Monday, November 22, 2010

The Recovery Story From a Food Addict

I was raised in an alcoholic home amidst the usual tension, chaos, fear and violence that drinking provokes. When I was twelve I discovered the perfect sedative: food. Eating enormous amounts of sugary "treats" presented no problem until I started to gain weight.

I was terrified of being fat because I knew it would make me even more unacceptable than I was. With my protruding front teeth, big ears, acne and shyness, who needed another handicap? The more afraid I was of getting fat, the more I had to eat to squelch the fear. I now ate against my will and had lost the power of choice.

For the next eighteen years, I was obsessed with food, calories, diets, pills, and scales. My food intake determined my mood and my actions. My weight controlled my participation in life. If I binged, I could not go to school the next day because I would be too sick and bloated. Eventually the "A!' average which had represented my only asset fell to a "C" due mainly to absenteeism.

If I binged during the day, I would not go out socially at night because I looked and felt too awful. My social life shrank as my withdrawal from reality progressed. My only pleasures were escapist ones in which I took no active part. Going to movies was my favorite because it was dark, diverting and no one could see how many candy bars I ate.

Reading books about beautiful heroines were another escape, for I lost myself in their adventures. The best escape of all was my fantasy world where I was slim, stunning, charming, and every male within a fifty-mile radius was pining for me. I pictured in detail my hair, clothes, and scintillating personality.

I was a compulsive calorie counter, especially when bingeing. I would compute repeatedly how much I had consumed so I could punish myself. I ate to the point of nausea for the same reason. In fact, punishing it became a fulltime job.

When I was sixteen, I went to work part-time in a drugstore and found another answer: dexamyl. For the next ten years, I played Russian roulette with alternating or combined intakes of pills food and alcohol. I was equally addicted to all three. In this manner I kept my weight under 160 pounds and paid the price in mental, physical and spiritual demoralization.

I lost weight, courtesy of the pills, on special occasions only: when I was "in love", when I became ill with some interesting new malady, or when tragedy struck. I welcomed any situation that brought a temporary halt to bingeing. During a period when I was heavily addicted to diet pills I reached what I thought was the perfect weight for my five feet, seven inches: 95 pounds. My dream of being as scrawny as a Vogue model was finally realized. No more did I have to compare myself with other girls at parties and come out the one with the biggest hips. I felt gorgeous. Never mind such minor drawbacks as anemia and malnutrition.

At this point, two events occurred that caused me to gain 45 pounds in three months: my pill supply was cut off and I got married. My shapely legs and vibrant (chemically induced) personality, both of which rapidly disappeared, had attracted my husband.

I do not function when I binge. I miss work, get sleepy, depressed and paralyzed. I sat in a chair for eighteen hours, watching television and eating, too scared to open the drapes or answer the telephone. I played the resolution game for years. On Monday or the first of the month or New Year's or my birthday I resolved to go on a diet, stop drinking, not smoke and assume my place in the world.

I was sincere because I neither knew nor would have believed that I was ill and powerless to carry out my resolutions. Resolve, for me, was something that broke down in a matter of hours, leaving me totally bewildered by the repeated failures.

I lost jobs. My husband was a student and we needed the income, but I became too sick to help. I found energy only to get to the market and cause scenes at home. Finally, my husband could not take it any more. He left. This prompted a dramatic suicide attempt on my part, followed by two years of therapy.

The earnestness of my efforts to get well lured my husband back home. Soon, he found himself on a treadmill of working, going to school, cooking and cleaning. I felt enormous guilt, but I could not change the destructive course I was on. Therapy was unsuccessful, for I misinterpreted the psychologist's words to fit my needs. I never faced myself or accepted responsibility for my actions. I convinced my husband that as soon as my parent-induced neuroses were cleared up life would be ideal; I would be able to eat and drink moderately. The sad part was that I really believed this. The doctor finally dismissed me.

Years that were more compulsive followed years of diet doctors, self-help books and resolutions. My husband again decided to leave me. I was desperate. I knew that this decision would be final. I began the OA program only to keep him with me. Before I knew it, I was going to meetings for another reason: a sincere desire to be straightened out. Life, for the first time, held a promise of hope.

The twelve steps introduced me to reality. What a shock it was to discover that I had to assume responsibility for the way I lived, that I was not merely an innocent victim, nor was my illness the fault of cruel parents or a punishing God. I had to become honest with myself and in doing so, I was able to let God remove the deadly resentments I had carried against Him, my parents, and the world in general. I now had a reason for living. I felt a part of humanity.

After my first month in OA, the compulsion to overeat was removed. I enjoy food now for what it is, not what it used to represent. Food is no longer a weapon with which to get back at "them" or an anesthetic to stupefy my emotions. Working at the twelve steps has slowly filled that big empty hole in my gut that no substance, chemical, or refined 86 proof could satisfy.

I have been maintaining a 40-pound weight loss for more than a year and a half. It feels strange to be the same size month after month. I used to have clothes in sizes five through sixteen, and alternated up and down with alarming speed. I will bet I have gained and lost several hundred pounds during my eating years. Now, when I buy a dress, I am fully confident that I will be able to wear it until it shows signs of deterioration, not me.

I have found that if I take my will back and decide that God is not working quite fast enough, the obsession with food returns. Now I have a choice. I do not have to eat because the program enables me to sit still and hurt. I can now accept emotional pain as a prelude to growth and not try to push it down.

My sponsors and friends truly love me for myself. I do not have to wear false faces or try to impress them. I can be the self I have always longed to be, at home in the world. I am not on the outside looking in, but rather take an active part in life. I hardly ever go to movies any more. The old escapes just are not appealing. Helping a newcomer brings every good feeling I looked for in fantasies. Having lost my fear of people, I find I have my own opinions and the courage to express them.

I have even come to like myself, finally. I realize that even at my worst I did the best I could. Guilt has been like a comfortable old shoe and I wear it well. However, if God has already forgiven me, it is time for me to forgive myself. Self worth comes very slowly, but it brings real freedom from all the old ideas.

It has taken a great deal of pain and effort to live in reality. However "we are not saints ... we are willing to grow along spiritual lines." That sentence has saved me from discouragement many times, for I still insist on taking backward steps. Now that I know a better way, the self-will does not last as long. I no longer enjoy suffering.

Recently, I celebrated four years of abstinence from alcohol and two years of abstinence from compulsive overeating. God, as I still do not and maybe never will understand Him, has given me the gift of abstinence and the Fellowship has shown me how to work this beautiful program.

My lifestyle has changed almost in spite of me. I was always a night eater and stayed up late. I slept all day because I hated to wake up to the consequences of my binge and the emptiness of the hours ahead. Now I enjoy getting up early for I have things to do worth while things like going to meetings, keeping a clean house, being a wife and mother. The hours fly by. I have discipline in areas I never imagined I would, such as exercising every morning just because it feels good. I eat more healthfully than ever before. It still amazes me how much energy good natural food provides.

I have learned to be moderate — yes, that scary word — with cigarettes, gum and beverages. I take vitamins instead of drugs, and with all of this clean living; my chronic physical problems have disappeared. I go to bed at a reasonable hour and go right to sleep. No more marathon stomachaches interrupt my nights.

I could never have fantasized a more beautiful life for myself. I want to continue to allow it to happen and keep my destructive self-will out of the way. My hope knows no limits, for God has no limits. I see more growth and freedom. One day at a time, I look forward to a forever in OA.

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