october 31, 2017
first times are generally seen as something special. the first bath. the first laugh. the first step. the first day of school, the first dance, the first kiss. the first time you fall in love. we take pictures and share stories. we commemorate our firsts.
there was no camera the first time i threw up after a meal. i didn’t share my “triumph”. i was nineteen, away from home, struggling under the demands i placed on myself regarding food and the way i looked. still calling myself a failure because that’s what you are if you aren’t perfect. i had a problem with the greys. i was still restricting, still succumbing to binges, still following them up with days of extra-exercise and ever more restrictive eating.
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 and then at last, i could be happy.
using bulimia as a self-help device is as effective and logical 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 really understand that.
the first time i threw up was when i vomited up my dinner into a bathtub at my university residence. it looked like any other public, institutional, changing-room-type bathroom facility. lots of tile, lots of tan fixtures. you walk in the door and there’s a bank of toilets on one side, a bank of showers on the other. the toilets seemed too public, to obvious, to use. i didn’t want anyone to know what i was doing. not even fully engaged in the behaviour yet, and already ashamed.
the shower and tub stalls had double doors to separate the changing areas from the plumbed-in ones. no one would see my tell-tale feet under the dividers. i thought the tub drain was the better choice; i thought it would allow the food to escape down the pipes easily. i thought wrong. instead, the food sat there, sullenly refusing to become absent and the running water turned the whole mess into a disgusting soup. after the initial panic – what if i never got it to empty – i was able to pry up the drain cover and shoved and rammed bits and pieces of partially digested food down the pipes. i’m lucky the whole thing didn’t back up.
there’s an element black humour to the incident. it’s tragic, yes, but there is an element of chuckle. underneath that are my memories. i remember, too clearly, what it felt like to be there in that cubicle, shoving my fingers down my throat for the first time, fighting against the urge to stop, gagging and then watching the food come back up. i wonder if i would’ve stopped if i’d have known how long i’d be fighting this fight, if i’d known how much i’d lose, and how much damage i’d end up doing to myself. i like to think i would have, but i part of me suspects i’d have carried on, regardless.