Back from Hell: A Guest Post by Outlaw Mama

My friends, I am honored to introduce a guest blogger today.  Christie Tate blogs at Outlaw Mama from her home base in Chicago.  She is an attorney, legal writing instructor, and mother of a 2-year-old daughter and a 15-month-old son.  She is grateful for enough peace in her relationship with food to be able to obsess about other things, like her children getting into preschool or whether to go back to work full-time.  

Christie’s post, “Back from Hell,” left me breathless and on the verge of tears.  I hope you enjoy this post as much as I did.  Without further ado, here is Outlaw Mama.

On Saturdays in the fall when there is a home game at Texas A&M University, there are usually only two of the 40,000 enrolled students who are at the library.  During college, there was a good chance I was one of them.  My roommate Annie and I knew that if we studied during the football games and completed our terribly pressing undergraduate work, we could party with clear consciences at night.

In October 1992, I remember studying in the library with Annie when the Aggie football team was hosting the Baylor Bears.  I peered over my history text book and saw Annie studying for her accounting mid-term exam.  The deafening roar of the crowd gathered in the football stadium punctuated our studies; the building shook when either team scored a touchdown.

I thought Annie was absorbed enough in her studying that I could slip away. “I’ll be right back,” I said.  I didn’t say where I was going.  I couldn’t.  How could I tell Annie that I was going to run back to our dorm room .5 miles away from the library to stuff two bags of chocolate candy into my mouth and immediately throw them back up?  My plan was to return to my seat next to my textbook in about 20 minutes and simply pretend that I had just made a phone call or looked for a book in the stacks.

That’s how my first semester as a sophomore in college went.  I slipped away more and more to binge and purge.  I had an arsenal of excuses that allowed me a chance to steal away from whatever crowd I was with to go and find food and throw it up.  That fall, the horrible cycle of lying, binging, purging and pretending was started to spiral out of control, just like the food that I watched vanish down the toilet almost every day.

Texas A&M had a peculiar claim to fame that I had come to appreciate: “We have one of the largest dining halls in the Free World.”  As a young bulimic, access to the gigantic dining hall, Sbisa, felt like a huge stroke of luck.  I could easily eat lunch with Annie and then sneak back in later, anonymously, to gorge myself on pizza, ice cream, hamburgers, cereal, and desserts.  When I went to the dining hall by myself to binge, I went to the west side where all of the foreign exchange students sat. No one I ever knew saw me; no one spoke English at the tables where I sat and binged.

It was getting harder to keep up with my insatiable need to binge and purge.  It was also getting more violent.  One weekend after a sickening mix of starving and binging on food and drinking too much Zima, I fainted in the shower while trying to vomit up a donut.  I wasn’t upset about the fainting; I was upset about how many calories were in the donut and whether I had gotten them all out before I fainted.

What was going to happen to me? I was 19 years old.  I went on dates with boys that seemed nice enough, but all I could concentrate on when they held my hand or tried to get to know me was when I could go home and eat.  I made straight A’s my first year in college, but I was starting to lose my ambition in the haze of sugar and fat and vomit.  I had so many secrets and so many cravings, both of which were metastasizing and taking over my life.

The night before I found my way to 12-step recovery for my raging eating disorder reads like a script from a bad movie on the WB Network.  I had a date with a fraternity guy who I thought was totally hot, but he drank too much and his grabbing hands scared me.  To combat the fear, I drank too much and after midnight, I just wanted to go home and eat myself into oblivion.  I found my way back to my dorm and, right outside my door was a huge industrial gray trashcan.  When I looked inside the trashcan, I saw a half-eaten pizza.  I took the pizza out of the trash, carried it down the hall to the common area, dusted it off and started to eat it.  I no longer cared who saw me or what anyone thought of me. I had only one message in my head: “Eat. Eat. Eat.”

Annie found me that night eating pizza I scavenged out of the trash.  She knew that something was really wrong and that I was very sick.  We didn’t know the words for what I was doing, but we both knew that I had to get some help.  My secrets started to spill out.

The next morning, I went to my first 12-step meeting for people who suffer from eating disorders.  I had seen commercials in the 1970’s for the group, but assumed it was for fat people.  Or old ladies. Or suburban moms.  Or rural grandmothers.  Or weirdos.  I didn’t think it was for a little sorority girl who was nice enough, but had a weird obsession and compulsion around food.

