Bulimia recovery: How she chose life
In I Choose Life: A Recovery Plan For Anorexia And Bulimia, Russian-born, NZ-based actress, singer, and model Luna Rioumina (who we remember as Madison in Outrageous Fortune) documents her experience in dealing with and finally beating the devastation of anorexia and bulimia ...
"I remember those horrible dirty public toilets that I got to know intimately over more than a decade of being a hard-core bulimic and anorexic. Gas stations, McDonald's, cafés and public toilets ... each with their own sad and embarrassing tale to tell of how I had to urgently find one because sometimes I would have stuffed myself with so much food that I couldn't even straighten up to walk.
Sometimes it was so filthy, the very look of the toilet would make me feel nauseated. Having locked myself in that toilet, I would commence my secret ritual of purging all of the food.
And I had to do it so no one would hear. As a bulimic perfectionist, I had to purge all of the food, until there was not even any bile left - only then would I stop.
Once I had purged, I felt numb and free. I would have rid myself of all the anxiety, sadness and frustration of the day. I even felt high (caused by lack of electrolytes and any fuel in my body) but most importantly I felt high from the feeling of control.
I was in control of my life and my emotions, in control of my body and how it looked (or so I thought). Although the truth was, I did not feel anything really - I was numb.
This cycle of binging and purging would take me on average two hours, two to three times a day during the worst periods of my illness. Only when I had fully purged could I think and function in society again. The problem was, the cycle only sustained me for a short while, until I would get so famished, I needed food in order not to pass
out. And then it would start all over again: stuffing myself with food to numb any emotion I felt, negative or positive, because that's how I dealt with emotions; then purging everything out of my system, robbing myself of any energy.
That was my life! And what normal people call 'life' - hanging out with friends; doing fun things; working on interesting projects; doing sports; feeling a whole range of emotions, happy and sad - all that had to fit in the few hours I had left in a day. I was so physically drained that I needed at least 10 hours of sleep to recover from the exhaustive purging I had done during the day.
Meanwhile, my health was deteriorating rapidly: my growing young body was deprived of essential nutrients, minerals, and digestive enzymes. It was falling apart under the incredible stress I was putting it through. I had compromised my heart, my teeth were crumbling (which meant huge dentist bills) I had dull skin and weak hair and nails. My digestive system was so compromised I couldn't digest anything even if I made a huge effort to keep the food down.
Growing up, I did not consider myself attractive at all. Not a popular girl throughout my primary and secondary school years, I was painfully shy, quiet, and unsure of myself. I was a little girl with low self-esteem, who did not know how to make friends.
I know now, the fact that I was first sexually assaulted when I was only six years old undoubtedly served as the catalyst for my eating disorder. I did not get an opportunity to deal with and process this trauma until much later in life. Therefore, my emotional response to stress was 'frozen' in time. In other words, I was unable to process emotions or feel anything in 'normal' life. All I could feel was numbness, coldness, and an enormous void. I dealt with it the only way I could as a child, in the absence of the right specialist to help - food.
I was born in Russia, and at the age of 13 when I was in Moscow, I was scouted on the street by a man representing a major modelling agency.
Those were crazy times of change in Russia (late 1990s through to 2000s) and, despite the risks, modelling internationally was the only way for some young girls to get out of the struggling country ravished by racketeers and poverty. A young girl working as a fashion model could easily earn more money in a day than doctors and teachers could earn in a month.
There were new pressures to this life though, and I was repeatedly told I was getting too plump. At the agency they used to joke that I should lay off the pirogy (Russian pastries). It was only later that I learnt practically all the young girls were told this 'joke' to keep them on their toes.
This is when bulimia first entered my life and offered its service. At the time, I thought I had invented this new ingenious and simple way to lose weight fast - and it worked. With the 'help' of bulimia, I was growing thinner and thinner. Yet I was still not good enough in my own eyes and in the eyes of my model booker who kept telling me I still needed to lose a few more pounds if I wanted to go to Europe.
What followed was 12 long years of battling the disease that controlled my life. Over the years, I had tried everything I could think of to cure myself. I committed myself to hospital, went to hypnotists, acupuncturists, counsellors, Reiki masters and healers.
I learnt something new each time but still could not stop my eating disorder cycle.
With the benefit of hindsight, I realised I was doing it all wrong. Part of my lesson was obviously to go down that road, searching for help, only to discover that I was looking for answers in all the wrong places - namely outside of myself. I was hoping that someone would have the magic potion or solution to help me recover.
It was at that point that I developed my own recovery plan which I call the '7 keys to recovery'. This plan has changed my life and has meant that I am now three years free of the disease. For the first time in many years, I am happy, healthy, and fulfilling my potential."
Luna's plan includes: being fully ready for recovery, having the support of friends and family, detoxifying the body, undertaking moderate exercise, practising mindful living and gratitude, relaxation and creating focus through breathing and meditation, and using visualisation techniques.
She firmly believes that treatment options will not be effective, unless the person with the eating disorder chooses to work hard on their own recovery and makes it their number one priority in life.
Eating Disorders ...
- People with eating disorders often suffer from other mental health issues like depression and anxiety. According to the EDANZ website (Eating Disorders Association of New Zealand), one per cent of people with anorexia who have sought treatment die every year and up to 20 per cent die over a 20-year period because of complications from the illness, and from suicide.
For help, call EDANZ on 0800 2 EDANZ