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.
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.
Originally published by AfterPartyMagazine January 6, 2015