And I’m sitting on the Renfrew community couch writing a letter when Lilly comes in and lays down beside me.
“I’m bored,” she mumbles – her limp hair falling in her face.
“Got a book?” I ask, barely looking over.
“Read them all.”
“Wanna play Bananagrams?”
“God no,” she makes a face. “But I do wanna get drunk.”
“Like stupid drunk,” she says. “Like blow some shit up drunk.”
I put down the letter. “Okay, well that escalated,” I pause. “But yes, I’d love a Pinot Noir.”
She scoffs. “You and your rich girl sorority shit.” She sticks out her pinky and pretends to hold a champagne flute. “Oh yes sir,” she mimics. “I’ll have a touch of the Rosé if you could ever be so kind.”
I smile. “It’s not really like that, you know. I drink the same way you do, Lil.”
“Out of a bag?”
I snort. “Not anymore. But it’s happened.”
I think back to college frat parties, slapping Franzia bags.
“It’s all the same,” I say. “Everyone just trying to reach some place they can forget.”
She waves her hand at this. “You just don’t really strike me as the type to get all that drunk.”
“You’d be surprised,” I admit. “Got myself a DWI a few years ago. Bet ya didn’t know that?”
Her eyebrows raise. “That’s actually pretty shocking, yeah.”
“Was for my parents too.”
“So you’re a drunk then?”
“No,” I pause. “Not conventionally anyway.”
“Ah – more like a desperate housewife?”
“Something like that.”
“One too many glasses of wine a night?”
“A medicinal drunk, I’d call it. I don’t really need it; just prefer it.”
“A medicinal drunk. Nice,” she grins lazily. “I’ll use that in our next AA.”
“Go for it,” I say. “I’m taking a break from it once I’m out anyway.”
“From AA,” she asks. “Or alcohol?”
“Both, I think,” I say as I scratch my head, readily confirming my suspicions that this couch has lice.
“I need to anyway,” I continue – trying to forget about the lice. “I often drink to not eat so it’s not really something I should keep doing.”
She rolls her eyes. “Yeah – alright then,” she says- plopping her hairy legs in my lap.
I look down. “Have they literally not let you shave since you got here?”
“Three months,” she says. “But yeah, we’ll see about that no alcohol thing.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m just saying it’s hard,” she pauses. “I’ve been in and out of treatment more times than I can count and it’s hard to give up all your vices. You’re already dealing with your eating shit,” she says. “And you’re doing a good job with that- so just go with it.”
“And I’m not smoking,” I add smugly.
“Yeah well,” she pauses. “Don’t get pentecostal.” She lays her head back on a pillow- her tangled headphones on her chest. “I just think it’s harder than you know, to be back in the world and sober.” She nestles one of the earbuds in her ear. “Even if you are some yuppy bitch from Texas, you’ll want to go out with your friends.”
I smile. “Thanks for the advice.”
But she’s already lost in her world of Wu Tang Clan.
Leaning my head against the wall that day, I wonder if she’s right.
I’ve been a drunkorexic for as long as I can remember, and owning up to it makes me cringe. If you haven’t heard of it, don’t be surprised. Not yet classified as an eating disorder, researchers are finally noting this ED trend that combines the worst of drinking and dieting.
The colloquialism for skipping meals or exercising heavily to “save” or burn calories, making room for drinking at night. (Basically every college girl you know.)
I ask myself this often: Just WHY aren’t we talking about this more?
And here’s the answer:
Because it’s culturally accepted, that’s why- and because ‘drunkorexia’ sounds like a term some sorority girl came up with to ”tee-hee” with her ”p-sisters” over.
It’s an epidemic that’s ignored because it’s an offspring of the far more concerning prevalence of binge-drinking culture, and as I’m about to admit (begrudgingly), I still have a tendency to hide behind said culture as I realized this weekend running back from brunch.
Ah brunch, the staple of a weekend- gathering with your friends at around 2-3pm at a restaurant offering half-priced alcohol with a meal.
My participation in this culture drives my therapist up the wall.
‘How’d you eat this weekend?’ she asks- to which I always perk up and say ‘Oh, fine!’
‘Did you eat three meals both days?’
Ummm, no. (Again, one octave higher) I brunched on Saturday so you know how that goes. (justifying, justifying, justifying)
Therapist (unamused): So, you ate one meal, and then got drunk?
….Cue the daily Monday night therapy squabble. And this is where I go into my tired explanation of how it only happens ‘on weekends’ and how on Sundays I usually don’t even drink that much at brunch.
The truth though- is that while I typically don’t drink more than one drink on a Sunday, I still found myself at brunch last weekend eating only half of a sandwich- and when I thought about it on my run back- the sole reason I did that was because I had a half-drank Bloody Mary sitting precociously beside my plate.
