The thing about the eating disordered is we are crafty, tricky and resourceful. We can be charming and say the right things, gaining just the right amount of weight for us to be believed and released. Time and again. Catch and release. Catch and release.
My high over my measurements faded fast as I was in a therapy group with the only other ED patient, an eating disorder rock star- an anorexic. She could fly away I thought. EZT wasn’t helping her, her hair shorn short, she folded in every chair and I stared with envy. She was pure, strong. I was not. I was weak. I was a slave to bulimia. She transcended while I was pulled under. I sat engrossed as she hid her hands in long sweatshirt sleeves and cried numb tears in group. I’ve often wondered whether she recovered or like so many of us, she floated away. She was there before me and I left her there, when I charmed my way out.
My boyfriend came to fetch me and we jokingly acted like we had busted me out — an escape — and when we burst into my apartment my roommates laughed and laughed. I was welcomed back to school with open arms. No better, but everyone was placated.
It was another year and a half before I really got help. My mother had found a doctor near where she lived and he was making great strides in curing eating disorders. There was another emergency room trip, another ‘heart incident’ and then finally my boyfriend packed me up again and we drove from Pasadena to Colorado where I was delivered into the arms of Dr. W who after a complete physical and interview declared that in two years I would either be recovered or I would be dead. Those were the only options and it was entirely up to me.
I am not sure where after over 10 years of constantly trying to destroy myself this sense of self-preservation roared awake but it did. So we began the long and terrifying journey back to health. I resisted drugs for a long time, Dr W. was not the first to suggest them, but I had always resisted. I didn’t want my personality to change (lovely though it was, I am sure) he patiently explained exactly what they did and why and with that I acquiesced and agreed to it. Prozac in extremely high doses can cause not just appetite loss but the utter destruction of the interest in eating at all and so it was prescribed to me, and many other bulimics to curb the binge urge. I will state right here that I would never have been able to conquer this without the assistance of drug therapy. Once we had that under control the next thing was to teach my body to process foods again. This was a slow start. I drank Ensure. The moment a drop of it hit my stomach lining I felt myself grow larger, fatter, worse. Sometimes it would come right back up, my body unable to keep anything down now. But eventually I learned to count and breathe until the panic subsided and the nutrients were absorbed. I was not allowed a scale, I was not allowed form-fitting clothes but I knew I was gaining. At the same time. once my brain had some nourishment I felt…better? Stronger? Hopeful?
Every day was a struggle. Those first few months, everything was a victory. My body had not processed food from the beginning to the end in years. It had to relearn what we are born knowing. Food digestion, absorption and elimination were all victories.
And yet it was bittersweet. My eating disorder had been my constant companion, a sort of invisible parrot sitting on my shoulder guiding me through everything. How could I live without it? I missed it. Terribly.
Eventually I ate actual food. Eventually I stopped panicking the moment it slid down my now not bloody throat. Eventually I stopped even thinking about it. Eventually after a long time I was declared ‘cured’.
I relapsed. Of course, we almost always do. Instead of shaming me my doctor said the most empowering thing and now I share it with you. He said before you couldn’t go 30 minutes without it. Now you’ve gone two months, three months, a year. You know you can do it. So you did it once, that doesn’t mean you do it again. Next time it will be two years before you maybe relapse. Maybe three, four or never. Think of your victories, you’ve won the war…this was a tiny skirmish.
He was right. I’ve been cured for many years now and I haven’t relapsed. I can look at myself in the mirror and know I don’t see myself accurately. I can accept that and move on. I have had two healthy pregnancies with severe morning sickness and am in the middle of my third vomiting almost non-stop for the first four months…and yet I don’t relapse. I am able to accept my body growing and changing and yes, getting bigger and yet not go back.
I will never go back.
I may still have some disordered thinking, don’t we all, but I am stronger than those thoughts.
If you or someone you love is struggling please contact NEDA to find a good doctor or therapy program. This is the toughest war you’ll ever fight, but I promise you it’s worth it.
Stephanie Stearns Dulli is alternately confident and riddled with anxiety. Perfect qualifications for the two major careers in her life: once professional actress in LA and now stay at home mom in DC. Since leaving LA and the acting world behind (for now), Stephanie has found other ways to be creative. After starting her blog five years ago, she began working as an on-camera iVoice for iVillage.com. She currently blogs at Stephanie Says about where you will find pop culture, fashion, photography, and is the director of the Washington, D.C. Listen to Your Mother show.
Image via Stephanie Stearns Dulli, with permission