I walked into the room in the little church basement and saw seven people sitting in the circle.  They welcomed me.  They said they understood what it was like to be out of control with food.  I didn’t say a word.  Not then.  It would take a while to unfurl my story for the group and to understand how I would fit into this world of recovery from addiction.  It’s been a few 24-hours since I binged on food from the trashcan or snuck away from loved ones to purge.  I never forget those dark days of isolation, secrets and obsession.  I believe I would have perished from my eating disorder had I not found recovery.  I believe if I forget where I came from I may be doomed to revisit that darkness.  So I write this to remember.

Readers, how do you react to reading Christie’s story?  What sort of Hell did you or are you running from?  We love to hear from you.  Don’t be shy!

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29 Comments on “Back from Hell: A Guest Post by Outlaw Mama

  1. How very brave of you to write it all out. It was well told (as always!), and I hope that the right people read it and it gives them some help and hope.

  2. The purging part is very hard for me to understand because I am so repelled by vomitting, but the binging part really strikes a chord. That urge never seems to go away.

    Addictions are lifelong struggles, aren’t they? Thank you for sharing such a personal journey.

    • Thank you so much for your comment, Peg. And yes: addictions are lifelong struggles. I used to roll my eyes at AA’s slogan, “One day at a time.” I also used to view with desperation the concept that I could never drink again. So now I hold onto the “one day at a time” thing when the desperation hits, and I’m okay again. Or I go running–or look at my gaggle of kids . . . or anything except the drinking. xo

  3. I’m so glad you had a friend like Annie. And that you were wise enough to listen to her.
    My first reaction is that it sounds like a good distraction from pain, and I’m hoping that pain isn’t in your life anymore.
    Thank you SO much for telling your story, Outlaw Mama. You’re an awesome writer with a lot to say.

    • Hello Ellie Ann–thank you so much for stopping by and commenting! I too applaud Outlaw Mama for telling her story. It takes guts and I am hoping that the more we talk about these issues, the more it will help those who suffer from these addictions. Have a lovely day! ~el

    • I was blessed to have Annie in my life. We are still friends today and she’s still an incredible blessing. Pain is definitely not my life anymore, but man, those were some dark times. I went on to finish college, get more schooling, have a career, get married and have kids….it’s possible to find a way out, but I had to deal with my addiction first. And I am so grateful that I did.

  4. Thank you for sharing, for being brave enough to fight through this.

    Here’s what i wrote just this morning on a McDonald’s napkin. I had no intension of sharing this, but here is your post staring at me. I suppose this is a sign! We’re all in this thing called life together.

    Addiction. Makes no difference your substance or action of choice. Compulsion so strong it’s no match for a mind that has let its guard down.

    Compulsion, momentary satisfaction. Then anger, sadness, self recrimination.

    Desire to be stronger. Fear that I’m not, never will be.

    Big breath, dig deep, recommit to strength, to self. Pick myself up. Forgive the weakness in me. Step forward. Try again.


    • Carrie,

      Yes. Amen to everything that you wrote. That is the thing about addiction–it has the force of a hurricane inside us, which is exactly why we cannot let our guard down. I am going away in a few weeks and I was thinking, “Damn it, why can’t I have a glass of wine with dinner? A beer after a long hike in the mountains?” I reframed it, not as a question, but as a statement. Clear as a bell, “The answer to the question is simple. “No. And that is okay.”

      Thank you so much for sharing, my friend.



  5. I used to have a different kind of control problem with eating. I had little control in my life, and the one thing I could contol was what I put into my mouth. I would eat very little and then feel guilty about it, but I was frozen as to do anything about it. Vomitting was not an option, but I was too apathetic to exercise to get rid of it. I would feel guilty about it and that would feed into my anxiety. I matched my identity to being skinny, and then when I would gain weight I would wonder who I really was. My problem was not really with food, but food was my trigger. It is really an anxiety and depression disorder, one that age and time have eased, but one I still deal with every single day. Thanks for sharing your story. It makes me feel less alone.

    • Yes! I definitely tied my identity to being thin. And I agree that food was but a symptom. And I relate to discovering anxiety and depression underneath. No wonder the food called to me. Thanks for the comment. I feel less alone too.

    • Kate,

      Thank you for stopping by and for your comment. And yes, all of this is so difficult. I struggled with my weight as a response to an abusive childhood. The weight was a protective layering but it made me feel so ugly inside to be overweight on the outside, and it kept me from excelling at sports . . . so I dropped the weight and have mostly kept it off since I turned 14. Without running, I am not me but without the extra layer, for a long time I wasn’t safe.

      It is mostly all good now but I am still self-conscious about how I look (bigtime). I’m in a good place but not a great place with it, I reckon. Thank you for sharing your story. And no, you are not alone, not by a long shot!


