I was at a literary event for a friend that was promoting her just released memoir. It was a large turn out and there were a ton of writers and people that worked in the publishing industry. Off in the corner was a woman that I immediately pegged as anorexic. She was stick thin, hollow looking, and her designer dress hung loosely off her exposed emaciated shoulders. A strong breeze could have blown her away. At some point a mutual friend introduced me to her and we started talking. She asked what I did for a living and I told her I was a writer. She said that she too was a writer.
“Oh,” I said. “What do you write? Fiction, nonfiction?”
“I write about women’s health,” she said.
“You mean like exercise and yoga?” I asked, and then immediately felt like a sexist idiot.
“Actually I’m an ana advocate,” she responded.
I had no idea what she was talking about. “You’re an ana what?”
It turns out that this woman’s idea of writing about women’s health was her blog where she promoted anorexia, or as she said “pro-ana,” and then she also referred to herself as a “rexie” which also confused the hell out of me. But what I did gather was that she encouraged others to join her in a “pro-ana lifestyle” by posting entries with tips and methods for anyone that wanted to know how be anorexic, as well as photos of herself and other women that were just as shockingly thin.
“You’re fucking kidding,” I said.
There was a snack table at the reading, plus they were serving wine and beer. We were both as far away from that table as possible. Yet she clutched a glass of water in her hands like it was all that was keeping her upright.
“No,” she said, “I am definitely not fucking kidding.”
Okay, am I just late to the party here or what? Pro-anorexic? Really? I’d never heard of such a thing. But in an effort to find some common ground, plus a need to know more as this was kind of blowing my mind, I ended up telling her that I had been writing about my own issues with bulimia, adding, “Only I don’t think it’s a healthy behavior, and I certainly don’t advocate anyone else to join me. “
“You’re so negative,” she said. “Why don’t you just embrace your mia instead?”
I wasn’t even sure how to respond. Bulimia has taken a major toll on my physical and mental health. And only until just recently it was my closely guarded secret that I kept from everyone. Writing about it was my attempt at lessening the guilt and shame that I carried around because of it.
“My ‘mia’? Is that what you call bulimia?”
She looked at me like I had just asked if Obama was still president. And then she dropped a bunch of names of “pro-mia” Tumblr pages. “You might want to check them out,” she said, then murmured “goodbye” and teetered across the room on a pair of impossibly vertical stiletto high heels that were just as skinny as she was.
I watched her walk away and thought how unattractive she was. Her bones were sticking out all angular and I just wanted to grab her and stuff her full of Krispy Kremes and a box of See’s chocolates. Which is a pretty radical reaction from me, as usually I’m a little jealous of anyone I deem thin. It’s just that this woman had gone way past thin. She was Skeletor. She was Auschwitz thin. And it was scary.
Later that night when I got home, I Googled “pro-ana” still thinking this must just be a sick joke. Admittedly I was not prepared for the sheer magnitude of websites, blogs and chat forums that were out there promoting anorexia like it was a good thing. But there were thousand of sites to choose from and they all had names like “Pro-Ana Forever,” “Thin and Beautiful” and “Ana By Choice”—each of them with the prerequisite photos of skinny girls adjacent the various methods each site declared the best way to starve oneself: “Drink water, it will fill you up,” “Chew gum when you want to eat,” “Think food = bad.”
Then I hit search for “pro-mia” and got 365,000 results. I clicked on link after link and stared at the computer screen for hours. I can’t really explain what I felt, except to say that I got really sad looking at all these disillusioned people’s blogs. Even though it shouldn’t have surprised me since the Internet is full of crazies and there is no shortage of zealots expounding whatever it is they are obsessed about. Only this all seemed so misguided and irresponsible. And for a second I wondered if I Googled “pro-heroin,” would I find the same outpouring of support for being a junkie?
