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  • Writer's pictureKris Barling

My experience with overcoming bulimia...

I was asked if I could write a post about my experience with eating disorders and about how I managed to overcome mine. This is something that is very dear to my heart because I suffered from Bulimia for many years. I would say definitely over 20 years. I first started making myself vomit when I was quite young. Thankfully, it has now been 2 years or more since I last made myself vomit. I feel as though I should know how long it has been because I guess, like an alcoholic celebrates their sobriety, I should be able to celebrate overcoming this horrible illness. I haven't really written or talked in depth about my bulimia before, but I feel that I am in a place now that I can talk about it without being worried about how other people will judge me. A massive part of my overcoming this condition has been working on my ability to stop giving a shit about what other people think of me. Being able to write about it in the way that I plan to in this blog post feels like it is another step forward in my healing process.

I want to make this very clear. I am not an expert when it comes to overcoming eating disorders. Like most of what I write, I can only speak from my own experiences. What worked for me may not work for everyone, but I do think that having someone who understands exactly what it is like to suffer from an eating disorder makes it easier to talk to them about it and relate to them. I can imagine that the most effective AA sponsors are probably alcoholics themselves who understand exactly what it is like to fight that battle.

I can now speak openly and clearly about my experience with bulimia because I have absolutely no intention of going back to doing what I used to do. I am not under any form of delusion, I know that I have the capacity to do this again, but I want to do everything in my power to ensure that I don't return to those actions. I think that my bulimia started out very low key. At that time I would have had no idea where it was going to end up. To be honest, I can't even remember the first time I forced myself to vomit or what events had taken place to lead me to doing so. At that point I don't believe that it had anything to do with my body weight or appearance. I wasn't in a place where I cared about those things. I grew up in a small country town and went to a very small primary school where no one was overweight and things like that weren’t even an issue. I think that it may have been a way to gain some form of control over my body and over myself because I was at the mercy of my surroundings. It was around that time that I also began to self-harm by deliberately injuring myself. Perhaps those things happened because the situation that I was in had led to me feeling worthless and this was my way of reinforcing those thoughts or even to escape my reality. What I am trying to say, which might sound very unhelpful is that I actually have no idea why I first started making myself vomit. I can only make guesses based on what my life was like at that time. Later down the track, body weight and physical appearance played a factor in continuing on with this behaviour as I started to think that if I could change what I looked like then I could change the perception I had of myself. At my worst, my bulimia was out of control. I was doing it on a daily basis, sometimes multiple times a day and the extremes that I was going to in order to vomit are quite scary when I look back at them. I am no longer embarrassed to write what I am about to write, because I no longer care about people judging me for this.

At times I would eat deliberately so that I would have something that I would be able to throw up. I knew what foods I would be able to vomit and what foods were difficult to vomit. I would deliberately choose foods that I knew I would be able to successfully throw up and eat large amounts with the intention of throwing it up afterward. I wouldn't even necessarily choose delicious foods and sometimes it would be something as innocent as weetbix. Yes, I thought it through before I even ate the foods and often ate in order to be able to then throw up later. It had nothing to do with the taste of the food or as a result of being on a diet and restricting myself of certain foods. Those of you reading this that have never suffered from bulimia are probably reading this thinking to themselves that this sort of behaviour is completely crazy, and yes, in hindsight, and to be honest even at the time, I know/knew that it is/was completely crazy. After a period of time, your body starts to try and protect you by not allowing you to vomit quite as easily. So I had to get creative. I would smash up panadol tablets and put the powder on my fingers in order to force my body to throw up. I would do the same thing with soap. It generally worked as the taste was absolutely disgusting. On the rare instance it didn't work and I would end up a crying mess on the floor of the bathroom vowing and declaring that I wasn’t going to do this to myself anymore. I recall a particular time when I was so desperate to vomit every remaining content in my stomach so badly that I burst multiple blood vessels on my forehead and in one of my eyes. Most of my eye was completely red because the blood vessels had burst so badly. I was meant to be going away for the weekend interstate to meet with some friends that I had first met on a charity bike ride. I had flights and accommodation booked and paid for and I bailed because I looked absolutely terrible. I was so ashamed at what I had done to myself that I vowed that I couldn't do this anymore. It may have stopped me for a few days, probably because of the damage that I had done to my face and eye. That's it. Despite the result of what it had done to me it didn't stop me from being bulimic. I knew how bad it was for me and the damage that I caused should have been a wake-up call, but once the blood vessels healed I went back to my old ways, I just knew that there was a point where I had to give up and accept that I wasn’t going to be able to vomit on a particular occasion and stop before it ended up causing that sort of damage. This is the first time that I have ever communicated these sorts of things and even writing this now is very confronting. Looking at this logically, which you probably wouldn’t guess from this that I am a very logical person, that situation 'should' have forced me to stop. I clearly wasn't ready to at the time.

