The elusive “last time”…

A few days ago, LH left this question on my blog:

“I was wondering if you could share any tips on how you just quit bulimia cold turkey? Everytime I tell myself that this b/p is going to be the LAST, but it never is. “

I was going to link her back to a post that I actually entitled ‘Cold Turkey’, and then I realised that, actually, it didn’t happen like that.

Yes, once I’d made the ‘real real’ decision to stop, I did, and I haven’t been back since then….but the ‘real real’ decision was preceded by lots of real decisions, and decisions, and new starts, and special dates when I was adamant that I wouldn’t purge or binge –

And each of those failed attempts filled me with terror – and helped me to succeed in the end. It is a paradox but one that I’ll try and explain…

My bulimia kicked in around 14. I dabbled; and then, following a stint of inpatient treatment for anorexia, I dived in. For 7 years, I binged and purged chaotically and unpredictably; and, despite my best intentions, I couldn’t seem to stop. I turned a new page every birthday; went to university with an untarnished wardrobe and a fresh agenda; made myself promises and incentives – and yet still found myself in-and-out of treatment or suddenly in the middle of yet another binge.

When I was 20, I was hospitalised with 24 hour supervision and stopped bingeing for three months. It is hard to break the cycle: I needed that support.

I also relapsed the moment the opportunity arrived.

We can not undo the things that we have done. I don’t know why I needed to go back so suddenly and so absolutely, but it reinforced the message that the bulimia was central to my life. This is where the first part of the paradox comes in: each attempt and subsequent failure convinced me that I would never be able to stop –

Fast forward another 8 years. I had given up on new starts and dreams of recovery by this point, because the few tasters I’d had of a binge-free existence had been so excruciating, and I had negated any evidence that I’d be able to truly change….

And so I got angry – that I was so scared of giving up something that I desperately wanted to give up. And I started collecting proof – by going back to the times that I’d achieved binge-free days, and setting myself tester nights to see how it felt. And then I set a date, and I made sure that I remember my motivation, and I rallied up some moral support – because it’s really really tough doing it on your own.

So in the end, I did stop completely and on the decided day, but the preparation, I think, had started in the years before. For me, it wasn’t so much practice makes you perfect – more like the frustration made it easier to challenge the bulimia’s messages; the failed attempts stopped being a source of my own failure, becoming instead a sign of how vicious the bulimia was. This was the rather complicated turning point: the attempts became a reflection of the illness, rather than a reflection of me.

That’s the narrative. I think it’s different for every person but it’s important to acknowledge the context that the illness is operating within. There are some practical things that helped in the early stages – eating enough to make any urges manageable; getting support from friends; distractions; being kind to yourself; keeping a check on the expectations about how the experience will or won’t feel –

And so, no, I didn’t succeed on my first attempt – but I have learnt that it is always worth trying and you can get there in the end.

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4 Responses to “The elusive “last time”…”

  1. LH says:

    Hi Melissa,

    Thanks for this post. I’m going to reflect on what you wrote and see how I can use your advice to help in my recovery. I think my problem is that sometimes I enjoy bingeing because I get to eat lots amounts of cake, chocolates … And then purge it all out knowing that I won’t gain any weight from the brief episode of bliss. The purging part sucks but the bingeing part is so addictive. And sometimes after I eat a normal meal which I don’t intent to purge out, then I start feeling bloated n overly full and then binge thoughts just bombard my mind and I can’t concentrate on anything except either resisting or succumbing to it. Do you have any experience with it.

    Thanks again for your advice <3

  2. Hays says:

    Dear Melissa!

    Thank you for this genuinely honest post! Although I do not binge/purge, I find the process to be very similar for someone suffering from chronic anorexia. You are right when you suggest that it is one step at a time, and that each success or failure ultimately helps shape longterm recovery. Through trial and error, I myself am learning this.

    I appreciate your website and through “Finding Melissa,” I am finding Hays.

    Best wishes!

  3. I went through anorexia, non-purging bulimia (using exercise and dieting rather than vomiting) and I think I am now over the worst part of binge eating disorder, and well on my way to moving on from food being so important in my life.

    Like the previous poster, there are similarities between the ways of addressing this and addressing other issues, such as binge eating with no purging.

    I’m not sure what the thing is that makes you stop… For me, as I didn’t purge any more in the latter stages, I think the fear of becoming significantly overweight or obese kept me from bingeing to real extremes. It’s not the best reason not to binge, but it worked in limiting its extent for a time.

    As I’ve read lots of books, and helpful web pages like this – over and over and over – the key messages have sunk in:

    - Dieting doesn’t work (for every diet there is an equal and opposite binge – sometimes a bigger binge!)
    - Dieting ultimately leads to weight gain (as a result of the above)
    - Being healthy and happy starts from fixing the inside first
    - The outside bit will sort itself out as a result of the above in time. And even if it didn’t (scary) it won’t matter by the time this comes around.

    I see people dieting around me all the time – at work, amongst friends, family members and on TV and in magazines – and whilst it does tug at something in me ( my Critic jumps up in the back of my mind and taps me on the shoulder rather frantically!), I know from my own experiences and from seeing the evidence in others who diet the truth of the above points. And I know it’s not for me anymore.

    I can opt out.

    I think the key thing is working towards making the little steps until you genuinely have that choice. It seems to me like the repeated attempts Melissa made enabled her to eventually recognise she had an choice and act on it. And that’s an amazing, empowering and inspiring thing to do!


  4. Afterglow05 says:

    I find myself torn. I actively pursue these successful journeys and am, I don’t know, hopeful? But then I also find myself reading about those that I relate to more often right now – the ones struggling to figure out what to do.
    I totally relate to the part where you said that everytime in treatment or every ‘failed’ attempt made it harder for you to believe that recovery is/was possible. Sometimes I just don’t think it can ever be better and then I get myself all depressed and it’s just not working for me.
    I REALLyYdo want to change and be rid of this, I’m just not sure HOW – even with the help of inpatient, partial (at 2 different places) and outpatient with my therapist, ‘it’ hasn’t clicked.

    Thanks for your hope.