Sunday, February 3, 2013

Arriving At Today Part 4: Binge Food And Bandages

I woke up that morning at 6:30 a.m., just as I had the morning before. And, just as I had the morning before, just as I had on nearly every morning for the last year of my life, I got down on the floor immediately to workout my abs with crunches and leg lifts. It had been less than a week since I'd gone back to Berkeley to see the program director at the Herrick E.D.O. program and come to terms with the fact that I needed to return to treatment. In those few days, I had visited my medical doctor and done no water loading prior to the visit so that I would have her blessing in returning to a program, I had quit my job at Mike's Bikes, citing recurring medical issues as my motivation for leaving, and I had returned to the guest room that I had come to call my home in my Step-father's house in Martinez so that I could attend the Partial Hospitalization Program(PHP) that I had completed only 8 months prior, once again. It was a Tuesday.

I readied myself quickly and drank 20 oz of water before leaving the house, knowing that I would be weighed that morning and believing that I could save myself the pain of gaining those precious ounces if I could deceive the treatment team and lead them to believe that I was not as light as I really was. I left the house on that crisp fall morning and drove to the BART station, stopping on the way for a 1 liter Diet Pepsi, which I finished before I boarded my train and headed for Berkeley. While on the train, I couldn't shake thoughts of what the program director had said to me the day before about believing that I needed to return to the inpatient unit so that my behaviors could be monitored and so that the cycle of compulsive exercise and diet soda consumption could finally be broken. I didn't believe her, couldn't believe her, wouldn't believe her. I told myself that I simply wasn't sick enough to return to the psych ward, that the exercise that I was still engaging in didn't even burn calories and thus didn't hurt my efforts to recover, and I told myself that I could stop drinking Diet Pepsi whenever I wanted, but that I simply enjoyed it too much to let it go. I believed whole heartedly in that moment that I had already gained a substantial amount of weight in the precious few days since I had last ridden my bike and thoughts of what was to be my very last ride up Mount Diablo the Wednesday before danced through my mind and tore at the edges of my heart as the BART train hurdled toward Berkeley. I reassured myself that PHP was indeed where I belonged as there would be no other way to hold onto some piece of the body that I had worked so hard to create in the months since I had last been in treatment. I can see now, though I didn't realize it completely then, that I had agreed to abstain from riding my bike, but that never once had I actually considered that recovering would mean letting go of the sickly body which I now occupied.

Something else refused to leave my thoughts in the days since I had gone back to visit the program director. Her reaction, her surprise, her disapproval and her questioning of my decisions to move in with my mother and to re-establish my relationship with the person who had cut me so very deeply during the time when I had attended the program the year before were burned in my memory and they left me questioning my choices and my true motivations. Where once I had been so sure of the purity of my love, I now questioned whether love had been second to a much darker purpose in my choice to rekindle what had burned out. I found myself questioning why I would go back to a well which had poisoned me to drink once more and in that moment, I found myself searching for a way out of the very thing which I had helped create, out of what was probably the only healthy aspect of my broken life.

I consumed two more 20 oz. bottles of Diet Pepsi between the train station and the entrance to the hospital and I entered program that day feeling confident that the roughly 90 oz. of liquid that I had loaded that morning would satisfy the treatment team's desire for weight gain. But my confidence was shrouded in doubt and feelings of helplessness as I knew somewhere deep inside that playing this game would never allow me to win at recovery. And wasn't recovery why I was here again? Hadn't I abandoned my whole life in order to come back here and heal myself once and for all? Hadn't I finally made a commitment to change in ways that I had never been open to before? I lied and told myself that the answer to these questions was yes, but that there were many shades of gray hidden within that answer, that although I wanted to change, there were simply things which I was unwilling to let go of. I can see the holes in this logic now, but then my thinking seemed clear and sound, I felt as though I had the game completely figured out. I felt that I would play once again but that somehow I would win this time although I refused to use a different strategy.

