I threw up for ten years. The history of my bulimia is one I’ve chosen to be very open about: as the daughter of two Doctors, my eating disorders- along with the bouts of depression that run in our blood- have never been dismissed or brushed aside. I’m keenly aware of how rare that is. Period. But I’m mostly aware of how rare that is in a Latino household. So I’m loud about recovery. I open my doors, invite people to sit on my couch and give space to those who feel comfortable and safe enough to sit back and let something other than food out. Throwing up for ten years is a story I share, a narrative I tell, a one woman show I’ve produced.
However, I choose my words wisely when I speak of exactly how I found my way to recovery. I’m very careful when I disclose the exact method that pushed me out of my toilet and into my life. Because after ten years of gastric fluid eating away at my esophagus and going through toothbrushes like most people go through Q-Tips, the tip was incredibly simple. Insultingly simple. After hundreds of books read on the topic and years of therapy, I got my hands on the one book that didn’t hold mine back. The narrative went something like this, “You’re an addict. You’ve trained your body to deal with any emotion with this addiction. That’s all it is.” Cold in my tracks, I tell you. Don’t get me wrong. I’m therapy’s Number One Fan. I wish everyone would go. I’ve helped as many friends shop for the right person to heal them through life as I have for myself. But therapy isn’t enough. When it comes to Eating Disorders, we ask young men and women (and sometimes not so young) to understand of themselves what most people won’t even begin to question in a lifetime. We’re telling young men and women that they must get to the bottom of their Daddy, Mommy, Brother, Body, and Drive issues before then can ever quit their 120 Hour ED work week. This method simply takes all power away. It tells people that their entire life set up- with or without them- is the reason why they’re like this to begin with. For me, thinking of my eating disorder as an addiction led to freedom. I began to realize that whatever made me throw up for the first time ten years ago was not what was driving me to the toilet every day. I was an addict. And I could kick an addiction. Kicking is active. I’m a director, I like active. For the first time, I could diminish that voice to know that it was my addiction talking, not my Father, not my Brother, and certainly not Me, Sister. Not me.
It’s been three years since I last threw up and while that’s a complete victory in itself, it’s opened my eyes to what addiction really means. It was the end of my Sophomore year in college when I finally decided it was time to break up with my beloved ED. For ten years, ED was the most consistent aspect of my trilingual, intercontinental, cross Atlantic, biracial, bicultural life. And as I began to crave a relationship with another human being, I knew there was no room for both. I actively had to let go of something to make room for someone. My relationship with said human turned out to be a pretty abusive one, and as I look back on it today, I’m not surprised. After all, I had just left my most abusive- but consistent- relationship yet, it only made sense that I would gravitate towards something familiar in another form. During this time, I also started smoking. I was in a tug of war with an abusive boyfriend and we spent most of our time drinking, smoking, and having sex. Hm. After a year of Play and Pilot worthy material, we broke it off. I began to recognize the dynamic for what it was. It was all behavior that I knew. The substances had just changed. I was addicted.
Addicted. Addict. I care deeply for the power of words, finding the right one in a bag of three languages. Especially the ones you use for yourself: it’s powerful stuff, whatever you decide. “Addict” isn’t exactly the word I want to write on my pot and tell myself as I water my roots, but it’s one I have to face. My addiction took another form and so what does that mean? I let him and the cigarettes go the same way I once had let my ED go: actively ridding myself of something to let something else in. If I ever smoke a cigarette now, I actively feel my finger tips yelling at me, my cuticles mouthing the words “STOP,” as my throat starts smoking all my dreams away. That’s how intense staying away from things that hurt me has become. And it’s not all healthy: I have crazy control issues. My years of therapy did teach me that. But there’s terrible shame that comes with addiction. It’s inhuman, sometimes. If I ever eat too much, I feel the entire world looking at me, seeing the entire timeline of my bulimia tattooed on my forehead and onto my back. Addict shame feels heavier than most people’s shame. And for someone with crazy control issues, almost anything will be done to avoid ever feeling that shame.
