A year ago I bought a box of laxatives that I opened but never busted out a tablet. I put the sleeve back in and put the box away. Then I drank gallons of water and juice to get the job done.
I am lucky if I have a bowel movement every other day. “Why is she talking about her poop habits?” you might be asking yourself. As a recovering bulimic whose “drug of choice” was laxatives, it is pretty likely that my already messed up intestinal system (I was diagnosed with IBS in high school) was screwed up even more by four years of pill popping.
It started quite by accident in November of 2003. I was painfully constipated and took my first laxative. I was miserable before and during but enlightened after. Literally. I lost six pounds overnight and a light bulb clicked on. “I never have to worry about overeating again!”
I didn’t even recognize this as disordered thinking at the time. I was (am) a singer, so the idea of throwing up what I ate was never a possibility, nor was giving up food for the matter. But eureka! I can save my vocal chords and have unlimited Taco Bell without worry!
That’s how it started. Taco Bell at the PX in Wurzburg, Germany. Later that day, I took a dose of Dulcolax. After all, I had a whole box left. A couple of times a week turned to every other day which progressed from everyday to multiple times a day. I took hourly bathroom breaks at work and was regularly buying two boxes of the pink pills (that tasted like candy) every week plus whatever exciting new diet pill was on the market.
I finally stopped, surprisingly, while I was working for a dance company. You’d think that being surrounded by svelte stick figures all the time would lead to even more unhealthy habits but it just became too much. I was on the road three weekends a month and it was too risky to fly and keep it up. Not to mention the pain. The change in pressure wreaked havoc on my stomach and the gas would reduce me to tears. I knew something had to change.
Though I still hadn’t recognized myself as having an eating disorder I knew that something wasn’t right. My relationship with food has always been unhealthy (my first diet consisted of a handful of saltine crackers as my only sustenance before 6:00 pm when I was 12) but my relationship with myself was off, too.
I started reading self-help books and working on changing my self-image. I became more confident and more comfortable with body. Of the 4% of American females who will battle with bulimia in her lifetime, only 6% of them will ever seek treatment. So having discussed this, even just at surface level, in therapy puts me ahead of the game.
Then I fell into the hands of a narcissistic abuser who taught me to hate myself again and I had to start all over. This is actually a story about strength though, because despite the awful things that he would say to me (“that’s disgusting” to my post pregnancy belly or “are you ever going to lose that weight?” after having a baby and being forced to eat out with him twice a day) I never fell back into my old habits.
So here I am tonight with painful constipation and a hesitation to do anything about it. The difference is that for the first time in my life I feel like I have a solid support system of people who love me regardless of my physical appearance. I have a therapist who I trust and who is not afraid to ask me the tough questions and make me work. She calls me out on my bull shit thinking.
I am hyper aware of the implications. So to feel better I’m going to break the seal on the pink pills, but I am going to vow not to step on a scale for several days. I’m going to do my best to not take notice of how my pants might fit differently tomorrow. I’m not throwing the box away because I am strong enough to let it not become a problem. But I might ask my husband to keep an eye on the count in the cabinet. Just in case.
If you or someone you care about is one of the 20 million women or 10 million men in the United States who is suffering from a clinically significant eating disorder, you are not alone. Call the National Eating Disorder Association helpline at 1-800-931-2237 or visit www.nationaleatingdisorders.org.