I sat through program that morning numb and jittery from the caffeine which I had consumed, hoping that they would just weigh me so that I could finally use the restroom. I told myself that what I was sitting through was simply a necessary part of the recovery process and that my discomfort would be well worth it in the end. The thought of returning to the inpatient unit would not leave my mind. Part of me knew that it was the only way that I was going to break the cycle which I was very much stuck in; but another part of me, and perhaps a stronger part of me, had no intention of breaking said cycle. So why then, couldn't I let go of these thoughts that inpatient was somehow the answer that I had been looking for? And then I knew it. I saw in an instant the way that things would come to be and I realized why going inpatient was a necessary step in my journey. I didn't believe that I deserved to be on the psych ward because I wasn't sick enough, but I knew exactly how I could feel perfectly justified in being there once more and I knew that in achieving my justification, I would satisfy the need to hurt that had been building within in me in the days since I had last ridden my bike. I knew too, that earning my place in the psych ward would serve a far darker purpose as well. I knew that if I could show her just how sick I really was, if I could show her the true nature of my instability and prove to her that my journey back to health was going to take not months, but years; if I could hurt her with deception, then I knew that she would be forced to protect herself by leaving me behind. I see it now, how sick and distorted and dark it all was, but in that instant I felt that the whole world made perfect sense for the first time since I had last ridden my bike.

As the day wore on, the craving for the rush of a blade tearing through my skin built up inside of me and by the end of program, I knew that there would be no turning back if I left the hospital. Perhaps I wore it on my face, perhaps I wasn't as good at acting as though nothing was on my mind as I wanted to believe that I was because the program director asked me if I was going to be alright that afternoon as I lingered for just a moment before walking out the door. I lied. I told her that I would be fine, that everything would be alright when I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was very far from fine and that if things went as they were supposed to that evening, then nothing would be alright.

As I opened the hospital doors and stepped out into the early afternoon sunlight of that Tuesday which had begun just like so many others, all rational thought left my mind and was replaced instead by only one goal: to bleed. The plan had come to me in an instant and solidified itself in my thoughts as the hours had dragged on in program and I set about acting out every step of the plan with a calculated precision that would ensure that I could see it through to its bitter end. I bought the blades at a CVS pharmacy in Berkeley before boarding the BART train, afraid that I would lose my nerve somewhere on the ride home if the blades weren't nestled safely in my backpack by the time I started my commute and aware of the suspicion that might arise in a nosy cashier if I were to buy bandages and blades in the same transaction. I sent a series of text messages to her and to members of my family who might expect me home that afternoon, all detailing the same lie that I intended to meet up with an old high school friend for dinner and a movie that evening. I made sure to choose a trustworthy friend whom I was close to and whom was thought to be a safe and positive influence on me so as not to raise any suspicions and I knew that the guise of a movie would buy me roughly two hours of radio silence in which I would not be expected to respond to texts or answer phone calls. I played my part perfectly, ensuring that everyone who cared about me knew the details of my lie and I made my way to my car hell-bent on carrying out the rest of my carefully constructed plan.

A fleeting thought of attempting to cope with the cascade of emotions that I was experiencing in a somewhat healthy manner crossed my mind as I exited the freeway and glanced to my left, where I could see the parking lot for the trail network where I had hiked on the previous afternoon while trying to sort through my thoughts. I put the thought out of my mind and turned right, toward Downtown Martinez, toward my plan, toward my own destruction. I chose a small Motel where the evenings events could take place in privacy and I made my way toward Safeway for the remainder of the necessary supplies. The excitement of what was to come was getting to me now. My breathing became short and rapid, my palms became sweaty with anticipation, and my hands shook as I locked my car door in the Safeway parking lot and rushed inside to gather the makings of what I hoped would be the very last in a long line of isolated nights, alone in the dark with only the pain of my sickness to keep me company.

