november 12, 2017
my history with hotel rooms is complicated. sure, they’re great when i’m on vacation, but i have other hotel stories as well. i don’t really like to revisit my history but i’m slowly learning that if i don’t own my past, and forgive myself for it, and let it go, i’ll get pulled back into the pit. you have to be careful – eating disorders are determined opponents. they want to stay.
i was always certain the hotel reception staff knew something was up with me the moment i walked into the lobby. i think we can call that projecting. it felt to me like people were staring. it seemed to me that everyone knew why i was there. i was certain everyone thought i was disgusting. the truth is probably that they neither knew nor cared. i’m fairly certain in hindsight that no one would’ve guessed that i was there in order to have place to binge and purge where i would be undisturbed.
my preferred hotel – isn’t that awful – was about 45 minutes from home. medium-sized, it was one of the anchor businesses for a large mall. lucky for me, a grocery store was also one of the mall’s tenants. it’s good when supplies are close at hand. the mall location also meant i’d be able to get some fast food. it was an essential part of most of my binges. it really is true – location is everything in real estate.
i had a cover story ready to share if anyone had thought to ask me the reason for my visit. i’ve often wondered if they thought i was a cheating spouse. i wish i had been. i wish i’d been there for any other purpose at all. bulimia vacation destination is not going to be making the top ten lists for effective advertising any time soon.
i’d check in with a backpack slung over my shoulder and a mostly empty suitcase at my feet. it held my non-food supplies – emetics, laxatives, a spare shirt (just in case), a toiletries bag, and after my first hotel visit, some cutlery. it’s good to be prepared.
my anxiety would climb as i waited at the desk for the keys, though i wouldn’t have labelled it such at the time. i did not want to accept that anxiety was a component of my eating disorder. i was consistently resistant to the idea. i’m not sure why – i accepted my diagnosis of major depressive disorder easily. something to do with control, perhaps. chalking up my behaviours to anything other than a failure of my will seemed to me to be abrogating control. that ignored the reality that i was not in control; that my eating disorder was in charge and had been for some time.
regardless, as i waited, those tight-inside feelings would rise. the need to run and escape would climb. i was already a little spun up before i arrived. if i hadn’t been tripping, the binge and purge retreat wouldn’t have been necessary.
my life was pretty busy and fairly complicated when i first started taking my eating disorder out for hotel stays. there were a lot of people in my life and in my space. it made purging more of a challenge. it was by no means impossible, it just wasn’t as easy as it had been when i lived alone. smaller purges post-meal didn’t satisfy the weird need growing inside me. i started to think outside the box.
once the paperwork was done, i’d park my suitcase in the room and with my backpack slung over my shoulder, i’d hit the grocery store. i used the same backpack all the time. i had it for years. it held nothing but horrible memories but i kept it close. it wasn’t the first or even the only twisted memento i’ve held onto. historically, i’m a bit of a glutton when it comes to behaviours that cause me harm.
it was purple and black, and it was my eating disorder sidekick for quite some time. it carried food for me at university and groceries once i moved away from student residence accommodations. it carried bags of vomit from purging episodes taken in non-plumbed locations. it helped me shoplift food when money got tight. basically, it was the worst friend ever. it’s shocking how hard it was to let it go.
at the grocery store, for a binge, it’s all about the bakery, the junk food aisle, the frozen dessert section, and the deli. ice cream is a must. it keeps everything looser in the stomach. it makes it easier to bring food back up.
on my first hotel stay, i forgot to bring any cutlery. luckily grocery stores stock that too. small talk with cashiers when you’re acquiring food for a binge is a nightmare. they’d generally assume i was having a party and that’s the lie i stuck with. i’d invent birthday celebrations for fictional partners and imaginary children, or lie about work events. what was i going to say? “no, the doughnuts, and pasta , and chips, and candy, and cake, and ice cream, and pop aren’t for a party. i plan to eat them, along with a few other things over the next hour and then throw it all up, in the hopes that the horrible eating disorder voice in my head will shut the fuck up for a few minutes and give me some peace.” i’m not sure what the response would’ve been had i said something like that. i never had to find out. eating disorders come with lies and i got good at it. it was kind of my thing.
the food choices for binges are fairly consistent. sometimes there were minor additions and subtractions from the fast food category – pizza instead of burgers; onion rings instead of fries, that kind of thing. sometimes my ice cream would be of the blizzard variety. generally, though, my binge foods looked similar. heavy on the simple carbs. heavy on the junk food. heavy on foods i didn’t eat. heavy on the things i loved.
or used to love. or thought i loved. it’s hard to tell anymore. food has become so very complicated. it’s all evaluated and ranked as “good” or “bad”. the good category was basically high water-content vegetables. nothing like a bowl of iceberg lettuce with salt and vinegar to get you through the day.
take apple fritters. i loved them once, i suppose. what’s not to like? they’re fried dough, all sugary and sweet, with bits of cinnamon apple sprinkled throughout. i remember in bits and pieces sometimes the single digit years. the last time i just ate. didn’t evaluate or measure or judge. food was just food. now fritters are bad; a caloric bomb that in one piece had the same calories i allowed myself for two meals. in part, their inclusion in binges was nostalgic. a remembrance of good food past.
