The Unbearable Heaviness of Purge-Bags

TW: numbers and talk about vomiting/bulimia and the tragedy in Nice. Please click away if you are triggered. Many thanks and stay safe.

 

 

You sent me a text message this morning.

“How are you?”

Not too bad, thank you for asking. Just picking out chunks of vomit from hair and dragging my two purge-bags into the bedroom so that I can weigh them. X.X kg (XX.X pounds ) of vomit in one, the other I don’t actually care about. So not too bad all in all, except that I’m 66.2 kg today and yesterday I was 65kg. What we can conclude from this is that I am utterly unaccomplished as a purgerer/purge-practitioner/bulimic which I already knew, because in my not-so-distinguished career of 10 years as a bulimic, I have yet to achieve my goal weight.

Maybe you would also like to hear about my night, which I spent in a state of lidless restlessness, a mild insomnia that was brought on by the litres of diet soda I drank during the binge. I lay in my bed in between purges and watched the colours bleed from the summer sky, gentle golden and cottoncandy pink into mellow grey and then the dark blue gauze of night. I listened to the restless city, the thrum of cars and lights and happiness and desperation, all receding into a distant drum beat, like the slow heartbeat of a sleeping beast.

I got up to eat and vomit, eat and vomit, eat and vomit. More times than I care to count. And then I caught glimpse of the news and it stopped me in my tracks. Somewhere amid happiness and celebration, there is now death and despair and bodies covered with hastily snatched table cloths from nearby restaurants.

I feel disgusted with myself. The scale of my problems is minuscule compared with what is happening. I go back to bed, but I don’t sleep. I watch a Victoria’s Secret fashion show, because, I like all other misguided and lost girls on this planet, think that all of my problems will magically melt away when I start looking like a runway model. They won’t, but it’s the hope that sells.

“All ok. Just sleeping and enjoying my day off.” I answer.

Hunger

This post contains triggering material to those suffering from or susceptible to eating disorders. Please click away now if you do not wish to view this material. You have been warned.

 

Hunger is a strong word. With its guttural r’s it sounds like a lion’s roar, aggressive, demanding and needy. That is the hunger that lives within me. When I walk past a supermarket, it rears its ugly head and demands to be fed. At this point in my eating disorder, I am sure the monster has nothing to do with what my body desires. The hunger comes from an empty void that I have been carefully cultivating in my heart since childhood. Only food, lots of food, food eaten in minutes, wrappers thrown on the floor, fatty, salty, sweet, sugar- that kind of food can provide a temporary patch on the empty void. With my disease, what follows this feeding session is an unbearable need to be light again. The binge is executed under complete control of hunger – emotional, mental, sexual, physical- and then when the rational part takes over, it has no other option than to perform the cleansing ritual – that is both disgusting and astounding. The beast is satiated for a brief moment.

I am experimenting with a different kind of hunger right now. I am trying to starve the beast, to show it that another kind of hunger, the hunger for beauty and thinness and fragility can satiate it as much as the lust for sweets and cakes. I am learning to embrace the slow gnawing pain that comes from saying no to one of the most basic desires that has accompanied me in my life. I am letting the feeling of nothing, of being empty slowly wash over me. I listen to every cell scream, burn, like when I stand under a cold shower.

When I feel week, I conjure my mental library of useful images. I think about running very often, because that was the most dreaded activity for me as a child. I try to think of layers of fat bouncing around as I run. I try to think about how slow I am. Moving a large mass takes time. I think about the unkind laughter and hastily whispered comments, quiet but just audible enough to be heard. And to hurt. One never imagines that the little things that were said and done ages ago would still persist in daily life. Yet they do, in a multitude of ways. When the past is left behind, it does not die. It is simply rediscovered in another form.

A State of Grace

 

This post contains triggering material to those who suffer or are susceptible to eating disorders. You have been warned.