A double layer carrot cake, 1 1/2 gallons of frozen bliss in the form of ice-cream, each flavor carefully selected to ensure that this would be the most decadent of all my binges, four liters of Diet Pepsi, a small box of butterfly bandages and a roll of sterile gauze was enough to fill three plastic grocery bags and I hoped would be enough to finally bring closure to a series of open wounds which had refused to heal since they had been opened on a cold November night in the streets of Berkeley nearly eleven months before. It took a huge effort on my part not to run back to my car after walking out of Safeway with my weapons in hand. Time was of the essence. My lies were flawless but they had only bought me a couple of fleeting hours to carry out my dreadful tasks and I wanted to spend every possible precious second that I could wrapped up in the warm bliss of self-destruction.

My heart was pounding in my ears as I paid for a night in a room of which I only required a couple of hours. $90.00 for the room, plus the $30.00 I had spent on binge food and bandages was an incredibly small price to pay for the euphoria which would soon be mine. My mind raced as I entered my room and drew the shades. Not long now, I thought. Something inside of me screamed in anticipation as I opened the package of blades and felt the cool familiarity of the metal between the thumb and forefinger of my left hand. I gazed at my right forearm, at the scars which decorated the expanse of skin halfway from my wrist to my elbow and I knew that before long, the thing which I had started in so much pain all of the months ago would finally be finished in a rush of sheer joy. My heart thudded uncontrollably in my chest as the seconds ticked by but I forced myself to pause for a moment before incision as I retrieved my journal from my backpack lying on the bed. In that moment of sickness and intensity, I needed to record what it was that I was feeling, needed to somehow capture these precious seconds with words on the page as if somehow being able to look back on these desperate and insane moments would allow me to avoid them forever more.

"This is it. I really have lost my fucking mind. I'm going through with this. I'm excited. I hate it. I know I have a choice, I do, but I don't feel like I do. I feel compelled to do this, to be just as sick as the rest of them when I go back. Fuck it, here goes..."

I forced myself to write these words with a million thoughts racing through my mind and every conceivable emotion coursing from my heart, through my swollen veins. I forced myself to record this instant before letting myself taste the sweet satisfaction of the blade ripping through my skin. I worked quickly; slashing once, twice, then again and again before the pain of the first incision had traveled to my brain. Adrenaline coursed through my body in waves as I stood there over the bed in the dimly lit motel room and I knew that this was what I had been searching for in the days since I had stopped riding and felt deeply hurt by the thought that I would never experience this thing which pulsed through me like a wildfire ever again.

There is a brief moment of sheer bliss after a wound has been opened, before it can fill with blood, and before the weight of the decision you have just made crosses your mind for the first time; and I stood for that moment of sheer, exquisite, overwhelming pleasure, and took a deep breathe, the sweetness of which I had never known before in my life. In that moment, standing inches closer to death, I felt more alive than I believed it was possible to feel and I let euphoria wash over me and carry away everything that I had ever worried or cared about, leaving me free and clean and untainted by anxiety and distress. In that moment, I was pure. But the moment was over before it had even begun and each new cut filled quickly with deep red as I made my way to the bathroom to fully examine the damage of those few fateful seconds. A slow smile crept across my face as I looked down at the thing which I had done and a desperate need to experience the rush of that perfect fleeting moment again drove the blade into my arm once more. Longer and deeper this time, with more passion and meaning than before, three new gashes were opened in the space of as many seconds. Hysterical laughter overtook me as the blood dripped down my arm, off of my fingertips and into the sink, each crimson drop defiling the purity of the white porcelain as they splattered their brilliance across the virgin surface. Euphoria welled within me and I had to steady myself as I became dizzy with the pride and satisfaction in the accomplishments of the last few moments of my life. In that moment, the world was right, and the pain that I felt allowed me to feel worthy of existing.

