My Bulimic Journey and Learning to Connect With My Body
TRIGGER WARNING: the following material may be triggering for some individuals - please read with caution.
When I reflect back on my life I start to see many different story lines. I have a mental health story, an addictions story and a body image story. All of them intertwine but all of them are also very distinct.
When I think about my relationship with my body it has ebbed and flowed throughout my life between moments where I loved my body, where I hated my body and even to moments where I just didn’t think about my body.
When I was really young, only at the age of grade 3, I was told by my family doctor that my weight was in the unhealthy range and that I needed to do something about it.
I think it was probably from this time that thoughts about food, my body and who that made me, really started to play into my day to day life.
Once in grade 5 I started to run cross country in school and then it was like all of a sudden I grew into a new body. During this time I also got my period, I was growing boobs and a lot of that so called “baby weight” just started falling off.
At this time I also started having major crushes on boys and whether on a subconscious level or not I started to believe that any positive attention I was receiving was also in direct connection to the size of my body.
By grade 9 I had already had a couple of boyfriends and during this time I was what most people and myself would have referred to as “thin” and being in this body made me feel very confident.
It was also a point in time where I started hearing a lot about my body from other people. Telling me how great my body looked or how sexy my body was and I was even getting negative comments from other girls who could not understand how I had become so thin.
During this time I was running long distance a lot but it was not to mediate my shape in any way. I ran because I genuinely loved to run.
It was around about this time that I also started using a now long forgotten social media site known as Myspace. On this site I would post provocative photos of myself in the hopes of eliciting attention from boys. Looking back this is the time when I really started to base a lot of my self-worth from my appearance.
However, next came high school and this opened up a whole new life style for me. I started hanging out with a group of girls who introduced me to partying, drinking and drugs and these things became my new focus in life.
It got to the point where I would smoke weed every day with my friends and this is when the binge type behaviours really started. We would smoke a bunch of weed and then eat absolutely everything and anything that was available to us. Most people would call this the munchies but looking back it also a form of “bineging”.
After coming out of these stoned bliss states and my body totally filled with strange and sugary foods, I would feel exhausted, bloated and “gross”.
I think the first time I forced myself to throw up was after one of these munchie binges. I told my best friend about it and she also said she had done the same. This normalized my abnormal purging behavior and I felt reassured that as long as my best friend had also done it then it was just another way of coping with eating so much.
It also wasn’t uncommon for me after drinking all night that I would end up with my head in the toilet. However, during this time I was not throwing up to the extent where I would have categorized myself as bulimic or having an eating disorder.
In terms of my drinking, risky sexual behaviours, partying and drug abuse things just got worse. My academics got pushed to the side lines and I was experiencing a lot of repercussions for what I was doing. I was sexually assaulted while blacked out, had quit my job, only got 1 credit in the whole year of grade 11 and was forced into a youth mental health psychiatric facility due to a drug facilitated psychosis and I had managed to complete all this by the young age of 17.
At this time things in my life totally plummeted. I was forced on all sorts of different medications and was labelled with a life time mental health diagnosis. When I came to from my psychosis, I went into the deepest, darkest hole I have ever experienced in my life. However, what came next I could have never expected. The medications forced me to gain a lot of weight and seeing my body like this was so foreign to me.
Not only was my self-confidence and self-worth almost non-existent, I also wanted to die, saw no hope for the future and since I now saw myself as “fat” I believed no one would ever love me again and that I should stay locked up in my parents’ house indefinitely because I was just unbearable to look at.
For a long time I would just lay in bed all day solely getting up to eat food. Food was the only thing in my life that gave me a sense of solace. It was my best friend and my worst enemy at the same time. I truly felt like it was the only thing I had left in my life but it was also making me hate myself even more.
Due to this hateful image I had of my body, I one day decided my best option was to start starving myself and this is where things got a lot worse. I started doing these weird diets I read about online such as only drinking lemon water, cayenne, and honey for a week to lose weight fast. I thought if I just starved myself like this for a month then I would start looking and feeling like myself again.
Starving myself just made things so much worse and this is when the bulimia started. Because I was starving myself, I would reach a breaking point and then just start consuming everything in my path. Then after the massive consumption, I would feel absolutely disgusting and terrible and then force myself to throw up.
This cycle began a new climactic period of my life. Everything in my life, every thought in my day, constantly revolved around food, my body and my appearance.
At this time because I also wasn’t going to school, it literally preoccupied sometimes every waking minute of the day.
Pretty much every day I would start off with the intention to starve myself, then break down and eat something. After this I would then decide there is no going back so I should eat everything I possibly can and then throw it all up. Right after the purge I would then commit to starving myself and then eat something again, then decide I might as well start fresh the next day and then eat everything in my path and then I then throw it all up again. Only to do then go through this whole process again the next day.
My throat was swollen, my breath and teeth felt disgusting and I would be constantly ruminating about these behaviours. I would throw up in sinks, in toilets and in cups. The level of shame and guilt I would experience after was so excruciating. After quite some time living like this my family started realizing what I was doing and it was just like wow, another issue that this poor girl has.
I did soon after start going back to school but then I also became addicted to working out. I would burn 1,000 calories at the gym and then starve myself and then binge and then purge and then sometimes go back to the gym.
