could you do this?” I couldn’t string two words together really but I felt like saying “I’m not choosing this. This is not fun for me.”
Mum told dad about the bulimia. She told him when they were alone so she could explain things a bit. It did not go down well. I can barely look at him knowing he knows. I feel so exposed. I feel sick. I just can’t eat with them in the room. I hate starving all day and then binging at night. It’s just the worst the worst the worst.
I’m sick of having a cold. I’m sick of making my throat bleed. I’m sick of smelling vomit. I’m sick of being tired. I’m sick of hiding this. I’m sick of pretending I’m better. I’m sick of no one talking about this with me. How do they not know this is worse than ever? Why won’t they ask me if I’m okay? God. I feel so alone.
Mum went spastic. She went off in Italian so I didn’t catch everything. She is SO ANGRY. She cooked all this food for my birthday and I would barely touch it. To be honest, I just couldn’t. She completely went off and chucked out almost all the food. She pretty much accused me of being a disgusting animal who eats everything but pretends to eat nothing. I guess she is right in a way… but she threw it in the bin because she said she wasn’t going to let me binge and vomit it up. Too bad I binged on it anyway straight from the bin. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so low. I want to get out of my body. I’m thinking about how revolting I am. I’m thinking I’m sick inside and out. I’m thinking I just don’t want to be here.
I met this MOST AMAZING GUY. Will is amazing. Amazing. Oh my god. I’m so in love. We can talk. It’s so good. I told him everything about my eating. He just accepted it. He is amazing.
Uni is too hard this year. I can’t do it. I’m going to be the worst teacher. The kids aren’t going to listen to me because I’m too fat. Will is in Sydney for his cousins wedding. I miss him too much. God I hate uni. I hate everything. Why do I have to be like this? There is no one to talk to. I have no one. I just want to sleep and not wake up. No. I just want to eat. I want to eat. I want to eat. I have nothing to do but eat. I might as well eat. I hate food. I hate myself. I’m heaps sad. I’m heaps sad. I want this to stop.
Will took me on a picnic. It was so great. I feel so fine eating in front of him these days. I’ve only thrown up once in two weeks and I’m not binging at all. All the exercise I’ve done lately makes me feel good. I think I’ve lost weight. Will wants me to go back to see Julie because he thinks it would be good for me to keep seeing a professional counsellor. I think he feels out of his depth when I get upset. Cos I get so upset. I get so scared. I feel so WRONG. Its just weird… I can be doing okay and then I just feel so WRONG. I’m so not being bulimic anymore. I don’t want to throw up ever again. Okay, I’m never going to throw up again! That’s a good decision. I’m never binging or vomiting again! I want to be a well person, strong and happy. I can’t believe I got a high distinction in drama. Hahahaha. I didn’t even put in any effort.
Oh this is bad. This is bad. Cheesecake hot chips ham bites of pizza cheese cordial half a sausage olive bread. Oh my god oh my god what have I done. I said this was over. I said no more binging after last Friday night. I don’t want to throw up. I’ll write. I’ll waste time. I’m trying to do something else like Julie said. Keep my hands busy. Keep my mind busy. Oh no. Oh no. I cant live like this. I’m not going to be able to live like this. People have limits. Will is going to leave me. Will is going to leave me. Oh god I am so alone. Oh god I am so ugly. I am so fat. I am a disgusting piece of meat.
That’s it. I’m doing something about this. I made Will cry. He doesn’t understand me and neither do I. I’ve emailed a foundation for eating disorders in Sydney. They better get back to me. I don’t know what I’ll do if they don’t. I feel so isolated. If I were in the city it would all be okay. But I’m stuck in this hole of a town. I’ve got to get away from my family. I need help. I need them to email me back.
They emailed me back. I feel so relieved. They said I can email them anytime. They suggested I try to get a therapist who specialises in eating disorders but they are really only in Sydney. IBM going to talk to Julie. I’m going to ask what she thinks. I’m ready to be over this. So ready. So ready.
Ed note: Thanks, Rose for sharing such a personal account of life with bulimia. And yes, you’re right! You’re not alone! Thanks for agreeing to update us on your recovery! Good luck! EDF Team
Binge Eating Disorder
I wasn’t always over weight and I didn’t always hate the way I looked – I even remember being about ten years old and thinking I looked so gorgeous dressing up to go to the school disco (Looking back now, fluoro yellow tights was not such a super look!)
I guess the biggest thing I realise now, is that liking your body really has nothing to do with what size you are. For so long I blamed every bad, terrible feeling I had on being overweight, but it really wasn’t the weight that was keeping me so trapped and so beat down.