In short, I still tend to use alcohol as a sneaky means of compensating my eating disorder. I medicate my ED anxieties with it – and I justify not eating properly because of it as well. Though I felt like I wanted to eat more of that Grilled Cheese the other day, I turned to the Bloody Mary instead- sipping it lightly in place of food.
This ‘drunkorexic’ side of me started long before I was 21. When I first began college at 18, I remember hearing about the “freshman 15,” and seeing kids older than me coming home for Christmas break after their first semester looking completely different than the scrawny person that had left 5 months prior.
It absolutely terrified me. Already in the midst of a full-blown eating disorder, drinking alcohol further fueled the anxiety of gaining weight- yet everyone around me was doing it. Hell, I was no stranger to it. I got drunk for the first time at my ex-boyfriend’s prom when I was 16. (I think I’d had like the “fruit punch” and didn’t realize Everclear was the liquor that will put you flat on your ass) I’d drank quite casually on the weekends throughout all of high school, though never on a regular, binging basis as I was suddenly realizing college was all about.
Alcohol was everywhere- and binge-drinking was the culture. Drinking for no reason was available any day of the week. Thursdays? Thirsty Thursdays at Grubs. Wednesdays? Wine Wednesdays with the roomies. And don’t even get me started on the football tailgates. The mid-week frat parties. The Saturday Keggers. Sneaking into bars underage.
I was very much part of this culture on the outside, but on the inside it gave me a daily amount of anxiety in terms of my eating disorder. While I was obsessive about getting my exercise, I’d read enough to know that an hour long elliptical session wasn’t going to compensate 400 calories of wine and sugar.
I felt torn by my love for socializing and my weight/eating disorder- so I did what so many other people in this country tend to do as well. I cut the food- because food was not as fun as wine.
Admittedly, I’ve always been a lightweight. I’ve never needed more than 2 glasses of wine in order to ”feel the effect” of my alcohol intake, which is both a blessing and a complete curse because the moment I put a glass of wine to my lips, I can nearly feel it soothing my anxieties of the day. Everything feels lighter, dulled and subdued.
And this includes my hunger cues.
You give me one glass of wine- and I feel “full.” Whether or not it’s real is up for debate, but the moment I have a glass of wine, I tend to purposely, or unpurposely, forget about eating. I can be famished walking into a meal with my friends but drinking a glass of wine before the main entree dulls my desire to eat as much as I should.
Frankly, I love the feeling of being tipsy, and this drunorexia pattern has been my way of living for as long as I can remember. I have never had a balanced relationship between alcohol and food together. If you put a drink or food in front of me, I will want the alcohol. It’s a soother for the food.
I don’t binge-drink however. Shots? Not interested. Liquor? Eh. So I can’t really relate to the girls that skip meals and then binge-drink to the point of blacking out- although I witnessed it in numerous friends in college.
I just tend to drink my 2 glasses of wine and if I start in on a third, then I’m usually borderline drunk and I’ve never enjoyed being drunk because intoxication- for me- opens up the gates to binge eating later so I avoid it like the plague now that I’m in recovery. If I am drunk, I try to wait until I’m more rational to go home and so this usually means I end up walking miles on the streets of NY sobering up with a water bottle from Duane Reede.
In fact, I recently had a date in Bryant Park- I hadn’t eaten enough and I had 3 glasses of wine so naturally, I was feeling the effect. When we left for home, this person asked if they could walk me to the subway and much to their confusion, I waved them away and said I’d walk.
TO BROOKLYN? This person said, their eyes bugging.
No, I grinned, purple-lipped as always. Don’t worry about it I’ll jump on the subway at some point.
Please just get on the subway now, they begged. You shouldn’t walk alone.
No no, I said. I do this all the time I swear. I’m fine. I’ll let you know when I’m home.
In retrospect, it probably is odd to the naked eye, but I’m still too new in recovery that I don’t always trust myself to go home drunk and alone. I find that if I walk it out for awhile, I can get a grip on myself and stop at a deli somewhere and buy a granola bar to compensate for what I replaced with wine.
Some might ask: Why do you still drink then, Linds, if it allows you this much room for manipulating?
If you’re wondering that, you have every right to- but I don’t pretend to have answers.
There are many times I avoid going out with my friends for the exact reason of recovery, but I implore you to remember that I’m also 25 years old in the most ‘alive’ city in the world and sometimes all I want in the entire world is to sit at a Sushi restaurant on a Wednesday night splitting a bottle of red wine with three of my girlfriends- giggling to ourselves about how HBO ”Girls”our lives can be.
There are many nights that I’m quite fine to do this too. There are nights that I know I need to eat regardless of what the wine dulls in my stomach, and I eat anyway. There are times I eat too much pasta and push away the wine because I’m too full to finish it- and during the weekdays I almost always regularly eat 3 meals a day because I eat both breakfast and lunch with the same person and it keeps me accountable.
