>Hey everyone! Today I am going to talk about Africa. A lot of you have been forced into hearing endless Africa stories from yours truly, and this post is no exception. Yes, Africa was a grand adventure, from my first trip to Kenya in 2005 to my last trip to South Africa in 2007/2008, but the reason I am diving into this topic is because I kind of promised I would. My post entitled Genesis talks about how I left B.C. for Africa thinking that being overseas might be the “cure” for bulimia. I can tell you that it wasn’t.
I was 20 years old when I went to Africa for the first time. I was alone, I was excited, and I was naive. Bulimia was a part of my life, yes, but from what I remember, it wasn’t a huge giant at that time. The escape to a new culture was probably a good distraction from the binge/purge cycle I had been clinging to, and I am sure it was a sweet relief to live life without that burden for those weeks and months. Kenya was amazing, and I was busy and happy while I was there. I missed home terribly some days, and I know I cried a lot, but I had a very, very “special friend” who we shall call Lucas, and he was always there for me. Lucas speaks perfect English, has an amazing heart for children and ministry, and kept me entertained during my time there. I’d call him someone who knows me best on this earth, and yet he has no idea what I struggled with. My eating disorder was so fresh and new to me, not only did I not understand it at all, but I had no way to explain it to someone else, even Lucas. A month or two into my time there, I began to hear those voices. The same ones who spoke to me in B.C. The ones who told me I wasn’t good enough, wasn’t thin enough, wasn’t pretty enough. And despite being right smack in the middle of my dream, I believed them. Can we talk for a second about the sewage system in Mombasa, Kenya? To be more specific, I lived on a compound in a town called Diani Beach, Ukunda. That’s right people, I lived on the freaking Indian Ocean. It was sweet. I bring up the sewage system situation because it doesn’t work very well for a girl with severe insecurities to throw up food into a toilet that may or may not flush for several days. Heck, I was lucky to even have a toilet! And can we also talk about the guilt that follows when you throw up food that thousands of your neighbours would have sold a limb to eat? Holy smokes, did I ever feel like the crappiest person on earth. Even now as I write this my face is hot and I am embarrassed but I am going to keep on writing. Barlow Girl has a song called Mirror that I am now going to quote:
>Today is kind of an important one…it marks a day I never thought I’d see. I used to think about this day and wonder what it would be like to be here, but it’s better than I thought. Today, my friends, is my 6 month anniversary. Not 6 months since I started seeing someone. Not 6 months since I received a promotion or won a major award. It is simply this: It’s been 183 days since I decided to change my life. I may not remember the first time I threw up, but I certainly remember the last. Last, last, last. Ever. By choice, I mean. One day I may be in my first (or is it second?) trimester puking my guts out, but at least I will know it’s for a good cause! ; )
The past 183 days have been tricky. It has been a roller coaster ride (wow, totally over-used metaphor!) and it hasn’t been easy. I actually can’t define for you what made me stop this time, how it was different from the countless other occasions in which I vowed to change my way of life. And to you faithful readers, you WILL be hearing about those countless other occasions. ; ) All I can tell you today is that it IS different. I have felt it in my heart, in my spirit, in my soul for a long time now.
I was going to hold off on this story for a later date, towards the end of my adventures in blogging, but I think I am going to go ahead and tell you about August 18th, 2009. I have a beautiful friend named Erica who came into my life in a very quick, real, and random way last spring. We knew each other a total of about 45 minutes before we made coffee plans. And about 20 minutes into our coffee date, it was decided that she would be staying with me for an indefinite amount of time. It was an answer to prayer. I needed her in my life. She needed me in hers. I had no idea at that point though how badly I needed her. I was just pretty thrilled to get to know her. Our friendship solidified and we bonded over some chaotic moments while she packed to go tree planting and I prepared for a summer of leading thousands of little monkeys through camp. All too soon, Erica left for Northern Alberta to plant the trees that are currently providing us with crisp, clean oxygen.
