Radical Ruby Tuesday
Ruby is one of the bravest people I have ever met. She has been through five lives already and she’s only 34. Once the good girl at school; the dancer and swimmer, she , like so many of us became the rebellious one who acted out. Then, at 18, the rebel met heroin. And when one addiction had its grip over her another moved in. Ruby didn’t know she had an eating disorder until a nurse told her in hospital.
We talked one night for two hours reminding me yet again how sharing stories gives us power and strength because we discover the world doesn’t fall apart when we reveal ourselves, in fact usually the opposite. For those who have also battled other addictions – smoking, booze, drugs – then you know bulimia is an addiction too. One that is very hard to break.
Ruby’s amazing blog is honest and raw and fearless. Every day she writes at the same time, after she’s walked the dogs, and her poetic words are beautiful. She is not afraid to let us see her. Her dreams and dreads. Her anxiety when she looks in the mirror. Her elation after a good day. Ruby is a warrior. If you relate to her story then please comment below, like and share or follow her words online.
Here she is.
BB: Tell me about those teenage years?
Up until the age of 13 I was a very quiet child, good in school, did ballet and swimming but when I went to secondary school I had a personality transplant and turned into the bold one and the naughty one and made a new set of friends. I had my first drink and drug at 14 and then I gave up ballet and had no interest in anything other than my friends and having a good time.
BB: What was your body like then? Were you aware of it?
I was because I was a swimmer and dancer so I suppose my body was on show quite a lot and I was quite conscious of it. At 13 or 14, my dance teacher told me I had lost weight and I remember being happy – that was the first time I got the equation in my head that losing weight equated to a feeling of happiness. I was quite conscious after that.
Then, I gave up swimming and ballet and took up being bold as a full time job. I was hell bent on self-destruction: drinking, trying different drugs and going out to nightclubs at a young age. And then all of a sudden school was over and I had no plans to go to college, and I told everyone I was going travelling and fifteen years later I still haven’t gone! I took a job and started doing drugs with my boyfriend and just after my 18th birthday did heroine for the first time and became addicted very very quickly and for the next few years it was just madness and chaos. My parents split up when I was 19 so me and mum rented the house.
My two sisters and my Dad and I were all active addicts at the time so it was absolute bedlam. I think back on that time and it’s hard to remember if it really happened, whether I dreamed it or hallucinated. We talk about it often and wonder how we got through that and how my mother stayed sane. She was the person who held it all together. She was the rock for all of us.
And all the while when that addiction was going on I didn’t notice my eating disorder was developing. It wasn’t on my radar at all. It was not something I ever thought I would have to deal with. I thought I was losing weight and was off my food because of the drug. That made sense in my head. The first time a did a drug detox in the hospital a very blunt nurse sat me down and said “You have an eating disorder” and I was like, “You’re fucking me kidding me. No way”. I just couldn’t take it in. And after that I made a conscious effort to try and eat but my way of conscious eating was hiding food and throwing it up in the toilet and trying to hide it from them. I still couldn’t believe I had an eating disorder. It was nothing I could relate to.
BB: Did you not know about the ed because you hadn’t been consciously trying to control your weight?
Yes. But one thing I did know was that not eating or throwing up made me feel good. So that part made sense.
For the next couple of years it began to make more sense to me. I finally admitted it when I went into treatment for drugs for the first time in Dublin, in 2004, and there was a girl who had a mixture of anorexia and bulimia. She was open about her eating disorder and admitted it so easily and I thought, ‘I am like that’. It was her that helped me realize and admit I was struggling too. She gave me the courage to talk about it and really helped me. She was only there for a week but it was like she was sent into my life.
The centre didn’t treat eating disorders but they said they would try it while I was in there for the drug treatment. They weighed me at the same time every week. It was agreed I would eat and not throw up but I kind of went from not eating, to eating, and then throwing up afterwards. So it didn’t get better, it moved a little bit. I found another way to maintain it I suppose.
It was a therapeutic community where the clients/people in there took care of running the place. Somebody would be appointed the chair person and when it came to my turn I had to order all the food. There was a cupboard in the hall and one was full of biscuits and I remember going to a staff member and saying, “There are only 30 packets of biscuits and we need more!” She looked at me said “what?” Nearly everyone who came in switched their addiction from drugs to food and they were eating a packet of biscuits a day to make themselves feel good or better. People turn to eating disorders after addiction. I’ve seen it my friends.
