Unlike the throes of addiction and many other mental illnesses, we will rarely find a definitive answer for what constitutes rock bottom in eating disorders. There are the extreme cases, of course, with hospitalization and medical emergencies, but these do not account for the millions of sufferers silently mutilating their lives.
I don’t have a definitive rock bottom, but I wish I did. It sure would make for a beautiful, neat little story for my cliched memoir one day, wouldn’t it? I can jut picture it now. Chapter 6: THE MOMENT I REALIZED I NEEDED TO CHANGE. A moment of total clarity, a sudden, black-and-white realization that said, OH I NEED TO CHANGE! It probably has to do with getting some kind of scary news from a doctor or someone telling me that they were worried. I mean, that’s what we read about, right? That’s what we hear from so many people. My story isn’t quite so neat, and there is no definitive beginning, middle, or end. In fact, I don’t even know if I have the “climax” (rock bottom) and a resolution. My story is all over the place. I would bet MOST of yours are, too.
I’ve had lows, yes, but they’ve been scattered, and none of them have felt particularly worse than the others. The lying and deceitful ones stand out. Denying that I had stolen food. Lying that I had already eaten. Telling people I felt “great” and had “no triggers” and was “coping well” when it was entirely untrue. The physical pain ones stand out, too. A two-day, free-for-all binge spree which led to severe food poisoning, and (in hindsight) probably dangerous levels of dehydration due to such bad diarrhea and vomiting. The sugar-induced headaches. Pain in the back of my throat. Terrible stomach cramps. Feelings of heaviness. Feeling like I was going to pass out.
But my rock bottoms weren’t illegal nor were they necessarily destructive to society. And nobody really even had to know. Unlike most addictions, I will never be treated as a criminal. Because I don’t have to resort to theft, violence, or prostitution to get my drug of choice. Food is fucking everywhere. Simple as that. And it’s pretty fucking cheap, accessible, and rampant. And best of all: it’s perfectly legal and absolutely essential to live. Talk about a fun thing to abuse, right?
I didn’t have to be scared of jail or hitting someone with my car. I didn’t have to be scared to be stamped with fines or a criminal record. I didn’t have to worry about my physical safety. I just had to worry about my goddamn body and the nonstop chatter in my head.
The cold truth is that if we keep waiting for rock bottom, we keep flirting with death. We can always go deeper. We can always surprise ourselves. As humans, we are incredibly adaptive creatures, sometimes to a fault. Eventually, the “bad feeling,” no matter how terrible it was, wears off…and we will try again. We test boundaries. We push. We think nah, it won’t be so bad this time…I got this…I know my limits. We feed ourselves line after line of bullshit because our diseases will say and do anything to keep us committed to their school of thought.
There is a reason eating disorders are progressive. There is a reason you can’t stop no matter how thin you get, you can’t stop eating no matter how full you feel, you can’t stop obsessing no matter how many times you convince yourself you have control. The science of the disorder may have been built on logic, but the mechanisms of its wiring is entirely irrational and entirely destructive.
I have suffered with an eating disorder on-and-off for about ten years. I have flirted with recovery about half that time. Sometimes, I doubt I ever had a problem. Other times, it feels like nobody has ever had it worse than me. This is not unusual thinking: this is the etiology of any mental illness. It’s conniving and tricky. It’s entirely crazy and entirely reasonable at the very same time.
And yet, there may not be some milestone rock bottom. There may not be a lightbulb moment for change. God may not smite you, in the middle of the road, telling you that you have to pick recovery. In fact, forget God. Nobody may ever tell you to pick recovery. You may never feel like it’s reached that point of life-or-death. You may never be homeless or abandoned by everyone who loved you…you may not even reach that state of pure emaciation you so desperately hoped. You will never be as skinny as you want to be, and your life will never be as perfect as it should. And yet, the disorder will keep promising you the easy ticket to avoiding feelings, shortcutting pain, and mimicking control. You will keep going, numbly and bluntly, because it may never reach that point where you realize that you are choosing the chase of losing weight at the expense of losing everything else.
Emotionally, you are dying. You are avoiding life. You are numbing yourself, self-sabatgoing, self-medicating, doing whatever it takes to avoid the real feelings around you. You may slip through the cracks for months, years, decades without anyone really knowing. You may fool them all. Good for you! Then WHAT?
I was fooling everyone, EVERYONE, but what did that lead me with? A destroyed self-esteem, relationships full of toxicity, insurmountable shame, utter anxiety and depression, and a race on the never-ending hamster wheel towards perfectionism. I may have been fooling the world with my academic success and circle of friends and planted smile, but the more important question remains: why was I taking care of THE FUCKING WORLD instead of myself?
The WORLD won’t be there when you are driving from restaurant to restaurant at night HOPING that none of the employees will recognize you from a few nights before. The WORLD won’t be there when you don’t get the perfect job, boyfriend, or happiness even if the supposedly perfect body arrives. The WORLD won’t be there when you’re crouched over your toilet seat, finger in your throat, tears stinging your eyes, in that fog of fear, guilt, and total humiliation. The WORLD won’t be there because you’ve probably done such a damn good job at shutting the world out.
You are screaming for help and you are pushing help away.
You are dying because you think it will give you a greater chance at living.
You are sure you have reached your limit, that this is your last time, that you will never do this again because it will never be worse than it feels right now, and then you will fucking turn around and do it again…three times worse.
You’re already on the tightrope. You’re already standing on the quicksand. There will always be more opportunities to fall. Stop glamorizing the rock bottom…because if and when you finally achieve it, the WORLD will finally know thanks to the tombstone with your name.