All these website were freaking me out. I just couldn’t fathom wanting to embrace my bulimia as a good thing. Every day I suffer the repercussion of my eating disorder—the acid reflux and mounting dental bills—and as I read claim after claim that it was the ultimate diet, a positive lifestyle and a personal choice of empowerment, I kept thinking what if I had been indoctrinated with this type of thinking, would I still be so stoked to be in my 50’s and puking my food up every day? Because really, for me, that was the turning point. I had struggled with my eating disorder all my life, but when it reappeared full force a few years ago after having been somewhat under control, I was devastated. And with numerous years in recovery from drugs I had thought I was “cured” enough to not still be engaging in unhealthy behaviors. But then I was just putting unreal expectations on myself instead of seeking help – which is what I finally did.
The last link I clicked on was to a pro-ana/mia chat room. I didn’t want to engage, I just wanted to see what was being posted. There was an ongoing conversation between what I assume were four different women. They all had profile names like “2BThin,” “INmySkin,” and “skinnygirl” and they were chatting about how they hadn’t asked to be born with an eating disorder, but because they had one, they were going to use it to their advantage.
And then one of them wrote: I look at everyone who is normal as weak.
The response was: They are just scared you are going to kill yourself. They don’t know any better.
I know, wrote the first one, but I just can’t go out looking like this.
That’s because you are fat, was the response.
It was more than I could take and I had to close the laptop.
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Originally published by AfterPartyMagazine January 27, 2015
I thought I’d finally gotten my shit together when admitting nine months ago I had an eating disorder. Divulging this long kept secret, and quite publicly, was incredibly freeing. Thankfully I was not completely shunned or ridiculed as my fears had led me to believe I would be. Instead I received a ton of support and realized I was not the only man on the planet that was dealing with bulimia.
Yet the even more positive spin on this confession was that it also made me really address my eating disorder for the first time. Since I’ve been in recovery for the last 14 years for drug addiction, I’ve learned that it is not enough to just say I have a problem. I have to want to make the change and then really put in the effort. So I talked about it with my sponsor (and even at some meetings) until it was no longer my guilty secret. I then upped my exercise regime, fine-tuned my diet and kept writing about it. And before I knew it, I was feeling really good about myself. I hadn’t thrown up in six months, the exercise was helping with the body dysmorphia and I’d lost weight.
And Then Came the Holidays…
I usually don’t indulge in seasonal festivities and holiday parties. I’m not really a social person. I dread small talk, and if I can, I’ll do anything to avoid having to deal with strangers asking me what I do for a living. But a close friend was having a get-together and he and his family had invited me and I just didn’t want to say no. I actually like these people and was honored to know they would want me in their home to celebrate.
But the afternoon before the party I was totally stressing. There was going to be a ton of food there and I’d been doing so well keeping to my program that I didn’t want to screw it up. Some people I know with eating issues have no problem taking a “break” and can indulge in foods they normally avoid without serious consequences. Personally, if I do that, I struggle with cravings, and I feel that I’m back at square one.
But what was I going to do? I could either abstain completely and be that weird person that doesn’t eat or I could try to eat in moderation. I didn’t want to be that weird person. Hell, I’d been doing really well lately—maybe this time it would be different? I seemed to have a handle on this bulimia, I thought, so how hard could it be?
The party was at a downtown loft. I walked in and it was full of people I didn’t know. Off in the corner was a bar, which oddly never bothers me (maybe if it were a full-serve heroin buffet I’d have a problem).
I stashed my coat in the guest room then walked into the dining area and was floored. There was so much food it scared me. Three long buffet tables set up with hors d’oeuvres. The theme seemed to be bad retro ‘60’s fare. There were pigs in a blanket, nut-encrusted cheese logs, deviled eggs, cold cuts, macaroni salad, chicken wings and Swedish meatballs. Thank God I’m a vegetarian, I thought. Thank God I’m gluten free. Thank God I’m Paleo and…
“Oh, fucking hell, are those mini grilled cheese sandwiches!?”
