Regurgitation (Don’t Say The B Word)

You learn in elementary school—second grade, in the Mr. Popper’s Penguins unit—that mother penguins regurgitate their food to feed to their young. You’re not quite sure what “regurgitate” means, but you gather that they eat and then throw it back up so their babies can digest. Gross, you think. You’ve only thrown up once before, because you were carsick, and you can’t imagine ever wanting to do that: it hurt, and it tasted bad, and it made your eyes water. Ew, you whisper to the boy next to you, and you stick out your tongue.

Later, you’re in sixth grade, and a woman talks to your class about things you’ve never heard of: girls who don’t eat, who eat a little but exercise for hours, who eat but then make themselves throw up. You see pictures of ribs sticking out, of straw-like hair, of yellow teeth. Weird, you think. You’ve never worried about your weight. You look at your friends, transfixed by the images on the projector, and you wonder if they have.

Then, you’re nineteen. You just finished your first year of college, and your boyfriend from home broke up with you, and you don’t have a summer job, and nineteen is nothing like you thought it would be. One night, your mom makes a cake and you eat it, almost the whole thing, because you’re bored, and then you realize you didn’t want it at all. It’s like a lump sitting in your stomach, a lump of lemony, sugary, frosted guilt, and you think about it for a few hours as you watch Netflix and read and wander around your house. You think, maybe I can just get rid of it, just the once.

You’ve never made yourself throw up before, and you don’t really know what to do. You go into the bathroom and you lock the door. You crouch in front of the toilet, the tile floor cold on your knees, and tentatively slide a finger down your throat. You gag a little, but nothing comes out. You stick your finger down farther, coughing. Your knees start to hurt, so you sit down. Frustrated, you jam your finger farther, as if you could reach the fucking lemon cake of guilt and pull it out. Finally it works, and you heave into the toilet, a barrage of bright yellow that spatters on the seat and your shirt and the walls. It didn’t hurt, like it did when you were little, and your eyes watered, but not in a bad way. You stand up, and wash your hands, and use a handful of toilet paper to wipe off the seat and the walls, and change your shirt. Just the once, you think, but you feel better. Your stomach feels empty, and you feel accomplished, somehow.

You start to make yourself throw up every time you eat a little too much, every time food feels like a lump in your stomach again. You told yourself it was only once, but it’s too easy to not do it. You start to feel like you have a purpose. You excuse yourself quickly from the table every night, going upstairs and locking the door and emptying yourself of chicken, burgers, fajitas, spaghetti, whatever, until you nothing but sour liquid comes up. When you go out to dinner, you say you have to pee and walk quickly to the bathroom, where you thrust your finger down your throat quickly and violently, careful not to take too long. If there’s someone in the bathroom, you go back to the table, and you feel the food you just ate expanding in your stomach until you get home.

You start throwing up every time you eat, and you learn better ways to do it. You learn to twist your finger around in your throat and to press it up against your uvula. You learn to drink a little bit of water beforehand to make it come up easier, but not so much that it makes it messy. You learn to eat bland foods because spicy ones hurt. You learn to flush the toilet twice to get rid of all the evidence. Your mother asks you, once, if you’re throwing up. You wipe your mouth on the back of your hand and say, something in my throat, sorry! and walk out and smile.

You get a scab on the middle knuckle of your right hand from where it knocks against your teeth. Your voice is always hoarse, and your friends ask if you’ve started smoking. You tell them you have. It wasn’t about losing weight at first, but you like the empty feeling in your stomach and how your shorts settle lower on your hips. Your father tells you it looks like you lost weight, and you say, I’ve been running. Sometimes you remember what the frizzy-haired lady said in sixth grade, and you wonder if you have a problem. You think of the b-word. I could stop anytime I wanted to, you think.

You go back to school in the fall, and you realize it’s harder to throw up in a bathroom that you share with twenty-one other girls. You make yourself vomit if there’s no one else in there, and sometimes you do it in a plastic bag in the privacy of your room and take it to the trash at the end of the hall, shoving it deep underneath the paper towels and instant noodle packages. Your roommate looks at you funny, sometimes, but you avoid her questions about what you had for lunch. It becomes more of an effort than an activity you enjoy, and the constant lack of food in your stomach starts makes you hungry.

