Here’s the truth about eating disorders: we are often uneducated as to their risks.
Sure, we “know” they are detrimental, but when I struggled for 8 years I had no real awareness as to what type of bodily harm I inflected on my organs.
I noticed the physical effects: thinning hair, sallow eyes, and stress fractures from running. I observed the light-headedness and fainting spells, but I never took time to explore what that meant internally, especially for my heart.
Now in recovery from my eating disorder, I spent time speaking with cardiologists and medical professionals around the country to learn more about the harmful effects that eating disorders can have on your organs – specifically, your heart.
This post is a struggle, but it needs to be written.
If my message doesn’t carry its usual snarky platitudes – please understand that I’m grappling with this past week and I’m generally a bit more ha-he-ho about these eating disorder subjects (‘Cause, really, who wants to read the woe?)
However, this message is important.
Should I write it? I asked my partner today on a hike.
(Side note: it’s 66 degrees in Boulder at the moment. Double-edge sword of being like WOO WE GET TO HIKE… and also, OH GOD. GLOBAL WARMING IS GOING TO END THE PLANET.)
Anyway, we were chatting about the events of the past week. It’s embarrassing, I said. I never thought this would catch up to me.
Write it, he said. So you can be an example. People are short-sided. Maybe they need a reminder that the effects of eating disorders are long-term.
… So, here I am. And here I am to remind:
A couple weeks ago, I went to the dentist. Falling in line with the rest of the nation, I have avoided that chair for a year.
Was it an oversight? Yes. Was it intentional? Of course.
I’ve felt pain in my gums and molars for the past year and been filled with an ever-present growing dread.
It’s Gingivitis, my New York dentist said – with little concern. You need to floss more.
But my molars, I said.
He waved it off. You’re fine. The x-rays show nothing.
Accepting his nonchalance eagerly (purposely), I skipped outta that office and moved to Denver – where I’ve been for a year and some – with an increasing pain in my gums and back right molar.
Go to the dentist, my partner said for months.
I will, I’d say curtly – with that whispering fear in my brain.
Why so nervous? Some might ask. You’re healthy, you’re recovering.
I am. I am both of those things.
But, you don’t forget the cigarettes you’ve smoked in your life.
The ones you still sneak on a bad day.
You don’t forget the years you threw up – bile clinging to the back of your teeth – and the lack of concern you paid to your mouth.
The pain worsened over the past couple months; gnawed at me like a consistent reminder of my past.
Brushing my teeth became excruciating before I finally relented.
I booked a bloody appointment.
Sitting in the chair, I introduced myself to the dentist.
Nice to meet you, I said. I know something’s wrong and I’m not sure what it is but my back molar is pretty painful.
He nodded. We’ll take some x-rays.
Let’s do it, I said. Let’s face the damn music.
20 minutes later, he came back with a fresh-faced, nervous-looking assistant.
My throat tightened.
You want the good news or the bad?
Bad, I said. I’m not much for glazing.
He nodded. There’s been trauma to your teeth.
I sighed. Yeah, I was bulimic for years.
He nodded – probably more than a little surprised I admitted it – but kept his composure.
Did you smoke? He asked.
Yes, I said. Still do on the occasion.
He nodded again, as though he already knew the answer and was relieved to hear me confirm it.
Okay, he said. I’m going to be honest: Your back right molar is extensively damaged. He brought up my x-ray. Did you know you had Gingivitis?
Yeah, I said. The whole bleeding gum thing kinda gave it away.
It’s turned into periodontal disease, he paused. Now, this is common. A lot of people have it and don’t ever know. But, yours has progressed fairly severely from what we can tell.
I picked at the skin around my cuticles.
You’ve lost somewhere around 6 millimeters of bone on your back molar, he said – pointing at my x-ray. And you have a cavity that has wrapped around your gum lines near the molar.
What next then? I asked – cutting off all emotion. And why the fuck didn’t someone else notice this when I was bulimic?
He shook his head. It can take years to form into this. You could be perfectly healthy now and just starting to experience the after effects.
Fantastic, I muttered.
He stared at me.
Why are doctors such duds?
I’m sorry, he said, earnestly.
I shrugged. Saw this coming.
I didn’t… but Dr. Sociopath didn’t need to know.
Here’s what we can do, he said – in his flat manner. We’ll have you come back next week, figure out just how severe this cavity is – and we’ll try to fill it before anything else.
What are the chances of that working?
He shrugged. Can’t tell you until we’re in there.
I left that day; made an appointment.
I also booked a second opinion.
I so badly wanted this dentist to be wrong that I was willing to spend $100 bucks on a second glance.
The optimistic side of me thought “It’ll be fine. They’ll fill it.”
The pessimistic side of thought “You’re screwed.”
Turns out, neither were particularly correct.
(I say this while popping another painkiller in a bookstore.)
The second opinion confirmed the first.
I dragged back in on Thursday to the original doctor and sat in the chair.
For 2 1/2 hours, the dentist and assistant hygienist worked to save my tooth. Doped up on Novocain didn’t stop the pain of them poking and prodding into my gums (hence, the painkiller).
