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.
Having spent the last three major holidays in Rehab-sanctioned AA meetings, (does Valentines Day actually count as a major holiday by the way? I might be exaggerating a bit for writer’s purposes) I figure why not continue the trend.
Given that this is my first holiday ”back on my own”- Which yes, I do have half my family coyly trying to make ”check in” calls to- I guess- make sure i’m not binge eating chocolate easter eggs- I’m lying here with my roommate searching for Overeaters Anonymous meetings tonight.
Do I really want to go?
In fact, as I write this I’m debating ways I can shirk around it and then still post later that I did go- to which none would be the wiser.
I’m clever, I’m lying here thinking. I can end up just not going- drink some wine with my friends on a balcony- and then praise myself in the morning for being a committed “recoverer” via a post.
Whatta load of bullshit, right?
This is what happens. You lie for so long, you just automatically have a backup tale written for you by your head.
It’s unfortunate- but it’s another side truth.
I am going to go tonight, though I suppose it’s not like anyone will know.
I’m gonna go- and sit in that room full of people that I attended once before.
Same place, same time- a few days before rehab.
I went and cried with my beanie pulled down over my face and I didn’t speak.
I wasn’t ashamed, I just didn’t feel like I belonged. Didn’t feel like I had made myself sick enough to be there-
“I’m not even skinny anymore,” I cried looking at the thinner girls in the room. “You didn’t even do it right.”
I left the meeting that night, a man finding me in the crowd.
Trim, fit, adorning a business suit- he stopped me as I walked out and stuck out his hand.
“First time?” he asked, as I pulled out my headphones.
I smiled at him in my southern way.
“Scott,” he said. “Always glad to see a new face.”
“Lindsey,” I said, wiping snot from my nose. “Thanks.”
“Keep coming,” he smiled, finding my eyes. “It’ll grow on you.”
Right, I’d thought then as I pushed open the door. Going to rehab bud, and then I won’t ever need any of this again.
Ah- to be young and silly.
Perhaps when I go tonight- I’ll talk.
And perhaps afterward, I’ll find Scott, tap him on the shoulder- and shake his hand first.
First and foremost- I want to thank everyone for the tremendous amount of beautiful feedback I’ve received in regards to my first post on this subject.
To be honest, I was so terrified posting it last night that I impulsively deleted it twice and had to have a massive pep talk in the M-train subway alley with my family and friends before releasing it back into the world’s hands.
I know this subject’s not easy to read- not easy to talk about- and maybe not always easy to digest.
But the feedback I have coming in is real- and if it’s helping someone to sit back for one moment and have that sort of mini-revelation I had sitting in a diverse group of women every day for week after week- all from different lives sharing the same issues- then I’ve done what I set out to do.
Tonight I present the 2nd of my 11 Truths entitled “No One Cares That You Puke”
“That weird nurse caught Dawn doing crunches this morning.”
Kenzie looks tired across the cafeteria table, mixing around her 27g sugar-yogurt, and sighing into her coffee.
“Again?” you say, scraping the staff-measured 1tbsp of butter from the container.
“She always does,” she moans. “I’m dead asleep and I wake up to her fucking sitting on the ground doing pushups,” she pauses to take a bite.” I’m just like bitch, go to sleep.”
Jacy grins, lifts her pin up to write her name on top of her food journal. “Yeah well last night my Roommate stared at the wall for 10 minutes before getting into bed.”
“She’s weird, dude.” Oliva says, shaking her head. A piece of pink curly hair falls in her face. “That girl’s crazy.”
“I think she’s on withdrawal meds.”
Jacy nods. “When she went to shower last night she stood in front of the mirror before and I swear she didn’t blink.”
“Creepy,” you say, cutting your banana into the 6 allotted pieces. “So creepy.”
“Yeah,” Olivia agrees. “But at least crazy bitch is gone.”
“She left?” You ask, feigning surprise.
“Yeah, she signed a 72 and was outta here this morning.”
You shake your head, attempting coyly to break the banana up into smaller pieces to stir into your oatmeal.
(Who the hell cuts bananas into only 6 pieces, seriously?)
From the corner of your eye, you see Lilly slink into the cafeteria, pushing her hair out of her face like she just stumbled from her bed (she did, and everyone knows it but says nothing– not even the counselors). Dirty skirt– the one she wears almost every day– hanging from her slender waist, and a XL Wu Tang Clan sweatshirt shifting off one of her shoulders.
“Sup assholes,” she mumbles, plopping down to her marked tray placed across from you. “Thanks for waking me up.”
