Three years ago, I sat across from my ex-boyfriend in his Manhattan apartment as we ate omelets before heading over to Penn Station to catch a train to spend the weekend with friends at the Jersey Shore. It was a healthy breakfast of omelets with asparagus. As I stabbed an asparagus stalk with my fork and bit into it with my front teeth, I heard a popping noise and felt a sharp pain. I put my hand to my mouth and let the contents spill into my hand: chunks of eggs, vegetables, and my front tooth.
The first time I discovered purging was at a bake sale for my high school dance team. Behind the counter in my crop top uniform the teachers disapproved of, we were eating more treats than we were selling. An obsessive compulsive loop of calories consumed played on repeat in my mind until the beat culminated into a chorus that sang: “You could just throw up all those brownies you just ate.” I went into the bathroom and after a couple tries it worked.
I thought I had discovered a magic trick, planning it to only to be performed once in a while in certain situations. Yet, often fueled by alcohol, binging and purging became a frequent part of my life through the end of high school and college. At 23, sitting across from my boyfriend now working in New York City, it had been years since I had binged and purged, yet there were the effects of four years of bulimia sitting right there in my palm, bringing flashbacks of vomit on hands from years prior.
To this day I'm still not quite sure how I stopped the binging and purging. I'm hesitant to say “stopped being bulimic” because I often wonder if someone can ever totally get over an eating disorder, even after they've managed to stop the actions. Acceptance played a large role, forcing myself to acknowledge my “trick” was a serious problem that drastically needed attention. I went to therapy, I read a lot of books. Of course, having (poorly done) caps put on your four front teeth and thus dental bills I'm still paying off as they became so chipped and eroded by the acid helps.
When you're 18 and throwing up fast food in a college dorm you're not thinking about the damage caused to your teeth. You don't know that eventually you'll find out the reason it is harder for you to swallow food is because you've given yourself a precancerous condition known as Barrett's Esophagus and basically turned your esophagus into stomach lining tissue, and will need an endoscopy every few years. You're simply there in the moment, not wanting to absorb calories and get fat.
It's a pretty twisted disorder -- at my most bulimic I actually weighed my heaviest. Of course, it didn't help that I was heavily drinking at the time -- but you don't realize that despite your best efforts you'll only be able to throw up a fraction of the food you binge. It's a disease full of shame that leaves lingering serious health effects that I ironically was staring at in a handful of half-chewed food years later across from my stunned boyfriend. He had known of my past, I'm (obviously) rather open about it. Yet now we were faced with the issue of what to do when we had a train to make in 30 minutes and my front tooth was missing.
There was a little stub in its place, but this was not a look one would want to go out in public with. My dentist was closed, as were others I tried due to the holiday. Eventually I just said screw it, these are close friends, let's go and have a good time. We stopped by a pharmacy on the way to the train station and picked up some dental putty meant for dentures, which I used to try to stick the tooth back in place, but that would only keep it there for a few minutes at a time. I learned later it was a bad idea as it hurt the expensive veneer. If for whatever reason this happens to you, don't try the pharmacy putty, put your detached veneer somewhere safe.
The weekend, for me at least, was a whirlwind, and I actually still had an awesome time. It was hard to eat, I had to mush up my food or only eat soft things and use my back molars. If I smiled it was quite the shock, but thankfully I was among friends and everyone was too laid back or drunk to care. While we mostly stayed near the house, we did go out to a Jersey Shore bar one night, complete with a shot wheel, and girls in spandex dresses, orange tans and heels. When missing a front tooth it's pretty hard to look anything near cute so I just gave up and went out in jeans, a shirt of my boyfriend's and no make-up, a look complemented by my blotchy sunburn. I'm surprised they even let me in.
When the weekend was over and I was back home in the city I saw a new dentist who, with some effort, was able to put my tooth back into place. It turned out the guy who did them when I was in college did a pretty botched job, and I will one day have to have them replaced, but I can't afford new veneers at this point. I can't chomp into an apple, am scared to smile with my mouth open, and the tooth has fallen out once again since. It's a constant worry at meals or when aggressively making out with my boyfriend. Oh, dear, I hadn't even imagined it coming out while giving a blowjob until just now, but there is that possibility.
Three years later as someone who no longer drinks, when writing about the weekend spent at the Jersey Shore without a tooth, my mind flashes to passing out on decks of the beach house, the shot wheel, being so wasted I put off getting my teeth looked at so I wouldn't miss out on a weekend of partying. I wonder how I didn't realize sooner I had a drinking problem. Just like while bent over the toilet for the third time in one night my freshman year of college -- I didn't realize I had a problem then either.
I wonder what I will think back of my current self three years from now. (Perhaps that I should not open my mouth to spill such personal information just as I should not spill out vomit?) I'm an intense person; I'm not surprised my “trick” developed into second nature that would result in physical harm I continue to deal with more than five years since I've made myself throw up. To anyone toying with bulimia -- and, yes, it is bulimia when you force yourself to purge any food consumed, through vomiting, laxatives, or excessive exercise -- I urge you to do your research on the disease now. No one looks good missing a front tooth -- and, damn, that shit's expensive.