Too often media representations show eating disorder patients to be pretty, thin girls who only restrict and exercise. It’s rare you will hear an account of vomiting or laxative abuse, and if you do it’ll be a passing remark quickly glossed over.
For me my purging is the most shameful part of my ED. Even when I was inpatient there was little understanding when it came to dealing with vomiting. I was able to get away with throwing up almost every single thing I ate the entire time I was on the unit and no-one knew how to help me stop it, myself least of all. Other patients found it incredibly difficult to deal with and I often found myself at the receiving end of community meetings discussing the impact it was having on the ward. I never even mentioned my laxative abuse, I was so ashamed. And yet as soon as I was granted unescorted leave I would walk five minutes up the road to the local sainsbury’s and buy hundreds of laxatives then smuggle them back into the unit and desperately swallow 10s of them at a time to undo the awful damage I perceived the food to be doing to me. I sat through many supervisions and community meetings with a torch lancing my insides and my guts twisting in agony whilst desperately regurgitating food up into my mouth in an attempt to stop my stomach digesting it then running to the bathroom before losing my dignity to the toilet bowl. Glamorous eh?
I’ve struggled with purging since I was 13/14. Most of the time vomiting but over the last few years laxative abuse crept in too. It’s not the neat trick some would have you believe, or the miracle pro ana/ bulimia websites peddle out. It has caused me long lasting damage. My hands are blistered and calloused from the acid and rubbing on my teeth, my teeth are crumbling and thin. My oesophagus is inflamed in patches from the acid and the strain of vomiting, I sometimes throw up blood. I suffer from IBS, probably as a result of laxative abuse and my stomach doesn’t know how to keep food down. I risk heart failure or a stroke whenever I vomit and suffer from transient episodes of oedema when my electrolytes are out of whack. Throwing up up to 15 times a day means you smell of your own vomit by the end of the day, that you’ll have inhaled your own vomit multiple times and found yourself covered in vomit and toilet water. And all for what? Vomiting only gets rid of 30-50% of calories. Laxatives even less.
And yet when I eat all reason leaves me. I become desperate, like an animal backed into a corner I will do anything to get rid of the calories. When I was a daypatient at VS I’d power home, vomiting in bins and alleyways as I walked. Holding vomit in my mouth for the 45minute walk to stop myself digesting it. I knew all the places that had public toilets. And I was, and still am, so ashamed.
In all honesty, I’ve lost hope that I’ll ever stop purging. It’s been a constant for 9 years and now I can’t unlink food and vomiting. When I eat I’m looking at the food and seeing how easy or hard it’ll be to purge. I’m desperately working out the calories and how many I can get rid of. My body doesn’t know how to keep food down and food doesn’t stay down easily even when I’m not purging deliberately. I can’t imagine a life without throwing up. And I’m so ashamed, I almost never talk about it at home and when I do I gloss over it. But that needs to change because it’s a part of my disorder and I shouldn’t be ashamed of that.