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The Lying Game

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Lee Ballard

Diary of a teen bulimic

By Jonelle Hayes

TAKING THE POWER of my self-hate and putting it down on paper is a scary thing to do. It's just me, naked, lumpy, and fat, spread out like cheesy dough for all the world to see here on the cheap lines of my spiral bound notebook. Face it, girl, you may be low-end but you are bulimic, and after you finish writing this and dropping cigarette ashes from your shaking hands onto your expensive name-brand running pants, you're probably going to go and throw up again.

Bulimia goes in cycles, as do most things. When it's a healthy day, you're the fun-loving vegan who eats only good stuff and has earned herself the nickname "Crazy California." When it's a binge day (as they lately so often seem to be), you hate yourself. Every time you pass a mirror, you analyze every imperfect lump on your body. You hate what you see there and you don't know how you could ever change it, so you eat. You eat when (and especially when) you've eaten so much that you feel sick, you eat because it's there, you eat because you can't stop, and do you really want to stop anyway?

You don't eat because you're hungry (you're usually never hungry these days)--you eat because you're bored, because you happen to see a package of cookies in the cupboard. You think, innocently, "Well, it's a new brand that I haven't tried before, I'll just have one." Then, "Well, I'll just try one of every different kind in the box." Then you eat another, and another, to make an even number of the ones you've already eaten.

If you're lucky, you think, "Hey! What the hell do you think you're doing?" and you'll spit out the cookie that you're chewing on and run from the kitchen with a feeling of triumph. But more often than not you stay in the kitchen with the cupboard and refrigerator door open (because you're only snacking, you know), and eat until all the packages are empty. Then you've got such a sweet taste in your mouth, and you need to make it go away. The only thing that can take it away is something salty and fatty.

So you eat cheese, and bread and butter, or potato chips and sour cream, or pretzels, or whatever is lying there. You keep on eating because you've still got such an empty feeling inside of you from all of the empty calories you're consuming and from the empty life you're leading.

Suddenly you start to think about all of the food you've just eaten and you realize how much it was and it starts to churn. The hate rises up in you like the gorge that you'll go and force out over the toilet by ramming your finger down your throat, hoping, hoping that this time it will really go away, but it never does. You hate yourself and so you binge, because of the desolation that comes from deep inside yourself, the desolation that you think maybe chocolate or ice cream can take away, but it doesn't; it only makes it worse. Because you despise your body, you punish it by feeding it crap and then you further punish it by forcing it to throw all the crap up again.

Now you sit in front of the computer, trying to play mindless computer games, trying to distract the hate from eating you alive, but most of the time your fists are clenched, the nails biting into your palms. You're rocking; rocking back and forth, just waiting until your stomach acid has dissolved the lumps of food enough so that you can go to the bathroom and purge it all out without choking on chocolate, cookies, and toast. Toast with butter, toast with jam, toast with hazelnut-chocolate frosting.

How many pieces of toast was it today, 15? Or 20? You don't know because you always lose track of what it is you've eaten; you realize how much it was only when you see all of the empty packages that have been haphazardly stuffed into the garbage can.

When you know you can't wait any longer, you go into the bathroom and lock the door. You stare at yourself in the mirror over the sink, hating yourself, just waiting until the fan comes on so that nobody will hear what you're doing. You sit, kneeling back on your heels and gripping the edge of the toilet seat until your knuckles turn white, so that you don't fall over backwards with the forceful heaving of your esophagus.

ONCE IN A WHILE you look down at your bent knees and you hate them for being so fat, hate the way the insides of your thighs look when they're folded double like that; even though if you really thought about it you'd realize that you're not fat and that every boy in your class would give his left incisor for a chance to take you out.

You cough, because it tickles, shoving your hand down the back of your throat as far as it will go. Then you sneeze, and you retch so hard that your eyes water. Then you retch again and you throw up. If you're lucky, it all comes up in a few tries, but more often than not you have to repeat the process at least seven times. You sneeze again, or cough, and the force makes you throw up again. It's only a little bit, maybe half of a cup, but you keep going, thinking about the pounds of food turning over and over in your tortured stomach, just waiting to be turned into the fat that will sit on the insides of your thighs.

You wait, and retch, and hope for the heave, the big one that will bring up at least a third of it. And you do it again. And again. And again, until there's just the acid, the smell that was so alien and awful that first time last summer but is now a tangy part of your everyday life.

You stand up after maybe 20 minutes, when it's all over. You think, "Now my stomach's empty, I've got a clean slate and I won't do it again, not ever." You look in the mirror, at your streaming eyes and bright red face, and the hate wells up, bright hot, so you look away again. (Only after noticing every unnecessary portion of chubbiness that clings to your cheekbones and beneath your chin.) Sometimes there's spattered vomit on your neck or in your hair, and you wipe it away with disgust, remembering only too late that your hand is covered with it anyway. You splash your face with cold water, scrubbing and scrubbing, but the dirty feeling remains. Then you brush your teeth, rinsing with the scalding water that you're used to now, except for your tongue, which is always a little tender, a constant reminder of the hate that you pour in and out of your body every day.

The hate that eats you alive, like the acid that you're forever tasting and smelling.

You come out of the bathroom with your heart racing and your throat burning, shaking like a leaf, and prepared to say that you just had to take a really big shit if anybody asks why you were in there for so long. They don't ever ask. Then you go running, pounding the pavement hard and fast, or you sit in front of the television, trying to forget your problems until the next time you see a package of cookies or a candy bar laying innocently around. But for every fresh start there's always a fresh cake, and do you know how many fresh starts I've made in the last eight months? Me neither.

You sit there, with your stomach feeling like a shot put underneath all of the layers of your fat, and you stare vacantly at the television.

Sometimes you cry, but not a lot because crying takes too much energy, energy that you could be using to throw up. Sometimes you even think about suicide, but you'd never do it, not really, because (1) you're way too chicken, and (2) the good times usually outnumber the bad.

And the ironic thing? All your friends think that you are totally normal, as normal as they are, with just the normal teen hang-ups, and you don't tell them about your problem because you know they wouldn't take it seriously.

It's just a little phase that you'll grow out of, right?

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From the July 23-29, 1998 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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