BB: Did the centre help you?
I stayed for 6 months and it really helped as far as the drugs were concerned. Not so much the food, but it wasn’t a place to treat eating disorders. I left at a healthy weight but hadn’t solved anything there. It’s a frustrating place to be – when you look OK on the outside but on the inside you know how many times you’re binging and purging. People go by what they see. You look OK; you must be OK.
BB: What final thing/moment/act helped you kick heroin?
For the first few years of my addiction my boyfriend was my partner in crime. As low as I went it didn’t seem too bad because I had him. Also my family used to bail me out of any sticky situation I got in to. But as time went on my boyfriend and I drifted apart and my family became educated about addiction and totally pulled back from me. Then I was alone, I only had the drug and I felt truly lonely and afraid. Also I just didn’t have the energy or the inclination to carry on using. The negative far outweighed the positive. It was a miserable existence and I finally came to a point where I wanted more out of life. This was the start of my turning my life around.
BB: How does your body feel right now?
It feels good and strong and capable. Last year I used to go the pool and walk sideways so I wouldn’t have to look at my reflection but now part of me wants to look. On a good day I can accept it and on a bad day I just want to attack myself and step out of this skin.
I wouldn’t say I’m fit but able to do a lot more than I used to. I think back to when I was in a cycle of binging and purging and felt like shit all the time like my body was constantly just about to give up on me and I remember being out and about and having to sit down in a shop because I thought I was going to pass out. It wasn’t working properly, everything was so sluggish, my digestive system. I just got my period back after getting back to a healthy weight and that was a big thing to get back. And actually traumatic in equal measures! It was a sign that things were working which was good but then you have the pain in the ass of dealing with it.
I read somewhere to go by how you feel rather than how you look – if your body is working and your hair and nails are healthy and you feel good and are able to walk your dogs then that’s a good measuring stick. That’s what I do. I do step on the scales from time to time but just out of curiousity rather than a torture mechanism. It used to be ten times a day, a real obsession. It’s great to be free of that now and how I feel about myself.
BB: How are you around meals and food?
It’s better than it was. I have good days and bad. On a good day I eat three meals or maybe two meals, I hardly eat three meals. And on a bad day I might purge once now. It used to be 15 – 20 times for a while. I still struggle with sitting down at the table and eating with others. All through my bulimia I ate in front of the television so it was mindless eating, so now I have to make a conscious effort to sit down and eat with my family. While I am eating I have to be careful not to eat too much so I don’t feel like I have to go and purge. I absolutely love my food and eating too much is almost a problem now – to the point where I eat too much and have to purge. It’s a work in progress all the time. Two steps forward, one step back. I try to be as well as I can be I suppose and do the right thing. I try every day. It’s tough. How is yours?
BB: Did you find emotional development halted during your disorder?
Yes. I was actually writing about that the other day – stopping developing at the age the eating disorder took over so you come out the other side and you are the same age. For me I still feel about 18 or 19 and I feel quite child-like in a way. So I think that’s true and it’s very strange. And then we try to catch up for the years we’ve missed.
BB: Lots of bulimics have told me they feel super aware or super sensitive – in terms of tuning into what’s going on around them. And that is sometimes hard to deal with. Have you found that?
Yes we are almost hypersensitive – I can see who’s uncomfortable and who is shy in a room, we absorb feelings of other people. I get that a lot. And also over thinking, taking a situation and thinking it to death. Everything has a post mortem afterwards. It’s strange it’s like we have an antennae picking up everything that’s around. It can be exhausting.
BB: It’s good for creativity. Has writing your blog helped with shame?
Yes I think it has. There are some really horrible things that go with bulimia and I thought that if I say it then others might say “oh I identify with that”. I figured if I’m going through it then somebody else is too and if I worry about it then somebody else might say “I do to” and not feel so alone.
I treat it like my job. I write about what I am feeling and go with it. I love it. I absolutely love it. It blows my mind I can connect with people through words.
