A great piece of comedy is a verbal magic trick[.] [D]ealing with a lot of the same areas where our defenses are the strongest—race, religion, politics, sexuality—but approaching them through humor instead of fight-or-flight adrenalin, we get endorphins and the alchemy of laughter turns our walls into windows, revealing a fresh and unexpected point of view.
Chris Bliss, Comedian
Humor. It is the most difficult way to approach a sensitive subject because it seems to make light of it, it flirts on the verge of offensive. But, if done expertly, it can be the most effective tool because it sneaks up quietly and slips into your conscience while your guard is down. “It’s just comedy. Nothing serious about it.” Then all of a sudden you’ve seen something big and important in a very different light, and it is now all too serious. But it is also now true and undeniable, because you laughed at it. This is what humor can do. It can allow me to help you see the blunt reality of your life with an eating disorder and finally decide to stop damaging yourself. By the time you’ve laughed, you can’t take it back or un-see the honest truth exposed and I hope it will give you the strength you’ve been looking for to change it. Walls into windows.
I feel like I’m sashaying saucily up to you: “Would you like me to seduce you?” Let’s see if I can.
I distinctly recall the first time I tried to make myself throw up. Poised tentatively in front of the bowl, staring into the water, not sure if I was really about to do what I was thinking about doing. “Really Callie?” Then I did it. I jammed an awkward hand in, not knowing why or what I was doing but shoving it back there anyway—like a horny teenage boy trying to lose his virginity to a belly button—because something had to work.
And you may imagine me as a sad teen, a hurt high school student. I was not. I was nearing thirty.
What I just did, all that naughty food I just ate, had to be undone. And you may imagine me as a sad teen, a hurt high school student. I was not. I was nearing thirty. About to get my J.D. And, I remember thinking for a fleeting second, as my dry throat was revolting in pain, what, exactly, in my life needed such extreme fixing? What had brought me to my knees on a grimy floor in front of a toilet? What was so terribly wrong that I … ? Then before my mind could answer, my body responded. Foul chunks ripped through my throat and it was done. A little lever in my mind was flipped.
I then knew I could do it. I had a whole new weapon in my eating disorder arsenal. Years before, I had chosen to make food my enemy. I had committed to punishing my body until it turned skinny and pretty, which meant nothing hurtful or bad would ever happen to me again. To accomplish that, I vowed to extract whatever way possible, whatever calories I had just put in because I told myself every single one was bad for me. Every single one that went in, they all had to come out. The ‘how’ did not matter, simply the ‘out.’ And now, I had found a new, way-easier-than-working-out way, to accomplish my all-necessary ‘out.’ The yang to my ‘in.’ Honestly, the first time I threw up, I felt happy. Relieved that food was out of me. I had found an answer. A solution. Kneeling and shouting from the toilet: “I’m in control, people! Can’t you see?”
I had just created the worst problem of my life. I had just planted the seed for a deeply-rooted, debilitating ten-year addiction.
And there went the line. We just crossed it. Humor, you saucy little vixen you! I hope you chuckled at least. But maybe you didn’t. Maybe you’re still standing stubbornly on the other side, your foul hands crossed over your bony chest, your red sweaty, snot-strewn face shaking ‘no.’ Maybe you don’t want to be converted because maybe you feel the way I used to about my disorder: that it was the only available answer for me. “Everyone else in the world can eat normal and look normal and have beautiful bodies, but not me. That doesn’t work for me. I’ve tried it. I ate a bagel once and got so fat. For me, this is my only solution.”
Well, is it working?
We all know what I had just discovered—the fact that I could make myself throw up—was in no way the solution. Instead, I had just created the worst problem of my life. I had just planted the seed for a deeply-rooted, debilitating ten-year addiction.
I share these vile moments to remind you, and myself, how repulsive it was. How repulsive I was. And how horribly I was treating this beautiful, strong, capable body of mine.
Now that I have grown older and met people with despairingly sad health conditions—people who cannot easily walk a flight of stairs, who cannot swim, who cannot taste food, who have to empty the shit from their colostomy bag every couple of hours, people who cannot walk, run, surf, sing, climb—and I see that my body is thankfully, miraculously, by a stroke of sheer damn luck still able to do all of that and more. Yet some of the things I chose to do to it involved voluntary stomach convulsions, dry-heaving, sweating in the fetal position while an overdose of laxatives made their way through my miles of intestines, pressing a worried hand on my chest because my heart was beating so violently after a binge that I hoped pressure from the outside could somehow slow it down.
Body, I’m sorry. So unbelievably sorry.
And, I’m sure the burning question in your mind is: Why did this happen to me? Why did, as a hurt and scared teenager so many years ago, I flip that switch in my brain and cause myself to suffer an unnecessary disorder for so many years when I am a smart, capable, healthy woman?
All I know is I did it. For years and years. And hid it. For years and years.
I don’t have an exact answer for that. Because I’m very stubborn, driven, and exceedingly hard on myself. And I get royally pissed off when something hurts me and I respond irrationally. I decide to bend my poor body to my iron will and punish it for letting bad things happen to me? I don’t quite know. All I know is I did it. For years and years. And hid it. For years and years.
Maybe it was so I could become a voice for you and others, so I could save others from the same long-term horrid outcome. If that’s one potential outcome, I know I will be proud. If this book saves one solitary person, it’s worth every minute I put into it. I also know I have forgiven myself. And that it’s okay to laugh at your mistakes, even the dangerous dumb ones.
When you look back through all of your chapters—all the ironic coincidences and the trails and turns you took, and the times you found it all circled back anyway despite your best efforts—you have to find that life is just … funny. I certainly think so.
So, let’s get you healed already. If I was there with you, I would hold this book up and slam it against your forehead: “The power of my charisma compels you!” *bam!*
Now, go make some popcorn to nibble on slowly—so you’ll stop thinking about all the other fatty, greasy, cheesy things you want to eat right now because you’re sitting still, you’re hungry and it’s gnawing at you—and stay focused. Keep reading. Normalcy, happiness, and a healthier you awaits.
Excerpt from the Prologue of What Goes Down: The End of an Eating Disorder, by Callie Bowld.