So why’s this really such an “issue” in our society?
Need I even point out the obvious? The alcohol industry has increasingly targeted young people with weight-conscious marketing, tapping straight into teen and twenty-something’s body anxiety — while courting new consumers. And it’s working on a wider basis every day- encouraging the behaviors of drunkorexia.
Drinking on an empty stomach leads to more rapid absorption of alcohol, and higher levels of impairment and intoxication. So every time people purposely do it, they incur increased risks of things like sexual assault and DUIs, and, in the long run, gastritis, ulcer, and malnutrition….. etc., etc., etc.
The other reason it’s an issue is that drunkorexia tendencies lead to the same path of deception and manipulation that you find in standard eating disorders. There’s no denying that in my own experience and as I write this tonight, I’m aware that I don’t want to live my days by glasses of wine just as I don’t want to live my life calorie by calorie because I remember that I don’t find happiness or “peace” manipulating myself and those around me.
It’s exhausting to starve, and filling your body with a wasteland of alcohol non-nutrients inevitably just leaves you feeling like shit. Easier said than done though right? Obviously I still have the tendency to trick myself into thinking otherwise. That’s the hard part of recovery – you take a lazy “mental” day and it creeps back up on you the first couple years.
I go days at a time where my eating is the most normal it can be for me, and those are days that I remember a lot more about my life. Days where I eat three meals with pleasure make my life a lot more whole because it gives me the opportunity to live in the present and not be constantly focused on food. Being tipsy (or blackout) to avoid a meal isn’t any way to live- and I know that. Being drunk and making choices you’d otherwise think twice about opens up the floodgates to anxiety, depression, and isolation. It opens up the doors to larger eating disorder deceptions.
When you live your life constantly thinking about how to manipulate your weight, you start to lose control over your priorities. Throw in alcohol and WOO- those babies are thrown right out the door.
So much of a balanced life (recovery) is changing the way you think- and accepting the truths of what you do. I’m getting there, but this is just one of those truths for me:
So hey world- I am a drunkorexic, and I’m trying to learn how to be a sociable 25-year old in spite of it.
First of all, may I have a round of applause for how clever that title was? I’m never punny so I had to give myself a little shout out.
Recently, I was a bridesmaid in New Orleans:
Beautiful wedding, beautiful friendship- I knew I really wanted to “be there” for this wedding. And not just “be there” like when you show up to class/work hungover with your hair lookin’ like Lady Gaga with the beehive and the “smoky eyeliner” smudged under your eyes- I really wanted to be present and available- and frankly, as unself-involved as one can be when you’re recovering from an 8+ year eating disorder.
Truth is, I’d been agonizing over this wedding for months – the dress. While this isn’t the first nor the last wedding I’m lucky enough to be included in, this was a wedding that I knew I’d be stepping out of my comfort zone and wearing a dress that I’d never choose to wear, and that admittedly “hugs” the wrong places on me (i.e. my extremely short waist- and badonka-donk.)
I hated the way the lavender-grey dress looked on me from the moment my roommate brought it home (she, too, was in the wedding) Standing in the mirror comparing ourselves in it, I thought to myself “Well this is over. I’ll just be standing up there fretting and having minor anxiety attacks as all of Fort Worth judges me with their eyes.”
Did I know this day wasn’t about me? Sure. I am in recovery. I’m able to differentiate when things are (sigh) not all about me and my eating disorder. I am able to understand people won’t be paying attention to me on the Bride’s big day. But it doesn’t, however, keep me from having that same tick in my head that tells me ”Hey Dumbass, your fault for letting yourself go. This is the consequence for being happy… never feeling comfortable in anything you wear ever again except black, grey, and the occasional white.”
Presently, I can go weeks in my “normal” day-to-day life without fretting consistently over my body and how it looks in what it’s wearing. I don’t think about my ass anymore in my black jeans- I don’t think about my thighs as often or if my arms are splattering out against my body. In my daily life, I can get by because I know how to dress to ease the tension of my recovering eating disorder. And no, I don’t wear XXL sweaters when I should be in a Small- I wear what fits and is looser-ish. That makes me happy. I made an agreement with myself to not force my body into dresses if I don’t want to – I hate dresses frankly so I’ve given them up. And that made me happy. To assert my needs for myself and my recovery.
But situations like this are still very hard and complex for me because I must do them. Typically, my go-to move at weddings has always been to drink too much to numb out the tick in my head. I succeeded at my best friend’s wedding last June in not drinking too much but I also had a partner there with me holding my hand- and my best friend was extremely kind and considerate to me when we picked out bridesmaid dresses. Generally speaking, however, I fail at weddings with my eating disorder. I almost always drink too much – end up feeling stressed, judged, and angry – and then spend the next week either partially relapsing, relapsing once, or being pensive, irritable, and self-loathing.
