The first time that I told my mother that I had an eating disorder was during a therapy session while I was in treatment. I shared that I had been purging since I was 12 and how hard its all been dealing with everything…. I was raw and vulnerable, pouring out my guts and telling all of my painful secrets. Meanwhile, my mother maintained her “we’re in front of company” voice… you know, the one you might hear had she been on a job interview or conducting business over the phone. I could tell how hard it was for her to hear these things for the first time, in front of a stranger, but I had to say the words. I had to tell her “I’m not okay” over and over so that it could be real for the both of us. But we were there, in front of my therapist, (read nice white girl that seemed a little young) in a nice room… so the best that I could get from my mom was nice. I ugly cried and she was nice, I screamed at her at the top of my lungs (because I clearly must have forgotten myself ) and she continued to be nice, barely raising her voice.
Black girls don’t have eating disorders, at least not in my family. We may eat too much or feel insecure about our weight, but its not really that big of a problem, certainly not an illness. No one ever said those words to me but somehow they were an unspoken part of my narrative, so much so that when I started binging and purging as a preteen I didn’t think anything of it. I was a chubby black girl in a family full of appropriately curvy women and according to my mom “I was beautiful no matter how much I weighed”
Bulimia just about destroyed my life in every way. I dropped out of high school because I was always “sick” and couldn’t keep up with my advanced classes. By the time I was 17 I had my GED and resolved to make up for my failure by excelling in community college… But bulimia prevailed yet again. And again when I was in my early 20s and could barely keep a job. I lived a secret life of shame, even after I began sharing a home with my now husband, I kept my other life hidden. That’s what it had become, a second life where I hid food like a junky stashing heroine and binged until I couldn’t move, all so I could feel that release. Purging was like a drug and I stayed high as a bird. Until one day I found myself standing on the ledge of a building with no wings, preparing to leap. It wasn’t until I came crashing to the ground that day (because a stranger grabbed me before I could jump) that I truly knew I was sick.
I’m sharing this because when I was 12 or 16 or 22, reading the story of an actual black girl that not only had an eating disorder but fought for her life and won could have changed things for me. I won because I’m still alive and fighting every single day. I have real problems and stress and hard times but I never disappear back into that secret shame. I talk about it, I air it out so that it doesn’t grow like mold in the familiar darkness and infect my entire life again. I’m a magical Black girl, a unicorn, an artist and entrepreneur, a creative thinker and a survivor and I am in my 6th year of recovery from bulimia.
If you can relate to any of this, please don’t give up. Please don’t let the shame convince you that this is your fault. This is an illness and a deadly one that thrives in the darkness. Air it out, let some light in…If I can do it, I know you can too.