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EDITOR'S NOTE: Trigger warning: This article includes words, phrases and images that may be triggering to those who have struggled with eating disorders.
The first time I made myself vomit was at school. I had recently given up red meat, planning to eliminate certain meats one at a time until I became vegetarian. I took this plan seriously, and slip-ups were anathema.
I had fried chicken for lunch on that fateful day. I thought it tasted odd, so I asked someone what was up with the chicken. He said it was something called "chicken-fried steak." It is exactly what it sounds like, although “steak” is stretching the truth almost to the breaking point regarding the meat's quality.
I went pale and broke into a cold sweat. I felt nauseous. After a protracted mental tug-of-war, I decided I'd have to vomit up the offending "steak."
I chose the most private bathroom — the one where the naughty girls smoke in secret, shooing the clouds of wispy smoke out the window with their cardigans. I locked myself in a stall and crouched by the toilet, head spinning and stomach churning. I waited in silence until my ankles became sore and my knees shook.
I crept my first two fingers down my tongue until I gagged a little, then quickly pulled them out and wiped my lips. I did this a few more times until I finally steeled my nerves and took the plunge. I slid my fingers down the length of my tongue until I felt a little bump of soft tissue and pressed down, hard.
The "steak" was barely digested and came up in hot, thick chunks that burned my throat and nostrils. I did this until I was satisfied that all offending meat had been purged from my body.
With tears and snot streaming down my face, I flushed the toilet and washed my hands. I had bite marks on my knuckles. My shame was washed away with a wave of accomplishment. I had done it.
My prior weight issues soon became well-acquainted with my newfound ability. I had always been a little chunky. I was frequently teased by my classmates, and all of my friends were thinner than I was. My father frequently made comments about how I should be thin, like my beautiful mum. He said things in front of my mates, and once pinched my bum when I was bent over the oven, retrieving a pizza, and said, “You're really going to eat that? You'll turn into a fatty.” My friends were mortified, and we ate in stunned silence. My own father didn't think I was thin enough to be the daughter he thought he deserved. I cried myself to sleep.
I didn’t do it every time, at first. I kept breakfast, lunch, and snacks down. Dinner was the meal I purged. I did it two, maybe three times a week. I began judging myself more harshly, silently counting calories like a maniac. I'd weigh myself after eating or having a bowel movement, desperately hoping to lose those 20 pounds.
I began binging to satisfy my desire for the junk foods that I didn’t allow myself. I would raid the cupboard and tear through the pile of goodies with abandon. Then I'd cry and purge guiltily.
Nighttime binges were my secret shame. I’d stuff my gullet, then kneel before my porcelain god, praying for relief. Afterwards I’d clean the toilet, wash my hands and face, and flush everything away.
It became a daily ritual. I was in the grip of an obsession. Calorie-count, binge, purge, repeat. It was my way of life. At the pinnacle, I was purging four times a day, allowing only small snacks to digest. I felt tired a lot, and my face lost its colour.
However, I was losing weight. People told me how great I looked. Even my dad complimented me. I had confidence. If I had a boyfriend, my life would be complete!
We met at a party thrown by one of my girlfriends. The party's sole purpose was for her to seduce a boy she fancied, and she had her breasts fluffed to bursting out of her corset, ready to seduce.
An hour into the party, he arrived. My friend instantly entered seductress mode and she moved in for the kill. She tried to get his attention, but instead witnessed John* and I chatting.
By the end of the night, guests had left or passed out. John and I were in the backyard, talking. As the sun rose, he handed me his number. I had gained a boyfriend and lost a friend in the span of an evening.
Once we made the relationship official, it became increasingly difficult to hide my disorder. I shared my first sexual experience with him a few months before I turned 19; things were getting serious. He had been forthcoming with his secrets and problems, and I trusted him.
I sat him down one evening and told him. "I have a problem. It's really embarrassing, and kind of gross, but I'm ready to quit. I'm going to tell my parents and see a therapist. I'd love for you to be part of my recovery."
His expression was a mixture of love and concern, and I continued.
I winced, the sickening truth of my words finally out in the open. I actually felt relieved.
I looked at John, stunned to see anticipatory glee painted across his face like a rainbow.
"I am so turned on right now," he said. I'd have thought he was joking if not for my knowledge of his sexual proclivities. "Will you throw up on me?"
I was stunned. Here, I had not only divulged my traumatic secret, but also punctuated my confession with a desire to seek help. My health was in jeopardy. If I didn't stop now, I'd be staring down the maw of some serious consequences. Tooth decay, esophageal erosion, and other problems were imminent, and some had already begun to manifest. It all seemed meaningless to him when he had the opportunity to fulfill his twisted fantasy.
My concerns vapourised when I saw the look of desire on his face. Desire for me. Common sense had been entirely overwhelmed by a need to be accepted by someone. John wanted me exactly the way I was.
"I'll give it a go."
Over the next few weeks, I worked up to vomiting in front of him. He never pressured me into anything; he was patient and understanding. Eventually, I let him watch me purge after dinner. After a few weeks, I began getting used to having him there.
The night I first vomited on him, I was prepared. The day prior, I only ate fruit and bread and drank very little water in order to make the experience as pleasant as possible. I hadn't told him of my plan, and wanted to surprise him.
We were about to get into it when I cooed, "I want to do something special for you."
I smiled coyly and put my fingers on the tip of my tongue. He grinned ear-to-ear.
"Wait," he said, "Can you do it while you're going down on me?"
I quickly realised that I may be in over my head. Undeterred, I smiled and went down on him. After a few minutes, I choked on him until I vomited... and kept going. He moaned, his eyes rolled back in their sockets, then he finished.
I went to the toilet and washed my face, then brought back a damp towel to clean him with. I returned to see him cleaning himself with his fingers and mouth. I wiped up what little remained and curled up beside him.
"That was great, but can you do it in my mouth next time?"
The relationship lasted only a few more months, totaling a year and a half.
I told my parents about my bulimia. I went to therapy, which did me a world of good. With time, effort, and re-learning how I think about food, I stopped counting calories, gave up binging, and ditched my scale.
To this day I refuse to keep a scale in the house. My current weight? It doesn't matter. I am not a number. I am me.