Eating and Shame

Thinking about my addictions, I do have some really funny drug and alcohol tales. My 38th b’day was an endless party at an all night tapas bar in NYC. The pictures are hysterical and everyone remembers that night, nearly 15 years later, as one of the best spontaneous parties they’ve been to. Our sangria bill rivaled my car payment. In those years, my friends and I fell off a lot of bar stools together and cracked each other up about it. And a good hangover can be pretty funny too.

Even my drug years allow for some crazy stories that I can shake my head and laugh at now. AND, even as messed up as I was, I loved that weight loss.

But not with food. I have no happy, funny memories of bingeing. There are no good starving/fainting stories. I don’t laugh about sophomore year in college when I gained 70 pounds in 6 months. I can’t illicit a chuckle about eating out of garbage cans and making myself throw up in strange bathrooms. And when I’d drag myself into work after a night of bingeing and puking and sick as a dog, I didn’t tell anyone about the “escapades” of the night before and wait for them to jokingly say, “over-served last night, huh?”

The guilt, shame, pain, disgust and remorse of my eating disorder are unrivaled in my life. Blessedly, it is this pain that allows me the desperation to give up and accept a new way of life, which includes a new way of thinking about food and of course, a new way of eating.

More about that this weekend.

Power to Come/Freedom

Finding Power Greater than ourselves which will remove the food problem is a big and important topic. And I know it can be workable for all – from my friend’s mother who spends each and every day in prayer at her church to the most vehement of atheists. So, I will address it this weekend, when I have time to write at length.

For now, I will say that this reliance on Power allows us to be free and in a different way than I’d expected. It’s freedom to vs. freedom from. It’s not actually freedom FROM food. I don’t count the days, months or years FROM my last binge.I’m not counting time at all FROM my last. That kind of thinking keeps me tethered to the food. “It’s 30 days SINCE..” That’s like living in the past. And suggests that I miss the food.

Instead, I don’t think about food when I’m not hungry. The obsession has been lifted. I am free TO live my life. Free to go anywhere and be around any kind of food, and not want it at all. I am present, right now.

There was a time, early on in recovery, where I did still envy people who could eat whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted and not seem to gain weight. And I could get green with envy about people like my best friend Frank who forgets to eat unless reminded – imagine, naturally not caring about food! Poor guy even drinks Ensure to keep his weight up.

But now, I can live free, like Frank. Food doesn’t own me. It’s not my master; I’m not it’s slave.

I have a great life with the freedom to always be just fine around food.

Owning the Truth

If I am to get over my eating disorder (compulsive eating, anorexia, bulimia), I must be brutally honest with myself. This is my truth – I am NOT a normal, natural eater. Never have been. Never will be.

It’s not necessarily a good thing or a bad thing. It’s a fact. I take it seriously. I know my truth – what works for me. Your truth may well be different than mine. But I know mine, and I never play with it. Playing with it just means I’m lying to myself. So, I never;

*Decide that “today, I’m just going to graze all day”.
*Have “cheat” days, where I stray from my usual way of eating.
*Bank calories for later.
*Eat foods that set off a weird reaction (when I eat white bread, I will always want more, whether I’m hungry or not.)
*Eat large quantities. I discovered that pretty small amounts are sufficient to satisfy me. I don’t need much.
*Compare what and how I eat to other people. Sometimes, I find it interesting to watch normal people eat, BUT I know it won’t work for me.

These are the ‘for sures’. I definitely have other preferences, but I will be more flexible with them. I don’t like to eat when I’m not hungry, but I will if I have to – like if I know that when I am hungry, I’ll be in a meeting and it won’t be appropriate to eat, then i will eat before I go. I don’t tend to eat breakfast, as I don’t wake up hungry. I prefer not to eat an early dinner, because I’d rather not find myself hungry again later. But I’ll waver on these.

