Part 3: Bulimia
This is probably the most graphic/disturbing and triggering post in this four-part series. Please read with caution.
All said and done, my dive into anorexia and the “recovery” process of that lasted a relatively short time, maybe a year or just over that. By the end of ninth grade I had come back to a healthier weight, was eating food, and was out of therapy.
To this day I am not sure if anyone around me realizes how long the next battle lasted. After I got out of my rehab program for anorexia, I did alright and genuinely wanted to be healthy– for several months I was truly trying. But the reality was that I had faked my way through much of the program just to be done with it. Just like you can’t force someone into drug rehab, you cant make an eating disordered person change or get better until they are ready to. Until they hit rock bottom. I wasn’t ready to truly be healthy; I still held on to the power and control I felt by manipulating my body.
But I had to maintain appearances. My family and close friends thought I was healthy again– I couldn’t let on that I was still very much in the grips of a mental disorder. I somehow had to hide this unhealthy behavior that I was still so dependent on.
So I became a bulimic. The silent disease.
From the outside looking in I was a healthy teenager; played sports, did well in school, ate whatever I wanted to. Ally was back! But my journals were still filled with self loathing and obsessive writing. I still mentally tallied how many calories I ate every day (no more writing it down– no paper trail). I still viewed exercise as a tool I needed to achieve a certain body type and even torture my body, rather than something that was healthy and fun. And then one day I started purging the food that I ate.
It started out just like that– I would eat fairly normally, then feel guilty about the calories I had ingested, lest they make me fat (all of my self worth was still measured in how thin I was). So after one meal every day I would go to the bathroom, run some water, and make myself vomit. Get rid of the calories. No food, no guilt.
That spiraled out of control pretty quickly. Soon I was purging after every meal. Whatever I ate, I threw it up. At school, at home, at gas stations, in the woods– wherever I could be in secret. Soon after that I began the binges. For a bulimic, consuming food physiologically induces chemical reactions in the brain that are initially enjoyable (who doesn’t like some cookies or a slice of pizza?!). But there is an indescribable rush of guilt that follows eating for a bulimic, and an uncontrollable need to purge the food from the body to get rid of that guilt. A purge, in turn, offers its own rush of chemicals to the brain. I remember distinctly feeling calm, empty, and high after a vomiting episode, to the point that my hands and knees would actually shake. Endorphins and adrenaline pump through the body, the guilt from eating is gone, and nobody knows the little secret.
And that was my life for nearly the next seven years.
From tenth grade through college I became a master liar. I was a professional at covering my tracks. That’s how bulimia works– it’s a disease of silence. It’s a secret disease. On the outside I was completely put together, top of my class, star athlete, popular, successful Ally P. But every day, sometimes up to a dozen separate episodes a day, I was secretly stuffing as much food as I could fit into my body and then hunched over a toilet to get it all out. Flush. A lot of my memories from those years are less about my day-to-day life and more visions of the different bathrooms I puked in, the disturbing measures I took to cover it up.
The one instance I remember being blatantly caught red-handed was at a family dinner at a nice restaurant. My little sister had come into the bathroom and the look of anger and sadness on her face told me she knew. She called me out and I don’t think I have ever felt so disappointed in myself.
A typical binge/purge episode usually went something like this (graphic/trigger warning):
Started out eating pretty normally. I always had high hopes for each day, that THIS would be the day I didn’t overdo it. But I was still trying to keep such tight tabs on my calories that even five or ten estimated calories over my budget would send me out of control. I’d go from having a nice lunch to having another serving of lunch, plus several desserts, a mess of snacks from somewhere else, and then wash it all down with a giant soda, so that my stomach felt full enough to explode. We’re talking about half gallons of ice cream, entire packages of cookies, boxes of cereal, whole pizzas, etc. Thousands of calories. That fullness was my worst enemy. I would then go find a secluded bathroom, lean over something, or just gut-punch myself and wriggle my fingers down my throat until it all came back out. Sometimes the back of my throat would get cut by my fingernails and the stomach acid burned so badly that I would cry and I couldn’t swallow. Afterwards I would feel light-headed and empty again, then carry about my day until I lost control and binged again. At my worst point this process happened up to twelve times a day.
Fill up, empty out. Repeat.
As you can imagine, this is not healthy for a human body. Aside from having open gashes on my knuckles from my teeth (known as Russell’s sign) and a constant sore throat, I was always dehydrated, tired, irritable, had a swollen face, electrolyte imbalance, body cramps, and overall nutrient deficiency that to this day I blame for my terrible short-term memory. I used laxatives heavily as well for a time and that totally fucked up my stomach. In addition, I still fucking hated myself. It had grown into a self-loathing so deep that I used to cut and burn my skin.
At one point, the year before I went to college, I decided I wanted to kill myself. My whole world was so dark.
Nobody knew that I was secretly suffering and hurting my body so badly– I was completely alone and felt misunderstood and absolutely hopeless.
* I recently found my suicide note among some old journals from that time. I won’t incorporate it in this post, but will dedicate a separate future writing to my thoughts on that.
One single thing stopped me from committing suicide. It was the thought of how sad my dad would be if I died. My father loves us kids more than I think anyone ever loved anything in history (I know a lot of daddies girls can relate). I remember imagining his sadness. I didn’t want to hurt him. I didn’t want to make him cry again. So I didn’t do it.
I opted instead to try and start anew in college. New city, new beginnings. I thought maybe being on my own would give me some new freedoms and my eating disorder would just fade away, like a crutch I didn’t need anymore. It didn’t happen quite like that, but the final portion of this four-part story does begin in college and you can read about it here.