The Bright Italian
Amber has launched herself into possibly the hardest job possible – working with two & three-year-olds. Before that she was working with kids with autism and developmental difficulties. With a degree in English and Journalism, Amber wants to make some kind of imprint on the world. Looks like she’s already doing that.
Being an action girl, Amber’s training for a half marathon but being Italian that doesn’t stop her drinking good coffee or red wine. Like many FABIKS she jokes that bulimics and ex-bulimics are like dogs – we have to be exercised every day or we go cray cray. Also following in the FABIK tradition, Amber was a diligent A student. She graduated magna cum laude from Loyola Marymount University. However even though trophies and awards are nice, Amber believes her greatest achievement was finishing high school and college despite some major curve balls and the battles raging in her head.
The shit-kicking site, Adios Barbie, led Amber here. She’s been bulimic on and off for five years and gets frustrated with the time and energy and secrecy it sucks out of her life. She has sisters who don’t get it. In college Amber did a journalism project on eating disorder recovery and admitted, “to this day I feel like a hypocrite because the women I interviewed and wrote about have made miraculous recoveries whereas I still struggle on a day-to-day basis to control my urge to binge and purge, eat and keep it down, or starve instead of eating at all.”
We all start researching eating disorders on our path to recovery and if Amber helped some other girls along the way then that makes her even more awesome.
Amber answered some questions over email:
Who would play you in the movie of your life and why?
My favourite actress is Shailene Woodley (The Descendants, The Spectacular Now, the Divergent series). She’s a badass activist and a bit of a hippie, which shows that she hasn’t gotten all caught in the glamor and superficiality of Hollywood. I like how she’s been in a handful of both mainstream and indie films. I could totally be friends with her.
Were you a people pleaser when you were younger – the classic ED perfectionist type?
Yes, I have definitely always been the perfectionist type. I have two older sisters with quite a big age gap in between us (11 and a half years between the oldest and 8 and a half between the middle and me), so I kind of felt like an only child at times and my parents honed in on my grades. If I got a B+, I could always do better. This perfectionism also carried into other aspects of my life including sports and eventually my body.
What’s your relationship like with your body currently – friend or foe?
I have good and bad days. Sometimes, I look in the mirror and I’m like, “not bad, could be better, but not bad.” Some days, I pick on every different aspect of my body that I don’t like and want to change: my legs could be longer, my stomach could have better abs, my thighs could have a wider gap. A lot of the time, my current mood and whatever is happening in my life at the time has a major effect on my body image and how I treat and talk to myself.
You’ve been bulimic for five years – when did you first admit it/realise you had an ED and how?
I was always curious about eating disorders and the effects that can happen to the body because of such unhealthy habits. I remember going to dances in high school and going to dinner beforehand, but never ordering anything because I hated eating in front of boys. I would say I had some weird eating habits before the real deal, like trying a diet or trying to eat really healthy, but these things never became controlling or downright unhealthy. I would say my disorder began my senior year of high school. It was a tough yet busy semester with softball season and applying to colleges. My ex-boyfriend had started dating someone new and I didn’t know where I was going in life.
I felt empty all of the time.
I began throwing up normal-sized portions, then would eat more than I thought was enough, and throw it up. I never really thought I would keep at it, that it was only a phase, but soon enough it was the summer before college, and bulimia was the only thing for certain I had in my life. I liked the repetition of it, the certainty that the same thing will happen over and over again. After being blind-sided the year before when my mom got sick, bulimia was my comfort, my hamster wheel that I could step on and off and somehow cope with life.
I guess I never really thought of bulimia as that big of a deal because you don’t look emaciated or sickly, even though deep down you are barely hanging on. I would nonchalantly tell some of my friends that I throw up occasionally, but none of them knew how to react or really do anything about it.
I told my sister, Megan, during my second semester of college and, with her background in counseling, she encouraged me to see a dietician. Both of my sisters definitely were rather worried and wanted me to get help to fix my unhealthy problem. I really never thought that bulimia could kill me or do irreparable damage to myself until one of my best friends and sorority sisters, Bianca (who overcame anorexia and featured in the project I did) sent me this article.
Do you know what your triggers are? – are they food based or emotional?
Most of my triggers are definitely stress-related – whether because of school, societal expectations, or just life’s uncertainty in general. Sometimes I can also eat an unsafe food and then completely lose control and binge because I had one thing that I considered to be off-limits.
How do you deal with the secretive side of it all – does anyone know?
I try my best to keep everything neat and orderly and to always clean up my messes. I make sure to never try to leave a trace of my binges or food that I have bought for the sole purpose of eating and throwing it up I try to cover it all up to not be a burden to others and let them see that dark side of me. My entire family and closest friends know…most of them do not understand, but they all help in ways that make sense to them.
How’s your relationship with your Mum – does she know?
This is a tough one because the roots of my eating disorder (as well as the co-existing anxiety and depression) are grounded in my mom’s illness. I was 17 when my mom had a brain aneurysm while working out at the gym. She was a physical therapist, healthy, and none of us saw it coming. She had emergency brain surgery, which stopped the bleeding and, against most odds, she survived it. She was in a coma for six weeks—she was asleep all of May 2010. The summer of 2010 she was transported from the hospital to a nursing home/rehab center where she had to learn how to walk and move around since she had lost so much muscle mass. She was able to come home in September 2010, but nothing really was ever the same.
To this day, I feel like I lost my mom at 17. Her old self was never salvaged and her short term memory is very poor. My oldest sister took on the role of looking out for me like a mother would, however it of course was not the same.