“I tried,” you say, holding your nose while you take a sip of the 2% milk. “You grunted and said you’d be down in a minute.”
She sighs down at her food– starts to unwrap her bagel (It’s extra starch day on Fridays) “I missed meds,” she says.
“Just do them after.”
We have this conversation every day–you begin to notice- pushing a stealthy piece of banana into the goopy oatmeal so Counselor Jan won’t see when she walks by.
Lilly mutters something about losing her schedule, knowing she’ll find it behind the couch when we convene back in the community room for another day of group therapy.
“Dawn’s doing crunches again,” Kenzie tells her.
Lilly shrugs. “No shit. She’s been here as long as I have and she doesn’t look any different.”
“Crazy bitch left,” Olivia chimes in.
“Really?” She grins. “Good, now I don’t have to hear her puke in the bathroom after dinner.
“How did she ever get off escorts?” You wonder aloud.
“She didn’t,” Lilly says with a mouthful of bagel. “She just snuck in there between.”
“How do you throw up that quickly?” Kenzie asks. “It’s like 5 minutes before group.”
“I don’t know,” you say. “But did you see her cheeks? Homegirl’s been doing that for years.”
“Hope I’m not 30 and still puking.”
“Watch it,” you warn. “I’m going on 25.”
“Yeah,” she says. “I always forget you’re that old. You look like you’re 12.”
“A 12-year old in a beanie,” Jacy pipes up.
“And that eats herself,” Olivia grins, pointing down to the new band aid the nurses force around your finger every morning at weigh-in.
You smile now, surprised at how quickly your idiosyncrasies follow you– surprised at how casual a conversation can be over bulimia.
You look back at Lilly, catch her eye in that odd way you two share.
“You alright?” You mouth to her.
And she shrugs. “Fuck bagel day,” she mumbles.
You smile because you don’t know how you ended up knowing this person across from you.
But she’s funny, and she’s aloof– and it’s fitting to you that she resembles a cat with her subtle Asian-set eyes.
It’s fitting because you know she’s lying– and know she lies daily.
Lies about how “hard” she is, lies about how independent she is– and lies about her own little trips to the bathroom in between groups.
Yes, you know this, you think– staring at her makeup-less complexion– you know this and you love her anyway.
Because let’s face it– In rehab, you’re not special because you throw up. In fact, you’re boring. You’re actually incredibly boring, and by the time you step foot in that facility a solid half of your family and friends (the ones you’ve been halfway honest with, at least) are so tired of feeling guilty and never saying “the right thing” that they’re ushering you in there like a mouse to the cheese trap– happy to be free of the anxiety if only for a moment.
So, lemme repeat– you’re not special because you puke.
I mean, you’re special- at least they’ll tell you that. It’s like when your 2nd Grade Music teacher sat you in a circle with all the other flute-playing kids picking their noses and went around in that falsetto voice claiming how talented each of you are.
You are special. But, you’re not special because you’re sick– and that’s a harsh reality to accept.
You stumble into Rehab with this preconceived idea that you:
1.) either have a screw looser than any of “the others”– OR
2.) think you have no screws loose and that your parents are just big assholes for sending you off to get fat with a bunch of loons.
Whichever way, what I’m trying to say is that they’ve seen it. Every staff member, every housekeeper, every security guard, and every patient who has spent longer than one month in that place has met you before you’ve ever met them. They see you on your first day trudging through the door, pants baggy in the butt, your t-shirt hanging off you like it’s a fashion statement.
We size you up quick (literally)–
We know people enter rehab under two notions. Either the notion that what goes on in your head is somehow more complex/deep/incurable/tragic than anyone else– Or under the disillusion of beautiful denial. (Me– thin?!?!?! You don’t say…)
However, the fact of the matter is that after sitting in there week after week- you slowly begin to realize how tired you are of your own bullshit.
Sounds easy then, right? Change your life, mate. Change your thoughts- But what “the Muggles” (we watched a lot of Harry Potter– YAY for PG cinema) can’t comprehend is that we’ve painstakingly rewired our brains to only focus on perfection- on flawlessness. On an unattainable idea that our goal in life is to be so severe that everyone around us will look when we enter a dinner party and cower at how in control of our lives we are. (Who cares if we have to excuse ourselves later to puke up that appetizer. WE. ARE. IN. CONTROL. BITCHES.)
Is this how it starts, you ask? With this gallant disillusionment of control? Of course not. People stick their fingers down their throats for plenty of reasons. People stop eating for different tragedies, and people enter into an addiction with the mindset that you’ll do it sporadically and life will function onward as it always has.
