Disclaimer: this post details eating disorders and the behaviours that surround it and may be particularly graphic. Therefore if you feel you may be triggered by this then either avoid this post or view at your own discretion. I also speak about purging behaviours such as vomiting, therefore people who have emetophobia or an adversion to vomiting then please avoid or view at your own discretion.
The hunger didn’t feel like hunger anymore. I lay in bed all day in an effort to avoid eating, or invitations to eat. Come nighttime, I made my way downstairs, feeling slightly disorientated, and ordered fast food; an order that vastly outweighed how much I’d eaten, or not eaten, all day. I devoured as much as I could, and went upstairs shortly afterwards, lying in bed again with a bloated distended stomach. As the food began to digest, I quickly picked up a pen, one without a cartridge, and made my way to the bathroom. I gave it a wipe to sanitise it. I turned on the taps. Then, I purged. Eventually, I made a strangled choking noise, my throat burning, and my eyes stinging, so I panicked, let go of the pen and stopped forcing myself to vomit. Woozy, lightheaded, but rushing with adrenaline, I stood and propped myself up to look at my reflection in the small mirror in the bathroom. Behind me, I could see the makings of a shadowy figure. I darted my eyes away, recognising the figure but daring not to look further. I inspected a familiar sight in the the mirror. Bloodshot eyes. A running nose. A swollen face. The figure stood closer, and I felt myself being pulled into her grasp. I forgot how powerful she could be.
Days followed, and I began to fall back into a routine that I thought I had long since banished to the back of my mind. I missed meals, and vomited every night after dinner. I went to the gym and to the track without eating anything, pleased at the fact I did not pass out, and got through the workout in one piece. Despite the fact that every time I let go of a weight I thought I was going to crash headfirst into the mirrors. But, still, I could hear a familiar voice in my head, convincing me that I could continue to act this way. I felt a sense of control I had not felt in a long time coming back to me. I knew I had fallen back into my eating disorder. I felt both Herculean and weak. She told me it would get easier like it did last time, and I could do it properly this time. She reminded me of all the times I failed, in her eyes, to adhere to the eating disorder, and this time I knew better so I could do better.
I could do better.
However, she filled me with dread this time around, not comfort. The anxiety didn’t go away, as I thought it would. The negative thoughts and emotions remained, still. Something didn’t feel right. She didn’t feel the same as when I was fifteen. There was some part of me so completely disappointed in that I had returned to my eating disorder. It was a part I had with me last time, but this time it was stronger. She filled me with false promises, telling me that I would get back to those euphoric feelings and moments when I was teenager. I just had to work a little harder this time around. I had to do better. I had to catch up.
One evening came, and I had brought out a wooden coffee stirrer that I took from Costa, thinking it was a better tool to use to really reach the back of throat. I went to my room, waited until my mum was asleep, and then made my nightly trip to the bathroom. I leaned over the bathroom, seeing the shadowy, looming figure leaned over me, watching as I knelt over the cold toilet bowl, and jammed the stick stick down my throat, triggering my gag reflex after a few moments of me begging it to do so. I vomited, until I began to panic again, as I started to uncontrollably vomit. It hurt me so much. The acid burned and I choked slightly. The figure bent further over me, and I felt her touch my back. But, her comforting touch was no longer warm. In fact, ice cold and it made me flinch. I no longer recognised her warmth.
I placed the coffee stirrer by his knees and got up to sit on the toilet. And, there she stood. My eating disorder faced me. I faced my eating disorder. This was the first time I had ever looked her in the face, in her deep, hypnotising eyes. And, she was not as frightening as I imagined. Now looking at her, she shrunk to my height. She was small. She didn’t have the power to stand over me. She fell to her knees, as though weakened by my observing of her. She created this concept in my head of a terrifyingly beautiful and dark creature; one, in which that would protect me, yet I was scared to look her in the face. As long as I didn’t confront her, as long as I didn’t look at her, I was promised happiness and sanctuary. But, now seeing her for what she was, she didn’t appear to be able to promise me anything, let alone make it happen. I could see her for what she truly was for the first time since I first developed an eating disorder. I recognised the falsehoods of her promises. I knew that my instinct, in which I believed that things were not as I believed they were beforehand, was correct.
She was no longer a person, but a horrible and devastating attempt to control me. All the feelings and thoughts I experienced when I was unwell, and during my second relapse, were now coming upon me as untrue. I was never in control. I could never have control. Not when the control belonged to the eating disorder. Getting to see the eating disorder for what it was, while the acidity of my purging stung still, and my eyes were bleary, my ears ringing and blocked, it was interesting, it was eye-opening. Almost like an epiphany. The low mood, the low self esteem, the anger, the anxiety, the insecurity, the suicidal thoughts; they always remained when I was unwell. The relapse taught me that. Restricting my eating, attempting to get back on track with purges, it solved nothing. It did nothing. I still felt the same. Actually, I felt worse than I did before.
She couldn’t terrify me any longer. Because I acknowledged her, she couldn’t hold me down. As I returned to normalcy, a state of recovery, I saw brief glimpses of her out the corner of my eye, particularly if I doubted eating something or I purged. And, each time, I caught her. I would look her straight in the eye, and she would shrink again.
I didn’t belong to her anymore.
If you need support, and are affected by this piece, then please contact Beat for further support and advice. If you would like more information and advice about emetophobia, then please read this article.