*There is a caveat – I will actually be flexible with all of it, if need be. I still know my truth and just that I’m bending it briefly. And I know that it’s okay if I do bend it a little – my truth is that I can get back on track. So, let’s say I have a boyfriend and we go to his mother’s house for lunch and she serves sandwiches on white bread, I will eat one. And I would eat a whole one, instead of my usual 1/2. (I’m not recommending anyone do what I do, but this works for me.) Stuff like that, I do, for a number of reasons. First of all, I want the boyfriend’s mom to like me and not think I’m rude or weird. (i don’t weigh or measure my food, but if I did, I wouldn’t show up anywhere with a scale and measuring cup. I figure as a grown woman who’s been on every diet in the world, I can at least temporarily, eyeball a portion.) Second, I NEVER want to make a scene or seem like I think I’m special and need special attention. Making a big deal about what I eat and MY food is self-involved and boring.

Overall, I don’t get involved with food much. I don’t like to cook or bake or get into food prep. I do simple stuff and will get involved if I have to, but for me, the less I do with food, the happier I am. There are a million other things I’d rather be thinking about. FOOD was my LIFE for most of my life. Now, I just want to deal with it when I am hungry, and go out live my actual life. (Quick sidebar – if my sister is reading this, she would tell you that mostly, I’m just plain lazy. That’s true too, but I’d much rather dust and vacuum and scrub the toilet than cook!!!)

I’d say most people are not like me in that respect. I have lots of sponsees who love to cook and prepare meals that work for them. Good for them! It’s just not my preference.

But most importantly, I have to face the truth that I have to face what’s underneath my weirdness with food. What’s going on that I want to soothe/anesthetize with food? Or that I want to distract with starving and counting calories? Or that I long to check out by throwing up for hours?

THAT’S WHERE I HAVE TO FOCUS MY ATTENTION. I need to put down the food and get to work.

Sometimes, recovery (the solution) doesn’t read as sexy as the problem (food depravity). But it’s the important part.

Nature vs Nuture: the Eating Disorder

Do I think body shaming can cause an eating disorder? Or are we pre-ordained to develop one, regardless of how we’re treated – like I’m a natural born alcoholic, while my brother and sister are not?

I’m really not sure about this one. I know that all the cruel comments and horrible teasing about my weight as a teenager did a lot of damage. I was deeply devastated by and ashamed of my growing body. Deep in my bones, I fully believed that if only I were thin, everything would be okay. In particular, I was sure that if I were thinner, everyone would like me more. Everyone seemed so disappointed in me, my eating and my weight.

At one point, when I was 16, I began to lose weight naturally. It was a brief time in my youth when I was happy. For a number of reasons, I was pretty much living alone with my very best friend in the world, Frank, and he was taking really good care of me. He loved me unconditionally (all these years later he’s still my best friend), and for once, I had no desire to use food to comfort, soothe,anesthetize or anything at all but to fuel.

But then as I lost a few more pounds, the compliments started flowing in nearly constantly. You’d have thought I’d cured cancer. I’m barely exaggerating here. It truly was cemented in my head that thinner was better. If losing a few pounds was good, losing tons of weight had to be even better.

And so I got to the point where I didn’t get my period for years, and I was often too weak to walk up stairs and I didn’t do anything but think about food and weight. When I couldn’t starve anymore, I turned vigorously to bingeing and puking.

(And fyi, may I just say that I was NOT happier when I was skinny. And my life was NOT better. I was f’ing miserable, furious and depressed.)

So, in my case, body shaming absolutely contributed to my anorexia and bulimia. But I don’t know if that’s true of everyone.

Is there a nature component? Am I born a disordered eater? In my case, I have to say yes. I truly did finish more bottles in the hospital than any baby before me. After that, I ate so much that the doctor put me on skim milk at six months. “Why”, I asked my mother,” did you feed me so much?” “Because”, she said, “you cried and cried until i gave you more.

Clearly, I was born with the disease of more and never enough; more and never satisfied. There wasn’t enough food in the world to make me feel better. But my brother and sister weren’t born this way. If you look at pictures of us when I was a baby – there’s my skinny sister, lanky brother and fat little me.

I remember eating and eating and eating as a child. I’d eat anything and everything until I couldn’t move. My body and mind wanted food all the time.

I can eat more pancakes in one sitting than my best friend Frank can eat in a lifetime. I know – Frank once tried bingeing on pancakes with me. He got grossed out quickly and stopped three DAYS before I did. Literally.

Does this mean everyone with an eating disorder has a body primed to eat dysfunctionaLly. I don’t know. i do know that mine sure is.

