The New Year has been officially rung in and resolutions have been made…or not. Let me tell you a story explaining why I don’t make New Year’s resolutions anymore.
I used to have an eating disorder—bulimia, to be precise. I make this still-painful confession because for many years, my New Year’s resolution was to stop binging and purging. As a card-carrying member of the “Late Bloomer’s” club, I didn’t become bulimic until my early 20s. Why I succumbed to this dangerous and addictive behavior isn’t all that interesting or unusual: I thought I was fat (I wasn’t), I didn’t feel I had control over many aspects of my life, and of course, like many young women, I had your garden-variety case of low self-esteem.
Initially, I just experimented with bulimia to see if it would help me lose a few pounds. And like anyone with an addictive personality, I assumed I could stop any time I wanted. Unfortunately for me, this didn’t happen. It sounds bizarre to people with normal eating habits but the excitement of stuffing oneself with “forbidden” foods (donuts, ice-cream and cookies were favorites,) then getting rid of all the evidence - and the potential weight gain - can become too titillating to stop. In a way, it’s much like the high of drugs or alcohol. Thus began my 15-year “experiment” with bulimia.
One of the hallmarks of an eating disorder is secrecy. I told no one—certainly not my parents, nor my sisters and friends, and not even my fiancé-then-husband (until later). I was embarrassed and ashamed, not to mention guilt-ridden. Before long, the secret had a life of its own. With the hindsight of years and perspective, I now see how bulimia took control of my entire life.
I was a young adult just entering the working world but my time and energies were not focused where they should have been. If I wasn’t currently binging, I was often planning my next one. I was frequently exhausted from throwing up, my mood swinging from one extreme to another (thanks to the abrupt changes in bodily chemicals and electrolytes). I frequently worried about what all this vomiting was doing to my heart…and my teeth. Would my dentist notice a change in my tooth enamel? That’s often a glaring sign. It’s no wonder I was often irritable, couldn’t concentrate, focus effectively on my career or maintain a healthy romantic relationship (although that did finally happen, thankfully).
Ironically, though I became bulimic to keep my weight in check, this backfired after a while because my metabolism no longer knew whether I was eating or not and I actually began to get heavier. Other tell-tale physical signs of my secret behavior included puffy cheeks and red eyes.
As time went on, there would be weeks and even several months when I would eat completely normally and I would tentatively start believing I was “cured.” But inevitably, a bad day, unpleasant emotions or simple stress would trigger a relapse. Afterward, came the waves of guilt and shame which were getting worse the longer this went on. I was a reasonably intelligent, self-sufficient woman, right? But I couldn’t seem to stop this on my own.
Each New Year’s Eve I would vow that the next year would be different. Finally I’d had enough. It was very early in 2001 and I had just binged and purged for reasons I have forgotten. I was suddenly sick to death of myself and very bored with the whole bulimia thing. Without thinking about it too much, I randomly called a therapist in the San Antonio area where we were living at the time. She turned out to be wonderful and our client-counselor relationship clicked almost immediately. (I was lucky—this isn’t always the case). I learned that “being bulimic” did not have to define me, nor was it even the crux of my problem. It was a symbol of much deeper, underlying “stuff” that I didn’t want to face.
It was not an easy process but just talking about my huge secret to a “safe” person was a tremendous relief. We talked about a lot of things. and though it took time and effort, I gradually lost the desire to binge and purge. I saw the therapist for about six months before we had to move again. I was also pregnant with our first child at this point. My bulimic days were over at last.
Back to New Year’s resolutions. I don’t really make them anymore. The one I made back in 2001 was the biggest success I’ve ever had, so why would I try to compete with that?