There was a time when I couldn’t understand addicts, when I couldn’t understand why they’d dry a dangerous substance (like heroin) and keep at it, knowing how deadly the drugs they were trying are. How could they not? Anti-drug campaigns are everywhere, touting the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse. Yet, they keep using. Soon they’re spiraling out of control into addiction where a withdrawal can mean certain death. It’s almost like when they’re in the throes of their addictions, they no longer care if they live or die.
I got to a point where I didn’t care if I lived or died.
I was told that what starts out as a lazy ride down a river eventually turns into a tumultuous journey over a waterfall. You didn’t get in that canoe knowing the waters would turn rough. You didn’t get in it knowing you’d be dragged down by a waterfall. You simply thought it’d be a nice ride with a safe end in sight.
That isn’t how any addiction works. No one sets out to be an addict. I set out to get so skinny that I felt like I’d be able to disappear, but I didn’t set out to become an anorexic, no matter how cognizant I was of what I was doing to my body. By the time I realized how sick I was, it was no longer simple to just eat, no matter how desperately I wanted to. Just eating turned into binging. Binging turned into purging. And purging turned into more starving. Then purging eventually turned into laxative abuse. Then more hunger. Then severe dehydration.
Even though I felt starved, I only saw myself as starved when I looked in the mirror. I knew what I looked like. I didn’t struggle with body dysmorphia.
You could say my eating disorder was a side-effect of the PTSD I was struggling with because my former boss’s boyfriend decided to sexually assault me one day at work. Back then I thought I should have seen it coming since there were prior events of sexual harassment that led up to the assault. But, in truth, no one can see anything coming. For that reason, I wanted to make myself so unattractive that guys would stop harassing me. I’m better at handling harassment now, though I still can’t go a single work shift without getting hit on.
Or you could say my eating disorder was a side effect of the snowball effect my life was currently undergoing when I decided dropping a few pounds was a better escape than, say, dancing or writing or any of the other coping methods I should have been using.
It doesn’t really matter. All that matters is that one day I was in the doctor’s office and I lost weight, though I didn’t know how much, because I was having issues with heartburn and so didn’t want to eat that much, and because I decided to go home and weigh myself and found out I weighed 112, I thought that controlling my weight would be the best possible solution to my snowball life, and I thought to myself, ‘I want to weigh 100 lbs…and then I’ll stop.’
It didn’t stop there, though. The lowest I got was 91 lbs…and that’s when I started binging because I was so painfully hungry all the time. I recall that one song, I can’t remember the artist, who mentioned she went home and binged on a box of Twinkies. I internally laughed. A binge for an eating-disordered individual is a box of Twinkies times ten. I ate so much to the point where I had to throw up to get rid of the pain from being so stuffed. I didn’t exactly feel bad after a binge, but I was determined to eat so little the next day. My goal was generally to keep below 500 calories, but it was more like 800, which is still abysmally, disgustingly low, considering 800 calories doesn’t even include what I burned off.
I purged with exercise. I’d run in place in my room at night in an attempt to burn even 100 calories. The less you weigh, the lower your metabolism because a larger body needs more energy to keep it functioning.
I joined an eating disorder forum, which was largely about support and help, but I was also looking for enablers. Before I even joined I read a thread where a member posted that you think you have a goal weight, but it’s not going to be enough. You’re going to want to keep going lower and lower. I scoffed. 100 lbs. was my goal. Oh, how right she was. I hit 100 lbs. My goal weight was then 95, and then I’d maintain. I hit that. Suddenly my goal was 85 lbs. Then maintain. That’s when I realized how enormous my problem was. That’s when I realized I really was in full-blown eating disorder territory.
Every day since then, I screamed at myself to just eat. Just eat normally again. Or at least maintain the weight you’re at. Even though it seems so easy, it’s not at all. Eating disorders, like drugs, are addictive. There’s a certain high you feel when you look at the scale and find you’ve been successful at dropping even .5 lbs. It’s an indescribable high, one you’ll only understand if you’ve ever had an eating disorder.
If it were just that easy to eat, no one would ever develop an eating disorder.
Your mind fights with you 24/7. It’s a nightmare. You think about food all the time. Calories. Planning what foods you’re going to eat for the entire day. How much you’re going to have to exercise to burn off ‘x’ amount of calories. How you’re going to get away with not eating a meal you know is going to be high in calories. How you’re hungry all. the. damn. time. Sometimes you’re abysmally tired, though I only felt this when I was lacking in B12–because of the anorexia. It was like the part of my brain that should have told me I was tired was shut off. I was still able to do ballet as well as I was able to do it before anorexia. In fact, my stamina got better because I started jogging to burn off calories. It only hit me when I began the re-feeding process forced upon me by a four-day hospital stay. One day for every month I was trapped in that nightmare. My brain seemed to have woken up. I nearly sprained my ankle at the barre since I lost my muscular endurance for being able to stand on half-toe for an extended amount of time.
I felt bloated all the time during the re-feeding process. I didn’t fight it when I was hospitalized. Thank God I was hospitalized. I was severely dehydrated on the day I was admitted. If two friends of mine hadn’t finally intervened and told my parents what was going on, I probably would have fainted from dehydration…or worse. No amount of drinking water was going to replenish my hydration levels since I lost so many electrolytes through laxative abuse.
It’s like I needed permission to eat again. I didn’t fight the re-feeding process. I only fought when my parents wanted to limit how much I ate due to a fear of me binging.
Recovery was easy for me. I was happily not in the throes of my eating disorder for long, even though I lost weight so fast. Unfortunately, recovery isn’t easy for a lot of those with eating disorders. I was lucky. The way I acted during recovery you would have thought I never had an eating disorder to begin with. Just this illusion that I lost all of that weight because of a B12 deficiency.
Other than recovery, there is only one outcome for an individual with an eating disorder.
It’s not pretty.
Some novels about eating disorders will use flowery language to describe the hell of an eating disorder. Believe me when I tell you there is nothing flowery or poetic about having one.