Does it matter whether it’s nature or nurture? I don’t think so. We find ourselves in the same place.

Sick.

Coming up – any thoughts? Do folks want to hear more about anything in particular? You can leave a comment on the blog or at Facebook or email me at melissa.statmore@gmail.com I’m really curious to hear. And, of course, I have a zillion ideas of my own. 🙂

Powerlessness

I thought I knew best about food. I’d rattle on to my therapist/s (there were many) all about my drinking and drugging, but when she’d ask me about food it was, “don’t you ask me what I eat. That’s private.”

I thought I had control of the situation. But my ideas were crazy. First of all, I thought the less I ate, the better. If i could have survived on iceberg lettuce and sugar-free gum, diet coke and white wine, I would have. I know, because I tried. And failed.

All the starving lead to huge binges, where I consumed more food than I can imagine today – whole pizzas, quarts of ice cream, a dozen bagel, all in one sitting. And then,of course, I’d throw up and use large quantities of laxative.

My weight fluctuated 90 pounds, but I knew what was best. I had control. Right?

Wrong, my life was unmanageable – I could not manage it. Day in and day out, my head told me it was a good idea to starve, binge and purge. That’s a sick mind. A sick mind can’t fix a sick mind.

I had to give up and surrender. More on this in my next posts.

Snow Days, Food, New Thinking

Snow days used to terrify me. Just me and my refrigerator – trapped in my house. Although I’d try to stave if off, I’d be sure to give in and binge all day. Scared of a refrigerator – what a strange life.

Yesterday, it snowed hard and I got off work early. I had a lot to do and focused on that. I planned to clean the house, organize my books, and defrost my refrigerator. However, I first decided to take a small nap with my delightfully snuggly cat. Several hours later, we both woke up, so cozy and peaceful. And we both woke up hungry. In the old days, I was either staaaarving or stuffed, never a nice normal hungry.

These days, I lead a very simple, very nice life. I have family, friends, a job, an inexpensive little apartment, and the best kitty in the whole wide world 🙂

I used to think I had the worst life EVER. Poor me, poor me. I gave myself a billion reasons why I should binge. But they weren’t true at all.

Shifting my thinking is key. More on that in my next post. But for now – last night, I had a lovely dinner, read a good book in a bubble bath, watched some TV and went back to sleep. A good life, indeed!

Weight Gain Warrior

Used to be, I didn’t want to leave my house if the scale went up even an ounce. Weight gain ruined the day – there could be no peace or happiness. In fact, I wouldn’t be able to focus on anything else. On the other hand, if I’d lost weight,even an ounce, I’d be in a great mood and all would be well. But only until I’d get on the scale the next morning, and start the numbers game all over again.

The temptation to lose weight now still crops up. All around me, people seem to be losing weight, but i won’t give in to the pull of thin. I have an event coming up this weekend where I want to look nice. Previously, my mind would scream that I needed to diet, and I’d start restricting. Not this time – i am who i am who i am.

I’ve said this before, but all my eating disordered life I stared at women who carried weight AND felt and looked great. I envied what looked like the ultimate freedom. Now, when I start to diss myself for my weight gain, I remind myself of that lifelong longing to be bigger and okay.

I’m meant to be larger. I know it’s how I’m supposed to be. My weight continues to inch up but I am happy. I refuse to change anything. It’s really cool.

Yesterday, I went to Marshall’s and tried on clothes. In the past, I’d scrutinize my body from every angle, trying to decipher exactly how thin I was. Not yesterday. Yes, I saw the new lumps and bumps, and I laughed. I cheered myself on, because I didn’t care.

When my beloved cat gains weight, I say she’s gotten fluffier. Well, so have I. Sounds adorable, doesn’t it?

The truth is, I really do feel sexier – rounder, curvier. I question myself – is it REALLY true or I am just telling myself this to make myself feel better. But no, I do feel good.

Guess everyone isn’t meant to be thin. Guess that’s just fine. 🙂

Food

So, I wondered why I didn’t have a boyfriend. Or why I’d go out with a guy and he’d never call again. Could it be that I thought about NOTHING but food and my weight? How boring can a girl be? I had nothing to offer but a thin body.

