No, I wouldn't bother talking about the health risks. I'd tell them about my fucking teeth.
Because after years of sporadic, self-inflicted vomiting, I am now on a first-name basis with most of the employees of my dental office. Don't get me wrong: They're nice people, but I'd prefer to never see them again.
But that's what happens when you routinely flood your mouth with stomach acids that raze your enamel and wear your molars down to rounded little stubs. People stick big needles in your gums and then charge you exorbitant amounts of money for it.
I've always had "bad teeth." Dentists have been remarking on their wear and tear for years, playing guessing games as to what oral activities might have caused the damage -- do I drink sugary sodas? do I suck on lemons? do I chew ice? "Just bad genes," I would say. "Just always been this way."
And I believed it -- for some reason, I didn't connect the isolated bathroom incidents, worsening in times of stress and in conjunction with other acting-out behaviors, with capital-B Bulimia. I make myself throw up after I eat sometimes, sure, but I'm not bulimic. Even when the dental hygenist would gently close her door each year before my cleaning to inquire if I'd ever had an eating disorder, I didn't connect the dots. My teeth told her things that my mind hadn't admitted.
The financial impact of my bulimic years is significant. I've had three root canals since January. As of February 25th, I'd already run through my insurance allotment for the YEAR, meaning I am now paying out of pocket to have the roots ripped out of my teeth. Over the years, I've spent many thousands of dollars on dental work both medical and cosmetic -- at least 7 emergency root canals, brought on by infected roots that left me in excruciating pain and once made my whole face swell up; repairs on chipped and crumbling incisors; bonding to cover enamel so worn away that the roots were showing through.
If I had the money, I'd spend thousands more on veneers to cover the overall yellowing and unsightly black and brown spots. I'll never be a movie star or television personality at this rate.
But what's worse than the fiscal hit and even the physical pain is the emotional cost every time I hand over my debit card -- what those inocuous-looking transactions on my bank statement pound into my head on a monthly basis. They're a reminder that I fucked myself up. That I inflicted damage that can't be undone, that the past can never truly be erased, no matter how far thoroughly I've reinvented myself.
I know, of course, that it could have been much, much worse. The physical damage I could have inflicted while in the throes of my various addictions, the stairs I could have tumbled down, the organs I could have permanently damaged. All said and done, a trashed mouth is a small price to pay, especially since I do have access to regular dental care, however reluctantly.
But so much has been blessedly reversed. When I first got sober, I truly thought I was ruined. That I had experienced too much darkness, slithered around on the underbelly of society for too long, to ever experience innocence or unfettered happiness again. And I was amazed by the ability of the human spirit to bounce the fuck back. Quickly, even. After a few months of sobriety, some therapy under my belt and the support of caring friends in recovery, I wasn't ruined. I was barely even dented.
So I'm able to pretend, a lot of the time, that none of it ever happened. Until I'm sitting in the dentist's chair hearing another puzzled monologue about the sorry state of my mouth, and worse, when I'm insisting for the hundredth time why I can't, no sorry, I really can't have narcotics after oral surgery.
Sometimes you just need a little pain to remember.