You forget about your boyfriend, and you kiss boys and worry that they can taste the vomit on your mouth. You join a club and make new friends, and you don’t have time to throw up everything you eat, so you only do it once a day, and then a few times a week, and then hardly ever. Your friends talk about eating disorders, and from the back of someone’s car, you say, finally, I was bulimic, once. Was and once aren’t really true—you still do it sometimes, when you feel too full, when you know you ate too much, when you need to get a little control back—but they’re almost true.

You throw up once when you’re at home over winter break—Christmas morning, after you’ve eaten too much French toast—and your mom walks in on you. She cries, and calls for your dad, and the three of you sit in the living room in your pajamas and they talk at you, and say things like rehab and problem and disorder and unhealthy and scared. You tell them it was just once, and you won’t do it again, and they hug you and make you promise and threaten to take you right out of school and send you somewhere if you do it again. You nod, and think of how bad—how much worse—it used to be and how they didn’t notice or want to notice then, and think of how ironic it is, but you humor them.

You don’t throw up very much anymore. Once every now and then, only after you know you’ve eaten too much, and you feel guilty, not accomplished, afterward. But you’re always reminded of how easy it once was, how light and empty it made you, and how it felt to have a secret. TC mark

image – Rama

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  • _|_

    i don't even need to use my finger(s) anymore…

    • j.

      me neither. and thus it is pretty darn hard to quit. it's too discreet. and so then it's so easy to just do it over, and over and over. and then there's all the money down the drain wasted on food, the hours that could have been spent towards something productive, and the overarching fear that my inability to achieve success is because i stunted a lot of potential by wasting countless hours on a horrible, stupid disease.

      • Jen

        Same here :/ I regret ever having started purging. I wonder if, over time and without engaging in that behaviour, that “ability” sort of goes away? I really hope so :/

      • Lily

        It dosen’t.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1363230138 Michael Koh

    I make myself throw up every time I have a garbage plate.

  • Julia Kath

    great piece, very powerful. it is all too easy to fall into an eating disorder and you're right – you never really get rid of it completely. i suffered from anorexia when i was 13-15, which developed into binge eating disorder from the constant hunger and being unable to throw up. i'm still trying to balance the forces!

  • S.H

    This post should come with a warning. Don't you see how triggering it could be to certain people? Those in recovery/at risk of relapse?

    • Yes

      I agree. I'm totally against censorship and all that but some details in this are a bit much without some kind of warning or something. Some bits of this seem to validate eating disorders a little bit more than makes me comfortable.

      • Abby

        I'm very sorry if it came across as validating eating disorders–that wasn't my intention in any way. I was merely writing about my own (ongoing) experience. Eating disorders are a very serious problem, one I'm glad I was able to manage on my own, though I know many others aren't as lucky. Had I thought of it beforehand, I would have made mention of the potentially disturbing content.

      • C.A.

        Surreal reading someone else's battle.  I don't consider mine a battle,
        just something I live with now that helps me feel control.  You must be
        thinking I'm demented in your heads, but you don't know my life and scars.  Its been 4
        years and I haven't stopped.  I would, were it not everyone's response
        to how much they like me better for being skinny.  And I have tried
        running and working out but its not the same.  I know I will eventually pay for this one
        way or the other.

      • K....

        I can tell you, the first place you’ll notice the lasting physical repurcussions of this illness is your teeth. I don’t know how often you do it, but given the length of time you’ve listed, you’ve probobly already done permanant damage to your enamel, which you will never get back, ever. The first time I ever made myself throw up was the summer I was 15. When I became severely bulimic, as in everyday, multiple times a day if nessecary, it was the summer before my senior year of high school. In less than a few months, I lost 40 pounds and the response I got from everyone was amazing, despite the nasty mean girls who gossiped about me, only because I was now skinny and thus, “a threat”, in the locker room. “I heard she only subsists on Diet Coke,” one girl whispered as I passed by. I wasn’t ready to get help until the fall of sophomore year of college. I don’t know what your road to recovery would look like, but I know it won’t be easier than your life now. It’s easier to starve or binge or purge than it is to deal with the underlying emotions and insecurities that fuel this behavior. Being thin feels like the most important thing for you and I get that. Unless you’re severely underweight though, recovery dosen’t have to mean gaining alot of weight. Running, working out, dieting, ect. never worked before because you obviously have alot of issues attached to food, weight, and to get to the root of it all, you probobly hate yourself. Stop waging a battle and start living your life. I wish you the best anonymous internet soul.