With my family, I had nothing at all to offer. For years, I refused to go to holiday dinners because i didn’t want to be around fattening food. The last Thanksgiving before my mom died, I did go, because she was so ill. But I made everyone, including her, miserable. I complained that the food had so many calories. Why couldn’t they just make turkey and steamed vegetables for Thanksgiving? I was serious!!! I whined and complained and drank ’til I became even more rude and obstreperous. Thanksgiving was my mom’s favorite holiday, and I made sure to ruin her last one. Of course, after dinner, I ran home, binged wildly and threw up all night. Of course, I blamed my family because they had served triggering foods.

I was incredibly ungrateful. When I finally did have a boyfriend, he wanted to treat me to fancy restaurants. For my birthday one year, he surprised me by taking me to a very famous, very wonderful place. When we arrived, i declared I didn’t want to eat there – too much rich food, but then I felt kind of guilty and agreed to go in. I tried to order salad with dressing on the side and steamed vegetables, but he begged me to try some real food. After dinner, feeling I’d eaten too much, I sent him home. And off I went, bingeing through the bodegas of Manhattan, picking the junkiest food possible . When I hung over the toilet later that night, I realized I was puking up fancy food and hostess twinkies at the same time. But five star or 5 and dime, it’s all the same coming back up.

I was also a nasty skinny person. I hated anyone who was naturally thin or didn’t have an issue with food, and let my anger rip. Nothing mattered but not eating and not gaining weight. I lived an entirely miserable existence.

When I showed up at a 12 Step fellowship ready to look at my food and body issues, I was pretty done and desperate. I couldn’t stand my life. But before the process relieved me of my food obsession, it first showed me how awful and inconsiderate I’d been. (and here I’d thought people were being inconsiderate of me!!!)

When i saw my true self, I was horrified. And that horror gave me the will and the strength and desire to begin the process of change. Later, I’ll talk about how I changed the person I am. Now, I’ll focus on how desperation allowed me to change my relationship with food.

I decided to start with three meals a day. For me, the less often I think about food, the better. Some people eat small meals all throughout the day, but that’s much too much food engagement for me. I keep it simple

I don’t follow a specific meal plan, but do sort of eat the same amounts and/or foods most days. I don’t weigh and measure anything – I figure I’ve been on so many (probably EVERY) diet in my life, I know what a portion is. What I am is honest with myself about portion size. I know I am a compulsive eater by nature and I have to be perfectly 100 % honest with myself about my choices.

No foods are off limits, although I go for a healthy balance most of the time. If a food seems to trigger a reaction in me that makes me crave more of it, I’ll shy away. I don’t eat much white flour, but if it were served to me at someone’s home, I would eat some. Some foods, I don’t eat unless pre-portioned. I would never sit down with a pint of ice cream and tell myself to stop when I’d had enough. The most important part is I know what’s true for me. This is what works. I know people who never eat any sugar or white flour at all, because that’s what works for them. I have friends who weigh and measure every bite, and they are very happy and comfortable. I HAVE TO BE HONEST WITH MYSELF.

I don’t beat myself up if some days I eat more than I think I might have. It’s just food. Tomorrow’s a new day. The less time I spend in myself, the more chance I have of knowing peace and freedom. I try not to discuss what I eat – so self-absorbed AND so boring. No one cares about ME and MY FOOD!!!!

And the truth is, there are an infinite number of things in this universe that are infinitely more important than my body size. When I find myself getting too absorbed in my weight, my food, myself, I do something like head to the local animal shelter and play with kittens, or I call someone who needs a friend, or find some other way to be helpful to someone or something else.

That’s where the healing begin – getting rid of my selfishness and self-involved behaviors and beginning to show up for others. Once I participate in life, I have purpose beyond dieting. Yay.

I’m curious if anyone has any questions or would like me to explain more? Or let me know if you disagree with the process. I’d love to hear!

Road to Recovery; Part 2

I finally realized that I had tried for most of my four decades to handle my issues alone. Well, that’s not entirely true – i had lots and lots of input from therapists and nutritionists. They all meant well, but I just couldn’t do what they suggested.

Finally, I began by taking my alcoholism and drug addiction off to a 12 Step fellowship, but sill clung to my eating disorder, the mother ship. You could talk to me about drugs and drink, but food – that was mine, too private, too important, too terrifying. I knew for a fact, I thought, that if I didn’t control my eating, I’d quadruple in size. (funny now – 13 years later – that i AM gaining weight, and it’s okay!)