There was no hesitation. I grabbed a plate. I filled it up. I didn’t break the meat barrier, but gorged on gluten-infused wheat, fat-laden dairy and anything else that didn’t originally have a face. I think I hit the buffet three times. I didn’t talk to anyone until I’d wolfed down the first plate. Then I slowed up and pretended to socialize, but the whole time I was eyeing the food and craving more.
At some point I walked out onto the balcony and stared at the skyline. I felt like I was on a bender. I was sweaty. I was nauseous. I wanted to throw up. I wanted to eat more. I was fucking out of control, and I knew it.
Gripping the railing I felt the cool night air blow against my face and I made the decision that I needed to leave. I was going to go back inside, thank my friends and get the hell out of there.
I opened the sliding glass door and was greeted by a new table filled with desserts. There were pies, cakes, cookies, puddings and ice cream. I should have just kept walking and grabbed my coat. But I didn’t.
In the car on my way home, I was feeling sick. My belt was tight and I felt bloated and grossly fat. I had overeaten. I had fucked my program. I had failed. At a red light I almost pulled over to throw up. But somehow I made it home and then I was in the bathroom puking my guts out. Only I didn’t want to do it. The fear of craving food was now replaced with the fear of returning to bulimic purging. And right in mid-puke I forced myself to stop. Instead I walked into the kitchen and grabbed a bottle of water and downed it. Then I threw on a pair of sweats, a hoodie and some running shoes.
A half a mile into the run, I felt better. At two miles I had stomach cramps but kept running. At three miles I stopped beating myself up. At four miles I was two blocks from my apartment and the endorphins had totally kicked in. I was back on track.
I might have blown the last six months of abstaining from unhealthy eating behaviors, but I didn’t have to keep doing it. I was in the solution and that solution didn’t include doing what I’d usually do, which would’ve been to engage in a lot of self-loathing and then lapse into a depression. I had successfully walked away from the purging and the running had pulled me out of it even more. Drinking the water had flushed my system. The endorphins had addressed my depression. For the first time I was totally reactive and looking at my relapse as what it was: a relapse. And the solution to it was really simple. It was honestly admitting that I have a problem: “My name is Patrick, and I have an eating disorder,” and then having a plan of action.
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Originally published by AfterPartyMagazine January 6, 2015
I’m at an art gallery opening. It’s a hot Friday night and the place is packed. I’ve done the required loop of the room, staring at the artwork on the walls, and now I’m over by the food, a table of crackers and cheese, crudités, and some unrecognizable meat on a stick. Not in the mood to eat, I turn toward the bar. I could really use a club soda or a Pellegrino on ice. But it’s a full bar and there’s a crowd in front of me, so I wait my turn.
A group of bearded, plaid-wearing hipsters are hogging up all the available space and ordering a ton of drinks. When one of them looks over his shoulder and sees me waiting, he asks if he can order me something. I say, “Yeah, a club soda would be great, thanks.”
“Club soda?” he responds. “Dude, it’s free. Live a little. Have a drink.”
And then here I am once again stuck deciding how to approach this. Should I say, “I’m in recovery, I don’t drink” and possibly have to deal with the moral high ground fallout that happens whenever I choose this option? Because a lot of people get weird when you tell them you don’t drink. They mumble excuses or try and justify their own drinking: “Oh really? Actually, I only drink on weekends,” “I’m only having a glass of wine,” “I don’t usually drink hard liquor,” “I’ve been thinking of quitting.” And really, I could care less what they do. It’s a personal choice I made. I’m not judging them.
Instead I do what I usually do and just say, “I’m not drinking right now,” thus avoiding any confrontations, or unnecessary misunderstandings. Only tonight, hipster guy is feeling his oats, or maybe he just doesn’t like to drink alone. My not drinking in a gallery full of folks that are drinking shouldn’t upset the earth’s balance but apparently it upsets hipster guy because he says, “Dude, one drink. What can it hurt?”
And yeah, what can it hurt, right?
