I don’t remember someone telling me about throwing up or bulimia but at the age of 15 I somehow figured it out. It was the early 1980s and eating disorders were mostly associated with anorexia. Karen Carpenter’s death in 1983 was the first time I remember hearing about it. The day she died is vivid. I was at a ski lodge in Wisconsin and had just walked out of the restroom after throwing up my lunch when the news came on the t.v. ” How did this happen to her”. It was impossible for me to understand how she didn’t see what she was doing to herself and remember thinking that I had nothing to worry about because I wouldn’t let myself look like that. From that day forward, every time I purged I thought of her. “Am I killing myself? No.” I had bulimia for a little more than a year at this point and had started perfecting my secret. I knew how to throw up in public without people knowing until my friend walked into the bathroom at school and caught me. I think I remember her asking me how to do it. We soon became purging partners and started taking laxatives and diet pills. I have to mention that the store we bought our laxatives from started keeping them behind the counter. It was our cocaine and we couldn’t get it anymore! We had to start going to the next town over to buy our stash.
By the end of my junior year I weighed 102 pounds and was throwing up more than 10 times a day. I heard water had calories so I started throwing that up too.
By my senior year I had the control of my weight down to a science including what foods were easy to throw up and which ones to stay away from. I didn’t have to try anymore, all I had to do was open my mouth and find a place to deposit the money I just threw away. It’s embarrassing to think of the places I purged, from disgusting gas station bathrooms to a bag in my bedroom. Before I started this article I pulled out my photo albums and looked at my past. The picture above is the only one that shows how much anguish I was in. I smiled for the camera year after year and was so miserable inside. We had a family pose that became automatic in front of the camera. I remember a time in my late 30s when my stepmother scolded me for always having the same look in pictures. I thought to myself, “but this is what you taught me to do. What can I do to make it better?”
When I started college I thought I looked great! I was teetering just below 100 pounds but was starting to bruise easily and thought nothing of it, but by the end of the year I was covered in them from lack of nutrition. I knew inside it was my bulimia and really wanted help but didn’t know what to do. I called my parents and told them about the last 3 years. They were disgusted with me and asked if I was looking for attention. I felt so ashamed. I pleaded with them to help me and they disapprovingly agreed. I withdrew from school and remember my dad telling me I was making a huge mistake and would fail in life without a college degree. They drove me to an inpatient hospital that had just opened in Milwaukee, and noticeably embarrassed, checked me in.
The program for eating disorders was new back then and they tried but it didn’t help me. I couldn’t stop! My bulimia became an appendage for the next 13 years. I hated myself and all that I stood for.
It wasn’t until I hastily joined the military out of desperation, that my life started to turn around. I was the oldest soldier in my command at 29 and was in for a rude awakening. Looks had no place in boot camp and I was brought to my knees. It was impossible to throw up there. They didn’t have doors on the bathroom stalls and no privacy. “Help me God, can I do this?” I had to. I signed a contract. My recovery began without my knowledge and would take another year before I would realize what I had to loose.
I met a wonderful man and he loved me. I didn’t want to lose him and realized that I finally had something that was worth more than what I thought love was. I don’t know why, but there was a depth to him that made me want to be a better person. I felt guilty throwing up after we would eat out. He worked hard for his money and I knew inside that he loved my soul, not my body. I slowly started to heal and realized that all I ever needed was unconditional love. I don’t think I ever told him about my bulimia, it just slowly disappeared into the past.
I’m 47 years old now and am divorced, but he is the reason for my recovery. I’ll always be indebted to him for saving my life and giving me the gift to love myself. Thank you, for the years you gave me and our two beautiful children.