My blog is one place where I am totally accountable and totally honest. I don’t feel shame telling people about my bulimia because I’m not a bad person. It’s an illness. It happened. Although all the horrible things I did – throwing up in a plastic bag because I couldn’t find a toilet and eating food out of the rubbish bin– I had the need to find others who might have done the same thing. And I did find them and it made me feel so much better to hear others went through it too. It was such a relief that somebody else did all the mad things I did and feels the same way. And I get a kind of release about being honest about it. They say you are as sick as your secrets and I felt like with I am telling on my bulimia with my blog, and it gives it less power. It’s helped an awful lot, being honest and being accountable. How about you?
BB: I ate from the rubbish bin too! And I used to think my world would shatter if people knew about my bulimia but it didn’t. And through this site I have found others; connecting makes me feel better too.
I suppose we are so secretive. It’s a big thing to let somebody else know. There is huge shame attached to it, you don’t know how people are going to react but most people are OK with it.
BB: Have you had therapy for bulimia?
I have seen a therapist for about 3 or 4 years and a few months ago I was officially discharged from her service and that was a big step. She has held my hand for a long time and it was like she was letting me go into the big wide world by myself. That was a big deal. I really clicked with her and she helped me so much and I was tearful the day I left. She said “I am not supposed to do this, it’s unprofessional but I’m going to hug you.” And we hugged. There were times when I cried and screamed at her, got up and walked out of the room and times where I cancelled appointments and she was really serene and calm through it all. She was like a rock. It’s a great experience when you do get a therapist you click with. They can be life changing.
If I missed an appointment she would text me and ask if everything was OK. And she would say “when you don’t want to go therapy it’s the most important time for you to go to therapy.”
BB: Do you feel lovable?
This is a tough one. I feel loved in that I know that my family loves me. I don’t doubt that at all. But sometimes I feel like they have to love me because they are my family. I don’t know if anyone would choose to life me. I don’t have many friends but the ones I do have I am fiercely loyal to. I haven’t had a boyfriend in years and I wonder if that will ever happen. I guess I have to learn to love myself too. It’s hard because I’ve done such awful things in my life and it’s hard to believe that I am not a bad person. I want to be lovable and I hope I can be. I know during my illness I felt so much love and care from my family. If love and support could have gotten me well, I would have got well years ago. I know I have so much love to give so I hope I meet the right people to share that with.
BB: Imagine yourself at 38 where would you like to be?
I would like to be living in my own little place, for sure. And have lots of animals. Dogs and birds. And I would like to be still blogging and be able to have writing as more than just a hobby, doing it for work. And I would still love to be helping others with eating disorders and connecting with others through it. I would like to be self-sufficient and not dependent on anybody and be healthy and happy and maybe have a partner. All of these normal things that have seemed so far away for such a long time. Just a regular life. Not wanting to escape in my head all the time and be happy to be me and be happy to live in my head and be happy to live in the world and not wanting to escape it every other day.
BB: Can you say three things you like about your body?
That’s a tough one. I like my eyelashes; they’re long. As a result of drug addiction and years of bulimia my teeth were ruined so I had to get a whole set of new teeth. So I like my teeth now. I like my boobs. I recently got measured for the first time and was flawed what size I was. I’m like, 34 D. I had no comprehension they were that size. It’s a whole new thing trying to dress and keep them under control and make them look nice. They’ve grown on me, literally.
BB: If you look in the mirror do you focus on the likeable parts or the bits you don’t like?
It depends on the day and where my heads at. Sometimes I focus on the bits I don’t like and other times I see the good parts and think I don’t look too bad.
My mother always says “given what you’ve been through you’re not doing too badly.”
BB: If you could say something to your 12 year old self what would you say?
At that age you’re just starting to find your friends. I would say “Don’t worry what anybody else thinks about you because you are more than enough just the way you are; you don’t need to change or smoke or take a drug to fit in. Just be you. Be beware of other people but don’t pay attention to what people think.”
Because that’s what ruined my life – what other people think of me. And the older I get the less of a shit I give but it’s still there.
BB: You are doing so well: graduated from therapy, drugs. You have boobs. Your blog. Your dogs. And taking every day as it comes. Keep writing and thank you so much for talking.