It has been 730 days since I last made myself throw up. It has been one day since I have thought about doing it. Today marks day one of a new journey. Today I did something I thought I would never do—I didn’t want to throw up.
I have battled bulimia tirelessly for the greater portion of my life. Most days it feels as though I am fighting a losing battle. It won’t quit, but I won’t, either. I am twenty-four years old and my first thought of purging crossed my mind at ten years old. Purging and self-hate should not be feelings of an otherwise happy and stable ten-year-old girl. But such is life. I have been in and out of therapy, both inpatient and out. I had all of the usual symptoms and side effects. I lost my hair; I have dental issues and heart problems. Bulimia was my best friend but also my murderer. I lost years of my life I can never get back. I often wonder what would have become of me if I didn’t spend ten years hiding and vomiting in my bedroom.
This time of year has always been excruciating for me. Up until last summer, I only wore pants in the summer. I took every measure to hide my body. I was filled with self-loathing and jealousy at girls who were able to wear shorts, dresses, and skirts. I wanted to be that girl; instead, I was stuck hiding in my own head.
Things are different now; this summer I am studying abroad in Istanbul, Turkey. I have been able to put my education and passion for learning ahead of my eating disorder. Five years ago, this would have never been an option. This is a win for me. The problem arises when I need to buy a bathing suit for the trip.
For as long as I can remember, shopping for bathing suits has brought me to tears. It has never been a successful or pleasant experience. Shopping days were usually when I did the most damage to my body.
Today, however, was different. I saw a bathing suit on the wall, tried it on, and purchased it. That was it. It wasn’t until hours later that I gave it a second thought and broke down into tears.
I liked the way I looked in my new bathing suit. Purchasing it was easy. I did not stare in the mirror for hours, I did not find myself in the fetal position crying in the fitting room, I did not punch my thighs, and I did not squeeze my stomach. I smiled and bought the damn thing.
When what I had done finally hit me, I lost all control. I cried for the girl who would have starved herself for a week after trying on a swimsuit. I cried for the girl who never allowed herself to experience any pleasure in life. I cried out of relief. I was not burdened with endless thoughts of dieting or purging. There were no thoughts of how tomorrow would be different and tomorrow I would get skinny. I was just an average girl buying a bathing suit. I was free.
I write this experience to document my accomplishment. Oddly, my 4.0 GPA and opportunity to travel the world with school take second place to my newfound ability to try on clothes without hesitation or fear. This is how I know my eating disorder is still present. I want to celebrate my victory, but I know this focus is just another way that my eating disorder lodges itself in my brain. I know that it won’t go away. I am aware that for the rest of my life, I will be bulimic. I may not be acting on any behaviors or thoughts, but the thoughts remain. Every victory and defeat will replay in my brain. I will hold onto them forever.
For anyone who is struggling with an eating disorder, it can get better. Most days it doesn’t seem that way. Most days feel helpless. They’re not. Life is so short and so precious. With time, effort, and expert care, it is possible to live a life where you can function and sometimes feel pure happiness. When it hits you, you will cry. You will weep for your past and imagine your future.
It is those brief moments when I feel free of bulimia that I am at peace. Sometimes it may only be an hour, a minute, or a second. Hold onto those moments; they are so rare, so delicate, and so beautiful.
Today I wasn’t a bulimia “survivor,” a case study, a patient, or a sick girl. I was an average twenty-four-year-old woman buying a bathing suit. An average twenty-four-year-old woman is all I can strive to be.