Being thin is certainly the ultimate state of grace that a woman of my age can aspire to. I am educated on the dangers of pursuing such an aspiration: death, osteoporosis, fucked up digestive system, tooth damage. ‘I should know better’ but for the better part of nearly a quarter of a century, I have been aiming to prove to the world that I don’t need to eat. That I can be thin and perfect.

For that same quarter of a century, I have been miserably failing. The worst part is that there is no reward for trying in this illness. It is a black and white, all or nothing, win or lose scenario. I am gambler, who every day tosses a die and loses and yet I come back everyday, because I am a fool and fools always have hope that tomorrow will be different than today, even though nothing has changed.

Social media, the scapegoat du jour for most things about young women’s body image does little to help, especially the many anorexia Instagram channels I routinely browse. They mean well, I’m sure, but the dainty narrative they construct around anorexia sends me spiralling deeper and deeper into my bulimic hole. I follow a girl who has had anorexia nervosa and has recently become a well-known model. That is all the proof I need. In our age, losing weight and being thin is a rite of passage and the potential rewards at the end of the journey may be greater than I could ever imagine . That is, unless I die pursuing it.

Bulimia can be treated, many say, but can it be cured? I seriously doubt that I will ever be free from the intrusive thoughts that follow me around every meal time. Have I checked the calories? Am I sure I can eat this? Am I sure I can still fit into my clothes tomorrow? Am I sure people won’t be able to feel my fat when they hug me? I think these thoughts have been seared, branded into my neural makeup from years and years of bulimia.

The final irony of this illness is that for most of us it leaves us looking completely normal on the outside, while our insides are slowly deteriorating. I have been doing this for a decade and I have yet to have anyone confront me about my bulimia. There is no glory in purging, no glory in showing one’s fingers inside one’s throat over and over and over again and people don’t like to be reminded of that. They like to be reminded of the fact that anyone can lose weight, anyone can become perfect and beautiful, anyone can achieve the state of grace.

Adult bulimia

It’s Monday morning and the hallway outside my apartment smells like vomit.
This is what happens when you spend Friday night to Sunday night bingeing and purging and then
bin the excrements dicreetly early in the morning while the neighbours are still asleep.

Welcome to the life of an adult bulimic. Whatever anyone says about bulimia, whatever you think
it might be, it sure as hell is not glamorous.
I don’t go out, or meet friends. I don’t have any, because I can’t stand the idea of going to eat
in public and not being able to purge.
I have never been in a relationship. The thought of a man running his hands up and down my body
makes me cringe. I can only imagine what he would be thinking about the layers of fat you can feel
when you touch my stomach, my hips, my thighs. In fact, I try not to think about sex or love or relationships.
I try to think that I don’t need any of that. After all, I have my bulimia.

In addition to bulimia, I have a job. I spend around 15 hours at work every day, mostly trying to
drown myself in work problems so that I can forget the problems in my life. When you have someone else’s problems
and goals to worry about, you can forget about the shitshow you’ve created in your own life.

So this is it. This is how you transition from being a teen bulimic, to being a college bulimic
to being an adult bulimic. And boy is it fun.

This is how it’s going to happen

Warning: NSFW language. If you are offended by NSFW language, please click away. Thank you.

One day you’ll have a boyfriend. And then the second day, he’ll find out.

He only half-asks why. Not out loud, but on his face.  Like his eyes attach themselves to yours like some fucking missile lock in system. You wonder if that’s what they teach them at medical school. To eye-bully their patient into a confession.

He quickly stares down at the papercup with the plastic lid (“Soy chai latte for Matt”). And then back at you.

Meanwhile, you’re doing a fucking smooth impression of being the bastard lovechild of Brigitte Bardot and some unknown femme fatale with a pantie dropping French accent. You light that cigarette you’ve been mussing in your vomited-on fingers for the whole car ride from the condo to the nearest Starbucks.  The coffee’s black and bitter and you salt it with Splenda like the stuff will get you high. Then you adjust your celebitchy shades, cross your legs and exhale into the air. Fucking femme fatale wearing pink sweatpants from the five dollar bin at Target and a UCLA sweatshirt.

