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My eating disorder ruined Christmas for 10 years

Some may find it odd or insensitive that I chose to release an indie comedy pilot called Binge, inspired by my decade-long struggle with bulimia, at the beginning of the holiday season—the time of year you’re basically required to have an eating disorder.

More: My celiac disease made me so scared of food I stopped eating

I mean, if you don’t feel like vomiting after one of the big holiday feasts, then you’re just not doing it right, right? Those binging behaviors are normal, glorified, even insisted upon. Of course, the purging part is still considered “effing gross.” And for me, it was the most painful time of the year.

I think what so many outsiders don’t understand is that we don’t want to be bulimic. At least, I didn’t want to be bulimic. Bulimia isn’t fun. It’s ugly. It’s embarrassing. It’s animalistic. And bulimia generally doesn’t even cause weight loss (usually just the opposite, in the long term).

We hate ourselves and we hate our bulimia, even while we’re addicted to it. Like many bulimics, I’d often go into a trance-like frenzy, where I couldn’t see clearly. My heart would pound, time would blur, and a few hours later, I’d realized I’d just consumed my entire kitchen pantry. But I didn’t want to. What I wanted—what so many bulimics want—was to eat nothing at all.

For me, the days leading up to the holiday season were filled with crippling anxiety, constant dread and obsessive planning. Weeks in advance, I’d start by mapping Thanksgiving and Christmas out for myself: what I’d eat, and when, and how slowly. How would I manage to consume as little as possible, while still appearing totally normal and happy, without triggering a binge, so I wouldn’t need to puke my fucking guts out in the basement toilet?

But every year of the ten I struggled, when the holidays arrived, my well-crafted plan backfired. I’d be 15 minutes in to Thanksgiving, with a respectable vegetable medley resting on my tiny plate. And then, I’d take a sharp left turn at the cookie tray. I’d be hunched over the toilet before halftime.

Bulimia is a vicious cycle. And regardless of how it appears, bulimics are not choosing to partake in it. Now, I’m not a dietician, or a doctor, or a therapist. But I spent ten years, a ton of therapy, and two rounds of treatment in that cycle, and I have learned a lot.

Eating disorders change your brain chemistry and your body’s physiology. With bulimia, despite the massive quantity of food you consume during a binge, purging and frequent starvation between episodes means you’re generally malnourished. And when you’re malnourished, you’re depressed. You just are. Your brain doesn’t have what it needs to fire correctly.

When you’re malnourished, your body kicks into “survival mode.” It tries to save itself… by eating, a lot, as quickly as it can. Because your body doesn’t know when it will next be fed, and it doesn’t know how long it will have that food once it gets it.

More: I starved myself into a full blown mental illness

But when the binge ends, those survival instincts disappear. The bulimic is left alone, physically ill and emotionally devastated. I can’t believe it happened again. I said it would never happen again. I’m a failure. I’m an idiot. I’m a pig. I suck.

The shame and fear is too much. We purge.

And the cycle begins again.

Bulimia — and eating disorders in general — are so often thought of, by the general public and by those who suffer, as emotional afflictions. Deficiencies. Vanity gone too far. Maladaptive behavior patterns caused by some trauma or ineffective coping mechanism. While that’s definitely (sometimes) part of it, it’s not the whole story. Our bodies are at work here, too. And the longer we’re in the bulimic cycle, the harder it is, emotionally and psychologically, to break out of it. Ending the cycle, for many, is beyond what we’re capable of without outside interference. Only when the body and brain get steady, uninterrupted nourishment can we break the cycle be broken and work through the underlying emotional traumas.

So there were a ton of mechanisms at work for me during my bulimic holiday meals. And the self-hate, the shame and the failure I felt wasn’t fair. My bulimia was beyond my control. I wasn’t weak. I wasn’t selfish. I wasn’t a pig. I was trapped. It really sucked.

Over the next few weeks, life is going to suck for people struggling with eating disorders. Family gatherings, parties with friends, work events, gift exchanges—they’re all usually centered around food. Christ, it’s never-ending! This time of year is so damn hard.

I recovered. And you can, too. If you’re struggling with an eating disorder, get this:I don’t remember what I ate for breakfast today! And I couldn’t care less! It’s true! It’s a miracle. You can have that miracle, too. I promise.

And that’s why I (and my teammates at HLG Studios) created Binge, a raw, edgy, fucked-up comedy about my struggle, in hopes that it helps you get you through yours. You’re not alone. You’re not a freak. You’re not a pig. You’re a badass. You’re going to get help, and you’re going to kick this thing.

For those of you who don’t struggle in this way, I hope Binge gives you some understanding of what is going on with those who do. Even if you don’t know it, you know someone who’s hurting in this way. And your compassion can make a shit season a little less shitty.

Most of all, I’m releasing this now, because in times of pain and suffering, what helps the most, I’ve found, is laughter. It heals. We need it. Eating disorders are funny (and painful and scary and dangerous and bizarre). We’re allowed to laugh at them! We’re allowed to laugh at ourselves! We need to. I did.

More about the series:

National Eating Disorder Helpline: 800-931-2237

More: What if we tweeted our mental health issues like we do our head colds?

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