While she was away, I turned 25. It felt to me like all the years leading up to 25 were my “kid years”, and that was my #1 excuse for having an eating disorder. Before my birthday, I decided I would really, really, really try this time to stop. Unfortunately, that didn’t exactly happen and I struggled through the summer. I actually think that summer was one of the lowest points for me. I was in great pain and did my best to hide that as I went about the bright, sunny days trying to enjoy the wonders of July and August in British Columbia. But I can see now that I had to feel that pain. I had to really want it to go away. And I knew exactly how to make a change. I was just too scared, though.
To my great delight, Erica returned to me on August 18th, 2009. 183 days ago. When I met her at the airport, it was like welcoming home a sister. As we attempted to put a dent in all the catching up we had to do, a knot started to form in my stomach. We were busy discussing the inevitable summer flings, the most dominant bits and pieces of news, and it hit me: I had to tell this girl my secret. That night we collapsed, exhausted, on my bed (the comfiest, softest, most snugly bed in the world) and all the good stuff started to come out. It was like we had to muddle through the ‘news’ before we could discuss our hearts. I was shaking, but it wasn’t as if this was the first time I had made this particular confession. On the contrary, it was probably the hundredth (or something like that). But like I said before, something was just different: I was finally ready. One of us cried. Maybe we both did. The details are blurry. But I do remember being curled up in a little ball, feeling safe and accepted and loved. And do you know what else? I felt secure. That was something I hadn’t felt in a long, long time. She played with my hair. She rubbed my back. She told me some struggles of her own, and drove home the point that we are all in this together. I was no longer alone.
2 or 3 days later I almost fell off the wagon. I was feeling ridiculously guilty for going with Erica to McDonald’s. I had promised to tell her if and when I felt like throwing up, so I awkwardly blurted it out as we got back to my house. She marched me to my bed, made me get under the covers (even though August was boiling hot!) and she sat beside me and prayed for me. For strength. For love. For hope. And then she told me, “You. Don’t even think about getting out of this bed until you KNOW you are not going to throw up. Stay. Here.” And like an obedient child, I did. And to throw in another cliche, the rest is history!
The past 183 days have been hard, but that is a story for another time. For now, I am celebrating my success. It may be even more exciting than the 2010 Winter Games (although I am pretty excited about that, too!).
I visited New York in 2005 and fell in love with the musical ‘Wicked’. Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, is my favorite character, and she is quite inspiring! While speaking (singing!) to Glinda, the Good Witch, she proclaims this:
>I have given a lot of attention to some pretty painful aspects of my struggle in these past few weeks of my web-log adventure. Come to think of it, are there even any non-painful aspects? I have been thinking about you readers lately, thinking about those of you who understand all too well the battle that defines bulimia, and thinking of those of you who have never really gone down that road before. I have been thinking that you might be thinking, ” How in the world does one get so lost in the depths of insecurity that they would resort to such stupid coping mechanisms?”. Is that what you are thinking? Are you wondering how so many of us, ladies and gentlemen alike, have found ourselves knelt over toilets, plastic bags, bowls, bushes, whatever, just to dispose of the darkness we have felt? My friends, I am not here to endorse this strange and confusing behavior. I am not here to tell you that it is acceptable or fun or right. I am, however, going to tell you that it was my escape, and as twisted as this sounds, bulimia was my happy place. It gave me control, it gave me power, it gave me hope. Hope? Really? I wish there was a word better suited to what I am trying to say…I guess what I mean is that when I made a bad decision, nutritionally or otherwise, I had such a physical and tangible way to let go of the stress I was feeling, and I felt hope. I felt happy. I felt high.
I tried really hard to find a good definition of the word “high” to share with you, and was amused to find that Google could only come up with High-Definition televisions and cable. But I did find an interesting article on Wikipidia that talks about intoxication, and this is what The Man has to say: “Effects [of intoxication] may include an altered state of consciousness, euphoria, feelings of well-being, relaxation or stress reduction, increased appreciation of humor, music or art, joviality, metacognition and introspection, enhanced recollection (episodic memory), increased sensuality, increased awareness of sensation, creative or philosophical thinking, disruption of linear memory and paranoia or anxiety.” Hmm…sounds about right to me! I used to pride myself on the fact that I have never taken drugs and I am nothing but a light-weight, social enjoyer-of-Bud-Light-Lime, but despite my lack of narcotic experience, I still bring a lot to the discussion table on how “nice” it is to feel high. I remember smiling. I remember feeling happy. I remember those few precious moments after an episode where I really, truly believed that I had it all figured it out. And havent we all been there?