      • k.s.

        yeah.  this made me uneasy, especially with not a sicko's comment comparing “an occasional purge” to wine with dinner.  that's a horrifically damaging idea to perpetuate.  i don't think not a sicko grasped the guilt and sadness that's in this piece.  amy seder's 'how to have a phobia' (yes, on emetophobia) is a good accompaniment to describe the overwhelming guilt/grief/fear of bulimia.
        and i said it– bulimia.  this is bulimia.  it's not a manageable issue.  i feel so scared reading this, because i've felt that secret gloating.  when i was fourteen and started to be bulimic, it was a triumph to slide by my parents' concerns and blithely discuss eating disorders with my friends.  like not a sicko, throwing up was an easy solution.  and then it wasn't amusing to hide your vomit in your room and be in so much denial as to leave it stagnant in plastic bags for months.  or to cover russell's sign on your hands by burning yourself.  or to drop out of college because you spent the majority of your free time thinking about food, buying or stealing food, eating food, and throwing it up.  or to lose the trust of your family and friends when they realize that you just cannot stop lying. or to be twenty and still bulimic and unable to imagine what you'll be doing in ten years because you are convinced this is going to kill you eventually.i have to wonder about the line between validating a personal experience with a disorder and validating the disease.  like, fuck, how many times have i seen quotes from hornbacher's wasted on some girl's online eating disorder journal when i was a teenager?  it was validating for her own experience, but it seemed to fuel it too.  in the same way, this piece is startling accurate, but it slides between warning and tips for those already desperate for acknowledgement/solidarity.  i know that was never, never intended, but that's what i'm reminded of.  i wish we could talk about this, rather than have you receive this block of text from me.

        (and please, not a sicko, get help.  it won't be a solution for much longer, and i promise you bulimia will become a far more uncomfortable problem than not being able to handle a milkshake.  please be kind to yourself.)

      • k.s.

        damn, i wish i could edit my comments.  line break at the end of 'fear of bulimia,' and 'kill you eventually.'

      • ABBY

        K.S., I appreciate your comment. I'm sorry if it made you uneasy, but I'm glad you seemed to get my intention in the piece. I think what made me stop were the realizations that you've had: that what seems like a quick, easy fix is actually extremely damaging; that you're more grown up than you think, and what might be an adolescent problem at 14 is more serious when you're 20; and that, no matter how good it makes you feel, it's not kind to your body. I hope you're well. :)

  • maryneth

    At first I wasn't sure what Mr. Popper's Penguins had to do with it but it tied in very nicely.

  • dontiknowit

    this was me in college… almost identical.  it felt so good, that control.  it's been probably 6 years since it was a daily thing but i still think about doing it a lot.

  • cnlaird

    poignant, well done.

  • not a sicko

    I thought you were talking directly to me here.  I rarely use the B word.  I don't do it very often, I just hate that uncomfortably full feeling, it hurts.  Lately I've been in control of my binging.  I'm not a binge eater either.  I just have eyes bigger than my stomach.  Actually, since I quit watching tv, this is hardly an issue. 

    Sometimes I get milkshakes.  I love them; they're delicious.  But I'm lactose intolerant, so actually digesting the thing will cause problems.  Down goes the finger and up comes the milkshake.  Sometimes its still cold and it usually tastes the same coming up.  I laugh because I get to have milkshake twice with none of the calories and indigestion. 

    The plethora of valid excuses means that this is NOT bulimia.  It's a practical solution to an uncomfortable problem.  But I know better than to bring back thai food, even if I did binge. 

    I fully understand that this is not the natural order of things, but then, being on top of the food chain (and having such an easily accessible abundance of it) isn't exactly the natural order either.  Unfortunately, most of us are hardwired to eat as much as we can (before this mammoth carcass rots and we're picking maggots out of our meat…wait, why did I say that?) therefore,  I don't see the occasional purge as being an eating disorder anymore than a glass of wine with dinner is a drinking problem.

