What Does It Feel Like To Binge-Vomit?
In answering this question, it is important to remember that bulimia serves a purpose for the person using it. In other words, they would not be binge eating and purging if it made them feel worse rather than better. Particularly in the early stages, when purging is excused as a way to lose weight or maintain low weight, bulimia provides a false sense of self-esteem, competence, and control. In the later stages, giving it up means understanding the difference between what is real and true and what is not. It also means choosing what is real.
The mental “numbness” and physical “high” are important reasons that the binge-vomiting behavior itself becomes so addictive. In fact, many women from our survey who were compulsive about food were also alcoholics, or came from families where substance abuse existed. There have been several studies on the comorbidity of eating disorders and other addictions, and they have shown that between 9% and 55% of bulimics are also alcoholic or abuse drugs. They also become addicted to diet pills, diuretics, and laxatives (Mitchell, 1997).
Friends and loved-ones should know that vomiting from a binge is not the same thing as vomiting when you are sick. The person with bulimia doesn’t feel sick, she feels desperate, driven. Bingeing and purging temporarily removes stress, like a drug. All focus is on the cycle, from trying to avoid a binge, giving in to the urge, planning, and execution. After a vomiting purge, there is also a physical “high” from the pressure of being upside down and exhausting physical effort. Feelings of cleanliness, renewal, relaxation, mindlessness, and emotional numbness are common. There may be sexual feelings from the emerging, private excitement, complete involvement, fullness, stroking, and sudden release.
In my case, in the calm after the purging storm, I promised myself that I would never binge again, adding feelings of hope and renewal to the cycle. But shortly thereafter, I always started anew. For more than five years, I binged and vomited four or five times—and more—practically every day. Several surveyed women commented about the drug-like aspect of bulimia:
I like the high and then the numbness. Once I begin a binge, there is no stopping me.
When I first tried to give up my bulimic behaviors, I began to drink more alcohol. I was substituting one escape for another. I would get so depressed over my drinking that I would finally binge. I joined Alcoholics Anonymous, have been sober five months, and find my bulimia much more manageable. Until I quit drinking I kept having recurrent episodes of my old bulimic behavior.
No matter how down and depressed you feel, think of food as a temporary filling or “high.” Find something permanent, because after you purge, you’ll feel the same or even worse. Why waste your time?
Reprinted with permission from Bulimia: A Guide to Recovery
By Lindsey Hall and Leigh Cohn
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