The point here is, those years were a mix of my most awesome adventures and experiences (hello, world!) as well as my most destructive behavior. It is hard for me sometimes to separate those memories, but each choice I made, the good and the disastrous, are a part of who I’m meant to be. I felt high whenever I strapped myself into the seat of a moving aircraft. I felt high whenever I threw up. I felt high when I felt someone reach out to me, and I felt high when I reached back. I remember feeling immune to addiction, and have learned the hard way that none of us actually are. But I have also learned abundantly more from my addiction than any text book, any professor, any Discovery Channel program ever could. And at the end of the day, I am thankful for it. For the tools that have helped me learn the true meaning of empathy…for the beautiful people who walked me through.
>I have thrown embarrassment, discretion, shame, and fear to the wind. I have decided to be blunt, frank, and honest here, which is why I want to talk about what it is like to hide such a huge secret from the world. What do you say when you emerge from the ladies room of your favorite restaurant with blood-shot eyes, struggling to catch your breath? How do you explain teeth marks in your hands? How do you face a dentist and cry to him/her about your eroding molars? I suppose there is no easy answer, is there? My answer? Pretty freaking universal…it goes something like this:
F (for Friend): Chris, are you okay?
C: Oh yeah, totally. I’m just not feeling very well these days.
F: Really? What’s wrong?
C: Oh, you know. Whatever’s going around, I suppose.
F: You sure you’re okay?
C: I’m fine.
I’m fine. I’m fine. I’m fine.
What’s up with this culture anyways? Who invented the word ‘fine’? Because at what point is that word actually applicable? Your dog just died, and yet you are fine. You just lost your job, but, thank goodness, you’re fine. You’re sick, you’re tired, you’re dying, you’re injured, you’re broke, but you are telling me you’re fine. What a lie! What an accepted, common, overused, overplayed, huge, big fat lie. I had tears streaming down my face, bent over a toilet bowl, and came out of that bathroom and told you I am fine. I cried myself to sleep and convinced myself I was not good enough, and I told you I am fine. That isn’t fine. That is wrong. And I am sorry. I am so sorry. I’m sorry for lying. I wont tell you anymore that I am fine. If you ask, I will tell you the truth.
Anyways, back to the business of hiding big secrets. It’s easier than you think, and it is harder than it looks. It’s a contradiction, yes. But it’s true. I cant believe I got away with what I did for so long. I had 3 or 4 different jobs over those years, lived in 2 different countries, engaged in deep and meaningful relationships with family and friends, all the while hiding my secret. On the other hand, it was hard to lie to people. It was hard to hurt and have no outlet, especially those years where I refused to even journal about my struggles. It was hard to feel so incomplete.
Of course, now that the shoe is on the other foot and I am learning what recovery looks like, things are not automatically easier. It is still hard, because I am trying very hard to love myself with the same acceptance that I love others. It is hard to make bad choices and not have a way to so convieniently “get rid of” the problem. But you know what? It is all a small price to pay for freedom. Life isnt easy, but it is easier. Eating a meal without feeling guilt? Amazing! Going 6 months without the lies and shame and guilt? So relieving. I could easily end this post by saying, “Yes, people, I’m fine”. But I wont. Instead, I will tell you, “I’m free“.
