I am a person with anorexia nervosa who lives in an area affected by Hurricane Irene, near Boston. My anorexia manifests itself in self-starvation with breakthrough periods of bingeing without purging. I have had this illness for over 30 years. I have had some good times during those 30 years in addition to times of illness. I relapsed in 2008. It is now 2011. Hurricane Irene struck today, and that didn’t change things much. Not that I expected it to.
I never purged. This is a weird thing because most people with anorexia do purge following a binge. I seem to be unable. Saturday night, the night before Irene was to grip New England, I came the closest to self-purging that I have ever come. I loaded up on all sorts of liquids. This I did knowing that it was extremely dangerous to over-hydrate myself. Afterward, I wasn’t sure what would happen. I thought what I had drank would come up, or my kidneys would process it, or it would manifest itself as edema. No, it sat there. And finally, all at once, what was in my stomach zoomed through my intestinal tract into the toilet.
Now, that felt pretty good. More than good. So good that I knew what I’d done was wrong and addicting and that I had purged, even though I hadn’t thrown up and that it hadn’t been a conscious decision that I had made. The Bug was in me. I wanted that release again. Tonight, I went out and bought a gallon of chocolate milk. I had heard that you can’t drink a gallon of milk in one sitting without throwing it all up. I wanted this for myself. I came home and drank the gallon of chocolate milk really, really fast.
It didn’t feel good to be drinking it. Nothing felt good about it. I didn’t like the taste of it. It didn’t quench my thirst. It didn’t feel good in my mouth or my throat or my belly. It didn’t feel good in my feelings. I pictured myself dying this way, a gallon jug, nearly empty, in one hand, a glass in the other, pouring myself some over and over, my organs giving out on me, or, most likely, my stomach or intestines rupturing. I pictured myself falling to the floor, the chocolate milk spilling all over me. I imagined pissing all over myself. I imagined hitting my head as I fell, and biting my lip or my tongue. This image didnt’ stop me. I kept on drinking the chocolate milk even though I had absolutely no more room for it anywhere inside me. I told myself that I’d heard that no one can drink a gallon of milk without throwing up and I will not be the exception.
Well, apparently some joke was played on me.
I told my friend tonight that I have now crossed yet another line. I have been crossing them since late April. It all started with the edema. When I saw my puffy, puffy feet and legs, how they swelled and swelled and didn’t look at all like my own feet anymore, I felt like my life was over. And pretty much, it is.
I crossed a lot of these lines in July when I was starving. I felt myself sinking into it, into deeper and deeper layers of self-starvation. You get to the point where you can see death plainly in view and say hello to it and play with it some. I think if you’ve ever been there, if you know what it’s like to bring yourself into a space where you’re easily slipping away…or not.
That space has a certain taste to it. I had that taste in my mouth all the time during the month of July. And I think that was what I tasted when I drank the milk, not chocolate at all, but the taste of playing with death. It is the taste of going way, way too far with my body. I will not live if I keep this up.
I lay down with the milk in my belly and dozed. The milk is still sitting there. It didn’t go anywhere this time. I slept, got up, slept again, drank water, slept. It is still sitting in my belly, all 128 ounces of it. Guess I’m going to have to wait this one out.
So I got up and decided that now that Hurricane Irene is winding down, there was no need to keep my shades taped closed, or my windows taped up. So I unpeeled the tape, and put the pieces into a big wad. As I removed each piece, I felt kind of a sense of relief and release about it all. The tape made a loud noise as I removed it, but left no mark on the window. I found the noise, grating to ordinary ears, strangely satisfying to me; in fact, I found that the more tape I removed, the more I enjoyed this tape-removal sound, and I wondered why an annoying sound can, in a certain context, be pleasing to the ear.
Removal of window tape is removal of something that has kept the window from breaking into a zillion pieces when it smashes from the force of wind or if it is hit by a tree branch. The window is on one hand freed, but on the other hand, it is left unprotected. It is like what happens to a child when he or she grows up and leaves home. Or what happens to a mental patient, or any patient, who leaves the hospital. It is like what is happening to me now, crossing these strange lines I’ve been crossing.
In a few days, my apartment will look back to what it looked like before. I’ll set the desktop computer back up, I’ll take the plastic off of everything, I’ll move everything back to the wall, and plug stuff back in. I’ll empty the returnable soda bottles of their water and give them to the guy down the hall who does the returnables and earns a little money for himself.
Today, I will take public transportation, which turns out is running after all, to see my therapist in Boston. Most likely, I will tell her about having crossed this line I have mentioned here. Most likely, I will tell her about the image I saw as I drank the chocolate milk, with the jug in one hand, and the glass in the other, of my collapse, of my body giving out at last to not only years and years of having an eating disorder, but to this specific incident of self-abuse. Perhaps also I will tell her how my stomach felt stretched to the absolute limit not by binge food this time, but by liquids I’d drunk. Perhaps I will tell her that I did this not for the purpose, if there is a purpose, of bingeing, but ultimately, for the satisfaction of releasing it from my body, as I did Saturday night.
But the point is, the point is, the point is the crossed line, not the fact that Saturday I discovered this release. That isn’t that big of a deal because obviously it was a random happening. In June and July I told my therapist about the lines. Sometimes, I went in there and I told her I’d crossed another one, and she’d ask me about it. I want her to know about this one.
Now, I ask myself, why is it important to me that my therapist know about these lines? In July, I knew that she was going to stop being my therapist soon because I was not committed to “recovery” and was refusing inpatient eating disorders treatment. I figured she didn’t want to help me die, so she would just drop me. She did, but kept inviting me back to her office, much to my surprise. She now makes a point of telling me that after all this time, and after all that’s happened, she will stick by me. I will tell her about the line today and see what she says.
I took all the tape I’d removed from the windows and made it into a huge wad and put it into the trash bag. This bag hasn’t been emptied for a while. I had promised myself that I would take out all the trash in the apartment before we were evacuated, if this were to happen. The wad was so huge that it took up a fair portion of the bag, and stuck to the walls of the bag as well. I imagined the wad as big as myself, as big as the room, as the universe, just wads and wads of sticky packing tape, unruly, untamed, without restraint, like my hair when I don’t keep it in an elastic.
I thought of how some parts of being human are always kept inside of us, tightly contained, and never, never let out free, or they will destroy us, or so we fear. I thought of my hunger. I thought of my thirst. I thought of the great abyss within me. I thought of the hole left by what is missing in my life, and the fact that I don’t even know what this thing is. I realized that this hole, this space, this void, creates this incredible destructive power. This power is my eating disorder, but it is much, much more.
Last night when I went out, many folks were wandering around on the streets. I guessed that they were tired of being cooped up. I saw kids on bikes and skateboards, families together, and joggers. They were like ants coming out to inspect spilled juice. The sky brightened, then darkened as the sun set, then brightened to indicate that the hurricane was leaving us. If you’d observed carefully, you would have seen me. I was the skinny lady crossing Main Street with a knapsack filled with a gallon jug of chocolate milk.