Alcohol isn’t my biggest problem. But it could easily be. I mean, don’t get me wrong. I’ve drunk my fair share, usually to a blackout, waking up in unfamiliar places with no idea how I got there. I’ve been in way too many bar fights, and I’ve even been known to tell a pathetically slurred version of my love life to a bartender now and then. But if I were given the choice between my first love, heroin, and a scotch on the rocks, I’d choose heroin every time. After all, I was a junkie for over 18 years. I’ve got an invested interest in that shit. It destroyed my life. It brought me to my knees, and then I found recovery. Which, right now, is not something I’m willing to give up for just one drink. Because even though alcohol is not my drug of choice, I know that once I start, one drink isn’t going to be enough.
Fifteen years ago, I’d just gotten out of my second rehab. It wasn’t 12-step based but what they call behavior modification. They tore you down by yelling at you, calling you a scumbag and a loser—which, back then, I already knew. But whatever, it worked for a while and it seemed to make the counselors happy to yell at me. So I went along and actually stayed clean for 18 months. Then I met this girl who was fresh out of detox. So of course we moved into a tiny studio apartment together, and for a couple of months, everything was going smoothly. I was going to work every day and trying to exist in the straight world after years of being a drug addict criminal. Then one night we were at a really nice restaurant known for its vodka drinks. We were sitting there with our menus watching these scantily clad waitresses pass by with trays full of giant martinis. Their double olives and dripping condensation looked so good that we just nonchalantly ordered two. Then two more. And I remember ordering another round before I blacked out.
The next morning, I woke up with the second-worst hangover of my life and said, “I’m never doing that again.” And I probably meant it. Yet an invisible line had been crossed. I’d given myself permission to use after a year-and-a-half of abstinence. Of course I kept it a secret from my family and what few friends I still had, going about my life as if it never happened. That is, until I hurt myself at work, scratching my cornea so bad that I couldn’t see. At the emergency room, the doctor said I’d be in a lot of pain while it healed and gave me a prescription for Vicodin. Deep down, I knew I should’ve said something like, “Hey, I’m an addict, I can’t take drugs.” But I didn’t.
Two days later, I’d taken all 60 pills. I called the doctor and explained I’d lost them because I still couldn’t see very well. He called in another prescription of 60, and this one had a refill. A week later, after a few days of withdrawals when the pills ran out, I took a cab down to the part of town where I used to cop on the street, back when I was first starting out. Surprisingly, every dealer I’d known before was still there and it was pretty easy for me to score heroin. The first shot felt like poison, the second shot I OD’ed and my girlfriend called the paramedics. When I got out of the ER, I went back to the corner and scored again. In just 48 hours, I was back at square one with a habit to feed. Took me another six months with my parole officer chasing me before I was through and got in another residential rehab. And although this may not make a lot of sense to those who aren’t alcoholics or addicts, if I hadn’t taken that first drink, my chances of staying clean would’ve been much better. Who knows, I might have even gotten tired of trying to do it all by myself and gone to a meeting to ask for help.
Hipster guy is still standing there. He won’t take no for an answer. In fact, he’s almost demanding that I drink. “Dude! Come on. Party with us!”
Not wanting to prolong this any longer, I turn to him and say, “Believe me, you don’t want me drinking. Because first of all, what you’ve got here isn’t enough and it’s not the type of dope I really want anyway. But I can promise you, as soon as I get a buzz-on? I’ll definitely end up robbing you so I can go buy the drugs that I really crave. But before that happens, what I’ll do is get really sloppy, cry in my beer, and then punch one of you out. Okay?”
Of course I know that will pretty much bring any and all future social interactions with him to an abrupt halt. So while hipster guy and his pals stare wide-eyed with their mouths open, I slowly back away. Finally alone, I meander about the gallery, still thirsty and wishing I had a Pellegrino.
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Originally published as “How One Drink Leads to a Heroin OD” by AfterPartyMagazine June 3, 2014