Twenty-four-year-old Salina appears to have it all together. She's smart, attractive, has a nice house, car and a great husband—but what she's hiding is killing her. For 11 years she's suffered from bulimia, a disease that causes esophagus tears, stomach ruptures, heart disease and death.
Salina gorges herself on all-you-can-eat buffets and says she gets a high from the cycle of binging and purging. "It's what makes me feel like I'm on top of the world," she says. She destroys restaurant receipts so that her husband, Neal, doesn't see the evidence of her binging. She also hides her purging from him. Neal believes she only does it two to three times a week, but the ugly truth is that she secretly purges two to three times a day.
Salina's secret is literally "in the closet." She vomits into plastic bags, which she hides behind a chest in the back of her closet.
"I don't like to do it in the toilet," she says. "I'm terrified that one day the toilet's going to get backed up and that would be gross."
Once a week she takes her collection to a dumpster, throwing out between 14- and 21-gallon bags of vomit each week.
Salina thinks she's keeping her eating disorder a secret…but what she doesn't know is that her husband and family have had enough.
Neal says that watching his wife battle bulimia is heartbreaking. "The times that I have asked her about it, she's attacked me verbally," he says.
Salina's family stages a dramatic intervention to try to convince her to get help. "There are no more secrets," says Candy, the interventionist. "You cannot put up with this behavior anymore because you now know it isn't her. It's the disease of bulimia. It's going to end up killing her."
The intervention begins with her brother's emotional message. "I love you very much, but I won't let this disease affect you any longer," David says. "Every time I sit down to eat I wonder, are you eating? Are you going to throw up?"
Bulimia is destroying Salina's health as well as her marriage. "I want to have kids and live like a normal family…and I can't," Neal says. "I can't trust for you to carry my child and not be taking care of yourself."
After listening to the outpouring of love and concern, Salina agrees to enter a treatment center.
After successfully completing a 52-day inpatient treatment program, Salina says she's had the "urge to purge" only once in seven months. "I don't even want to go back to that," she says. "I just think it's disgusting. … Just going into my closet every day is kind of like, 'Oh, my God, what did I do? How gross.'"
After years of hiding the severity of her disease from her husband, she's also working on rebuilding trust in her marriage. Neal says he was shocked to learn his wife was vomiting as many as three times a day. "[When I found out] I felt like, 'Man, how can I be so stupid?'" he says. "Even though I should trust her and know that she's [no longer binging and purging], I still watch."
Salina says she understands his motives, but Neal still feels like he betrayed his wife by exposing her deadly secret. "I did it because I love Salina, and I wanted to protect her," he says. "I didn't want her to be embarrassed. I didn't want her to feel like everybody's coming down on her."Dr. Tara, one of the interventionists featured on Intervention, the A&E series that followed Salina's battle with bulimia, has helped many people like Salina break their silence. She says that winning the battle over bulimia isn't as simple as people may think. Purging, she explains, gives bulimics a sort of "high" and becomes a stress-management technique.
"Many people don't realize that bulimia isn't just about, 'I don't want to ingest those calories and be fat,'" Dr. Tara says. "It's a process that helps you mood alter and reduce stress. … In all the time that it takes to plan the binge, to hide the binge, you don't have to be connected to yourself—you don't have to feel."
Salina may have control over her disease, but she's not out of danger yet. Dr. Tara says the most important thing she can do to stay healthy is to keep going to therapy. How can she improve her marriage? Honesty is key, Dr. Tara says. "The way you build trust again is no secrets…no matter what."