Eventually, a very kind alcoholic gently said to me, “Melissa, you are REALLY weird about food.” Oh, eating only iceberg lettuce and the wrappers off muffins was weird behavior?

I’m not here to say that one needs a 12 Step process to get well. But I am here to tell you how it worked for me.

For me, food was my solution to everything – eating and/or not eating. If I was lonely, tired, sad, or angry OR happy, excited,or pleased – I ate or starved. It didn’t matter. But of course, no amount of ice cream can do anything about sadness or anger or any emotion, for that matter.

The Twelve Steps taught me that food is just a symptom of an inner malady. I had to look at my causes and conditions if I wanted to get well.

I needed to take an honest look at myself and my life. One thing for sure, I felt so sorry for myself – I’d had a difficult childhood, made worse by being fat with acne, braces and frizzy hair. I’d never had a real boyfriend, didn’t like my job, had huge credit card debt AND was angry and miserable most of the time. And of course, I was a drug addict, alcoholic and severely eating disordered woman.

One other thing for sure, I blamed my mother for EVERYTHING. First, I had to look at, deal with and get over my mommy issues.

Here I was, 42 years old, sure that my mother shouldered the blame for everything wrong with my life. What I saw, however, through the 12 Step process was that as a grown woman, I was responsible for my current life. It was my job to build and develop a career. My mother had worked very very hard to build her own career. I’d never put much effort into anything.

And what about relationships? Who would want to date someone, me, who was angry and miserable AND no fun (because most of my life revolved around eating or not eating)? My mother was a nice, lovely person with lots of interests – of course, people liked her.

Also, at the time that I started looking at myself and my life, my mother had been dead two years. I couldn’t keep blaming her for my life.

Next, I compared my life to my mothers. I was a drug addict, alcoholic, buliimic mess. I had lied, cheated and stolen most of my life – done some really rotten stuff. I was selfish, self-involved and jealous of everyone else. And yet, I wanted to be forgiven and was, in fact, granted forgiveness by so, so many through the 12 Step process..

My mother was a single mom with three kids who worked 80 hours a week as a piano teacher. There was a roof over our heads, food on the table and we all went to college. She did her best. She tried her best. Did she make mistakes? Of course. But in comparison to me and my life and mistakes, the woman was practically a saint. How could I not forgive her, when I want to be forgiven my trespasses?

It’s funny, but after a lifetime of complaining about my mother, I can no longer actually remember anything bad about her. What a peaceful place.

And so, I found, if i could love my mother with all my heart, anything was possible. Seeing my mother’s humanity and being able to look at the truth about my life and MY problems and defects (not hers!) was a huge shift that allowed me to open my heart and mind. It began me on the path to freedom. I saw that there is nothing really to eat over – everything is really quite fine. Wow

So, through the 12 Step process, I discovered that my mother is NOT the problem, I am the problem. I am MY problem, which is the good news, because me I can change. If my mother HAD been the problem, I’d be lost, but she wasn’t.

And so, I get to work on changing myself.

Next up – my relationship with food and how that changed.

Heeding the Body

Some weeks seem longer than others. Some days are surely endless. Sometimes, lately, sleep is fleeting. I haven’t been an insomniac in many years, but suddenly it’s cropping up again.

I wake up after an hour – sweating, throwing off covers, shutting off heat and opening windows. Me, the coldest woman on earth, or any planet frankly, is going through menopause. I can’t get comfortable or get back to sleep.

I feel sorry for my cat. She grew up in a hot, hot home. Winters are toasty, no matter the cost. (I save in the summer – haven’t turned on my air conditioner since I moved in to this apartment years ago. Even the cat hates it.)

Now in the dead of winter, I turn off the heat and stand near the window. My cat, nearly shivering, huddles under the covers. When I realize her chill, i turn on a little heater for her and she bathes in front of it for the rest of the night. That’s how I used to be.

But things change. And now I’m hot. And very tired. Over the years, I’ve learned to give my body what it needs – I eat when I’m hungry, reach out when I’m lonely and sleep when I’m weary.

Can’t wait to get home to bed. And my chilly little cat.