    • sloppysoup

      wow

    • guesst

      you're fucked up

    • You're An Idiot

      Comparing the occasional glass of wine to the occasional purging is lunacy. Occasional purging is still abnormal, it's still a disorder, stand in the mirror and deny it to yourself all you want, but you're bulimic. Whatever word you want to use in it's place is simply you protecting your fragile brain from the truth of your pathetic situation. “Not a sicko” is laughable, you're completely sick. Deal with your problems like an adult, not like a stupid child who thinks there are no consequences to her actions.

    • anon

      The romans used to purge at their banquets so they could keep eating more… I think if it's for a valid reason that has nothing to do with losing weight or some emotional problem, it isn't really a disorder. 

      I've purged a couple times, but it was because of discomfort from emotional binging, which is a separate issue, and not the same as yours.

  • A.

    Perfect, sad, true.

  • Kyle Bishop

    Wow. Incredible.

  • ------

    story of my life, literally.

  • Megan

    In High School I tried this. You can imagine my disappointment when I discovered I had no gag reflex.

    • anon

      But how excited was your boyfriend?

  • Marianela D'Aprile

    beautiful. thank you for writing this.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1198922828 Marianna Elvira

    really interesting to see it from someone's perspective, thank you.

  • Jodi2

    This is a beautiful piece, and with a bulimic best friend I can understand a lot about where you are coming from. To anyone out there doing this, it must stop. Please, please, please. Maybe no one will know but you. But that has to be enough. Sending strength to those who need. Please get better.

  • Oliviasimons

    thank you so much for this. i spent my last semester of high school starving myself and throwing up whatever i indulged in. more than three years later i'm still in treatment because i'm still anorexic. sure, this article might be triggering. if i'm being perfectly honest, upon completing this article i threw up the two slices of cake i'd just eaten, but what's most important is that it tells an honest, personal story of an eating disorder. too often those suffering from eating disorders are stereotyped and assumptions are made, it will take more than articles about starving models in fashion publications to educate those unaffected by these disorders. it's going to take people suffering from eating disorders telling their own stories to really create an understanding of this disorder amongst the public. only after that occurs can society make meaningful strides in the direction of preventing eating disorders and taking care of those who suffer. i'm so glad thought catalog is enabling this process.

  • eric

    i threw up ten or twenty times maybe after binges due to the severe unbearable discomfort but then it turned out i had an autoimmune disorder and my gut was fucked and i was kind of starving actually. i haven't even tried in years since, but back then i could really feel each time the once uncommon indulgence congealing into habit at an access in my mind never voided. it was scary and i'm sorry this is your shit.

  • Bri

    I originally scrolled down to the user comments to find those who reprimanded you for writing such a triggering article about such an awful topic. There was way too much validation behind this article. Nothing prepared me for the amount of support you have received from this piece of writing. Reading these comments is extremely troublesome for me and what is even more troublesome is the fact that there was no resolution for you in the form of finding help. Judging from your writing, you have, or had, an eating disorder. I can respect the honesty of your work. It was haunting and gritty and written very well, but my God. You completely glaze over the fact that this still happens to you and you have an onslaught of readers leaving comments about how touching this was. 

    I have never experienced bulimia, or anorexia, which means I will never understand what it means to be in your position. Maybe it's easy for me to ignore your hardships and judge you for your lack of an ending. This is your hardship, your life, and you have chosen to display it on Thought Catalog. Now your article will be filed among the hipster-tastic posts Thought Catalog is famous for and dozens of hiptastic, but vulnerable, girls (or guys, who knows, let's not bring gender into this) will read this and think that “like, seriously, this is totally about them” and you will be regarded as just another trendy Thought Catalog writer who writes candy coated articles for a candy coated generation. 

    Your honesty is the problem. Your writing, or should I say life, rejected those reaching out to help you and you approached them with such a “parents just don't understand” attitude. Maybe they don't understand and maybe they will never be able to understand, but they wanted to help you, and all of those conversations circling above your head about “rehab” and “problems” was an attempt to make you better. Maybe had you listened you would be able to produce a piece of writing that results in a healthier ending, but hey, this is life. There really are no happy endings. I will say that your writing is stellar. You now know how I feel about the subject matter, but that will never stop me from commending great writing. This will probably be something you struggle with your whole life. I hope that one day your “every now and then” turns into “never again”.

