I’m currently dealing with some health consequences from the effects of my bulimia. And it’s National Eating Disorder Awareness week. Ugh.
I don’t really want to talk about my present situation because:
1.) it’s depressing to me, makes me feel guilty, and brings up feelings of anger toward myself,
2.) I keep telling myself to get over it; it’s not a big deal.
But I think National Eating Disorder Awareness week is the perfect reason to talk about it. It lets others who are dealing with an eating disorder know that they are not alone. It proves to them that there is no reason to hide their story in shame. Because through struggle, we find strength.
Bulimia is a serious health condition that causes lasting damage to the body. After recovering from this illness, which is difficult enough on its own, there are still health complications that can make a person feel guilt, anger, and regret.
My teeth have basically been destroyed by the stomach acid exposure from bulimia.
I’ve had to pay for thousands of dollars of work on my teeth because the enamel on my bottom row had completely worn away. My dentin, or the easily-eroded inner layer of the tooth, was all exposed, causing deterioration and cavities.
This National Eating Disorder Awareness week, I was happily devouring a salad with mussels on it when I crunched down on a piece of shell that was still stuck to a mussel.
It didn’t sound good.
A chunk off the back of a molar had come off. I struggle to believe that it would have broken this way if I had healthy, strong teeth.
By the time I got in to see the dentist, the root of my tooth was infected, and the best solution was a root canal treatment for the infection and a crown. The whole process will take over two weeks, and it will cost me hundreds of dollars.
NOT TO MENTION
Not to mention the fact that I'm living in Thailand and so do not have access to my trusted dentist who has taken care of my teeth so well.
Cue my anxiety.
I'm worried about whether the dentist's suggestions are best for me, whether the dental office I chose is really the best, how much the language barrier will effect my treatment, you get the idea.
HITTING A NERVE
I’m trying to handle this situation with acceptance, but it has brought up a lot of negative feelings around my old issues. Because I believe I would have avoided a broken tooth if I hadn’t destroyed my teeth, I feel like it’s my fault. And I’m mad at myself. Of course, underneath the anger is sadness.
I ruined my teeth, and I’ll have to deal with it for the rest of my life.
It's depressing because I used to have perfectly healthy teeth. I didn’t have any dental health issues, not even a single little cavity, until I let bulimia take over. Even all four of my wisdom teeth grew in without any issue.
I was proud of my immaculate, healthy teeth (even if they weren’t perfectly straight). I took care of them well.
I didn’t realize that I took pride in my dental health until I ruined it. When I see my panoramic x-rays, with all of it’s opaque patches of corrective work, it makes me feel somehow less worthy as a person.
IRONIC AND TWISTED: HOW I BECAME BULIMIC
In my mid twenties, I started to deal with my PTSD in therapy head on. It was such a terrifying experience, but I knew I had to face it. I was actually reliving trauma daily, and I was completely overwhelmed by it every moment I was awake.
It was a hardly bearable burden, and I turned to binging on and purging as a way to escape the pain. My bulimia was always about escaping. It wasn’t about looking good or losing weight. I was not happy with how skinny I became.
I binged because I didn't want to do hard drugs every day, basically. I was I so much unbearable pain that I really wanted to just numb out.
But I knew that heroin was not an option.
So at least I made one good decision.
But I was in that much pain. Along with counseling, I was also treating myself—my depression, anxiety, and PTSD—with exercise and nutrition.
I know. It’s ironic and twisted up and nonsensical to be treating myself with nutrition and be bulimic.
But it meant that I was extremely aware of health and nutrition, eating extremely healthy all day (with several meals of colorful, fresh, nutrient-dense vegetables, cold-water fatty fish, nuts, and seeds) and made the conscious decision to binge and purge nightly anyway.
Because I was caught somewhere between super healthy and super sick, I had to "get rid of" the unhealthy food that I binged on. It wasn't about weight or body image, it was about PTSD and anxiety.
THE BATTLE ISN'T OVER
Since this mussel shell mishap (in addition to being mad at myself for being bulimic in the first place), my anxiety and low self-worth has been creeping around again.
I keep second-guessing my decisions with the dentist. I keep lamenting the money I’m losing from a problem I feel I could have prevented. I keep thinking how things could have been different. My brain is actually stuck reeling on “if only.”
If only I had a mother who gave me self-worth. If only I hadn’t been abused. If only I got proper treatment for it earlier. If only I had gotten a dentist appointment the very next day instead of waiting a few days for the best dental clinic in town. If only I hadn’t bought those god damned mussels!
So even though it’s been years since I’ve recovered from bulimia, there are still battles to fight. I still have to contend with residual self-hate, anxiety, and low self-doubt.
It makes no difference that all of the thoughts I’m having now are irrational and useless. I feel them nonetheless.
So I’m going to publicly give myself the advice that I want to take (but haven’t been able to yet). This is the honest, heartfelt advice I’d give to a loved one if they were in my shoes.
MY ADVICE TO ME
Don't get stuck here.
It’s ok to worry about the pain and cost of the procedure, if you chose the right dental clinic, if getting a root canal treatment was the best decision. It’s a normal and healthy response. Just don’t get stuck in it.
Don't be so hard on yourself.
(There are plenty of people willing to do that for you.)
So you were bulimic a few years ago. You were overwhelmed and dealt with your pain as best you could at that time. That doesn’t make you unworthy. You are worthy of love and respect. You’ve still created an incredible life. You’ve become strong. It’s just another battle you had to fight in the war against your demons.
Let go of the past.
There’s nothing you can do about it now. There’s nothing to do about your childhood, or your bulimia, or your root canal treatment, or your mussel meal.
Ruminating about the past drains your happiness in the now. Rumination actually leads to clinical depression. So let it go.
Think about what you’ve done right.
You have fought demons larger than most people can handle. You’re taking care of yourself now. You are taking care of yourself nutritionally, emotionally, and financially. You have given yourself the life of your dreams, including the ability to pay for medical problems and other misadventures!
Look at the bright side.
Take some time to truly feel grateful for what you have and what you have done. What positive things have been brought to light by this situation? First, be grateful you have the money to pay for this dental issue. Instead of focusing on how you can’t see your trusted dentist, choose to be grateful that you live in a tropical paradise with affordable dental care. Be grateful for learning to be careful what you eat! Check for shell fragments in batches of molluscs!
C’est la vie.
Obstacles are just part of life. They are going to happen no matter what. Accept it, learn from it, and move on.
MY ADVICE TO YOU
After writing all of this, I've connected to the truth of the matter. In the scheme of things, this is just an inconvenience. I have fought nightmarish demons and this is just a little demon larvae.
I am certainly strong enough to handle it and to put my regret and anxieties to rest.
And so are you.
You are not alone. If you are struggling with disorder eating or addiction of any kind, please talk to someone about it. Your pride is not worth the price you pay for continuing down the path of self-destruction. You can conquer it, no matter how far down the path you have gone.
Sometimes fighting back against your demons looks like confiding in someone you trust. Sometimes it looks like forgiving yourself. Sometimes it looks like being honest with yourself and giving yourself advice in a public forum.
Don't let your demons dictate your life. Take care of yourself. No one else is going to do it for you.
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