The satisfaction of my perfect moment was ripped away from me as I turned my gaze toward the mirror and saw the true nature of my sickness smiling back at me. Terror overtook me, not because of the blood which was now pouring from my arm onto the counter and floor of the tiny motel bathroom, but because of the size of the mutilated arm which was attached to the disgusting disgrace of the body which had developed in the days since I had stopped riding my bike. What had been nearly perfect only a few days before stood in that mirror, broken and destroyed, lost forever to the ravages of recovery. I can only imagine how thin and sickly that poor boy must have been, standing there alone in that motel bathroom, bleeding all over himself; but reality was not in the room with me then and I have never felt hate like the hate I felt for the creature that I saw staring back at me in that mirror. Thoughts of my wounds and the euphoria I had briefly felt disappeared entirely and were replaced instead by a sickening rage toward the person that I had become. I looked into that mirror and saw that I had lost everything which I had worked to achieve in the previous months of my life. Nothing mattered now, because everything which I truly cared about in the months of sickness and distortion was already gone in my eyes. I was the hideous, disgusting creature who I vowed never to become and in that moment I felt that there was absolutely nothing more that could possibly be lost.

I can see it now, looking back, the very essence of my sickness; realized to its fullest extent in that moment of terror in the bathroom. I know now exactly how very sick I had become, when my distortion had become so thick that the fact that life was pouring out of my arm mattered so very little in comparison to the perceived size of that arm. I see it now, but it was entirely lost on my in that moment.

The urge to binge overtook me then and I grabbed handful after handful of toilet paper and tissue, pressing them hard into my wounds to slow the bleeding so that I might feed the insatiable hunger which had overwhelmed my every thought and emotion. I felt no concern for my safety or well-being when the bleeding had not slowed after ten minutes, only a bitter frustration at the blood which was keeping me from my binge. Finally, after exhausting the box of tissues and filling the trash can half-full of bloodied toilet paper, the bleeding slowed enough for me to leave the bathroom and retrieve an old T-shirt from my backpack on the bed. I knew that I could not focus enough to attempt to bandage my wounds until my hunger had been fully satisfied, I hoped only to keep the hotel room clean as I struggled to tie the shirt around the nightmare which had become my forearm. I had not foreseen how difficult it would be to tie a decent knot around my arm using only my left hand and blood smeared across the counter top as I fought with the T-shirt. After a considerable effort, I was satisfied that the shirt would hold while I carried out the next phase of my plan to self-destruct and I set out to fill the vast emptiness which had expanded inside of me in the precious moments spent trying to slow the bleeding.

I took bite after bite of the carrot cake, slowly at first, savoring each taste and texture as it filled my mouth. The cream cheese frosting was so sweet that my jaw ached with delight during the first calculated, joyous bites. Then, as control slipped away from me, I tore through the cake with increasing speed and ferocity. I couldn't taste anything at all as I ripped open the first container of ice cream, but it didn't matter. I didn't need to taste anything, I just needed to bury all of the hate and rage that I felt toward myself beneath a mountain of sugary bliss. Even having lost control, I knew that maintaining my lie required more work and as I plunged into the ice cream,I read a review of the movie which I was supposedly watching with my high school best friend so that I could recount all of the events which had never happened in striking detail to her later on that evening.

I shoveled cake and ice-cream into my mouth so quickly that I barely took time to breathe and feeling painfully full for the first time that evening, I stumbled my way to the bathroom once more, light-headed from the rush of emotions or from the blood-loss but not caring which. The anticipation of my purge left me wanting and needing it more than I could ever remember wanting or needing anything before in my entire life. No more waiting. After removing my watch, I jammed two fingers down my throat and joy washed over me as the cool and still sweet mixture of just eaten cake and ice-cream re-entered my mouth en route to its final resting place. Violently, again and again I rammed my fingers down my throat in an effort to empty myself completely. My eyes watered, and my nose filled with snot and stomach acid as I choked for air around the fist which occupied my mouth before panic overcame me. Though I tried and heaved and gasped for air, I couldn't purge another drop, but I knew I wasn't empty yet. I hadn't gotten rid of it all and so I plunged deeper, with three and then four fingers, enraged at myself for being such a failure, for not even being able to do this simple task as well as it could be and needed to be done in those desperate moments. After choking and gagging and sputtering and gasping through the spit and the puke for a few more panicked moments, I finally accepted the fact that nothing else was going to come of my efforts to rid myself of my binge. But I was not satisfied. I didn't hate the thing that I was doing enough yet and if I stopped now, I knew that the insatiable hunger I felt a few moments ago would find me again one day.