  6. Thank you for sharing such a deep personal story about your life. While I can’t relate to binging and purging, I can understand a bit about how food (or alcohol or drugs) can become a substitute or a temporary band aid for some inner unnamed pain until they take over and we try to fill that void over and over. You wrote this so well and are very brave for sharing this with us.

    • Hello my friend,

      Outlaw Mama will follow up below, but I wanted to say hello and thank you for sharing and commenting. I relate, of course, to the addiction piece in all of this, and I also agree that Christie is brave to share this story. Take care!


    • Yes, food was a very temporary substitute for feeling my feelings. I am so grateful for better ways to fill the void these days….like be connected to my friends or writing or my family or running or sobbing during old Oprah show reruns. Anything is better than practicing addiction.

  7. Christie, it took me most of the day to absorb this post. I pictured everything – right down to the loneliness and complete despair that you must have felt. I have a sisterly type feeling toward you and reading about the complete hell you went through was very mind-numbing for me. Honestly, I don’t know how I survived SMU or UA for that matter. There was so much pressure on appearance and on being thin. I believe that my freshman roommate at SMU was also haunted by this disease, but when I tried confronting her about it, she lashed out at me, telling me to mind my own business. I never faulted her for that because I knew she was in pain (and I probably didn’t approach her in the correct way.) She called me over the summer that year to tell me she wasn’t returning to SMU. We never spoke after that. What truly amazes me about your story is how you literally dug yourself out of what would have been a death sentence had it continued. That shows the depth of your character and the grace that God bestowed on you. Thank God for Annie. Thank God for your fighting spirit that lifted you out of this torturous cycle. And that’s what it was – you were torturing yourself. But God had other plans … he wasn’t finished with you yet. Sadie and Simon needed to be born and hundreds of people needed to be touched by your brilliance.

    • Amen Stephanie. And it is amazing that Outlaw Mama dug herself out of the depths! Oh–as far as replying to comments and blogs, often it takes me days to catch up on my reading and there are many times when I only have time to read a blog but not enough time or energy to comment. But I do leave my calling call via the gravatar. This is my way of saying (LOL) that I get how hard it is to juggle all of these things.

      You and Outlaw Mama are both great writers. Honored to know you both. xo.

    • Stephanie, this is such a lovely comment. I am crying. Your roommate was so lucky to have you and if she wasn’t ready, then she wasn’t ready for help or love or connection. And one thing’s for sure– the fact that this story has a happy ending is 100% God’s grace. I know lots of people who struggle for decades with bulimia and anorexia. I am so blessed to have found peace and a solution at a young age. I never forget that. I hope!
      And you are an awesome sister figure in my life. What a happy thought. LIfe is full of unexpected, delicious blessings. Like you!

  8. El, thanks so much for sharing this as there are SO many people that will benefit from Christie’s story. Christie, your story is so incredibly powerful and have had so many dear friends with this compulsion. I am glad you are recovered but i am sure those days are never too far away. Xoxo to you both!

    • Good morning Shannon, and thank you so much for your supportive remarks to Christie (and to me)! I agree: I know so many people–dear friends included–who battled this addiction. Which is why I am so honored that Christie shared this vulnerable story with us. I hope it helps someone. You know? xoxo

  9. Wow. I have never heard someone share about bulimia this honestly, and I am crying over it, as I relate to the bottoming out from addition. The places it takes us that we never thought we’d go. Mine was alcoholism. At the end of my drinking career at age 25 I was blacking out, coming to, throwing up to be able to drink more, then landing in the dirt parking lot of the local bar to sleep. I befriended bums, with whom I felt more relation than my own peers at the time, as if my 25-year-old body had been through the same amount of years emotionally as the 55-year-old living on the streets. It was a very dark place, very shaming to me at the time. But, not anymore, as it’s made me who I am. The “ism” part has, off and on, permeated into other areas of my life, but the blessing in recovery is that I recognize it sooner than later now. From alcohol it went to sugar, from sugar to caffeine, to caffeine it went to doing way too many activities-this is where I’m at today. I recognize that I cannot handle “overdosing” on anything anymore…staying recovered truly makes my life manageable. To my new friend, El, I really believe God led me to your blog to stay connected to those who know this struggle. I don’t make meetings these days in my single full-time working mom situation, so I have to stay vigilent and seek connections to sober and recovered 12-steppers around me. Christie-this post was a strong, brave, and beautiful testimony. Thank you soooo much!

    • SWM: thank you so much for sharing your experiences, my new friend. And I agree re vigilance. Recovery is so much sweeter than addiction, which is more bittersweet than sweet. And yes. God leads us to one another to help us know we’re not alone. Truly, it helps me knowing this too. xoxo

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