Hurricane Irene, the day after: Coping with destruction, and my eating disorder

I was walking to Watertown Square this morning on my way to catch the #71 bus so that I could get to therapy, and passing through the shortcut, where I came upon a downed tree right across the path.  The entire tree had been uprooted and lay squarely in front of me.  When I attempted to walk around it, I saw that it had left no hole behind, that is, no empty space where the base of the tree, with its roots, had been.  The rain and water running along the ground had quickly filled this hole with outlying dirt.  The tree will leave behind no mark, just emptiness, and for the few of us who have traveled that path often to remember, “Yes, there was a tree about right there,” memory.

Often, since I first ventured out last night after the worst of the storm had passed for a time, I had seen fallen branches, but this was my first personal encounter with an uprooted tree.  I was alone on the path.  It appeared to completely block my route uphill to the sidewalk and the edge of the street.  Sometimes, I am so deep in thought while walking on that path that I have my head down, and the headphones blasting, and I don’t see what’s ahead of me.  I simply walk by rote.  Had I not seen the tree ahead of time, I would have nearly fallen upon it perhaps, and then, taken quite by surprise and shock, laughed at myself and my foolishness and told myself that life tends to do things to us that we don’t expect, and we’re doubly surprised if we don’t look ahead.

Sometimes, though, it’s all you can do but to step forward once, and then another time, and then another.  That is what walking is, after all.  Sometimes all we can do is to feel the process of walking itself and concentrate on that and not on the path we’re following or its destination.  I’ve been feeling that way since I nearly died of starvation at the end of July, only a month ago.

In my journal entry for July 26, I wrote, “I ended up staying up all night.  I drank coffee to get my heart rate up, then just stayed up. I want to get to my appointment with [my therapist], and until then, won’t let myself die in my sleep.  I starved very well.”  At that appointment, my T and Dr. P brought me to the hospital.  Whereas for the last few weeks before my admittance, while I was losing weight very rapidly, I wrote down not only everything I ate and when I ate it, but everything I did during the day, and once I got to the hospital I felt the necessity to continue writing down the food I ate while there that came up on my tray.  But I ate a few vegetables,iceberg lettuce without dressing, and nothing more.  After some time, my therapist told me that I would be forced to accept feeding tube nutrition if I didn’t eat.

On August 2, I wrote, “[my T] came to see me.  She says I’m on a hunger strike.  I am just taking things one day at  a time.  One minute at a time. Thinking about nothing but survival in this horrible place.  No longer thinking about life and death.  I do not want to think about life outside of here.  Only day to day things on the inside.”

This was a very small world in my hospital room on the medical unit.  People were there for all sorts of reasons, and unlike psychiatric units, where you see mainly doctors of the specialty psychiatry, on this medical floor, doctors of every specialty you could imagine were meandering about, as well as nurses, medical students, housekeeping staff, visitors, stray patients who were able to walk on their own or with a bit of assistance, and hospital volunteers.  The workings of a large medical hospital–and this hospital was one of the most prestigious in the country–amazes me.  But all this I only saw from my bed, looking out into the hallway through the door, or through the window when the blinds had been pulled up.  I had no interest in the hallway for the first week, though.  I had no interest for anything past the edges of my bed for the first few days.  I had simply collapsed there.  I thought about the bed itself.  Whether the bed was raised or not.  Getting unhooked from the heart monitor so that I could walk, with assistance, to the bathroom and back.  Finding the call bell.  Trying to talk into the loudspeaker properly when someone answered. Asking for coffee.

This was my world for a long time.  My world has grown since then, beyond the call bell and the IV pole and the route from the bed to the bathroom and back. Now, I can walk just about everywhere I walked to before.  And I have come upon trees that have suddenly appeared before me on my path.

This tree I saw now showed me the power of Hurricane Irene, with her strong winds and rain that knocked over anything unprotected, and brought down objects that weren’t supposed to fall, things we didn’t bargain for.  Last night when I left the house briefly after the winds had lessened, a neighbor, out for a smoke briefly, pointed out to me some rubble that was once rooftop.  “Couldn’t be anything else,” he said.  “Look at the size of those concrete pieces!  Well, it doesn’t matter.  No one got hit by them.”

Self-starvation is a powerful, destructive act.  When we think of self-harm, we think of cutting oneself with a razor blade, or burning one’s skin, not to cause death but to cause pain and bleeding.  It is said to bring relief to those who do it habitually.  But self-starvation and other destructive eating patterns are also self-harm.  I am learning this.

While Irene was raging outside, I was engaged in my own destructive acts.  It seems like I am not anywhere near eating normally, even now.  I am still underweight but not dehydrated and weak like I was.  This is hard to explain but I’ll try to:  I derive incredible satisfaction from having an empty belly and feeling weak and faint.  I derive incredible satisfaction from putting off eating, if only for an hour, if I can, just so that I’ll eat less.  I derive incredible satisfaction from eating micro-bits of food and gaining strength from those bits.  There were days in July when the only substantial thing I would eat were a few cubes of potato.  When the potato made contact with my tongue, I salivated to the point of drooling.

And now, hospitalization and a boost in my nutritional status took some of that away from me.  But I can’t stop trying to destroy myself.  I seem to be born this way.  When Irene was just south of us Saturday night, I drank a couple of gallons of liquid all at once.  Perhaps a reader might recall that while it’s good to hydrate oneself, consuming huge amounts of liquids can cause an electroyte imbalance and, very quickly, death.  It all started with thirst, and drinking, and more thirst, and more drinking, and I could not stop myself.  I did this knowing that what I was doing could kill me.  I spoke with my T today, and she called it a “water binge.”  This is the second time in my life that this has happened.  The other time was in 1997, and it only happened once.

