An Unspoken Issue

Eating Disorders, Facing Perfectionism from Davidson College (Davidson, North Carolina)

An anonymous story

Little did I know that, in joining a campus sprawling with individuals that seemed to have attained the ideal balance of being good students and supportive friends and romantic partners, I was now subject to the pressures that they felt to always present themselves as put together.

The stigma that one had to know how to cut loose and have a good time was coupled with the notion that one, especially a female, should always know how to stay on the safe side of the fine line between an enjoyable drunk and a sloppy drunk. Being an enjoyable drunk did not simply entail sharing a laugh with your fellow drunk girlfriends or busting some semi-coordinated moves on the dance floor.

It also called for one to know how to engage in a conversation with a cute guy that was coherent and flirty enough to lead to a hookup and maybe a night spent in his room. But the image didn’t end there: the next morning one was expected to wake up, pleasant as ever, despite how gross one actually felt. What guy wants to wake up to girl that won’t even let him give her a good morning kiss? That would blindside the poor fellow, especially when mentally compared to the fun night the two shared.

Soon, this pattern takes a toll on you. Weekend after weekend, I hit the same frats with the same girls, drinking the same beverages and going home with the same guy. As displeasing as it is to describe, it was even more displeasing for my body to experience. As a society that deems it necessary to be ever-conscious of one’s weight and its inevitable fluctuation, we sometimes seem to forget that alcohol can have negative effects, especially with high calorie counts in certain drinks and in that Domino’s that you barely remember ordering at two in the morning. It did not seem to make a difference how carefully I counted my calories during the day, or that I joined the eating house known for its lettuce.

All of my efforts would be for naught once the weekend rolled around. No matter how many glasses of water or TUMS I had before bed, there never seemed to be a morning where I woke up feeling perfectly fine. Then one day, a solution that had never seriously crossed my mind was presented to me by someone I trusted: I could just vomit everything up before the uncomfortable effects of drinking had a chance to fully set in.

Being the Davidson student that I am, I obviously knew that this was not the most healthy alternative, but I thought it would be harmless if I only did it every once in a while. The individual that brought this tactic to my attention made it out to be more casual that it was and persuaded me with the notion that tons of other people did it. Plus, he said, it didn’t take away from experiences “down the hill.” I never saw myself becoming one of “those people.”

The first time I realized that I had a problem was on a day in which people, including myself, intended to celebrate me: my birthday. My birthday conveniently fell on Easter break last year, so I took the opportunity to spend it at home with my family. My mother put great effort into decorating a delicious cake and preparing an array of my favorite foods. The plan was to spend the day in the house, feasting on tasty cuisine and enjoying the company of some loved ones that I had not seen in too long. However, pulling trigs got in the way of the pleasant day, like it had a tendency to do. I found myself eating a serving of food, and then telling my parents that I was going to retreat to my room to watch TV. Then I would eat a piece of cake and tell them I had to take a call from a friend. Then I would have another piece of cake and tell them that I was going to take a light nap. I never ran out of excuses to cover up what was now becoming a mindless routine: after eating something, I would go to the upstairs bathroom, turn on the shower, the sink, and the fan, to cover up the sound of me throwing up any food that had just entered my body.

Eventually, the cycle took a toll on me, and before I knew it, I was crying on the floor of my bathroom. I felt pathetic that I was not enjoying my birthday, and I felt even more pathetic that pulling trigs was the reason why. I could no longer hide from the fact that I had become bulimic.

After accepting this ugly truth, I realized that I was faced with two options: I could either keep my life the way it was, hoping that things would work themselves out, or I could turn to those I trusted and rely on their guidance and support to get me out of the situation. I chose the latter, and I’m glad I did.

My closest friends at here at Davidson were great about understanding and relating to my problem. They knew the pressures of the college and recognized that this is just how I had decided to cope with the issue of facing perfectionism. They listened to my thoughts, provided a shoulder to cry on, and quite literally invited me into their homes as a break from the stressful environment of campus.

Things ended with the individual that had first told me that vomiting was a quick-fix; while he did not give me that advice with a malicious intent, life was healthier without such an influence. I can’t say that my life did a complete 180 and that I’m now living happily ever after. What I can say is that while Davidson did provide the pressure that started this problem, it also provided the friends that helped me out of it. I can say that I found solace in the fact that I wasn’t alone.

And finally, I can say that while I still face perfectionism each and every day, this unfortunate habit is no longer the way I deal with it.

"Girl"  By Jane McGehee Photolithography 2014
Image by Jane McGehee

This story originally appeared in Facing Perfectionism, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by Davidson College in Davidson, North Carolina.

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