Knowing that this was to be my final experience with these dreadful behaviors, I needed to hate and loathe and fear the things which I was doing before this night was through and so I went back for more; burying myself beneath more cake and more ice-cream as the blood soaked through the cotton of the T-shirt tied loosely around my arm. Again, I returned to the bathroom to purge, searching for some sense of satisfaction, or a feeling of hatred, or pain, or fear, or anything at all other than numbness for the behavior that I was engaging in, but never finding it. And so twice more I returned to the binge and twice more I purged until nothing but bile dripped from the edges of my cracked lips, but still I felt none of the feelings of hatred which I was so desperately searching for.

I fell to the floor beside the toilet then, gasping for air and light-headed from the efforts of purging, still feeling completely unsatisfied but recognizing that my throat could not take anymore violent thrashing of fingers or regurgitation of stomach acid. I knew that despite my dissatisfaction, despite the fact that I did not yet feel consumed by my hatred for this disgraceful act, it was time to move on.

Hours had passed since I had entered the room and it was time to clean up and make my way home so that my story would hold true through the rest of the night. I only needed to make it back to the hospital the following day in order to pull this off in the way that I had intended and everything was still going exactly as I had planned. The T-shirt wrapped around my forearm was completely drenched in blood by this point and with the recognition of that blood soaked piece of cloth, it was as though I awakened from some horrific dream, looking around the tiny room and finally seeing it for the first time since this nightmare had begun. The blood was everywhere and anywhere that I had been in the room that evening, splattered across the bathroom counter and floor, smeared onto the handles and faucet of the sink, and dried to the top of the small table next to the T.V. where I had sat while engaging in my numerous binges. I worked as quickly as I could to remove the evidence of the events of that evening from the numerous surfaces of the bathroom, using wet toilet paper to wipe the dark crimson from the pure white of the counter and floor. I had just finished wiping down the bathroom when I realized that I still had to remove the blood soaked T-shirt and bandage my arm before I could leave the room.

Frustrated with my oversight, I retrieved the bandages from the plastic grocery bag on the bed and returned to the bathroom for what I hoped would be the final time that evening, intent on finally stopping the bleeding. I removed the saturated T-shirt from my arm and for the first time that night, a shiver of fear ran up my spine. Blood was still pouring from my arm and genuine alarm for my safety and well-being found me immediately as I stared down at the carnage. Do I need to go to the hospital now? Am I really going to last the night? Can I actually pull this off as I'd hoped? Suddenly I wondered if I had gone too far and in that moment I wished with all of my heart that I could take it all back; but, knowing that I could not, I pushed the fear and the alarm down to the depths of my being where they could not tempt me to stray from my original intentions. I should have gone to the hospital, the hospital that was no more than half a mile down the street, but I would not; felt that I could not for if I sought medical attention that night then everything that had come to be would have been for nothing. I knew that if I went to the hospital, my cuts would be cleaned and stitched. In the darkness of my distorted thoughts, a wound that was stitched and properly cared for was a wound that somehow meant nothing, as if the stitches somehow took the cut away from me and silenced the words that the scar would otherwise speak. Seeing the world through sickened eyes, standing there in that motel room, I knew that it was my visit to the hospital on that night eleven months earlier that had led me inevitably to the very moment that I now found myself in. I was searching for closure, and I knew that I would only find it if these wounds remained unstitched, so that their scars could cry out for the rest of my existence. This was the most important part of the entire plan.

