Anxiety was my coach
People normally plan their days around when they’re going to eat. I found myself planning my days around avoiding food. Breakfast was easy to skip. My Mom would sometimes ask me to swing through in the mornings to pick up a lunch she packed me. I’d give her a thankful hug and then throw the sandwich away once I got to campus.
Dinner was trickier. I began to plan meetups with friends, specifically to avoid eating. “I’ll eat there,” was the lie I’d feed my Mom. If whoever I was with at the time suggested getting food, I’d tell them I’d already eaten.
In the unfortunate event that I was trapped at a meal, I’d do my best to pretend I was eating. Anxiety was my coach, endlessly screaming instructions inside my head. Take a small bite, push the food around on the plate, throw your napkin over it when everyone else is done. Do anything but eat it.
The couple took it upon themselves to stock the house with food for me. They supplied me with plenty of soup, frozen dinners and always an absurd amount of candy. After one of my negative-calorie days, I looked at the candy left on the counter. A square of Ghirardelli caught my attention.
I used to hate throwing up, but this time wasn’t so bad. It was relieving, peaceful even, to know that the food was out of me. I wished I could get out of me.
I hesitated. Don’t, don’t you dare. I pushed back against the voice, hoping that I could swallow my anxiety as I swallowed the small square. It was a victory. I ate another. And then another. It took about four of these chocolate squares for my anxiety to resurface. You have to get it out. I stumbled to the bathroom and relieved myself of them.
I sat on the bathroom floor and rested my head against the cool of the toilet, looking around at the decorations, noticing how the Mrs. had accented the room with cool blues and seashells. I cried a little as I considered how I’d made myself vomit. I used to hate throwing up, but this time wasn’t so bad. It was relieving, peaceful even, to know that the food was out of me. I wished I could get out of me.
You feel better now. My moment of relief was cut short when the dogs followed me into the bathroom. One of them crawled into my lap. “We’re all better now,” I whispered to her.
This new habit of restricting and then purging after eating what I thought was too much continued off and on that year, depending on my varying levels of anxiety. Anytime I was alone, I’d make sure to get rid of whatever I had that day. The same sense of relief washed over me every time. For the first time, I began to feel in control of my body.
I only lost 11 pounds that year, barely enough to put me in the weight bracket I should be in for my height. It wasn’t enough for people to notice how much I’d started to waste away. It wasn’t enough for me to tell anyone. It wasn’t even enough for me to justify calling it an eating “disorder.” It was just some eating “struggles.”
I began to feel in control of my body
There was only one time I worried that my struggle might be something of concern. My friend snuck over to the house to hang out one night. He strolled in, red hair all messy, with a stupid grin on his face.
“Look what I brought us,” he said, as his lanky arms held up a bag of weed.
We went out into the backyard and sat at the stone picnic table. I held the flashlight while he packed us a nice bowl. The dogs started barking, probably only at a squirrel, but it was enough to pull me out of my recklessness and remind me how illegal this was.
“I can’t do this,” I said.
“You’ve done it before.”
“I know, but I’m worried.”
“You’ll be less worried after we smoke it.”
He resumed the delicate process of loading the pipe. We’d been friends for years through youth group, but had grown closer as we realized that neither one of us were very good church kids. We took classes together at the community college, thinking we were the smartest teenagers alive.
I helped him pass pre-calculus. He helped me conquer my fear of the dark. We did this all in the middle of the night, of course, purely as smoking buddies.
“You got snacks, right?” he asked.
That’s when I remembered the munchies. Having been unable to eat for days, I was suddenly ready to get really fucking stoned.
I followed him around the backyard as we took turns taking hits. He held the pipe to my mouth when it was my turn. He never laughed when my coughs knocked me over. I flinched every time the dogs made a noise, convinced we were about to get caught. He laughed at that.
We discussed our mutual love of trees, agreeing that the line of evergreens in the distance looked like aliens. When we finished our first bowl, we weren’t as high as we wanted, so we had another. Rain was starting to come down. The light drizzle first felt nice and refreshing, since my lungs were on fire, and then the downpour kept putting out our bowl. We smoked faster, each hit landing harder than the last. I took the last long hit.
I coughed in response.
“You’re good,” he said as he went to dump the ash in a flowerbed.
Then we went inside to lie in bed. We spent hours there. We showed each other songs. We watched Netflix. We argued over whose turn it was to go grab the Pop-Tarts. Sober minds might’ve been smart enough to bring the whole box in there, but we were too far gone for that.
“I got them last time,” he’d complain.
“Buddy, I’m way too wrecked to move.”
He groaned and walked to the kitchen. I closed my eyes, enjoying the rare quiet in my head. He climbed back into bed, keeping a respectfully platonic distance between us, and joined my napping.
Eventually, he came down enough to drive home. I walked him to the door, gave him a quick hug and asked him to text me when he got home safe.
“Will do, little buddy,” he said as he patted my head.
Seconds after the door shut behind him, I found myself in the bathroom trying to rid myself of the Pop-Tarts and other snacks. The high had worn off enough that anxiety had started roaring back. You shouldn’t have done that. You have to get it all out.
I spent what felt like forever sitting with my face by the toilet. Eventually, I cried myself to sleep right there on the bathroom floor. I woke up the next morning, still slightly groggy, praying to God that this was as low as it would get for me.
But that was just the beginning. It was just the beginning of passing out on bathroom floors and the beginning of what was labeled a “drug problem.” It was the beginning of anxiety-induced bulimia.