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.