With renewed focus, I set about my task. I applied pressure in an attempt to slow the blood that was still oozing from several deep gashes in my arm and after numerous failed attempts, I managed to secure the first of the butterfly bandages. I applied every bandage in the box but the cuts were so wide and still bleeding so freely that the bandages did little to calm the concern for my well-being which was once again rising within me as I tried and failed repeatedly to close the wounds. Finally, I abandoned my efforts with the butterflies and moved onto the sterile pad and gauze, wrapping my arm as tightly as I could manage with my one free hand, hoping that the pressure would eventually stop the bleeding. I lied to myself, pretending that I was satisfied with my work, before cleaning the bathroom once more and clearing the room of half-eaten containers of ice-cream and the remains of the carrot cake. I looked into the trash can, full of binge food, toilet paper, my T-shirt, and blood, so much of my blood, and I swore to myself that I would never encounter a moment like this again in my life. I swore then and there that this truly was the last time because I knew that taking things one step further than they had gone on that night was a risk that I simply could not take at any point in the future.

My arm had bled through the bandage by the time I emptied the trash can into the three plastic grocery bags that I had entered my room with hours before and I slipped into a sweatshirt in an effort to ignore the potentially serious situation that was developing as the night wore on. The excitement had disappeared from me by then, and I was left only with the task of finishing the thing which I had started. I tied the bags of bloodied garbage closed and took them to my car after I was unable to find a dumpster to leave them in on the motel property. With my arm hidden beneath the sleeve of my sweatshirt, I was able to forget about the pain, and the worry, and the fear momentarily and refocus on the completion of my task. After one final check of the room to ensure that no evidence of the nights events remained, I left my room key at the front desk and made my way to my car where I sat behind the steering wheel on that cool, dark, September evening for a long moment to gather my thoughts.

I knew that the self-destruction was nearly over, but that one final task remained to ensure that everything which I had worked so hard to build for myself would be torn down. I knew that I had to thicken the deception so that the eventual truth about how I had really spent my evening would cut her that much more deeply in the end. I took a deep breathe and centered myself, then I put on my headphones and started the car. My performance was sick and wicked and disgusting; and it was flawless. I felt that the blackness of my evil heart was spilling from my mouth as I constructed a story about the dinner which I never ate, and gave her a critique of the movie which I never saw; telling her that it was decent, but that I hadn't cared for the way that it had been filmed. Even then, despite all the distortions, despite the sickness, despite all of the clarity that I believed I had had earlier that evening, those lies and that deception felt wrong and I new that each word that I spoke to her was a nail in the coffin of our relationship. I look back and I can't imagine how my mind must have been functioning, to have seen a rightful cause and purpose behind the shameless and disgraceful manipulation of a person who loved me with all of her heart. I was outside of myself that night and when I look back, it's as if I'm watching someone else wearing my skin and doing all of those dreadful things; things that I could not do from the slightly healthier and less distorted space in which my mind operates now. But I was not in this space on that night, my thoughts were shrouded in darkness and I told her that I was headed home on the freeway as I crept through dark parking lots behind businesses, looking for a dumpster where I might dispose of the bloodied garbage in the back of my car.

Fear of my garbage being discovered and reported kept me from getting rid of it and eventually I made my way home. I kept her on the phone for half an hour, continuing the act, ensuring that she believed in every lie that I spoke, and passing up any opportunity to reach out for help in what may have been my darkest hour. I told her that I loved her as I parked my car, which despite everything that I had done that night to betray her trust, was still an absolute truth. Then, I hung up the phone and walked to my step-fathers home feeling satisfied that I had completed each and every step in my elaborate plan to destroy the remnants of my tattered, broken life. No sleep would find me that night while the weight of my decisions sat firmly on my chest as I lay awake staring at the ceiling. I was frightened then. I had changed the course of my life with the actions of a few foolish moments but in the darkness of my sick mind, I still felt justified in acting the ways that I had. In my mind, it had all been necessary and unavoidable. In my mind, everything I had done that evening had been in an effort to reach my eventual recovery and as the sleeping pills finally took hold and dragged me into a restless slumber; I took comfort in an all too familiar thought which found me often at the end of nights such as that

one. This time, I thought to myself, is the last time...

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