It's been more than four years that I haven't had to battle bulimia. This is such an unbelievable miracle, and I still wake up every morning with the grateful realization that I'm not living in hell anymore.
I have scars and serious wounds from it, like osteoporosis and teeth that had to be replaced with so many implants and crowns that I could have bought a house with the money I spent on saving my smile. My stomach and esophagus hurt and burn all the time, and my kidneys took a serious beating.
The other result from this horrible disease is that I have now a total lack of interest in food. I wish I could just take a pill to get all the nutrients I need to have the energy and nourishment to do all the things I love to do now. Dealing with grocery shopping, cooking and eating steals time that is so precious now.
After 19 years of binging, obsessing, cooking, grocery shopping and creating meals that didn't bore me, I'm so done. Food was my drug, my lover, my comfort and solution to everything. Food was my enemy, my tormentor and captivator.
I ate so much. Thousands of calories, pounds and bags of food that would seem truly unbelievable to a person who is normal, a person who eats because it's pleasure and part of life.
But I was addicted to eating so much, compelled to scarf down such insane amounts of food; I should not be surprised that I'm tired of it now.
All my creativity went into coming up with new combinations and recipes -- after 19 years, there was nothing left that I hadn't tried. Now my interest is dried up and wilted, like a leftover tomato clinging to its vine after its time.
What I am interested now in is not connected to food. I create fashions and write, and I am in love with people, work, friends and life. I really am in love with life.
So I eat because I want to be alive. I'm not stupid. I know I need food, but I'm bored and sometimes disgusted and annoyed with the fact that I have to go through the motions of everyday food requirements just so that I have the stamina and power to live.
Now my (sometimes obsessive) love is belly dancing. It's demanding and requires that I have energy. So I am willing to eat because I want to be able to dance.
My other love is work, and that, too, needs nourishment.
Everything I love needs me to be alive, and because I'm a physical body, I have to respect this. I'm realistic and respectful of my incarnation as a physical being, so I eat. I choose healthy foods because I need the energy to dance, go out and be accessible and available for the people I love.
So there. I grudgingly accept my humanity.
After years of Pilates, running and yoga that I participated in to offset my daily binges, I never felt a connection to that. I did this out of vanity and really did not like it while I was going through the motions; it was one of those many activities I endured because they made me feel good afterwards, but not while I huffed and struggled for the reward of a good body and the feeling of accomplishment. It always felt like a biter medicine I took to feel and look good afterwards.
But then I stepped into a belly dancing class at the South Pasadena YMCA, and I was in love.
For the first time in my life, I did not look at the clock, hoping that the hour would be over soon.
I was really badly at it. I was so clumsy and clueless, but I was so entranced with the music and the rhythm that I was willing to be a silly fool for it. I kept going week after week with a teacher who happened to be my daughter's husband's ex-girlfriend (small world), but I loved it so much that I took the humiliation of bumping into other dancers, stumbling and falling down and looking like a spastic moron. I was clearly a burden and a joke in this class.
But belly dancing saved my life.
Because it became so important to me, I started to eat just to be able to do it. And now, three years later, I can do things like shimmy and isolate and follow choreographies that make me feel like I'm getting somewhere.
Four years ago, I sat in my house, totally isolated, cooking and eating and purging, knowing all the while that I might die next to the toilet bowl.
Sometimes I feel like I might die dancing, because it is so hard and difficult. But should I die in a belly dancing class, it will be beautiful compared to dying next to a toilet bowl filled with vomit.
At least it would be a death that is proof that I have actually lived. I was dead inside for so long, caught in the clutches of the loneliest addiction there is. I was alone, scared and so terribly ashamed, full of hatred and guilt toward myself.
Now I go to different teachers five times a week. Sometimes, I still want to be destructive and binge and purge or take some pills or drink alcohol, but the prospect of a class at the end of the day makes me abstain because I want to be able to participate and be present. Dance is now my deterrent to self-destructive tendencies.
And sure enough, at the conferences on eating disorders, belly dancing is now recommended for women who suffer from bulimia and body dysmorphic disorder.
It celebrates the womanly figure. The girls in my classes who are not skinny have such an easier time to learn it. Their bellies jiggle and shimmy with so much less effort than I have to put in. I have to work way harder than the women in my classes who are round and soft.
But whenever I go to a party or dance, or Coachella, the little bit I've learned goes a long way toward standing out, and the attention from guys who watch me move my hips and arms is so worth the effort and time I put into learning it.
It beats my lonely kitchen table every time.