I’ve been trying to write this post for months but the truth is I detest writing about binge eating.
Anorexia? Bulimia? Drunkorexia? Sure thing. I’ll write about that till the cows come home ’cause a year and a half into recovery doesn’t change the surge of pride I still feel when I write about the lost days of thin.
Perhaps I’ll always have a twisted sense of validation when I write about the ”success” of anorexia. It’s like the boys baseball coach who’s still talking about his “1976 glory days” even though they’re long gone.
I worked hard at being thin; I spent hours feeling the bones in my shoulder as some sort of ritualistic celebration- so subconsciously I still have a tendency to talk about it with the same kind of nostalgia that Hemingway wrote about the Parisian Jazz Era.
As shameful as it “should be” to admit that I stuck my fingers down my throat, it’s actually far more vulnerable to publicly acknowledge the aspects of my eating disorder where I felt the opposite. Sure, I’ve made quips here and there. I’ve joked about binge-eating gallons of ice cream, but I’ve never talked about it in a way that mirrors honesty because it’s embarrassing to me.
And frankly, binge eating is not attractive… so we rarely talk about it. Face it: our culture LOVES looking at anorexics like they’re Madame Medusas with snakes for limbs.
Yes, while of course we sit there and cluck about how thin and sad this said anorexic is, I’m willing to bet that 10 times to 1 people will take a double, triple, and quadruple look towards an emaciated thin person rather than a morbidly obese one.
We romanticize anorexia in this culture because starving seems like a more respectable act of ”will power” than overeating. No, we don’t technically condone either- but we do marvel it.
Truthfully, as I delve into this subject, I don’t remember the first time I binged. I can remember the first time I restricted food, the first time I threw up, and the first time I ran 13.6 miles- But, I don’t remember the first time I ate to excess.
I only remember it started once all the other eating disorders were in full swing- and it was in the form of cereal and granola.
Special K and Honey Nut Cheerios.
There’s a vague memory of sneaking cereal into bed with me in high school, but these are spotty memories, and I don’t truthfully remember binging until after my best friend died in 2007.
The rug had been pulled out from under me – and that loneliness- the grief that comes with sudden, vulnerable tragedy sent me spiraling.
At 26, I’m still coming to terms with the fact that I have a very innate ability to turn pain inward. You wanna hurt me? Throw daggers at my face? That’s fine. I won’t attack you. I’ll swallow it- and stew.
I have a “fight or flight” response that shuts down when I’m in painful situations.
The morning my best friend passed, I picked up the phone to 76 missed phone calls and a screaming voice on the other end. My memories are blurry from that moment on, but what I did feel was the shift from safe to primal – and primal, to me, was shutting down.
I felt empty for two years after that tragedy. At first I’d talk about my best friend. I’d obsess. Once, I followed a kid with blonde hair to his class because he looked like him, but nothing felt whole. Not friends or family- not the alcohol or the frat parties. In fact, I felt lonelier around people then away from them so I ran and I worked out and I sat in the gym with my headphones deep in my ears and I read every book I could get my hands on.
Being in the gym for 3 hours meant I didn’t have to answer the phone. I could run and cry and feel tears pour out of my eyes and avoid the loneliness of laying in bed eyes wide open, the binge “tick” revving its engine- and that same tick is still with me today-
As I imagine it always will be.
When explaining a binge, I always say it feels like waking up with swollen lymph nodes- you know that feeling right before you get strep throat or the flu? That’s it. You’re achy- feeling around on your nodes- but you can’t exactly place it. It sits there in the pit of your stomach.
The last time I binged was because my feelings were hurt by someone I was dating but I didn’t tell them. I could feel it flare, but ignored it. Just keep sipping the wine; “It’ll go away,” I thought.
Why do you do that, my therapist asks me repeatedly. Why do you feel like your feelings aren’t valid. That you’re not allowed to be hurt?
It’s vulnerable, I tell her. I fear the rejection of my feelings more than actually expressing them.
In this stage of a binge cycle, you’re in the “it could go either way” phase like a second Tinder date.
You have a choice to either deal with what’s bothering you, or not, and when I choose not to is when it segues.
I sat across from my date- I stared at their face- felt their hands on mine- and looked them in the eyes- daggers darting at my heart-
My defense mechanism. The perfect storm of a binge.
When I turn my emotions inward- letting my current anxiety gurgle on itself- something shifts. I want to stuff it. Fill it. There’s an emptiness when you shield your emotions. It’s lonely.
I tick; go into overdrive. My responses become automated to the situation around me.
I can be talking to you- smiling even- but inside have a hammer to my head, panicking.
Absolute panic. Deafening panic.
