I was scrolling, mindlessly, numbly on Facebook. I kept wanting to stop scrolling for I knew it wasn’t serving me. I knew half of the bullshit I consumed was going to be news derived from the flurry of unreliable sources family friends repost, and the other half was going to be memes starring Joe Exotic (who I detest because he’s a racist, animal-abusing bigot with guns — I don’t care that he’s gay. You can be a royal asshole and a homosexual. Trust me, I know plenty of people who check off both boxes).
But I couldn’t stop scrolling.
And the more I scrolled, the more listless I became. I felt hollow and hopeless. Depressed. It wasn’t an emotional depression where you feel compelled to weep to the works of Sylvia Plath whilst laying naked in a bubble bath, clutching a goblet of blood-red wine. I don’t hate that kind of depression. I feel at the very least, connected to myself when in the throes of that kind of depression.
This was a disconnected kind of depression. A detached depression. The kind of depression where life doesn’t even feel real. The word “disassociated” comes to mind.
After about thirty minutes of compulsive scrolling, I found my body parked in front of the fridge. As I opened the door, something inside of my brain lit up. I swear to my higher-power, Lana Del Rey, a packet of vegan shredded cheese smiled at me. I smiled back at her. The next thing I knew my hand was aggressively inserted inside of the packet and I was shoveling giant fistfuls of vegan shredded cheese into my mouth.
I couldn’t tell you how it tasted. Because I couldn’t taste anything. I was moving too quickly to process flavor. It felt frenetic and out of control, like the social media scrolling. My brain wanted to stop but my body has always been far more powerful than my brain. So I just kept guzzling the shredded cheese like if I didn’t stop guzzling the shredded cheese something terrible would happen.
I don’t even like vegan shredded cheese all that much. But it didn’t matter. It could’ve been beluga caviar. It could’ve been sushi. When you’re eating to fill holes rather than eating for pleasure, the quality of the food is irrelevant.
My heart began to thump so loudly in my chest, it felt as if I’d taken a fist full of stimulants. My palms were sweaty. My pupils were dilated. I was overcome with that weird sensation I get when I’m online shopping and I’m racing to fill my cart like if that black racerback slip dress doesn’t land in my cart that very second, it will be gone forever, and my life will be ruined forever because we all know we’re all just one slip dress away from a happy and meaningful life, right? I grabbed the carr’s crackers from the pantry and bolted over to the fridge which was still open, the light from within gleaming through the dark kitchen like a visit from the great divine. An ugly yellow tub of “Earth Balance” butter flew out of the fridge and into my hand. I began to recklessly dunk the carr’s crackers into the tub of Earth Balance butter like it was hummus.
I couldn’t tell you how it tasted because I couldn’t taste anything. After about ten minutes of sucking down food like it was an inhaler and I was in the midst of an asthma attack, I came to.
Have you ever been so wasted that you’ve blacked out? And then awoken in your bed, sweating bullets, head-pounding like a heartbeat, heartbeat pounding like a fist in a boxing match, and the first thought that flies through your head is “What the hell did I do last night?” You don’t know what you did exactly, but you ~know~ it was something shameful. Something you would have never done had you been in your right mind.
That’s what happens to me after a binge. I’m not present when I’m binge eating, it’s like I’m in a booze blackout only I haven’t had a sip of alcohol. And then I wake up and come out of the trance I’ve fallen into, wondering, what the hell was that? On this particular day, I emerged from the binge coma clutching a torn up piece of bread. I looked around, shocked at the aftermath. The kitchen looked like an animal had ravaged it. What have I done? I wasn’t even hungry. Why did I do that to myself? It wasn’t even enjoyable.
Once upon a time, I was a chronic binge eater. I spent the latter half of my high school years trying to survive off of six hundred calories a day– which is probably the recommended caloric intake for a baby fawn, not a developing teenage girl. So, about twice a month, my body would rebel against my starvation. I would find myself robotically gulping down fistfuls of honey-bunches-of-oats and devouring full jars of peanut butter with a spoon. Afterward, I would feel so sick, I would curl into a fetal position and cry. Not just from the emotional pain, but the physical pain. Did you ever stretch your earlobes when you were a punk teen? I did. Shit hurt. Imagine stretching the walls of your stomach.
