You take your problems with you
I managed to achieve this the first year with minimal episodes. I settled into a rhythm once I decided that one meal a day was enough. I was eating, but never so much that I hated myself for it. The few times I resorted to purging occurred mostly because that was my best method for handling stress. I always felt better after throwing up.
I went back to Washington for the summer, excited that I only had one more year of college left. The brunette called me every so often to catch up. I picked up the redhead after late-night shifts, and we’d smoke together. I told him about the brunette. He asked me not to be mean when I dumped him. I laughed, claiming that I wasn’t mean and that there wasn’t going to be a breakup.
Senior year of college was going to be a breeze. I hadn’t been struggling with much of anything other than living back in my parents’ house. I was on track to have my Bachelor’s degree at nineteen. I was blowing up my expectations big.
I can’t say it was as though someone with a needle came along and popped my balloon, because there was no distinct pin-prick, but during the fall semester of senior year, I experienced the slow deflation of my self. I worked 22 hours a week at local school, co-led a club, barely maintained an internship and attempted to keep up with classes.
I broke up with the brunette the first week of school, already overwhelmed and assuming he wouldn’t understand. After the night in Panera, though, my perspective changed. He became someone who understood me more than most. But then the semester got the best of him, and he fell off the face of the earth for a while. My life had gotten so busy that I didn’t notice his absence. I was busy with school, work and trying not to fall for a tall blonde.
In all of this, there was no time for food, which was just fine for me. I went grocery shopping twice all semester, the food rotting each time. The only times I’d eat were when someone reminded me, or after I’d gotten high.
I had a friend who was over 21 when I talked him into buying edibles for me, blissfully unaware that my actions would get him dismissed from the university. He knew I wasn’t doing well and wanted to help.
I’d get high and sit in his apartment. We’d watch poorly filmed movies and talk about our lives. He’d drive me to whatever fast food place I was craving to make sure I ate. If we went to the school cafeteria sober, he’d walk with me to every section, usually as I was on the brink of tears, until I found something I felt comfortable taking a few bites of.
I’d go back to my apartment, throw up the small bites and cry on my bathroom floor. I was only able to stomach food if I was stoned. Since I typically tried not to get high during the week (with a few intense anxiety-related exceptions), I was mostly eating only on weekends.
Yet, I was convinced that I’d gained weight. The voice of anxiety grew louder and louder in my mind. Disregard the fact that you can pull down every pair of pants you own without unbuttoning them. You’re getting bigger.
I could no longer distinguish my own thoughts from anxiety’s intrusions. The voices in my head all sounded the same. The only time there was ever quiet was when I was high. But I still knew that every bite from every breakfast sandwich I got added inches. It didn’t matter how many meals I skipped. I knew that on some level, I was gaining weight and it scared the hell out of me.
I lost 15 pounds that semester.
You’re on your ass, kid
The edibles I liked used the slogan, “Enhance Your Life.” I felt that they rang true to this promise. I was able to be calm. I was able to eat. Some of my best papers that semester were written under the influence of marijuana. I found it to be a reliable coping mechanism.
The university I attended didn’t agree with me. I had a formal disciplinary meeting on the Wednesday before finals. The verdict was that I was issued a suspension to be applied to the first week of the spring semester. It was a gracious sentence, something I can be thankful for now. But in the moment, it felt like my world had fallen down on itself. I cried so much that day that my face was swollen.
“You’re on your ass, kid,” my Mom said when I called my parents. “But that’s OK. All that matters is how you get up.”
Getting better felt like relearning how to walk. I had to take baby steps and accept that it was OK if I fell every so often. My first step was deciding that no matter how overwhelmed I was with everything to come that week, I had to eat every day.
I started the next day. I got a breakfast sandwich before my first class. The blonde caught me after. He wrapped his strong arms around me, and I buried my face in his chest as he told me it would be OK.
Then he asked me what exactly had happened. He suggested we skip class to get Frostys at Wendy’s. A Frosty sounded like hell, but I told myself I could do it if it meant spending time with him. While he drove us there, I confessed my crimes, admitting that I deserved the suspension and hoping that he wouldn’t think less of me.
I wasn’t listening to his response as we stood in line. My head was spinning, but I wasn’t sure if it was from the idea of eating a Frosty or trying to flirt with him. He asked me what I wanted, and I said chocolate.
“No, real food,” he said. “What would you like?”
My heart lurched. I forgot how to breathe.
“Nothing,” I said.
“Pick something or I’ll pick for you.”
“No!” I said it a little too harshly and looked at the menu. I didn’t realize I was hyperventilating until he put his arm around me.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“I’ve already eaten today.”
“Yes, you had breakfast. Now I’m going to buy you lunch.”
I started crying. I thought that after the previous day, I wouldn’t have any tears left, but they arrived in abundance. I gave a presentation that morning. I was handling getting suspended. But I couldn’t handle even the idea of eating a cheeseburger.
“Please let me buy you lunch,” he said softly. “If nothing here sounds good, we can go somewhere else, but you need to eat.”
I managed a nod. We walked back to his car. He walked to my side to open my door for me.
I’m not going to let you wither away
Before I got in, he touched my arm and looked down at me with his gentle green eyes.
“Nicole,” he whispered. “I’m not going to let you wither away.”
“Nicole,” he whispered. “I’m not going to let you wither away.”
He ended up taking me to Noodles & Company to get mac and cheese. He ordered me a regular even though I requested a small. It took me three days to eat that mac and cheese, but just a few moments to understand that I’d let myself wither.
I’d crumbled alongside the brunette, under the illusion that our mutual brokenness might fix us both. My life hadn’t been enhanced by the pot the redhead had introduced me to. The blonde was rooting for me, but that would only be useful if I could learn to root for myself.
Since then, I’ve been faithful in working out. I’m two days away from being two months sober. I’ve lost three pounds in the last month. But I’ve also eaten every day since ‘Blondie’ bought me food.
image 1 Fat and thin man by Rui Fernandes via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); 2 Sharing by Anne Worner via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); 3 Pixabay; 4 panic anxiety by Alessandra via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0); 5 Pixabay; 6 Pixabay; 7 down and out by Steven Leith via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)