I puked for the first time when I was 16 years old in the bathroom of my high school during Chemistry Class. (Side note: isn’t it fun how we forget our parents birthdays but puking, shoving our fingers down our throat, we can remember like it was yesterday)
I was thin. Always had been- never worried about it. I was the scrawny one. The girl that stood last in the row of tallest-to-shortest. The “cute” but not hot one:
I was the 8th grader that stood in line at Subway with their mother as the Sub employee leaned over the glass and asked if 4th grade was “treating me well?” (Yeah bitch, 4 years ago Mrs. Hellstern was a RIOT.)
I shopped at Kids Gap into my teens. Found a Homecoming dress at Dillard’s Junior Department my freshman year of high school and lied and told everyone I got it in Neimans… Actually that’s a whiff of a lie. I probably just told people that because it sounded more expensive.
Anyway, I wasn’t your CNN bullied obese kid. I was the opposite- a delicate, fragile little girl with big ears, buck teeth, and a significantly small appetite.
My family knew it– my extended family knew it– It became the Christmas pun every year on my dad’s side: “Oh, what’s Lindsey going to eat? Oatmeal? Waffles? Cereal?” (My penchant for binging cereal started early. Damn Fruity Pebbles.)
It became my identity. To be the picky one- the small one- the little girl. I mean hell, if I wasn’t going to be the prettiest (and I wasn’t), I damn sure was going to be the smallest. The finger-chewer, the neurotic, the people-pleaser.
And I was. I was the one that never had to worry about bra sizes, and periods. I was the chameleon who could strike up a conversation with the girl in the corner who did cocaine off her desk. I was perpetually childlike in my actions and it carried over into my diet. I could eat whatever I wanted– I could be whoever I wanted–
and so I did.
High school started– I snagged my first boyfriend (despite the ears). He liked my “elf” feet, he cooed. My slim waist, my little, bony body. He liked it and therefore, I liked it. Happy that while everyone else was starting to fill out and complain about “junk in the trunk,” I got to stay in my perpetual Neverland.
–So with that in mind, you can imagine the disdain when you go to the doctor your Sophomore year, and are told you weigh- for the first time- a whopping triple digits.
“Over 100,” you think. “But I have friends who barely weigh this or that.”
It is then you take notice of the subtle changes in your appetite. The dinner choices you’ve been making when eating out with your boyfriend. The Qdoba burritos you’re now finishing at lunch with friends.
You don’t hate that you’re eating more, but you’re not pleased either.
A few months goes by– You start venturing into Hollister, Abercrombie, Polo Outlets. You start swapping shirts with your friends where they were only a tiny bit too big for you in the chest.
Junior year starts and Doctors put you on birth control.
“Birth Control,” you whine in the car. “I’m not even having sex.”
“But you need to start your period,” Mom says.
So you take it– painstakingly aware of the weight gain your girl friends complain about.
And I suppose that’s where it all begins– the beautiful downward spiral into retching. (Does anyone else have the same toilet bowl spiraling image?)
You take the pills- they make you sick. Sick every morning, sick all morning, sick to where you can hardly get out of bed. You lose weight. Dip back into the 90s–everyone notices. Which, as any disordered patient will say, is both the blessing and the curse of this illness. The attention.
You like being notably small again– You like being “that person.” However, you do not like being sick all the time from these stupid estrogen-enhancing pills. YOU are a perfectionist, damnit, and this is keeping you away from your 116-grade A in English.
So, you do it. You make the plunge. You get up in Ms. B’s class one morning–sick as hell– barely able to lop yourself out the door and to the bathroom– and you lean over the toilet and shove a finger down your throat.
It’s awkward at first- the movement of a finger in your mouth. What the hell do you do, you wonder. Do you go straight for the plunge? Do you wiggle it around back there on that hangy part of your throat (to this day, I still have NO idea what that’s called.)
You don’t know. It’s awkward.
And then suddenly you’re hunched over a disgusting high school toilet rim with a slobbery finger in your mouth dry-heaving some phlegm. PHLEGM? You think. But you’re so nauseous you don’t even care. Just as long as the feeling subsides.
So you can finish that damn problem on the board.
So you can be this person– with your good grades, and your big smile, and your friendly demeanor– so you can be everything and anyone.
So you can try on any dress, and flirt with any person, and be loved by everyone.
So everyone will look back at you fondly and think: “That girl was something special.”
Because you are special, you think, going back to Chemistry in your Hollister jean skirt.