I suffered from binge eating disorder for about eight years. I’m twenty nine years old now and a size 14 but sometimes a 12 (because, lets face it, clothing sizes are a fairly unreliable measure of your actual shape and size). I know I might be over the body weight that is considered ideal by society, but I’m not fat, and its my natural, happy body weight because I eat regular meals – perhaps I eat too much at times, and exercise too little, but I certainly don’t binge anymore. I can say now, that even though I may be considered slightly overweight, I am really comfortable in my skin. But it wasn’t always like that.
At the lowest point of my eating disorder, I was binging every day. Most of my money from work, was spent on food. For about six years straight, all I really remember doing, was eating. When I wasn’t eating, I was crying. And when I wasn’t crying, I was out with my friends, who have always always accepted me just as I am, which is something I could never do.
When I was out with my friends, I tried to be that part of myself that I know they liked – funny, and positive, and interesting. And funny funny funny. I could make people laugh, and I clung to that as if my life depended on it. Sometimes, it pretty much did. Sometimes things got so so bad on my own, that I desperately hoped I would somehow melt away, somehow disappear into thin air and never come back. When it got so bad though, that I seriously started to think about suicide I knew there was only one thing left to do. Get help? (You might be thinking) Nope. Not even close. When things got so bad I couldn’t imagine living another minute, I couldn’t imagine seeing another inch of my body, I couldn’t imagine dreaming another dream of one day being thin…there was only one thing left to do. Eat. And boy did I eat.
It wasn’t even what I ate, more so how much I ate and the way I ate it. For example, instead of having a few pieces of pizza at a party I would say “No thank you” but then go home, having had a few drinks, and pretty much eat anything and everything that wasn’t nailed down. Sometimes I would prepare for a binge, with dips and chips and chocolate and sausage rolls but sometimes, when my binge stock was low I would have to get creative. Desperate and creative. I remember standing over my kitchen stove and pouring a packet of biscuits into a fry pan with butter and brown sugar and mixing it up and eating it with my fingers. I remember eating frozen pizza unthawed because my microwave was broken – it was a meat lovers variety and to make matters worse, it even had freezer burn ! It was like eating death…but frozen! I remember it being disgusting at the time but all I could do was chew and swallow chew and swallow. I just wanted to forget every tiny niggling feeling that was rising in my chest and that I thought, somehow, should I stop to think about things, would surely lead to the end of the world!
Hygiene wasn’t a concern during a binge, and sometimes a binge for me would last three or four days. It would make me die of shame when I would wake up in the morning and remember the night before when I would have made piles of peanut butter sandwiches, eating half at a time and throwing the rest away – only to go back half an hour later to the rubbish bin and seek them out without thinking twice about the germs or mess from other household waste that might have contaminated the stale bread by now.
You might imagine how difficult it would be to consume so much food when living with other people (and I lived in a share house with 4 others) but between working long hours and sleeping (which almost always was a direct result of binging) apart from my ballooning body, the binge eating went undetected by most people around me. This worked for me – I wanted to keep the disorder hidden because of the shame I felt at being so out of control – but I think what made me really want to seek help, was when I began to realise how my behaviour was really affecting others.
Even though sometimes I would prepare for the binge, at other times it felt as if the binge would prepare for me. The time of day, or night, really didn’t rate when it came to the uncontrollable compulsion within my mind and, it felt, beneath my skin, to fill fill fill my mouth and body with as much food as it could take. If in a binge, it didn’t matter whose food I ate, as long as I ate it. So many times I ate leftovers from my flatmates dinners or even the remains of their takeaway food which scattered their otherwise dirty plate.
If there was an open packet of chocolate bullets, I couldn’t have a few and stop – I would polish off the lot – and then, because it might be 3 or 4 in the morning, would have to trawl the streets in the hope of finding a convenience store which sold the exact same brand of lollies so I could re-open the packet and replace it to go completely undetected. It really is hard to remember doing this, because I don’t consider myself a thief or a greedy person. I would go to enormous lengths to hide the fact that id steal other peoples food…I’d go to enormous lengths to hide empty packets in bins streets away from where I lived and the panic I would feel in the rush to purchase that food, and replace it, would always make me sick to my stomach. I never wanted to become someone who stole from other people – that really wasn’t on my What I Want To Be When I Grow up list….in fact, none of the self destructive, physically abusive and emotionally devastating ways I treated my body with food when I had binge eating disorder, was anything I could ever have planned for, or hoped to be. Sometimes I would look at my life, after a binge…and I would wonder, at what point, things got so low.