    • ABBY

      Thank you for your concern, and I'm sorry if you were made to feel uncomfortable by the piece. It was my intention for this to be a happy (or healthy) ending; in real life, it was, believe me. But the writing was the reason I submitted it to Thought Catalog–I had no didactic purpose in sharing my story, I just like to write, and I like to hear criticism about my writing. Perhaps I didn't express the ending as well as I had intended; I'll work on that. Thanks for your feedback.

      • http://carving-backbone.tumblr.com kristie

        I have to say I fully agree with the original poster, though I'm new here and cannot really say I know how the trends here work as far as the amount of people who will see this.  But, I'm part of may social media places and understand the dynamic well and could see that happening here.  So, that's the only part of his/her comment I couldn't say I 'agree' with.
        I also thought this was written phenomenally.  Having struggled with an eating disorder since I was nine, although the chronology of my thoughts and introduction to the disorder were different, so much of this was spot on and so relatable to life and I know that there are plenty of people I've met in treatment who probably fell into their troubles in this precise manner.

        However, the reason I'm commenting and why I'm commenting specifically in reply to you and the former writing was that I, too, felt this was cut short.  I felt this feeling inside that was searching for a “click to read more” button somewhere – like this was more than *just* a teaser or introductionary blurb; but, still no resolute.  Cliff-hangers are great in mysteries and thrillers and occasionally even in life tales, but I kept wondering, hmm?  What next?  What went through their head, what thoughts did she arrive at that made for a more convicted determination to stop (or even justifying continuing) the behaviour?  What resolution (good or bad) did she come to that all of us as readers can grasp and follow her to?
        ..I just was left with a 'what next' feeling?  Again, like I was searching for a 'click for more..' button to grab the last couple paragraphs.

        Still, like the previous post, I commend the excellent writing and chosen POV to write from.

      • Abby

        Thank you so much for your feedback! I really appreciate it. Endings are something I always struggle with in my writing. I felt the same way writing it-that there was a “click to read more” button somewhere, well put-but I kind of hit a roadblock and gave up. Perhaps because I haven't felt a true ending for the real life part, to be honest: the day-to-day issues kind of faded away without me noticing, and it's more of a once-in-a-blue-moon thing now. I'll work on that next time, though! I hope you're healthy. :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Steven-Timberman/922794 Steven Timberman

    “Your friends talk about eating disorders, and from the back of someone’s car, you say, finally,I was bulimic, once. Was and once aren’t really true—you still do it sometimes, when you feel too full, when you know you ate too much, when you need to get a little control back—but they’re almost true.” 

    Gorgeous. 

    Though I might as well ask – aren't you showing more signs of Anorexia and not the B word?

  • http://www.facebook.com/earthtonichole Nichole

    I enjoyed (and unfortunately related to) this piece but agree with the other posters who thought you (or perhaps the editors) should have included a trigger warning at the beginning. When I first started reading I thought it might be related to that post someone made about having a phobia of vomit.

  • Anonyme

    Beautifully written and so true! It made me remember how easy it is to start, because it would be just for one time… how you feel in control… how good it feels to lose weight – thought it was not the primary purpose -, and also being almost proud of carrying a secret no one knew about.

    It also made me remember carefully planning the shopping for specific foods that I would then throw up. The fact that no matter how many times I would wash my hands and teeth after, I always feared someone could smell it on my fingers or in my breath. How I was always touching my throat, afraid that my salivary glands would be swollen and someone would notice. And telling myself that the red spattering in the toilet was tomato, thought I had not eaten tomato that day, because the truth was too scary to handle.

  • Lklkoch

    Strange how the mind works. I have unfortunately been considering “regurgitating” for a while but never had the true motivation to do it. This article, initially, made me once again consider throwing up tonight's chinese food which a lot of the comments are critical about. However, Abby, the raw and eerily nonchalant tone you had through your recovery only made me more and more confident NOT to do it. Your writing is beautifully crafted and reeks of honesty- the tone of your piece sends a message that the words may not. Really well done, and best of luck with your health.

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