For 2 1/2 hours, I thought about my eating disorder. I thought about the purges, the binges – imagining my teeth in the process.
As they struggled to get a filling, I sat in the chair and I thought to myself: “If only I knew then what I know now.”
At the end of the day, here’s the deal:
I was anorexic and bulimic for years – I smoked anywhere from 10-12 cigarettes a week – and I’m 3 years into recovery.
I was never an “every meal” purger. More a 4-5x/week purger and I truly believed I wouldn’t suffer consequences cause hell “I wasn’t as bad as that person or horror story.”
When they got into my mouth, they confirmed that my tooth was decaying from the inside out.
Not yet at the nerve, I won’t have to have a root canal. (wahoo, good news, I gargled to them.)
However, bulimia took a toll.
My molars have lost bone, my gums have fairly severe periodontal disease, and my gums have receded.
They cannot save my back right molar.
They removed the cavity from my gum line but my tooth is 2/3 filling, which can only last temporarily – a year or two.
At the end of the day, I have two choices:
Have the tooth extracted and chew on other molars, or have gum surgery and a crown.
They tested my other teeth: with the exception of a couple, most are strong. They will be fine if I get this shit under control.
Inevitably, I will spend $1000s of dollars on my teeth throughout the years – and that’s a financial burden I’m just beginning to sort through.
Now for some real talk: Is this the end of the world? No.
I’ll live, and I’ll get my mouth under control.
A kick in the ass, my partner said. We’ll get better about flossing and brushing.
But, I can’t help but sit here right now writing this – and shake my head.
How short-sided of me to think for all those years that there wouldn’t be repercussions.
How silly of me to think I could throw up meal after meal, run mile after mile, smoke cigarette after cigarette to keep hunger muted –
And not wind up dealing with the consequences.
I used to go to the dentist when I was bulimic and wait for the ax to fall.
Certainly, this will be the time they tell me my teeth are screwed.
When I started recovery, I thought to myself “A-ha. I got outta ‘dat scot-free.”
But, I suppose I’m here to remind you that every decision has a consequence – some for the better, some for the worse.
And you can’t quit an eating disorder expecting zero repercussions.
You don’t just get to be like “BUT WAIT, HEY NOT FAIR. I WAS SICK AND IT’S NOT MY FAULT AND I DIDN’T WANNA MESS WITH MY TEETH.”
If only we could bargain with our bodies.
The guilty side of me is resentful of my choices –
I’m down, admittedly. I’m angry at the things I did and the lack of care I inflicted on myself.
I’m angry at 18-year old me – hunched over the toilet, ice cream splashing back up into my face as it hit the surface.
I never thought at the time that I’d age. That life would carry on at a regular weight – and I’d be working hard every day to advocate for recovery.
Hindsight truly is 20/20.
Look, I know I’ll forgive myself. Just give me a couple days. There’s worse shit in life and my life is good.
I can be mad and feel guilty, but truthfully – what’s the point?
I’m not gonna go relapse over it. I mean hell, I don’t want dentures. (lol)
I’m not gonna go run 10 miles and pray that exercise makes up for it.
I’m not gonna go punish myself.
I’m just going to be and spread my message as I can.
Be a walking example of the good and the bloody bad.
There’s nothing you can do about the mistakes you made. They are yours to deal with and manage (sometimes in the future).
I’m not going to stop living over its effects. Hell, been there done that.
But, I will change my habits.
That “secret” stash of cigs. It’s over. I have lived in a world where consequences don’t apply to me and I’m 27-years old and 1-2 cigs a week or even a month isn’t cutting it anymore.
Tonight, I’m going to wrap up this blog – publish it – prep for a podcast interview on ‘drunkorexia’ and have a beer with my partner when he’s done studying (and yes, have food as well).
We’re going to sit outside and talk about this or that. And then we’ll drive to Denver, feed my dog, cook some pasta, and burrow down in the living room in sweatpants to watch a movie.
Life keeps going. You keep moving.
I’ve got solid relationships, a healthy lifestyle, shelter and motivation.
I’m not ever going back to who I was – but the traces of her linger always.
And perhaps, at the end of the day, I need those traces to remember how far I’ve come.
… We’ve all been there – or will be there – and once you do, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
It’s the weekend of your best friend’s wedding and you’re a bridesmaid.
You’re back at your parents house; surrounded by crinkled pictures, dolls in plastic bins, old love notes from high school boyfriends that you refuse to throw out (even if they’re all married with a kid on the way; nostalgia is a real disease), and a high school Geography and Algebra book you never returned.
You’ve just showered: the fumes of yesterday’s spray tan wafting through your nose. Your hair is up in some makeshift form, water running down your back, and a towel wrapped loosely around your chest.
You’re hunched over childhood chest of drawers.
Where the hell is it? You’re wondering, tossing aside a neon yellow tank top you bought in Costa Rica on your Senior trip.
You push around an oversized college t-shirt, a ragged spaghetti top, and some winter Long-Johns your mom bought one Christmas that you never wore them. (They’re polka dot for Christ’s sake).
You sigh. WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME I WORE THOSE BLOODY SPANX, You’re now chastising yourself – moving on from the Long-Johns.