by Ellie Jeans
CN: eating disorders
When I kneeled to my future altar-piece at fourteen, head skimming the toilet bowl, I did not know that a home-alone curiosity would soon become my greatest vice. Eternally self-indulgent, I took my pubescent fears of loneliness and invisibility and turned them into a secret eating disorder that lasted four years. In this early experiment, my greatest frenemy appeared for the first time, and her name was Bulimia.
I prized myself, and still do, on my openness and self-deprecation, and in an era of over-sharing on social media, my disordered eating became the only thing I was able to keep to solely to myself. It was a secret affair. She gave me moments of almost orgasmic ecstasy where I could be completely alone with myself. While my friends discovered the new cartography of their clitorises, my friend Bulimia and I explored the capacity of my groaning stomach.
“She urged me not to reflect on myself but to whack my self-destruct button time and time again”
At the time I lacked the self-awareness to understand why this friend, peeking her head around the bathroom door and lurking in school cubicles, helped unpleasantness feel so pleasant. Darkness felt light. We had a honeymoon period. She helped me rid myself of the permanent, unexplained butterflies in my stomach for transient moments. She created a protective membrane for me when I wondered why I didn’t have a boyfriend, why I felt invisible and why, despite close friends and supportive family, I didn’t “fit”.
Our relationship soon became toxic. She was an abusive partner, telling me I’d see every bite of food splashed against the toilet bowl within hours. She urged me not to reflect on myself but to whack my self-destruct button time and time again. Worst of all, she offered me a crutch when I was crippled with the bitter rejection of adolescence only to whip it from me moments later. My moods began to swing from her abuse and I felt faint from the constant tussle between full and empty.
We were on-off for a while. When I was happy she hissed and when I was sad she winked and beckoned. She was an unrivalled temptress but, more than anything, she was a way out.
“We were on-off for a while. When I was happy she hissed and when I was sad she winked and beckoned”
One day, paralyzed from exhaustion on the bedroom floor, I decided there was only so long she could remain a secret. When I went into CBT I spoke about our relationship for the very first time and was told what I’d subconsciously known all along; she was an enemy in friends clothing and preventing me from thinking through things I couldn’t cope with. But essentially, I soon realised that only I had the power to tell her to fuck off.
As with any toxic relationship or friendship, it was easier said than done to cut off completely. Break-up talks were inconclusive and we’d reconvene every few months.
“Once you acknowledge someone is bad for you it becomes easier to recognise patterns of abuse”
But once you acknowledge someone is bad for you it becomes easier to recognise patterns of abuse. Best of all, in these moments I saw a life without her, and it was good. I surrounded myself with people that wanted the best for me and heavy doses of self-awareness, and the mist she had created slowly began to disperse.
Bulimia and I: we’re old acquaintances now. Occasionally she winks and beckons. She whimpers in moments of real happiness and flirts when I think things are going wrong. But she’s unfriended now and I vet her secret messages with heavy doses of self-awareness. Hopefully one day she’ll send me an apology.
All images by Khánh Hmoong