But after therapy and blah, blah, blah, I stopped doing all that. It’s been about a decade. I eat like a woman, not a fawn, so my acute hunger doesn’t control me anymore.
Until the coronavirus quarantine.
I wish I could say to myself “well, clearly you’re self-medicating, Zara,” but it doesn’t feel that way. Drinking wine is self-medicating. It provides me with that nice velvety feeling inside. It whispers sweet little lies into my ears that promise me everything is going to be okay. It softens the harsh lines of reality. It throws the “Paris” filter from Instagram over the world at large. Makes it so you can’t notice the open pores and gruesome details of this horrific pandemic.
But binge eating doesn’t soften anything for me. Resting food on my tongue doesn’t distract me from the horrors of the world because my tongue is numb. I don’t feel comforted by the warm glow of the fridge, I feel grossly overexposed. Binging doesn’t anesthetize my feelings or throw an emotional band-aide over anything. If anything, it rips the emotional band-aid off and forces me to look at the ugliest parts of myself. My blatant lack of self-control. My embarrassing tendency to self-sabotage, a tendency that feels so deeply hardwired into my brain, not even prescription antidepressants can cut the chord.
I keep reading shit online that say things like “If your food issues are spiking in the quarantine, that’s okay. Food can feel like love sometimes.” But I can’t relate to any of this well-meaning advice, because I don’t believe my binge eating is okay. I believe it’s deeply destructive. It makes me hate myself. And I’ve worked really hard to not hate myself, so how is it okay for me to fall back into a behavioral pattern that sends me spiraling into the darkest depths of my own personal hell?
And food, when consumed in a healthy, normal way, does indeed, feel loving and nourishing and warm. But haphazardly throwing food into my mouth, like my body is a garbage can, doesn’t feel like love. It feels like the opposite of love. Love is kind. Love doesn’t treat you like trash. Love doesn’t make you feel shackled to chains of shame. Love elevates your life. Most pressingly, Love feels safe. Binging feels dangerous. Dark. Painful.
Binging feels sort of like that manic social media scroll. You can’t stop. You can’t stop. You can’t stop. Nothing good is going inside of you. You know this. But still. You can’t stop.
I don’t have my usual big sister wisdom to bestow to my kittens who are also struggling with binging. And I’m not going to feed you the whole: “You’re binge eating and obsessing over your body to protect yourself from obsessing over this tragedy we’re in!” Because I don’t know if that’s the case. That would be very pretty if it were. It would take this painful behavior we engage in and tie it up in a beautiful big bow, and you all know how much I love a bow. But I guess I love the truth even more.
And there’s the only truth that feels authentic to me right now: You’re not alone. As a real binger with a lifetime of disordered eating snapped to her belt buckle, I know how deep out-of-control-eating cuts. And it’s not OK. Inflicting pain on yourself is never OK. It’s awful and I’m sorry and I wish I could hug you right now.
And let’s get real, if you, like me, have a complicated relationship with food, it’s almost impossible to associate food with comfort, despite what the experts say. In fact, I have a visceral reaction to the term “comfort food.” Sad as it is, the two have never been connected for me, ever.
I’ve always believed that women can and should write about our issues before we’ve resolved them. Not every article has to be advice-oriented. Not every article needs a tangible takeaway you can cleanly apply to your life. Sometimes you just need to know you’re not the only one. And you’re definitely not the only one. I’m struggling alongside you. And maybe by just admitting that this sucks and it hurts and it’s not normal, we will be set free. Because here’s one thing I do know: swallowing bullshit lies is way worse than swallowing the contents of your fridge! In fact, binging on secrets is the most toxic thing you can do to your body. And like most toxins, it’s addictive too.
So let’s start there. Let’s start by spitting out our secrets and breathing in the truth. I don’t know about you, but I feel lighter already.