Fun cycle, eh? Can’t fix everything in a year. I’ve made tremendous strides but up until now, this has not been one of them.
Moping to an ex the other day – I complained about how hard these events are for me, and how so very much I wish I could find a way to keep me distracted and out of my head.
“Make it a game,” this person suggested. “Have you thought of that?”
“Yeah- I mean maybe you should just think of it like the dress and the ED are the dragons you have to slay and then if you do it you get a reward.”
“What’s my reward?”
“I dunno, TREAT YO’SELF!”
And alas, so derived The Hunger Games: Wedding Edition. Sounds too simple, doesn’t it? To just picture a big stress-event like a game, but hear me out.
The more I thought and mulled over it – the more it began to resonate. OK, I decided. I’ll revert back to the days of Donkey Kong levels on Gameboy… and if I win, I’ll reward myself. And not just reward myself with a Facebook status- but actually reward myself like a mother does with their child when he’s first potty trained.
Here’s what I came up with:
Me- clearly being the “Princess Peach” of the whole game would have to take on three ED dragons in order to ‘win’ the wedding games.
Dragon 1 – Eating
Dragon 2 – Self-Preoccupation
Dragon 3 – Alcohol
What did it take for me in order to ‘slay’ the ED dragons?
Dragon 1 – In order to beat this dragon, I had to force myself to eat both breakfast and lunch before the wedding. And also, all three the day before as well. No starving, no restricting, no trying to ‘slender’ down 24 hours before the event. I had to eat like everyone around me was doing…. even if it was only winning by a mini amount. (hey, no one said anything about blowing it out of the ballpark)
Dragon 2 – In order to beat this one, I could only have 2-3 “moments” (because they are inevitable) where I stared at myself in front of a mirror and thought of how different I wish I looked, how everyone is probably secretly glad I look bigger, how short my waist is, how long ago my attractiveness faded. I could have those ”moments” but only 2-3 of them where I actually sat and stared for 3-5 minutes. After that, I’d have to force myself to look away and refocus on the task at hand – getting my friend married.
Dragon 3 – Oh alcohol, my favorite enemy. In order to beat this final dragon, I could only ”cheers” with one glass of champagne in the bridal room beforehand, and I couldn’t have more than 2 drinks at the reception. Does that sound like too many? Well, this is “beginner level” so gimme a break. Usually at weddings I have about 6-7 glasses of wine and am hammered walking out. 2-3 over 5 hours keeps me from losing myself in the drunk realm of my ED. 2-3 over 5 hours keeps me from binging later. 2-3 keeps me from doing weird things like keeping my winter coat on all night, or talking a mile a minute while my head is off in ED Never-Neverland. 2-3 keeps me from waking up already feeling like I’ve relapsed.
In return for dominating all three dragons, I’m doing something I hardly have the money (or time) to do, and that is to treat myself.
Congratulate myself for trying to fix the problem.
Reward myself for being human and getting through another multi-faceted part of recovery.
For me, a reward comes in doing something I’d never do on my own normal time.
So, drumroll please, I’m gonna go to a fancy-schmancy dinner on a Tuesday, and then go see a play.
Haven’t decided which Tuesday yet- or which play- but that’s what I’m doing. A restaurant with a view overlooking Manhattan, music playing, a friend for company, and play with a plot I like.
So often, I spend my life in NYC being poor and merely walking through Times Square- and frankly, every now and then I’d love to have a taste of the Broadway life. The tourist life of Times Square. I get to see it occasionally with my family, but this one’s for me.
I’m going to bring a friend- and I’m going to go to have me some nice fish.
And go see a play that I want to see.
Alladin? Rock of Ages? Phantom? I don’t know yet, but the anticipation is mounting.
Truth is, I “won” this weekend because the excitement of allowing myself to do something “New Yorky” propelled me to keep in line. The excitement of writing this post kept me in line. The excitement of realizing that maybe I’d found an actual way to get through one avenue of the hardships that I endure trying to recover from this blasted ED.
It’s all felt very good – very confident.
No, I didn’t love how I looked this weekend. That has not changed. But I found a way to live in spite of it- even if I am reverting back to a baby being potty-trained.
Maybe that’s all I really am right now with my ED truthfully- a baby being potty-trained.
I forget to be gentle on myself sometimes. I expect perfection. But, tonight, I’m proud of this “game” and I’m proud that I have the memories of her wedding stored safely in a vault in my brain and not mixed in with an eating disorder that has taken so many life memories away from me and replaced them with mush.
Recovery is hard. Finding “tips” that work is harder. And they won’t always work when you want them to- but sometimes they do.
And this one worked for me. So maybe it can work for you at some point.