#49. Um...keeping everything, so to speak

This is hard. I’m about to write about something I’ve never written about before. Something I’ve only ever spoken about to a handful of people. Very private, very safe people. (How’s that for a suspenseful build up?) In short, here it is: sometimes I make myself throw up. For the past seven days, I haven’t.

It terrifies me to write about this. I’m so afraid of people’s reactions, so addled by fear about what you’ll think of me, how you’ll judge me. Whether you’ll ever be able to look at me again without picturing my head in the toilet. How I wish, wish, wish that there were some other far more frivolous, far less personal change to write about this week. But sometimes these things are born of necessity, and this is one of those times.

Perhaps I should backtrack a little. I have, as you have probably garnered from reading this blog, always had a difficult relationship with food. I’ve always been an emotional eater, always struggled with my weight. I carry with me an inherent sense that I’m simply not okay much of the time and I’ve historically turned to food – if not to make me feel better (because it never really does, not in the long run), then at least to numb and distract me from whatever I’m feeling.

At some point in my binge-eating history, the shame of what I had put in my body, paired with the physical discomfort of having over-eating so heinously delivered me to a place I never thought I’d be: making myself vomit. I know. It’s horrible to even write the words, but I don’t know a more delicate way to put it.

It’s hard to explain if you’re unfamiliar with this particular brand of desperation, but at some point, the absurd becomes completely rational. It becomes a totally logical line of reasoning to choose to get rid of that which is causing you pain. It becomes a rational, sensible solution. You eat too much, you lose it. When your relationship with food, eating and your body is already screwy, it’s really that simple.

My worst struggle with this was more than 10 years ago, a time when things were changing rapidly in my life. I was filled with stress and anxiety and it seemed to be one thing I could control – or at least, one thing I could do to mitigate eating behavior that was out of control. Once you start, it becomes really, really difficult to put an end to it. Every time I’ve relapsed with this behavior – which you might notice I’m going to great pains to avoid labeling as “bulimia,” lest we make it real – has required the help of a therapist or shrink to help me stop.

For the past couple of years, I’ve been working with a therapist who specializes in eating disorders, and with her help, I’ve been really good at remaining healthy on this front. Then I took a break from therapy, exhausted by the constant effort of introspection and navel-gazing. And I was doing fine…until a few weeks ago, when out of nowhere, I had what I suppose I can’t avoid calling anything other than a relapse.

The things I understand about this are as follows: anxiety, fear and stress are my triggers for seeking comfort in food. If that builds up long enough, untreated, old habits kick in. A voice inside of me reminds me how hard my life is, how deprived I am. It convinces me that junk food and copious amounts of edible comfort are the best solution. So I eat. And eat and eat and eat.

Within a few days, I’m filled with shame, coupled with the physical discomfort of overeating. Which is when the thoughts creep in: you know how to deal with this. You know the solution.

I don’t know if it was the fact that I had an awful Christmas, with my mother-in-law collapsing, spending Christmas Eve with her in the ER, waking up Christmas morning with stomach flu and spending the day alone in a hotel room, throwing up. (Yeah, I know. Irony.) Maybe it was the stress of heading to New York shortly thereafter, when I wasn’t really well enough to do so. Plus the fact that my fear of flying was insufferable, a good indicator of my overall mental health and anxiety level – which I ignored. Perhaps it was the cold, awful weather in NYC or the fact that I injured my knee and could barely walk, leaving my spirits dampened about missing out on all the city had to offer. Maybe it was the horrible cold virus I brought back with me, and the fact that it meant I felt ill in one way or another for nearly a month.

Probably, it was all of those things. I was depressed, stressed and frustrated. So I ate. Then I ate some more, and before I knew it, I was making myself throw up again. It is humbling – if not downright humiliating – to find yourself at an emotional bottom with behavior you’re so, so sick and tired of and recognize your surroundings so well. It is dispiriting and painful to look around and think, “How the hell did I get here again?”

But I did get there. I was there and, at least, I knew I didn’t want to stay there. I reached out and told a friend what was going on. I picked up the phone and called my therapist and got myself back on her schedule. I knew, that in the meantime, I was going to have to do one simple thing: stop making myself throw up.

I realize this sounds either a) obvious or b) easy to those of you who’ve never dabbled in an addictive, destructive behavior. For the rest of us, it’s a big nightmare. It becomes so hard to let go of those old, familiar habits, no matter how harmful they are. The devil you know, etc., etc.

It did occur to me that if this blog has given me anything – and I actually think it’s given me lots – it’s the basic stepping stones of how to effect just about any change. Even scary, difficult change. All I have to do is aim for seven days in a row. That’s it: not throw up for seven days in a row.

And that’s exactly what I did. I won’t pretend the first couple of days weren’t difficult, but mostly it was because I had to live with the consequences of what I put in my body. You eat that burger and fries with the ice cream chaser, you keep that burger and fries with the ice cream chaser. Even if you’re mad at yourself. Even if your stomach hurts.

After a day or so of painful white-knuckling and sheer will, I found I no longer wanted to accept the consequences of eating that crap. I couldn’t ignore the fact that my body doesn’t feel good when I eat that way. I gave myself a rather grown-up talking to, about choosing food that I won’t struggle to keep, food that has food it in it, things that will fuel me.

It took a couple more days to get back on the horse with positive eating, for the resentment to eek away. (If that’s not proof of how sick I am about food stuff, what is? I resent eating in a way that is not self-destructive. At least, initially.)

Then, before you know it, a week had passed. I’d been in to see my therapist. I had a plan in place. I was practicing mindfulness where food is concerned and, suddenly, the idea of throwing up was as absurd as it had been sane just a handful of days ago.

I don’t know how that all works. There are too many moving parts for me to stop and analyze them, especially when I’m, if you’ll pardon the expression, dancing as fast as I can just to keep my head out of the toilet.

So I guess that means I did it. Success! Which feels good, although it’s dampened by, as I said, the fear of talking about this publicly, of showing you yet another skeleton in my already-cramped closet. But what else can I do? This is, after all, the change I made this week. The only change I made this past week. Seven days without throwing up. Now I’m working on the next seven.