aka What happens when you can’t say ‘I know’ anymore
aka ‘I find it hard to believe that bulimia could be instigated simply by vulnerability, control, and a box of Cheerios!’ ‘Would you like me to explain?’ ‘I would *love* to hear this!’
So, although I was starting to control aka adapting my food choices to get a desired outcome, in high school (Bagels and lettuce, and un-fried chicken), I don’t remember ever having the ‘feeling’ of vulnerability at that time.
Actually, wait a second.
You’re not gonna believe this.
I just remembered, I have a t-shirt that my aunt made me that has ‘I Know’ written in bubble paint across the front, because that was my MO as a kid. You’d tell me something that was supposed to be new to me, or explain something, or whatever, and my response: ‘I know’.
So I guess I was familiar with hairy Harry. It’s just that I had found the perfect armour to protect me from the feeling.
‘I know.’ Code for: I’ve got it all together. You can’t teach me a thing.
But while the vulnerability feeling may have been stifled, I hadn’t found a solution for shame yet.
Not only was there the chronic shame of the reality of the situation (underneath that flippantly confident exterior was a boat load of not knowing and not having it all together), there were also a couple of bouts of acute shame.
Once when I was spat on in junior high by some random dude who probably didn’t know me from Adam, and the second time, when I was at summer camp, probably that same year, and the fabric of last year’s bathing suit was so worn it looked like swiss cheese. I wore a t-shirt over it the whole time so no one would find out.
Not only was I ashamed of my bathing suit, I bumped into a girl who I considered to be a friend and was greeted with a ‘Omg I just bumped into ‘the thing!’’
I had become the ‘the thing’ in the eyes of my peers. Clearly so ‘not cool enough’ to actually have a name, let alone want to be associated with, or touched.
I’m sure I felt vulnerable then, but only for a split second. What I remember more vividly was a subconscious resolution to not let it show that it bothered me.
Move on. Remain stoic. Don’t let her get to you.
I’m not sure where I learned that from. But for sure, where I learned that, I also learned, ‘don’t turn into a basket case’ and ‘don’t fight back’. Keep calm and carry on was the only other feasible option, since this new 4th option of actually feeling the vulnerability, letting it wash over, processing it, reconnecting to your worth and move on, was left off the curriculum.
I never told my mom, my dad, my sister, or any close friends about these incidents. They were too painful.
Instead, I buried them, and by the time I graduated junior high, I made a resolution with myself that I would be the prettiest girl in high school.
Because pretty girls don’t get spat on, or get called ‘the thing’.
Pretty girls don’t feel shame.
Another vulnerability-avoidance/control tactic.
So anyway, in highschool I protected myself very well. Hence why performance on the track was so important. No shame leaks please!
College though, was a whole new game that I was not equipped to play.
Part of my protection in high school was a really close circle of friends that I could confide in and who I knew would always be there for me.
In college, I got to start all over, and those ‘bosom friends’, ‘kindred spirits’ and ‘soul sisters’ were harder to find. I felt very much alone.
So take away a strong social support system, academic achievement that came effortlessly, athletic achievement that I had worked hard for and was recognized for; I was left in the sky without my Magic Carpet.
My identity was too dependent on things outside of me (friends, grades, times on the clock). I wasn’t able to replace the Magic Carpet with a more lasting one: a deep knowing that I am enough as I am, and I have everything I need to be me. I couldn’t say ‘I Know’ anymore,
But I did know how to make that pit in my stomach go away. And there you have it: Cheerios to the rescue.
While it started off with Cheerios, soon they didn’t do the trick anymore.
The tubs of icing that you could buy from the dorm’s 24-7 mini-mart that my roommate loved? They looked good too. Except I knew they were full of fat and so it at first it was only a half-hearted indulge.
I’d feel guilty afterwards, and started to worry about my weight as the indulgences moved towards foods that were normally ‘forbidden’.
For the most part, I kept it all under control. I’d be tempted by the lush food in the school’s 5-star dining halls, by my roommates and house-mates baked goods, by the tantalizing treats in the farmers markets. On a good day, I could say ‘No.’ And if I didn’t, it wasn’t anything a solid 9 mile run couldn’t take care of.
I’ve never really thought of food being my drug, or me having an addiction. And I’ve heard commentary from the founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, Marc David, that food can’t be a drug, because it’s a substance that our body needs, and therefore we can’t form a dependency on it.
And I agree, I wasn’t addicted to food. But at some point I’d say there was an addiction to the binge and the purge.
The easiest way to explain how you go from a couple of handfuls of Cheerios to full-blown bulimia, is to think about how people progress from weed to heroin. Not that I’m an expert on drug addiction, but… (supposedly) at first weed does the trick, but over time the high isn’t so high, you need more and only the hard stuff will do it.
And that’s the way it is with bulimia too. You start off with an innocent binge on innocent food. Then you progress to binge on food that isn’t so ‘innocent’; the real sugary, sweet, fatty, salty foods that taste so good and are oh so ‘bad’. Pretty soon you’re downing pints of ice cream, bags of chips, the whole box of chocolate, and you can’t let your body retain this, so you get rid of it. And that purge, becomes the new high. An escape from reality. It’s repeatable. It’s addictive.
Thankfully, unlike a heroin addiction that eats away at your brain, bulimia can be reversed, and the machine that your body is, can heal from any internal damage.
But healing isn’t just reversing the behaviours (although that is sometimes a great starting point and, sneak preview, one of my first steps). For lasting change, you have to go back to where you came from. To what got you there in the first place, and stare vulnerability and shame in the face.
Something to think about: What decisions have you made in life that still dictate your actions? Eg I will be the prettiest school in highschool, I will never be poor, I will never be alone again. What impact does that decision still have today? How would letting go of that decision change things?
Your story matters. As part of ‘Bulimia Uncovered: 29 days to being your Quintessential Self’ we want to hear from you. How can you relate to what you’ve just read? Leave a comment below and share your related stories and pictures however you do best. If using social media use hashtag #bu29days and tag me so we can follow. We’re also inviting stories to feature on The True You Project. Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like yours shared there.
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