Syrup Story

© Ebony Magazine

***Potential Trigger Warning***

The exact day is hazy and I couldn’t tell you how exactly I got to this point. What I do remember is an extremely stressful day as a store manager at American Apparel. My employees are horrible; my assistant hates me and my boss is making me feel all of 2 feet tall via email. I worked 12 hours easily that day as I did so many days because I could not communicate all the tasks that needed to be taken care of. “You look awful, Bosslady,” my employee and best friend tells me. She follows that with “have you eaten today?” My answer is a quick and sharp “plenty”. However the truth is I’m working on my 25th hour of not eating.

On my way home the hunger pangs are unbearable and even my fellow LIRR riders are alarmed by the atrocities my stomach is uttering. While waiting for a connecting train I’m now at my 27th hour and I can’t do it anymore, I must find food. I walk all over the main streets of Rockville Centre, stopping at what seems to be every other business. There’s Thai, pizza, Chinese, Greek and dessert pizza. I devour dishes from them all, probably eating three or four days worth of food in an hour and a half span.

The feeling of gorging myself is euphoric; the aftermath makes me want to throw myself from a bridge. I can barely move because my body is so full, I can’t breathe. It’s November on Long Island and I need to remove my coat because I am sweating. Now all of the presumed 10,000 calories I’ve counted need to come up. The grungy pizza spot has an alley that I’m kind of familiar with because I almost hooked up with a guy there, “no one ever comes back here!” he told me. If he wasn’t a liar then I could relieve myself of all the filth I’ve just consumed. Eating disorders are a psychological disorder of the worst kind, what would possess an educated, cared-for and bright woman of 20 years of age to go into a dark alley to throw up the five meals she’s inhaled? The answer is bulimia, the nasty wildly less-than-glamorous relative of anorexia. I was heavily Bulimic and ashamed because only a few months before that I had been an “amazing” anorexic. I felt like I was breaking barriers, since about 5 years prior to this moment a classmate of mine told me it’s “impossible” for a black girl to have anorexia.

After I purged all I could I still felt horrible, I was bloated, shaking and still so desperate to remove all the calories my body so badly needed. In my moment of urgency I remembered my mother had a bottle of ipecac syrup from when I was a child in the event I swallowed a Happy Meal toy or something poisonous. Anyone well versed in the eating disorders Hall of Fame is aware that this was a favorite of Karen Carpenter. I’m unsure of what it will do; I’ve already taken 25 laxative and 10 diuretics, yielding no results. I’m still full, fat and desperate. By the time I get home my family is already sleep, my mom already knows not to wait up for me; I’m known for not coming home. I find the syrup deep inside of the medicine cabinet, next to the cod liver oil, meaning this shit is dated for like 1995. With little thought I take a tablespoon, citing I should not need more. After all I would not want to overdose and die, especially not while fat. I cannot recall the taste going down, I was just so desperate for results I’d drink urine if it ensured results. I fall asleep, upset that I’m going to bed with a full stomach and I’m too injured to run at 12am. Around 12:45 I wake up in a cold sweat and run to the bathroom, and the vomit pours. I feel like my very soul is being sucked from my body, no matter how I try I cannot stop barfing. My heart is skipping beats and all I can think is “fuck, I’m going to die in a pool of my own vomit in my mother’s house”. At one point I remember falling onto the cold bathroom floor and begging God for relief “I’ll never do this again, if you let me live”. Long story short within the hour my prayers were answered. I stood up, weak, disheveled and when I looked in the mirror I had a busted vessel in my right eye. Ashamed, I crawled from inside of the bathroom to see my mom in tears saying “I’d rather admit you and let you rot away than let you kill yourself in my house”. I’ve heard it all before and I crawl to bed.

Having an eating disorder as a woman of color certainly had its obstacles; a white girl could exhibit the same behaviors as I did in the open and would more likely be identified as someone who’s disordered (bare in mind this is a critique of the very cliche portrayal of suffers; most of us, myself included do a very good job of hiding our illness). I cut myself off from everyone for a single summer and spent hours in the gym, going multiple times a day, and eating only brown rice, bananas, honey, rice cakes and peanut butter. When one of my classmates saw me at a local 7 Eleven; her exact words to me were “girl, you doing that crack?” Most people tend to believe that the black community protects their women from a cultural phenomenon like eating disorders. Citing black people celebrate curves and men like their women with ass. With this knowledge I know I couldn’t come to family members with my body issues because though disordered eating is so prevalent among black women, no one talks about it. Eating disorders are essentially the pink elephant with neon green box braids in the room.

Through talking to professors, recoverees and God I’ve fully come to terms with the ugly realities of the disorders I had. I did not have the family structure or finances required for battling such a life consuming condition as some of my white peers did (i am well aware that there are many white women that suffer more due to financial struggle, I am merely implying that mass representation and our health care system also, disservices them). I also was very aware that the world would never view me as the poor, starved for love bulimic as white women so often are (again, this is a critic of the media and most information available on eating disorders). In hindsight, it is interesting to be able to view my disordered self in the eyes of the dominant Eurocentric culture as well as the eyes of my own. This is what W.E.B Dubois called “the veil”, we as African Americans have dual vision. I was under the radar for over 10 years; it’s still something so taboo for black women to discuss. But I hope that with this small insight to how the need for control almost took my life, no little girl black or white has to go into the medicine cabinet and find poison.