bingeing on foods i’d lost didn’t make me happy. i didn’t thrill to be eating them again. i didn’t savour each mouthful. eating during a binge is a rote act. i don’t think about the food as it’s going in, it’s just hand to mouth, over and over.
for ice cream, i chose flavours from the premium labels. on the rare occasions i allowed myself to have ice cream in the house, it was of the very plain variety. pre-portioned vanilla cups were best. when i binged, i branched out. flavours i’d never tried, with toppings fantastic and gross, i ingested them all. no joy in consumption there either, just shoveling it in, swallowing it alongside what i now can identify as rage.
i wonder sometimes if that will ever come back. will a day come when i will once again find joy in food? i hope so. i eat to survive but at times, i think a protein-liquid diet might be the way to go, and i can give up on the whole food struggle entirely.
i like hotel rooms. they’re clean and tidy. i’m a bit ocd – literally, not colloquially – so an orderly and organized environment is important. the food, as i unpacked it in the room, gets arranged neatly on the bed, lined up along the sides, in order of consumption, with space for me in the middle. i’m ready to watch television and consume. neatly, though. i’m tidy even at the extreme edges of my bulimic behaviour.
i’m not appreciating taste or texture when i’m bingeing. i’m not enjoying the moment. i chew the food, mostly, not because i care about not choking as i shovel in a bite of this and a spoonful of that but because food that is well-chewed is easier to vomit. everything is about that. my whole life was about that.
the full you get from a binge is unbelievable. my stomach would distend to a painful degree. not unexpected when you consider that the fritters and cookies and chips and ice cream and macaroni salad add up to close to four litres of food. i often worried that i’d tear or rip something internally. however, that worry was not enough to make me stop. in addition to the food, i’d add about half a litre of liquid, either water or diet pop. fluid helps get purging started, and can help move things along more efficiently during those episodes where purging was a struggle. water loading is also risky behaviour, but once again, i regarded the risk as only a minor concern.
sometimes a binge was a race. sometimes i feel like i’m being pushed forward, being prodded and compelled into consuming. it’s an overwhelming urge to eat, to eat more, to eat faster, and to do it now. sometimes it was a slog, an unpleasant job that had to be done. these kind of planned out, systematic binges, felt more like the later. the ritual was planned, start to finish. it’s an odd thing to do, an odd thing to try and understand. fast thoughts or slow, though, i always felt compelled to proceed, notwithstanding the fact that i hated myself for my bulimia every day.
when you’re that full, starting to vomit is easy. moving is sometimes enough to do it. bending over the toilet and pushing lightly on the stomach was also effective. the whole process takes a while though. it’s not like on television, where bulimics bend over once, throw up for 20 seconds, and sigh in relief that that’s over. in the real world it takes longer, it’s harder, and there’s more mess. i timed my purges. an hour of bingeing meant at least twenty minutes for throwing up. as the food cascade up my throat and over my hands into the toilet, i’d look for marker foods. i wanted to make sure that even the food i had eaten first was coming up. it’s like watching the ingredients line up for a particularly nasty layer cake.
easy and clean is put on hold when you’re vomiting. my fingers would get covered in slime from the gagging and bits of food would lodge around and under my fingernails. sometimes food came out my nose, burning the tissues there, and getting lodged in my sinuses. i’d get splashed with dirty water from the toilet as the food splashed into the toilet bowl. my throat would burn, my nose and eyes would run, and my stomach would ache, inside and out. i hated to stop to blow my nose. it seemed to slow things down, it was harder to get going again if i paused. sometimes, if it was really challenging, i’d start bleeding from the throat or from my gums. sometimes, i’d blow out blood vessels in my eyes. is it any wonder i hated myself?
sometimes, my body would rebel. the food just didn’t want to come back up. i’d feel it in my stomach, like a lump, as my brain reminded me that i was fat and pathetic and worthless. sometimes i’d take emetics. not often, because they are a really unpleasant experience that i tried to avoid, as much as possible. they can also cause cardiac arrest, which is bad. i’d chug another half-litre of water and roll around on the floor for a few minutes. i felt like one of those machines in the hardware store that is used to mix paint – mixing instead water and chyme to make it easier to get rid of.
no matter how hard i worked, there was always residual food. despite my incessant laxative abuse, the more i binged, the harder it got for me to maintain really thin. too many extra calories and too much water retention. that made the eating disorder voice louder which led to more restricting, more vomiting, and more binges and purges. it’s a vicious spiral that takes you down into hell.
i didn’t stay the night in the hotel room. that was never the plan. once the purge was over, i’d pack up any leftovers and put them into my backpack and suitcase to be disposed of elsewhere. i didn’t want the hotel staff to know what i’d been doing. the first rule of an eating disorder is, don’t talk about the eating disorder. it’s a secret that no one is supposed to know. next, i’d clean the bathroom. finally, after remaking the bed, i’d head home, disgusted with myself, and horrified by how much money i’d spent.
bulimia is an expensive disease. i probably also shouldn’t have been driving, since exhaustion and a little disassociation were overpowering, but once i was done, i needed to go. i wanted to be home, with my people and my things. i wanted a safe space. it took a long time to realize that i’d never have one with an active eating disorder in my life.