First times are generally seen as something special. The first bath. The first laugh. The first step, first day of school, and first kiss. We commemorate our firsts with pictures and stories. We add to our memory box.
There was no camera the first time I threw up after a meal. I didn’t share my “triumph.” I was nineteen-years-old, living away from home for the first time, and struggling under the demands I placed on myself regarding the way I looked.
I was regularly calling myself a failure because that’s what you are if you aren’t perfect. I often have a problem with the greys. You’re good or bad, and there are no in-betweens. I was restricting, succumbing to binges, and following them up with excessive exercise and even more restrictive eating. Perfect remained elusive despite my desperation.
I don’t know where the idea came from. I don’t remember if it was something I’d read, or heard talked about, or seen. I just remember deciding that throwing up would somehow save me from being fat so I could at last be happy.
Using bulimia as a self-help device is as effective as using smoking to cure cancer. The eating disorder brain is not much concerned with logic, however. I’m not sure what it wants, truthfully, other than my absence. My eating disorder is trying to kill me. It took me a long time to understand that reality. It’s true for every eating disorder everywhere. Above any other consideration, the final goal is death.
The first time I vomited the food I’d eaten, I used a bathtub in my dorm. It looked like every other institutional bathroom facility. Lots of tile and lots of tan fixtures. There was a bank of toilets on the right, and a bank of showers on the left. The toilets seemed too public, to obvious, and to gross. I’d get over that. Privacy also became less imperative, but that first time, I didn’t want anyone to know. I wasn’t fully engaged in the behaviour but already ashamed.
The shower and tub stalls had a partition that separated the changing area from the plumbed-in one. No one would see my tell-tale feet. I also thought the tub drain was safer: I figured the food would slide down without fuss. I thought wrong.
The food sat there instead of draining, sullenly refusing to become absent while the running water turned the whole mess into disgusting soup. After my initial panic – what if i never got it to empty – I pryed up the drain cover and shoved the bits and pieces of partially digested food down. I’m lucky the drains didn’t back up.
My memories amuse me sometimed. There’s an element black humour to the incident. It’s tragic, yes, but there’s also a hint of slapstick. On the surface of the retelling, at any rate. What was underneath was less amusing. I remember, all too clearly, what it felt like in that cubicle, shoving my fingers down my throat for the first time, fighting against the urge to stop. The gagging might have done it, but then the food come back up. Victory, of the courting-death type.
I had no way of knowing how long I’d be fighting this fight. Had I known what was to come, how much I’d lose and how much damage I’d end up doing to myself, I might have made a different choice. Or not: I’d been on the eating disorder track for nearly ten years by then. In all likelihood, I’d have carried on, regardless.
An eating disorder is about getting thin and perfect. Other consideration, like life, are secondary.