Today we have a brilliant guest post from Sarah Darer Littman, YA author of Purge.
My Struggle with Bulimia
About a year after my daughter was born, I went to a dress shop in Dorchester, Dorset, owned by the mum of one of my son’s nursery school classmates to buy a dress for the Jewish New Year. I picked out one I liked, and asked her if she had size X.
She looked at me and said, “Um…I think you’re size (X-2).”
“Oh, no!” I argued. “I’m most definitely a size X.”
Shaking her head, she put in the dressing room with the size X, which I tried on. But a few minutes later, she handed me the size X-2 through the curtain and said, “Do me a favour – just try this one on for a laugh.”
I didn’t see the humor in trying on a dress that there was no way I was going to be able to zip up the back, but she was a friend, so I complied. To my amazement the dress fit me perfectly. Not only could I zip up the back, it actually flattered my curves instead of hanging off my well-endowed chest like a potato sack.
When I walked out of the dressing room, my friend smiled.
“I guess I have a body image problem, huh?” I said.
Being British, she was too polite to reply, “No Shit, Sherlock!” but I would have forgiven her if she had.
She was one of the few people to whom I confessed that the body image problem from which I’d suffered since my teens, had at that point actually progressed into something more serious. That I was secretly binging and purging, sometimes up to six times a day. That those tubs of chocolate cake frosting I was buying at Tesco weren’t for making cakes.
It had started slowly. Life was pretty overwhelming at the time. I had two very young children, was working part-time, having been forced back into going back to work before I wanted to, stress in the extended family and medical issues that complicated everything. One day, when I felt really full, a sensation that has always been uncomfortable and loaded for me, I just went into the loo and stuck my finger down my throat. Having been extremely sick while pregnant with my kids, vomiting had lost its horror for me.
Immediately, I felt lighter. Not just physically. Mentally, too. It was if clearing my stomach had also given me a mental clarity, an escape from the swirling mess of feelings that I lived with every minute of every day.
The best thing was, I was in control of it. I could choose when and where to do it. Until…until…I wasn’t. Until the bulimia took control of me. I can’t remember exactly how long it took, but it wasn’t that long before it was no longer a choice to binge and purge but a need. A need so strong that I excused myself between the main and dessert courses of a business dinner at which I was the only woman to go to the ladies room and purge.
I’m fortunate that when I moved back to the United States in 1999, I lived near The Wilkins Center for Eating Disorders an outpatient treatment facility founded by Dr. Diane Mickley. There, through a combination and individual and group therapy I was able to find the help I needed to learn how to overcome bulimia.
There are two things that I credit most, besides the help I received from the Wilkins Center, with my recovery from bulimia. The first is a punching bag. One thing they asked me to do as part of treatment was to stop as I stood in front of the toilet and try to figure out what it was that I was trying so hard not to feel. It took me a long time, but I finally realized it was anger. I came from a background where it was considered unladylike to be angry – a long line of emotion stuffers. I had to learn to how really feel anger and allow myself to experience it instead of turning it inwards, and being able to whack the hell out of something was extremely therapeutic, not to mention great exercise!
But the greatest element of my recovery, was when at age 38, I finally allowed myself to pursue my dream of becoming a writer, something I’d wanted to do since I was in high school. I made myself a secret promise that I would get a book contract as my 40th birthday present, and I got an offer on my first book, CONFESSIONS OF A CLOSET CATHOLIC two months after my 40th birthday. Making a living from my passion has filled the “black hole” inside, something that no amount of chocolate icing could.
Thank you so much to Sarah for such an awesome and honest guest post. I really appreciate you sharing your story with us.