Binge eating disorder feels like a third class illness. There’s anorexia, which seems to be seen as the really important illness and there’s bulimia, which gets almost as much attention, but then there is BED, which, because most sufferers are overweight, is often stigmatised. People tend to say “Just stop eating” – but to a binge eater, that’s like saying “Just eat” to someone with anorexia nervosa. I don’t think people really know how traumatic it is to abuse your body with food – whether it be through starving or overeating. Sometimes I can remember really wanting to purge, to be rid of the food, but I could never bring myself to do that.
I decided to get help when I knew the eating disorder was a more active participant in my life than I was! There wasn’t one particular moment when I dramatically decided to embark upon recovery…it was more like a series of moments, I suppose over eight years or so, which just got me to the stage when I thought “I just can’t do this anymore”. One of these moments, I do recall, was when I was working as an usher at a Theatre company where it was part of my job to collect the trolley of canapés, sandwiches and desserts from the cool room and serve them to the audience members during interval. On one day, I found myself in the cool room, 10 minutes into interval, pouring tarts and sandwiches and cheeses down my throat so fast and so quickly that I actually choked and for a brief moment I thought “Oh my god. I’m going to die with a face full of chocolate and a fist full of salmon.” That really scared me. I wiped my face, swallowed my shame, quit my job, moved home, and called a therapist. I made an appointment, and I went.
Once I was in treatment, with someone I could trust and felt I could work with; I was really excited about things. I felt as if my life had some light shed on it for the first time in a long time. I was 23 years old, and my therapist and I worked out a meal plan that would suit me. The deal was I would follow it, and the binges would stop. Or so I thought…
I was not prepared for the difficulties of recovery. I was not prepared for the pain of life WITHOUT binging. I was so used to hating binging, hating food and hating myself that, I think in a way, in actually gave me something to focus on so I didn’t have to think about how everything in my life was so messed up.
It took me a really long time to get used to not binging. The binges, at first, did not stop. I would commit to eating breakfast and lunch and dinner with snacks in between but the almost animal like, instinctive compulsion to get up and eat in the middle of the night was so overwhelming – that at first, it was an unconscious act and I would wake up in the morning, devastated at how the binging was not going away though I was so committed to my recovery. This went on for some time. Gradually, I realised that my body itself was physically in a pattern of overeating and it took a lot of physical and mental retraining to work through this to the point where now, even though I don’t even think about binging, still at times in the night I will wake up with a panic and feel the compulsion to overeat. I respond to this with a sense of calm and a quiet compassion. I usually say to myself “Its okay Kate. I know you feel like you want to eat now, but now is not a good time for you to eat, and you will get to enjoy a lovely breakfast in a few hours”. It might sound silly, but it works. It works to really relate to your body in a kind way, and to teach it that not only will you not deny it food, but you will give it a nourishing and pleasing amount, instead of abusing it with too much.
I wasted so much time during my illness, trying to work out why I binged, why I hated my body. I read all the self-help books but they all missed the point. I just wanted free from the chaos of the cycle of binge eating disorder. I didn’t believe in food addiction – i believed in the torture of self hatred and body hatred and I knew these things were at the core of my eating…no body who likes themselves, treats their body with the contempt with which I was treating mine. In the end, I had to accept the consequences of my behaviour and how that manifested itself on my body. I ate a hell of a lot of food over a hell of a lot of years. I was fat. Really fat. By anyone’s standards. But the truth was, it wasn’t me. I wanted out of being trapped in this skin, this extra-thick-yes-please-I-will-have-fries-with-that skin.
My therapist would tell me when I used to get really upset and really angry at my body, that I had to give things time. That I had abused my body and my mind and I was now in the business of repairing things. But that I had to be patient. So I tried. Sometimes I failed, sometimes I binged, sometimes I would restrict. Some days I followed my meal plan to the cup of tea. On these days, I would be surprisingly disappointed. I was quietly proud of myself, but the efforts I went to, to not binge, and to not restrict, didn’t quite match up with the calm of succeeding. In some respects, because to me eating “normally” – without binging – seemed such an impossible task – when I found I could achieve it – I expected alarm bells to ring to signal my great success, I expected a ticker tape parade, I expected a gold medal and a gold wedding ring. None of this happened.
There was no magic. There was no sudden life success. There was no eternal relief from bad feelings. What did happen, was I learned to give myself the space to realise that the eating disorder was a really destructive way of dealing with myself and my life that over a period of many years, just smothered and contained the person I could be and the opportunities I could have. I don’t relate to people who say “when i recovered from my eating disorder, I got my life back”. To me, I never really knew much about the life I was living, I never really gave myself the chance or the time, to engage with who I was or what I wanted to be or what I had to offer.