All of my life and my thoughts revolved around being skinny and losing weight. I truly believed that being thin would be the only thing to make me happy again. That being thin would be the answer to all my problems. That only once I was thin I would feel normal, happy, beautiful and loveable again.
These thoughts and this pattern of living and operating became my new normal but I became so frustrated and sick of the guilt and shame I would feel after throwing up. Each and every day I would strive to start a new and to never throw up again and yet somehow it would still happen.
My family started becoming very worried as well. I was eating every morsel of the food in the house and they knew I was also throwing it up.
I ended up telling the psychiatrist I was working with about my behavior and she referred me to Sheena’s Place where I started going to weekly group therapy to talk about my eating disorder. The group was really big and compared to some of the other girls’ stories I felt my eating disorder was nowhere near as bad as them.
There was one girl in particular who was literally on the brink of death due to her bulimia and she still couldn’t get a bed at CAMH. I remember her so well to this day. I feel like the shock of seeing her and hearing her story scared me because I saw that as a possible future for myself and I never wanted to end up where she was.
I battled with these bulimic tendencies for almost 5 years and I would constantly beat myself up anytime I would purge.
When it came to ice cream in particular that was one of those “trigger” foods for me, where it would not matter how long I had been without purging it would just want to come up like a gag reflex. Even though my thinking had changed dramatically it was like my body would remember we don’t keep food like this down.
Today almost 10 years later from when it all started I am no longer bulimic. However, I do still struggle at times with my appearance and my body. I am still pretty strict on what foods I eat and I work out frequently but I do this with the intention to feel good not to be a particular weight.
I used to be obsessed with reaching a particular number on the scale and now I don’t weigh myself. The number on the scale has nothing to do with how I actually feel. I have come to view the number as irrelevant and this has been incredibly liberating for me.
While today I do believe I have a positive relationship with food and my body, I still battle with words like recovery or recovered because I do feel like my relationship to my body and with food is going to be a lifelong process and journey.
There are days in my life where I am so grateful for my body and I love every single part of me. However, there are also some days where I would like things to look and feel different. However, being comfortable with this fluxing of my experience has been so crucial to my health and wellness.
Today, I accept where I am and what I am feeling on this particular day, always remembering that my emotions, feelings and attitudes are in constant movement. Moreover, it has been so important for me to recognize that it is impossible for me to feel perfect every day. If I said I did I would be lying and I think this goes for all of us out there.
We live in a day and age where it is near impossible to avoid social media and where we are constantly put under pressure to look a certain way. One thing that is markedly different for me today however is that I know, no matter how my body looks it will not make me inherently happy. That happiness and contentment comes from a much deeper, thoughtful and reflective place.
My relationship with my body and food is complex and this is something that I will continue to work on. I think a lot of the rhetoric around being “recovered” can be problematic because what happens if then we do slip?
When I got sober this past October 2016 I was dealing with a lot and out of this I had one instance where I ended up forcing myself to purge. I immediately told my sponsor and my psychotherapist and we decided we would keep an eye on it and I would go back to Sheena’s if need be.
I am happy to report I never did purge again but it was a good reminder for me that in tough times resorting back to an old coping mechanism that felt familiar was a pretty common response to a challenging situation. However, doing this in no way made me all of a sudden bulimic again or someone who was now no longer “a recovered bulimic”.
If I had put a lot of weight on terms such as “recovery”, I think the pressure of this would have made this slip up feel worse and in the long term it would have made it more challenging for me to just to get over it as quickly and as easily as I did.
My best advice for anyone still struggling is live in today and just do your best to love yourself and your body. Fuel yourself with things that make you feel good and recognize that this is a journey. Reach out for help and support and know that figuring it out all on your own isn’t necessarily going to be the best route to healing.
I know I “use” food when I am in a place where I don’t want to think. We all use different things as coping mechanisms but sometimes what can be most helpful is to sit in that discomfort and figure out what is going on underneath the surface.
Each and every day I try to intentionally create a healthy relationship with my body. One where my mind, body and spirit all operate as one unit. I won’t lie, some days I do still wish I could shed my body. However, I just continue to remind myself that my body is a part of me which I need to learn to work with and that I must continuously strive to give it all the love and appreciation that it deserves.
I think sometimes about what my life would be like if I never thought about my body or my appearance but I think coming into our bodies and building a relationship with our bodies is a part of the human experience.
For me today being thoughtful with food and eating has been an important addition to my journey. Moreover, working with my body and being grateful for my body has also been a wonderful additive to my self-growth and learning.
The one thing I do know for sure is that I still have a ton of learning and unlearning to do and I hope to keep this open mind state fresh with me for the rest of my life.
While my challenges with bulimia and my issues with my body are a part of my story, I in no way let it define me. I do feel very fortunate that I escaped from the vicious cycle of disordered eating and I wish the same for everyone out there still dealing with an eating disorder today.
Julie Elizabeth Guterres, writer, crisis line worker, poet, activist, podcast host, public speaker & Bachelor of Social Work graduate about to embark her Master’s in Social Work this coming Fall 2017 at Ryerson University. Follow her on Facebook @ Edie Elizabeth or check out her website to view more of her work: https://julieguterres.wixsite.com/edies-ephemeraldream