But goddammit, it’s not my fucking fault, you say to his missile-radar eyes.   It’s your fucking fault that I’m wearing pink sweatpants from the five dollar bin . Your. YOUR. You almost yell, because, hell, you just want to give that suburban trophy wife in the corner something to text about.

Who cooks pancakes for breakfast and then walks into the bathroom without knocking? Who the fuck does that? With a person they’ve what ? met at the medstudent’s social? and fucked twice?

He caught you redhanded. Or should you say redfaced? All bent over in your UCLA sweatshirt and your pink sweatpants. His pancakes leaking into the sewage system. No wonder you scared the sweet bejeezus out of the guy.

And because you’d rather eat that sweaty sock that’s been molding over in your tennis shoe since you graduated college than explain exactly what the fuck you were doing hugging the toilet and painting the bathroom a Jackson Pollock a la vomit, you say ‘Starbucks” and get the fuck out of the condo.

He follows five minutes later.

That fucking missile-system is femme fatale proof.  Shit, dude, you’re paying a whole lot of tuition to learn how to stare a person down. So what comes next? You flick the ashes onto the table.

Therapy? Are you going to tell me I am beautiful? And ask silly questions like “Why?” ?

But he just stares at you. Fingers on the cup. Tapping gently.

“We should go,” he says.

 

Daddy

I think I live in an image of you.

I think that’s what makes me walk out of college on a Friday a long time ago and take the train to 30th Street Station, though I don’t have money to go anywhere.

I like how I disappear in the space of the building. The marble hall swallows me, the grace of the angel holding the wounded soldier. And then the benches. The voice announcing departures. I look at the announcement board. New York. New Haven. Boston. Chicago.

People board trains that will take them far away. In neat spiraling lines, dotted with purses, bags and colourful samsonites in all shades businessmanblack, people queue to be let to the platforms.

Which in turn belch out weary travelers. And I look at the suits. And I wonder how he would look?

I know how my father looks. The lips, the hair, the eyes, slightly slanting, one bigger than the other. You stare at me from the mirror day after day, slightly grayer and more tired as time spirals on. I haven’t seen you in years, but I know who you are.

No.  I’m not looking for him. I’ve found him in the one line emails and half-hearted embraces.

I look at the faces of the men wearing suits and I wonder which one. Which one is the one who will embrace me in a bear hug? Race with me down the street? Come to my high school graduation and look proud.

These men from the 5 pm Keystone Express to Philadelphia pass me with their suits and ties and jackets. They look through me.

The next train arrives in a few minutes.

in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me

One day this might happen. For now it lives purely in the realm of the ridiculous fantasy.
The room will be dim, the grey light peppered with whispers. I like the light like this, I will think. Nearly opaque. Translucent and heavy with the heat from your body.
The window may be half open to let in the evening breeze and the receding sound of the city. New York or Paris. Or London. Somewhere, where you can drown in the lives of thousands of strangers. Together and yet alone. The most poetic paradox in the concrete jungle.
You are going to be tall and muscular so that when your arms wrap around me, it will be a fortress of living flesh.
“I’m sorry,” I’ll say. “We shouldn’t.”
“No”, you’ll agree.
And we pull apart. The moment of contact is filled with cool air.
“I’d like to ask a favour,” I say.
I think you will say yes to this one, but I’m not sure. You may have moved across the room with the half filled glass of Sauvignon. And I’ll look at your long fingers cradling the blood red liquid.
“Can I listen to your heart?”
I think we’ll be like Jim and Laura in that Williams play we saw on Broadway last October. Or rather, I’ll be Laura. And you be, whoever you shall be.
And it will be like some ee cummings poem I took an English exam on once. An eon of a lifetime ago.
somewhere i have never travelled
or maybe this
nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands
“Like a doctor? With a stethoscope?” you ask. Bemused. Amused.
But you come close anyway. So close that I can place my ear on your chest and hear the deep thrum of life beating. An ancient drum that began millions of years ago.
Outside,  the sky rumbles in an echo of your heart and thousands of droplets race to the ground.