All I felt was pain. I couldn’t breath. It felt as if someone had pulled my voice box out of my throat to its maximum, only to let go and have it spring back as if it were a plastic slinky.

I felt tears collapse around my eyes, but they might as well have been tears of joy.

Eating, purging, living. For five years, I was living through a binding cycle.

I don’t remember what made me start. All I know is that once I had begun, I could not stop. I remember waking up six months later and seeing someone completely different in the mirror. And it felt good.

You are so lucky.

That was all I needed to hear. Months of wiping my system clean of fats, sugars and nutrients, and I had reached the point where my friends were envious of my body — scot-free.

I should have realized things were too good to be true. I vaguely remember passing out on multiple occasions. I remember liking it. Just the mere sight of food disgusted me, and watching people eat infuriated me.

My metabolism must have slowed dramatically, because not long after, I hit the point where a lack of food didn’t affect me. But even a tinge of it did. After one full meal, in my mind, it was as if numbers on the scale had shot up. My days were dominated by trying to retain food in my system without reverting back to who I had been before. Because I would rather do anything than take a step back when I had worked so hard.

People stopped complimenting me. People called me sick.

That’s the thing: I didn’t purge to prove something to them. I purged to prove something to myself. I wanted to prove to myself that I could be beautiful. For so long, so many people had labeled me based on my frame. I needed it to end. I had had enough of standing by and listening as my classmates, uncle, parents, cousins cajoled at the fact that I was “chubby.” I didn’t want to look in the mirror any longer and think I would be nothing more than plus-sized.

In college, I stopped. It wasn’t out of realizing that I didn’t need to build an image of myself based on a perfect picture. It wasn’t even that I was forced to. After all these years, I looked the way I wanted to. I physically did not need to lose any more weight. In a way, I had done what I needed to do to get me to the place where I wanted to be. And now, I could move on with my life. I could run (it sure was easier!) to stay fit, and I could start fresh with trying to eat healthier. I finally had a fair chance at being in good shape.

It wasn’t quite the end of it, though.

It’s been four years since I stuck two fingers down my throat, but every once in a while, like the past usually does, it all creeps back up. As I sat on my best friend’s bed, wagging my legs back and forth, waiting for my time in front of the mirror on New Year’s Eve, she reminded me of how I had constantly denied that anything was wrong when she nagged me about my eating habits in high school. In our junior year, she had repeatedly asked if I regurgitated meals, and I had blatantly (and, in my mind, convincingly) denied.

You really needed the wake-up call, to make you stop all that bullshit, she said as 2015 headed our way. But did I? It wasn’t like I stopped because I was told I should. I stopped because, in my mind, I had gotten what I wanted. I succeeded. There was nothing left to be gained.

Hello! I won.

The strategically choosing bathrooms, turning on faucets, hiding behind music to carefully calculate how I was to expunge meals had worked. For half a decade, I played a game until it became my life, and then when the game had gotten spiritless, and rather futile, I stopped playing.

Yet, in letting my pride take over my memories, I forget.

I forget that there were more than a few dinner table meals with my family spent just waiting to dash out of my seat and into a secluded bathroom far away where no one would dare to look for me. In friends’ houses, I would always make it a point to leave soon after meals. I would cringe and then shake off the feeling of guilt before it set in too deep; I didn’t have a choice, after all. Restaurants, they were often the easier ones; I couldn’t really feel bad when I didn’t know the chef behind the plate.

Sure, it’s been four years since I stuck two fingers down my throat, but now I know that as much as I can hold my head up high, there is no way out. I am cursed into examining nutrition labels and counting calories. There will never be a day when the numbers on a weighing scale mean nothing.

Nowadays, I joke about it. I joke about how my half-wits led me to believe that purging was the solution to my problems. I wave off any consequential flashes of sympathy thereafter. Whenever someone slightly suggests that I might need help, I laugh, smile, and do everything but reveal the knots in my stomach. Every day, I try to make myself believe the person I am conquers my weight — only to realize that I’m stuck flipping that two-sided coin. My mood is so gravely determined by food. Whenever I feel disconsolate, all I want to do is eat. And 30 minutes and 1,000 calories later, all I want to do is expunge the evidence that it ever happened in the first place.

Purging was never the disease. No, the disease is always believing that everyone else’s opinions are your truth.

I was a gifted student, a good daughter, and talented. Why didn’t this matter? Chances are that I will never have the answer. All I know is that it took me starvation and endured exercise to be able to believe that I had any merits at all.

It’s astonishing how much it hurts to hear the incredulity in people’s voices when I tell them that used to be overweight. No way, they go. In a way, it undermines all the struggle that went into what made me into the more confident and less anxious person that I am today. After all these years, I still struggle to accept that my eating patterns (don’t dare call it a disorder!) did anything other than good.

It all feels like another lifetime ago. Writing this, I don’t feel like I’m writing about me but instead writing about a stranger I’ve been staring at from the outside. I can’t imagine there ever being a time when I was that insecure and that reactive to people’s opinions. I promise you that things are different now than they were those four years ago. I am happy, ambitious and in love. I see a greater future for myself independent of how I look, but acquired on the basis of my accomplishments.

But I will always believe that I am here today because of the choice I made in my basement bathroom to change myself for good.

Let me tell you — in the moment, it was worth every last hurl.

I am a bulimic.

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