Over the years I could see the side effects from making myself vomit on a regular basis. I have had numerous gastrointestinal issues and still sometimes have issues digesting food. It also affected my teeth and in time I am going to have to find a substantial amount of money to fix the damage that I have caused to them. The scary thing is that these sorts of potential dangers are still not enough motivation to change the behaviour when you aren't ready to. I suppose that’s why some people continue to smoke even though they know that they are putting themselves at a high risk of lung cancer.

When you are bulimic and you are not ready to change the behavior, you generally won't tell anyone about it, especially not people close to you. It's like most habits or behaviors that you are ashamed of but at the same time aren't yet willing to change. The moment you tell anyone that you engage in that sort of behavior, you feel as though people are going to be watching you and trying to stop you from doing it. When you aren't ready to change, you can't deal with people forcing you to change. Bulimia is something that you can hide from close friends and family for years without them having any clue what is happening. It is not because they don’t care or are unobservant, it’s because you become very skilled at hiding what is really going on.

I made the decision to stop being bulimic multiple times, and multiple times I failed on this. Every time I failed I would be ashamed of myself and would self-criticise.

I guess the reason why I don't recall the last time that I made myself throw up is because I didn't realise at the time that it was going to be the last time. I didn't stop being bulimic because I decided that I wasn't going to force myself to throw up anymore. I believe that I stopped being bulimic as a natural progression in my mental healing and working on my deep emotional issues. Improving my self-worth and self-love led to unconsciously ceasing to make myself vomit. When I was in a poor state of mind, making myself throw up was part of the self-destruction that I was going through. I think that everyone has a different way of self-destruction and this was one of my methods.

Again, I have no formal training on this topic, only my own experiences, but I truly believe that overcoming an eating disorder has absolutely nothing to do with the eating disorder itself and everything to do with your mental state and how you feel about yourself. An eating disorder is a mental disorder rather than a physical illness. Although you consciously choose to engage in the behaviour, the motivation behind it comes from an unconscious place relating to how you feel about yourself. I always say that how you feel about yourself will determine how you treat yourself. Forcing someone to ‘get over’ an eating disorder will never work. You can’t force someone who suffers from Anorexia to eat. You can’t force someone with an exercise addiction to stay away from the gym. It is a recipe for disaster. Often, eating disorders go hand in hand with exercise addiction. It was definitely that case for me and I would exercise for hours as punishment. Being forced to rest by being sick or injured was a very dangerous situation for me to be in mentally. In order to overcome these sort of disorders, your perception of yourself has to completely change and you have to learn the love the person that you are. When you hate what you see when you look in the mirror, being able to love yourself seems as real as Santa Claus. It will never happen by accident and it always has to start with making the decision to change how you feel about yourself. Learning to love and respect yourself takes time. It's just like anything. You have to work hard and you have to be consistent. It's not a band aid approach and it's definitely not a one size fits all. As desperate as I was to stop myself from vomiting, for so many years I was not desperate enough to actually stop. My desperation to change my mental state had little to do with overcoming bulimia and instead came from a place of avoiding committing suicide and to never go back to rock bottom again. It didn't work straight away and it is still a work in progress but each day I get closer and closer to finding true love and respect to myself.

Finding this level of respect becomes powerful in so many different ways. It stops you from engaging in so many self-destructive behaviors, I have found that it even allows me to rest my body and not exercise when I'm unwell or injured. All of these things were as a result of how I felt about myself and have only changed since changing how I felt about myself. I will continue to be reminded of the things that I put my body through over those years with the long term physical effects of being bulimic for over 20 years but I am very careful to refrain from judging myself. That would be counterintuitive to all of the work I have done on my mental state.

In future blogs I will share some of the things that I have done in order to reach this place and things that I still do now to ensure that I continue to improve my state of mind and I am looking forward to sharing these with you in the future.

See you soon,

Kris xx

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