For the last few years, I’ve begun to feel that shame with alcohol. (Did you guess that was coming? Did you know that would be the next substance? If you did, you’re way ahead of me.) French people drink, a lot. Colombians… well Colombians drinks as much as French people on Sundays but since almost every Monday in Colombia is a holiday, I mean. You get the point. Cote du Rhone was always flowing and a pour of Black Label with a twist of the wrist is a move I mastered at age five. I never thought of alcohol as something I would personally abuse precisely because it was never off-limits. For this addict, the off-limits factor is usually what makes me go overboard. And to be honest, this dynamic does not feel completely like the others. I don’t wake up and do it first thing in the morning, or every time I’m upset; I certainly don’t do it until I can’t feel my insides anymore or would rather not wake up the next day. No. But I am keenly aware that my sharpness diminishes and with it my creativity. For some years now, I’ve known that whenever I have to direct, or write a new play, drinking is the first thing to go. Even when something incredibly difficult happens, (a breakup, perhaps, gasp!) I do not drink. I do not run away from myself. I get through the cheese, all of that gooey Camembert mess, to get a piece of it. In doing so, I acknowledge that the best parts of me are watered down by The Drink.
As I get older, it’s starting to shift into something much bigger. One drink and it’s my entire system laughing away all my convictions and my dreams, mockingly forcing my hands to wave goodbye to them all if I dare have another. I don’t know what this means yet. I don’t know if it’s my control issues getting the better part of me or the innate wisdom of my instincts telling me to stop before I hit rock bottom. Can I not allow myself to let go even for one night? Must I feel shame if I have even a glass of wine in front of someone’s spouse or are these my spidey senses reminding me that I’ve been there before— no need to go back to remember its lessons. And it’s not easy, and it doesn’t always seem fair. I’m in a creative field. Unfortunately, alcohol is the way most of my peers celebrate their very hard work, get through the even more difficult bouts, and gather the cojones to face their darkest selves and explode onto a page. Creative people are some of the most courageous and it’s sometimes a shitty responsibility. And yet, I know. As I mentioned, I know of myself that whenever I’m called to true and compact action, alcohol is the first thing to go. So why is it that the second things are back to normal, the moment I don’t stand on some sort of pressurized extreme, alcohol is back and flowing?
For the last three years, I’ve been in incredible circles with even more incredible people. Rigorous, talented, and generous personas that have welcomed and mentored me through their ranks. And every circle has its drink and just recently, I caught myself in a chilling self dialogue: “But look at them, they have accolades, they have awards, they’re fine. This might be fine. Forget the internal screaming. This is fine.” See? Bartering. Addict. But I know! I know I can’t sit down and face myself with a glass of wine. I know that whatever boundaries I push with some liquid courage would be even more thrilling if I pushed them sober. More importantly, sober, I would actually consider if I should be pushing them at all. And yes, I have control issues. My shame sometimes feels ten times heavier than most. Or is felt much more easily than other people’s shame. I feel shame if I have a glass of wine at happy hour with my boss three floors below. Is that real shame or is that addict shame? I can’t tell. And it’s control. I do not like to surrender control and yet I gravitate towards things that force control out of my hands. Because maybe there’s a part of me that thinks, wow, there’s something more powerful than me. And yet I know. You know what’s more powerful than me? God and the universe and the creative forces that can take hold when I sit down to write. Uninhibited. I know that meditation and running do more for my highs than a mojito ever has. And I start to wonder, should I just get the tattoo over and done with and label myself as a sober person forever? Do I really need to hit rock bottom before I make the decision I already know? Or is my decision to go sober another control issue? And what the fuck, who cares, if it’s good for me? I know that once I make a decision, it’s pretty much a done deal. Once I set my mind on something, it’s mine. Done. The scary thing is that as I get older, my ability to settle on my choices has become wobbly. I change my mind all the time. My compulsiveness has become a rocking chair. I don’t decide anymore with a vengeance. And why? Why is that happening? Have I grown afraid?
Today I date a man who does not in any way fit any addiction I might have (not that men are the answer, I’m just saying). I run a lot. My fourth bulimia free anniversary is coming up. I should write more, but I’ll make time. I like my job, a lot. And I know Sobriety has helped me through the hardest periods of my life. Mental clarity and the ability to sit with my pain and grow through it has made life incredibly fruitful for me. Today, I face adulthood and realize that a lot of life’s deadlines have to be self imposed. I have to get up in the morning and run as I do sitting down at my desk to bang out some words. It’s my life. It’s my life’s mission. Hello! So why am I afraid to make the commitment forever? To attend the AA meeting, knowing full well I have not hit rock bottom and the precious wisdom inside of me is keeping and informing me from doing exactly that. I’m not sure. Sobriety means choosing myself and bolder decisions. It means putting my dreams first. So why is that so terrifying?