Recovering from Bulimia
by Christine Kane
In my song The Way Clouds Do, there’s a line that says, “Back in Fairfax, Virginia, me and the girls grew up in homes they built on battlefields. In ponytails and panic, we were bad, bored and bulimic. We longed for something real.” It wasn’t just alliteration, I really was all three. Some of my friends who have had or still have eating disorders are shocked that I’m essentially admitting to thousands of people that I had been bulimic. Bulimia has lots of shame attached to it.
If you branded it, it’d be Bulimia: The Embarrassing Addiction.
Recovering alcoholics will occasionally tell horrific stories of drunken stupors that lasted for days and ended with them passing out in an alley while someone’s stereo above played Aretha Franklin all night long and the whole thing takes on the mood of a Jim Jarmusch movie. Recovering drug addicts will talk all about binges and felonies and thieving and though it’s horrible, it’s also poetry — it’s John Coltrane, it’s filmed in grainy black & white, it’s what life did to you and oh my god you made it, look at you!
Recovering bulimics do not talk about the night they ordered three pizzas from Domino’s, devoured two of them with a liter of Coke, followed by a bag of Doritos, another bag of Cheetos, another one of Oreos, finishing with a half gallon of Ben & Jerry’s cookie dough (the only poetry being that every food ends in the same vowel sound) all while watching “Pretty Woman” in a basement apartment, letting the answering machine pick up the calls, and then spending a half hour throwing up, cleaning up, sitting on the bathroom floor letting their hearts race until they couldn’t keep their eyes open any longer so they passed out on the bed and slept til too late in the morning and got up and pretended everything was okay when they showed up at work the next day. Not so much on the John Coltrane there. More like Paula Abdul.
So, yes, I was bulimic for about ten years of my life. And though that picture isn’t exactly a scene from those ten years, it gives you the general idea of your basic binge.
I’m no longer bulimic. This fact is number one on any Gratitude List I ever make. Contained in that gratitude is also a gratitude for having had bulimia at all. When I committed myself to healing, I was required over time not only to reconcile my relationship with my own body and with food, but with other people, with my past, with my family, with God and spirituality, and with my emotional take on life. These other elements were essential to the process, and the expansion and learning have been powerful. The road continues now, of course, but I’m a totally different person.
I’m convinced that commitment to anything reveals everything. But it reveals it in very tiny doses and steps. The exact doses you are able to handle at the time. It’s like the process of making art. It’s not linear. There is grace, there is inspiration, and there are times when you think you’re right back where you started.
That brings me to the good news: when you commit to healing, when you set your intent, when you pray in whatever tiny way you can, the door does open. Light does come in. People do show up to help you. New friends who have “been there” show up and walk beside you. Books appear. A song lyric will open your heart. Grace happens.
The bad news is this: The door opens gradually. At first, imperceptibly. This news is like a prison sentence for someone with an eating disorder. Bulimic personalities want answers, they want it done, they want to either have it over with or not do it at all… which is precisely why the spiritual direction that they necessarily must go through involves learning how to live in process, progress, gratitude, and presence. None of this is good news if you’re still dealing with the disease. If you had told me on my worst days that someday I would be writing this, or that I’d even think in this way, I would have puked. And I could too. On command.
In the next blog, I’m going to write about some steps I took that were helpful in the healing of my own bulimia and my own relationship with food and life. In the meantime, if you have any questions or thoughts, post a comment or send me and email. I’ll try to address it in a future blog on this topic.