>It would be far too easy to say that adolescence is complicated, would it not? So instead I will say that MY adolescence was rather…confusing. You could probably have called me naive to a lot of things going on around me, but I really feel as though that wasnt exactly true: Just because I wasnt engaging in certain stereotypical behaviors didnt mean I didnt ‘get it’. I have always been the mother; the one taking care of intoxicated friends, the one keeping people company in the smoke pit, the one passing out tissues to poor girls who got dumped by their lame boyfriends. All that to say, I played that mother role to a very, very dear friend of mine who we shall call Samantha. She was (IS) so beautiful, and as cliche as this sounds, her beauty always came from within and radiated to everyone she met. When we were in our mid-teens (heaven help that age group!) Samantha began to change…she stopped talking as much and starting acting as though she had a secret. It wasnt long before Samantha began to lose weight…rapidly. And people, I am telling you: She did not need to. Sam would eat what she liked and laugh along with the rest of us at the movies while holding her popcorn and candy, and she seemed hungry a lot. It wasnt long before Samantha came to me with her secret. She was bulimic. Sure, I was in that peer mentoring club thingy and should have seen the signs, but this was pretty big news for me. I was scared. I thought that she was going to die. She agreed to see a school counselor as long as I came along, but that didnt seem to help. One day we were hanging out at my house and for whatever reason we were in the bathroom together and I actually stood there and watched her make herself throw up. I will come back to this moment shortly.
Samantha eventually seemed to ‘grow out’ of this phase in her life, and she moved on after highschool to pursue some pretty awesome adventures. We have had far too few follow-up talks her (our) struggle.
So while all this was going on in Sam’s life, I think I was kind of the opposite about my body image…I couldnt care less what I ate, what I wore, and what I looked like. I specifically remember being lectured about the nutritional value of slushies after years of believing that since they were liquid, they were calorie-free. Oh, one could only hope! I went to McDonalds as often as possible. I was Oriville Redenbachers #1 fan, keeping the microwave popcorn industry alive. It never really occured to me to be anything but carefree. YES, I had those freak-out-in-Mariposa moments when I couldnt find clothes that I liked. I was your average teen with braces and social problems. But once I graduated from highschool and moved into my late teens and early twenties, I truly felt as though I had made it through, scotch-free, on the whole eating-disorder front.
It was September, 2004. That is my earliest memory of this disease. I dont remember the first time. I dont remember why. I just know that I stuck my fingers down my throat and…well, you know. What I wouldnt give for a record of my statistics of that moment: what was my emotional stance? what were the surrounding circumstances? did I cry? where was I? did I grasp the concept that I would battle for many years to come? I dont want this information as a way to torture myself. I want it because for years I have been searching for answers. And there is STILL a missing link to this puzzel that I have yet to find. All I know is that one day I was fairly confident in who I was, and the next I was not. Can anybody else relate to that?
Coming back to Samantha and watching her throw up…I can tell you that I was absolutely broken in that moment. I felt helpless. I felt weak. I felt sad. I felt scared. I would have given anything to have her stop. To have her be whole again.
August 18th, 2009. Remember this date. That was the last day I will ever, ever, EVER force myself to throw up again for the rest of my life. Because in that moment I had a vision of standing there watching Samantha break…only this time it was me. I am not helpless. I am not weak. I am not sad. I am not scared. And I HAVE given anything to have ME stop. And I am on my way to being whole again.
>My ‘normal’ in the past while has been working my butt off 24/7, taking classes at UFV, and having as much fun as possible whenever possible. This has pretty much rounded out to an insanely busy schedule that has left me only longing to start this blog. Then my Winter 2010 registration date for school rolled by and I forgot to register. Who does that?! Okay okay, to be fair, there was a lot going on that week: A dear friend of mine lost her battle with cancer and my fantastic house mate spilled the beans that after nearly 2 years she was thinking of moving out. So yes I forgot to register, but I had other things on my mind. Clearly. All this to say that I didnt get into a single class this semester. Waitlisted all the way, baby. I emailed some profs, but no one had room for me. At first I was bummed. I am one of those freaks of nature who actually likes school for whatever reason, BUT had I got into one, two, or three of the classes I planned to take, there would be no time for this writing business of mine. So I guess this is a good thing.
Wow, that was a lot of rambling, hey? I sat down on my good ol’ laptop tonight to tell you that I know I have opened a huge can of worms. Huge. And I never really thought this through, actually. Did it occur to me that my brother, sisters, nieces, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, coworkers, supervisors, old campers, and parents’ friends would see this? Nope, nope, nope. Now that I have started though, there is no turning back. Thanks SO much for the outpouring of support you have shown to me. It has been like falling back into a crowd of love.
This weekend I would like to explore a different kind of Genesis. One that started when I was pretty young. So stay tuned…we’re only getting started.