Panic that I’m getting to that point, panic that I don’t trust myself enough to stop it. Panic that people will notice.
Panic that I’m losing control.
The truth is- You’re already out of control when you don’t trust yourself.
It becomes an out of body experience from there.
What food you want.
Where is it. Where will you go.
I’ve committed, you think, I’ve committed to this. It’ll never change- you will NEVER change. You will always be this.
You’re getting high off the anxiety-
You’re hurt, and you’re floating- you know reality is becoming a pin point.
I could stop, you think as you open up a wrapper, but you don’t believe yourself.
Your heart starts racing- bumping inside you.
You wonder when you’ll stop. How you’ll stop. Will you be able to get it out easily.
Sometimes it’s hard- your fingers don’t work- your food doesn’t want to come back up.
You wonder what is around you. Where you can go. You shift through a pantry, you don’t care whose.
You’ll go to the grocery store, you’ll look in the freezer.
You prefer certain foods. The ones easy to throw up after.
Sugar free cookies.
Doritos- not so much. They’re hard to get up. You passed out once- hit your head on the toilet.
The worst binge I ever had was while I lived in Spain. I was homesick and I wouldn’t deal with it.
Here I was in some beautiful country and I was so angry at myself that I missed my home.
I was lonely and I was hungry.
I had run 10 miles earlier that day. My host family was out of town. I was completely alone on a Friday night. My friends were taking it easy-
No one was on Skype.
It was one of the worst experiences I’ve ever had with food. To this day, I remember the loss of consciousness and I think sometimes, certain events carry with you forever.
They redefine what you’re capable of as a human.
I ate more than I thought was feasibly capable. I sat cross-legged on the floor with food laid out around me. Donuts, Gallettas (Spanish cookies), box of cereal, white chocolate bar, ham and cheese by the bulk, crackers.
I had no intention of eating all of it- you never do- but I was lonely and frantic to get rid of the loneliness.
Binging is frantic. You start with a bite and it’s like taking the plunge and jumping off the high dive.
My fingers move faster than my brain can keep up.
While you technically are aware that you’re binging, you begin to shut down all train of thought leading you from it.
You’ve given up. You’re resigned. You don’t trust or respect yourself enough to leave it.
You are your own abuser.
Every time I’ve binged there comes a point that I think to myself ”If you stop now maybe you’ll save yourself from it”- but rarely do I.
It happens so fast you can’t even believe it was you inside your body. You’re barely human. You don’t look at the mirror.
If someone were to walk in on me binging- I’d rip their head off. I’m fierce.
You don’t feel yourself getting full, you blaze past it. There is complete disconnect between body and mind.
By the end you don’t even know what you’re eating only that your mouth is hurting; your teeth are chomping.
You’re forgetting what hurt in the first place. It’s becoming a dot on the spectrum.
You’re focused, determined, angry, and mostly vulnerable.
And vulnerability is mankind’s most acute sense.
When a human feels vulnerability, they can feel nothing else but that.
You don’t think about anything when you binge. You don’t pick up the phone.
The TV in the background mutes itself.
You’re on the ground- food on your fingers.
You don’t know what you’re putting in your mouth- you just do.
Donuts with cheese- crackers with white chocolate. Nothing tastes- it melds into your mouth like chalk but you don’t notice.
You’re thirsty but too frantic to stop.
Tears pour down your cheek; you wipe them off.
When you’re done, you look in the mirror and you have food in your hair.
You eat it.
You feel a lurch in your stomach; stare at your face in the mirror
And then you’re done-
You come back to earth as though you never left.
You spend the next hour of your life making it come back up. Slowly, methodically-
It’s painful- blood on your fingers- you’re tired.
People say anorexia is tiring. You’re not fueling yourself and your energy wavers.
But binging is entirely exhausting in a way that knocks you flat on your back.
Your body feels like you just walked out from a boxing match. You can’t swallow right for days.
You’ve made yourself sick.
You are sick.
And you feel so very, very alone.
It’s been a year and a half since I last felt that completely out of control, but the memories of it are with me always.
You don’t forget what it’s like to feel that completely helpless.
Humans are wired to protect themselves, so we shield ourselves to things that rip us apart.
But what do you do when it’s you that has ripped you apart?
Truth is, I can forget what it feels like to be consistently hungry.
I forget what the calories are in a Coke can-
I even forget how many grams of sugar is in a KIND bar.
But the pain of binge eating is always a consistent reminder of what I was capable of all those years; what we’re all capable of doing to ourselves at the end of the day.
And I’m thankful every day that I was afforded the help so many are unable to obtain.
Go easy on people; be watchful. Obesity is not a lazy person’s excuse just as Anorexia is not a pretty girl disease.
And both are equally devastating.