I wasn’t sure how the water would work itself out, and I was scared.  I had a full belly and I kept piling more in.  Where would it go? Would my stomach rupture?  Would my kidneys give out?  Would I puke?  At best, it would be that.  It surprised me when something happened that I hadn’t thought of: spontaneous diarrhea.  I had, unintentionally, purged, bulimia style.

I instantly realized the appeal of bulimia, the addiction of purging, and the desperation of the bulimic act.  I thought bulimics threw up to rid themselves of unwanted calories.  No, there’s much more to it, much, much more.  Feeling my stomach suddenly empty itself gave me incredible satisfaction.  I wanted to do it again.  I told this to myself knowing–again–that stomach emptying, no matter which way it goes out, causes an electrolyte imbalance that if done repeatedly, over a long or not so long time, can be fatal.  I also knew that I was getting myself into some serious shit with the water drinking imbalance already.

Sunday night Irene slowed enough for folks to get out.  Imagine what happens when you’re consuming a lollipop, and before you finish, you drop it on the sidewalk.  Picture the ants running after the sugar.  That was what the sidewalk looked like last night.  Parents were coming out with kids on bikes and babies in strollers to see the end of the rain and feel the wind on their faces and in their hair.  Kids carried their scooters and readied themselves for their rides.  Dog owners came out with their dogs to get some relief.  No one wanted to be cooped up anymore.  Folks were friendlier than usual.  Many wanted to talk about the storm: what they had seen and heard, how closely the storm goings-on followed the experts’ predictions, and what was going on in other cities and states.   Me?  I didn’t talk to anyone.  I went straight to the supermarket and bought a gallon of chocolate milk.

It is not true what they say about gross consumption of milk and throwing up.  This is not a universal reaction.  If it is, then I have just proved you all wrong.  I drank it and didn’t throw up.  Let me say, though, that I drank it for the purpose of throwing up because I was convinced that this was what would happen.

Today I told my therapist that I had drunk the milk for this purpose.  She listened carefully.  She didn’t laugh at me.  I tried to describe what it felt like last night standing at my kitchen counter, gallon milk jug in my right hand, glass in the other, pouring cup after cup of it, and drinking, drinking, drinking.

Destroy, destroy, destroy.

It was a tough night last night.  Right before I left the house to see my therapist, I began a note to her stating my wish to refuse any kind of eating disorders treatment from now on, and focus on treatment that, unlike eating disorders treatment, focuses on treating oneself and one’s body with respect and kindness.  I ended up not liking the way I worded the document, and deleted it without printing it.

So I took the shortcut into Watertown Square, walked around the downed tree, and arrived, soon enough, at CVS.  I usually don’t take this bus, but wanted to stop at the CVS, so this was the route I took.  I wanted to stop at the CVS because I needed, at that moment, to do the self-harming act of stuffing myself with candy, unnoticed, on the near-empty bus on the way to Harvard Square.

I told my therapist today that I think I have a problem with self-destructiveness.  I can’t seem to stop.  Either I slowly and deliberately and with considerable thought harm myself with starvation, or I lash out and strike at myself by bingeing on solid food–or simply by extremely and rapidly overhydrating myself.

What the fuck?  What is going on here?  Yes, I have always starved or binged.  I have always enjoyed having something to sip on or chug down.  But the water binge was something new, and I really, really, really don’t think I have ever been this self-destructive in my entire life.  I do these things knowing they are dangerous.  Maybe I should add that perhaps I do these things because they are dangerous.  I am becoming less and less fearful of the risks I am taking.  I feel like I am, yes, putting my feet one foot in front of the other on this unstoppable path of destruction.  It is the path laid out for me by the experts: they’ve seen it before in kids that do harder and harder drugs.  Kids who take bigger and bigger risks.  Kids who dance closer and closer around the Hole of Death, knowing that if they get too close, they will be sucked into Death, their life taken from them by the roots.  And soon enough, the storm around them, the storm that is of their own making, will, with its heavy rains and running water along the ground, fill in the Hole and bury them with surrounding sand, grit, and dirt, along with their stories, and their pain, and if they had any joy left, that too. Maybe a few who knew they existed, who had seen them along the path as it came uphill near the road would remember, but there would be no record, the hole now filled completely, and instantly.

My therapist asked me some questions, if I thought I wanted to stop, or if I thought I could in fact stop.  I answered neither.  We’re going to do a workbook together to help me with self-harm.  It’s supposed to help with the feelings you get that cause these acts.  The workbook, she said, will teach me alternate methods of coping with those feelings, things to do that won’t be self-destructive.  I told her I’d give it a shot.

I also told her, in all honesty, that I am so weary of this that I frequently do think of giving up.  I think of dying and it seems like it would be a relief to me.  I think of it as an alternative and I think of it frequently.  I don’t think that saying this makes me weak, or a quitter, or a sinner.  I am tired, that’s all.

I came home and the phone rang.  I picked it up.  It was the Police Chief telling everyone where to put their yard debris for pickup when the trash trucks come around.  I guess that doesn’t apply to me, since I live in a large apartment building, but for the occasion, I emptied the trash.  This bag of trash dates back about three weeks.  Like everyone else, I have my own personal debris.  I discreetly stepped with the bag down the hallway to the trash room and dumped it.  Then I walked, one step in front of the other, back to my apartment, and now will try to deal with what’s left.

Feedback and comments welcome!