Gold medals, straight A's, wedding bells...and bulimia?
I have had a weird relationship with food since I was about 12 years old when I first started running competitively. I always said that I ran because I love the feeling of hitting the trails and loosing myself in the serenity of a 12 miler in the woods, but I think that deep down I did it because I liked to burn calories. I had a lot of cross-country running success in high school and my first years of college and even managed to keep relatively normal (for me) eating habits while living in a college dorm. I attribute a lot of how well I did health-wise during my freshman and sophomore college years to my then boyfriend (now husband!) who swept me off my feet and provided me with all of the love and support a girl could hope for. The college that I attended was halfway around the world from where I grew up and where my family, with whom I have always been extremely close, still lived; if I hadn’t met my husband that year, I’m sure things would have spiraled out of control much sooner than they did.
Things got bad in my junior year. I gained a few pounds over the summer, which wouldn’t have been a big deal on it’s own. However, my cross-country coach decided to comment on my minor weight gain multiple times and made me feel pretty self-conscious about it. On top of that, my boyfriend had graduated the year before and was now living on the other side of the country. On top of that, my family did not get financial aid that year. Money issues always stressed my Dad out more than anything else in the world, and I blamed myself for being so selfish by attending an expensive school. In an attempt to save money I went off the breakfast meal plan. That was a bad idea… I would come to lunch having not eaten all day and binge. And then eventually I figured out that I could get rid of the guilt from my binge by just going to a private bathroom on campus and getting rid of all of it. I knew how bad it was, but for some reason I had this delusion that I was exempt from the negative effects of bulimia that everyone talked about.
Needless to say, my athletic performance suffered. I managed to keep my grades up, but ended up having to quit cross-country in order to do so. I just didn’t have enough time to pay attention to my academics, my athletics, and my ED. I think quitting the team was good for me, although I continued to exercise on my own. Right after graduation from college, my boyfriend proposed to me. At that time I had been bulimic for two years. After our engagement, I was so happy that I didn’t binge or purge for several months. As long as I had that ring on my finger (forever, right?), I was not going to use these hands to make myself throw up!
For some reason I started up again, but eventually I was able to use our upcoming wedding as motivation to quit bingeing and purging for what I hoped would be forever. Things seemed to be going really well. But about three months before our wedding, my life got turned completely upside down. My dad died. No warning whatsoever, no time for goodbyes, no explanation. He just died, and that was it. For the first few weeks, I didn’t eat at all. I lost a lot of weight and had to have my wedding dress taken in a full size (even though it was already a US size 2). But after that initial starvation period, I started up with the bulimia again. I just didn’t care anymore, and justified it by saying that it’s normal for someone who lost their dad at age 22 and only three months before their wedding to suffer a little bit.
What I realized at that point was that bulimia is a very numbing activity. My mourning basically got put on hold. Once I started bingeing and purging again, it was almost as though I was taking emotional painkillers. I guess I hadn’t realized that before because I had never felt anything as strong as missing my dad and facing walking myself down the aisle, and the contrast between mourning without bulimia and then mourning with bulimia was like day and night. Bulimia really did dull the pain, I think mainly because all of a sudden I was obsessing over food again and that takes a lot of time and energy away from mourning. I also feel, however, that it dulled the healing process as well as dulling the joy that was coming from other parts of my life, like getting ready to marry the man of my dreams. Despite the fact that I am devastated to be dealing with this still, I think that this last episode has finally helped me understand why I have been stuck in this seemingly endless cycle, and thus why I NEED to break out of it in order to start living again.
One other reason why that I feel the need to recover NOW is because since losing our father, I have watched my baby sister lose 40 lbs and develop anorexic tendencies. She has always been the sister to have the nonconformist “I don’t care about societal norms-I am living life MY way” attitude, and watching her fall into the clutches of an eating disorder is the last thing I would have expected to see in my life. It is also so much more horrifying to watch someone you love suffer from something that you know so well and that you would never wish on your worst enemy. I want to help her out of the cycle before it is too late, but before I can do that I need to help myself.
My husband and I have now been married for almost a half of a year. I have been off-and-on bulimic for almost four years. I am SO ready to get rid of this once and for all. I have so many things to enjoy in life (new husband, new house, dream job!), and I feel that this disease is keeping me from appreciating what I have. Today I am on a two-day clean streak, and I hope that writing this story out for the first time will make this one the REAL recovery. I love my body and I can’t believe that my body and teeth have fared as well as they have considering what I have done to them. I know my dad would want this for me, I know my husband wants it, and I know I want it.
Here’s to recovery…for real this time!
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