Warning: This article contains graphic reference to eating disorders which some readers may find distressing.
I always watch the food swirl around in the toilet water, propelled by the motion of my stomach muscles after I’ve forced it out with the end of a toothbrush or a cotton bud. Small chunks bubble with acidic froth, petulantly awaiting the flush, the sigh, the swig of water and the unlocking of the bathroom door. Purging is seen as a penance. Self-flagellation for those who feel the need for it as they stray from the path of perceived beauty. It is a disorder.
The feeling of the chewed slop grating up against your oesophagus is akin to the pinch of your skin just before it parts around the edge of a razor blade, like the red sea for Moses. The curt tang of your stomach acid as it washes over your tongue and against the inside of your teeth for sufferers provides an immediate release from guilt. Signposts in your mind automatically spring up, letting you know that your dalliance into the land of nutrition has been exonerated. The emptiness of your stomach and the beads of sweat that coat your body provide the briefest of reprieves. It is a disorder.
In some ways, in the moment purging feels like an act of kindness. It is a way of removing guilt, of pardoning yourself. You find yourself bound to it by routine and you are trapped by self-harm. It is a disorder.
Eating disorders are more than just the act of purging, or binging, or starving. In the same way that both a cough and terminal lung cancer come under the ‘respiratory’ banner, the term eating disorders spans a vast chasm of experience. They encompass a plethora of different behaviours, thought processes and emotions. As such, none of the things listed above need actually take place for an eating disorder to be present.
For me, the holy grail at the height of the disorder is never having to undergo the trauma of eating again. Slowly but surely, I know I’m burning a hole through my stomach. With every meal skipped in favour of a cigarette, with every sip of acidic liquid, every paper packed parcel of class a drugs, every anti-depressant, every forced regurgitation of food, every pharmaceutical overdose, the inevitable draws slowly closer. I can see it now.
I’m walking down the street, probably with my earphones in listening to Joy Division. I have that nonchalant air of someone who’s about to have their life changed irreversibly. My scuffed Chelsea boots splatter through the puddles as I mindlessly walk out in front of a cab, totally unaware of the driver cursing and slamming his fists down onto the horn from behind my sunglasses. As I carry on, meandering down the road towards the tube station, the bubbling volcanic silt that has been sitting, stewing and dwelling in a molten slumber erupts. My stomach ulcer finally perforates, unleashing a fiery torrent of hell into my body. Gastric acid pours out of the tear, fizzling away at various appendages, gnawing and frothing around my already aching liver. The pain is overwhelming. A sharp clean white pain grips my stomach, snapping every sinew shut in my body, folding me over like a deckchair.
Many long insomniac hours have been devoted to this scenario, imagining different ways. Through the constant chatter of my corrupt mind, I feel a pang of social pressure. The pressure to admit how devastatingly sad it is.
The very limited part of my mind that is devoted to rational thought recognises how wrong it is to get to a position where the only way you’re saved from cutting your own stomach out with a 10 inch bread knife is by being too drunk to aim the blade and slashing the mattress instead of skin.
Logic dictates revelling in every pang, every instance of overwhelming acid, cramps and all of the other horrific side effects aren’t healthy. The problem is, it’s not about logic. Rationality has nothing to do with eating disorders. It’s an issue of perspective. Eating disorders are crippling, holistic in nature and brutal.
They submerge you, warping your perception of the world in the way water bends light. They have this irrevocable ability to put a glass barrier between you and the truth. You can see it, you can hear it, you can almost taste it, but until you smash through the looking glass and can recognise it, you will never be free.
Information and help to beat eating disorders can be found at www.b-eat.co.uk