I felt lost and in this daze that none of this could actually be happening. At the same time, my high school boyfriend went off to college and I had my senior year left. I didn’t want to hold him back so I told him to get everything out of college that he could despite him wanting to stay together. As life would have it, I soon realized that I wanted to be together all too late—he started dating someone new which was a really tough thing for me to swallow. I believe this double-whammy of losing who my mom was and the boy and the over-whelming sense of it all drove me to find some type of coping mechanism, some way to numb the pain for a bit.
My current relationship with my mother is very surface-like. I don’t see her as the mother I looked up to while growing up. She has a lot of cognitive deficits and memory loss and she just isn’t the same. I honestly don’t really talk to her, as a daughter to a mother at least, which is sad, but c’est la vie.
What tools do you use at the moment to manage bulimia?
When I am better able to control the urge to binge and purge, I always think of what I have to be thankful for, what I have to live for, and what I have to look forward to. I exercise—I like running for its stress and endorphin release—I watch movies, I shower, I clean, I do laundry. I go outside and stand in the sun. I think about happy memories and remind myself that years ago those moments hadn’t been lived yet, they didn’t exist yet, so who knows what memories can be made tomorrow or next week or next year? I have to keep going so I find out and then someday I can look back on those newer memories.
What’s the biggest myth about bulimia that you would like to see smashed?
That it is less serious or easier than anorexia. I’ve always talked to my friend Bianca about this, who at her lowest point with anorexia was 70 pounds. I always felt like I wasn’t good enough to be anorexic even though I would rather be deadly skinny than be bulimic and somewhat normal looking, but have to be so secretive and make myself throw up multiple times a day. It’s amazing the amount of time, energy, and dedication an eating disorder requires…whichever the type. It definitely takes a strong-willed person. But that gives me hope in the long run…we all find ourselves in the thick of it, but we can just as well find our way out of the never-ending hell.
I like this lyric from ‘It’s Time’ by Imagine Dragons: The path to Heaven runs through miles of clouded hell.’
Can you cook or will you join the long list of FABIKS who are useless in the kitchen?
I can make really easy, basic stuff. I honestly don’t really find joy in cooking or baking, so I don’t really do it that often. I’m the go-to for making salads though…I feel like it’s a ‘safe’ dish to make and you can’t really do it wrong.
Bulimics could open salad bars all over the world, the one dish we can all make like experts. Are you kind to yourself now? When – how?
I am usually kind to myself, but that depends on the definition of ‘kind.’ I recently got out of relationship…such a long story I don’t know where to begin…we were going to get married, he wanted me to move to Hawaii to be with him after he moved back after college (he grew up in Honolulu), he has a tattoo of my first and last name on his back…there were so many things between us that I never thought it would be possible to say goodbye completely, but for now we aren’t together or in contact for that matter. Long story short, I have spent so much time focused on external things that I cared for myself on auto-pilot. I never ‘let myself go’ or anything and I have always done things that make me feel good about myself, but it was never something I paid daily attention to…if that makes sense.
If you could change one thing about what we see in the media what would it be?
Although we both joke about eating disorders from time to time (and we have earned the right to do so after experiencing such a living hell), I would change how the media portrays eating disorders like it’s a choice or a lifestyle. It’s definitely not such a thing – it’s a mental disorder that affects nearly every aspect of one’s life and it has the power of ruining lives. If I could have better controlled my stress and emotions nearly six-seven years ago, there’s no way I would have chosen to be bulimic. I cringe when I hear people say that anorexic people need to just “have a cheeseburger.” I also don’t like how bulimics are portrayed as ‘failed’ anorexics. Both disorders take a lot of strong will and that energy is manifested in different ways.
If you could go back and change time, would you wish that you didn’t go through all that you did – or what would you change?
You know, sometimes I look at my life and see how nearly every part of it could have been so much easier without bulimia, without the constant thoughts going around in my mind. How much more of my life I could have been living and not spending so much time and energy and money on something that was never going to build me up, but tear me down. However, I know I am all the stronger for everything I have gone through up till now. I am more understanding and loving because of the darkness I have seen. I try to gulp and swallow my pain so that others don’t experience it in me.
What would you say to 16-year-old Amber ?
I would tell myself that I don’t need to turn to something to get through hard times. Life is hard and none of us get out alive, so we might as well live while we are here. Forget the thoughts that manipulate you, and look at the stars at night. We are all so small in this universe and in the end, all we have are our memories. Our bodies are mere vessels carrying around our souls and that’s what truly counts. Take care of your vessel—feed it, treat it with love so that you can do amazing things in this life.
“Enjoy your body, use it every way you can,
Don’t be afraid of it or what other people think of it,
It’s the greatest instrument you will ever own.”
Sometimes I want to make jokes about EDs (which only those who have been through them can do.) Do you have that urge or am I a weirdo?
I sometimes have the urge to joke about them because sometimes when you think about what we put ourselves through, we have to laugh about it and poke fun at the craziness of it all or we will cry and just feel sad. My sisters (the oldest one in particular) make jokes to deal with heavy things…for example, I like coffee a lot and especially when I am being really restrictive, it’s one of my main sources of fuel. We were at the store and I saw coffee and got all excited and she said, “You know coffee isn’t a food group, right?”
Can you finish this sentence, ‘in my body is a good place to be because…’
I have hope that there’s this fucking awesome future in front of me and I have so much life left to live without being held back by an eating disorder.
Thank you so much for sharing your truth with us. There’s so many tips out there for how to get through but fellow FABIKS, if you have helpful stories that helped you kick bulimia for good then please share them below with Amber. Because as you’ve just read, she’s fucking awesome. Here she is with Bianca:
What were Dove thinking with the new body image shaped bottles.
Have you signed the petition to stop cosmetic surgery apps targeting girls as young as nine? We’re nearly at 20,000 but need more hands waving loudly on this.