On Starving

In my starving days, I convinced myself that I didn’t need to eat – eating was weak and a sign of low moral character. The less I ate, the better. I also told myself that nutrition didn’t matter for me. (It was important for everyone else, but somehow, not for me.) I liked sweets, so I would skip breakfast, eat a small piece of cake for lunch and one scoop of ice cream for dinner. That’s how I ate for a long time.

During those years, I was starving and weak most of the time. Half the time, I felt ready to faint and sometimes I did. And yet, I kept on starving AND convincing myself that it was great. As long as I didn’t eat, I was okay.

Eventually, I couldn’t live like that, and I started to binge. My body was, pretty literally, dying for food. At first, I’d binge once a month, and then go back to starving. Soon, I was bingeing once a week, and I’d take a few laxatives. Once bingeing got to a few times a week, I began to throw up. Soon, I was bingeing and purging as often as possible.

The whole cycle is a completely failed attempt at control. Sure, it started because I’d been heavy and as I starved off the weight, I was bathed in constant compliments. I remember at my aunt’s funeral years ago, half the women wanted to know how I’d lost so much weight.

But then, it took on a life of it’s own. Starving felt powerful – I, unlike everyone else, didn’t need to eat. Purging had it’s own power – I could eat mass quantities of food and not gain (much) weight.

And yet, when starving, ALL I thought about was food. I wasn’t controlling it – food owned me and my brain. And when binging and purging – I COULD NOT STOP, no matter how much I wanted to.

Control was delusion. I had to give up. And change my thinking completely.

Just a question – I do wonder, however, if everyone hadn’t fawned over me as I starved myself sick, would this all have started. And if i hadn’t been crucified as the fat kid…?

Such madness – all of it.

Perception

When I started this blog, my wonderful sister told me not to worry about writing about our family. I didn’t need to edit anything about my childhood – I could air our dirty laundry as much as I need. The thing is – I have nothing bad to say. Through the process of the 12 Steps, I have freed myself from the troubles of the past and have seen the truth.

While most of my life, I railed bitterly against my mother, I can truly not remember one negative thing. Through the process of healing, I realize my mother was a good woman who had her own troubles, and she did her best. If I compare the life I led and the deeds I did, my mother is a saint. Besides, how can I continue to blame her for stuff that happened when I was like eight – I’m almost 53, it’s time for me to take responsibility for my grown up life. I developed a whole new way of thinking about my past.

Now, that’s a shift in my thinking sufficient to recover from all the resentment and anger and fear that kept me blocked from freedom. If i can let go of my resentment of my mother. well, believe me, I can do just about anything – INCLUDING putting down the food, the eating disorder and the scale.

It’s my perception that’s off. In high school, I thought I went to the worst school ever. The teacher’s were terrible; the classes were weak. For years, I’ve railed about the crappy education I received.

Recently, our class valedictorian (who went to MIT) mentioned on Facebook that she had some of the best teachers and classes in high school. She learned more in high school than she did in college – MIT!!!! Another classmate roundly agreed with her that our high school bested college in education. I was stymied. I sat side-by-side with these two in most of our classes. If Denise K., who has at least 50 IQ points on me, thought she was getting a great education, what was I thinking? Perhaps I was thinking about my weight, what I was eating, what I wasn’t eating, why I kept gaining weight, where I could get diuretics……I didn’t crack a book or pay attention or go to school much. Hmmmm, what if I had paid attention? What if I had studied? There’s a new way of looking at it!

For most of my life, I firmly believed that FOOD WAS EVERYTHING – best friend, lover, therapist, parent – even, enemy. I also believed that food would solve my problems. I went to it when lonely, sad, scared, angry, hurt, desperate, and miserable. Turns out, once again I was wrong. Of course, no amount of ice cream could take away fear. And I’d only end up more terrified because I’d eaten so much and was gaining SO much weight, so quickly. I thought food was my problem, but it wasn’t. I had to go deeper and shift how I saw things – everything.

To get well, I need to change my thinking. Once my perception changes, I see that the world and it’s people aren’t out to get me. I, me, Melissa, am responsible for my own life.

Finally, I see the truth. Food isn’t my friend – it’s fuel. It won’t solve my problems – those I can face and get through. And so, there’s nothing to eat over. And so I don’t.

Finding Power

Today, I am truly free from the obsession of food. My freedom comes from engaging in the 12 Step process.

The heart of 12 Step recovery is: First I have to quit playing God. Which means I must stop thinking that I can control the world, other people, events – just about anything.

I am willing to stop playing God in my life because I am miserable, desperate, sick and tired of being sick and tired and hopefully, done. Done with the endless loop of my addiction – starving, bingeing, purging, starving, bingeing purging, starving….

This desperation is a gift. The gift that finally allows me to admit that I am powerless over it. Powerless, meaning when it comes to food, I have no power, choice or control. When I put food into me, my body wants more. Often, the foods my body wants more of are carbs and sugars, but I can also gobble down more carrots than a battalion of bunnies. My body is different than the normal person’s – it always wants more, more, more. And there is never enough food to comfort me. I eat until I can’t move and can barely breathe.

But if it were just a physical problem, I’d give up sugar and carbs, and be fine. But I can’t on my own. Lord knows I tried. I went on every diet I’d ever heard of – if you email me the name of a diet I’ve never tried, I’ll send you $20 right now. And I’m completely sure I’ll keep my money!

None of them, not one, worked, because my body really isn’t my biggest problem. My real problem is my mind, obsessed with food. So, every morning after bingeing all night (which became EVERY morning.), I’d swear to myself that I’d NEVER eat like that again. In fact, I planned, I’d never eat again. And i meant it this time!!!!!
But every night, I’d binge again, because my mind tells me I need to eat. It lies to me, day and night, telling me that I need the relief I think I find in food. It tells me that I deserve to eat – that my life is so hard, I need the comfort. It promises me that this is the last time I will EVER binge, so I’d better eat EVERYTHING I possibly can, since I’ll NEVER eat like this again.

That was my life – waking up with the firm resolve never to binge again and then bingeing every night. Only a sick mind could believe a sick mind every single day and day and every single night.

And a sick mind can’t help a sick mind. So I can’t solve my problems. I am powerless. And if I am powerless then I must find Power greater than myself or else I am doomed. If I don’t find Power,I continue to run my life and I never get better – I get worse. And I was getting worse.

So, I gave up. I surrendered and admitted I couldn’t run my life. And I was willing to seek Power greater than myself.

And now I am free.

What does “Power” mean. Well, it means something different to different people. I want this concept to be workable for all – from my friend’s mother who spends most days in church on her knees to the most vehement of atheists, which is how I showed up at my first 12 Step meeting.

Here is a definition I really like for spiritual growth. It’s written in a book called ‘Recovery’ by Rami Shapiro. He is a Rabbi, but the book includes Buddhism, Hinduism, Old Testament, New Testament, Native Indian beliefs and more. Shapiro notes that his definition does not include the word God and he writes:

What I mean by spiritual growth is this: an ever-deepening capacity to embrace life with justice, compassion, curiosity, awe, serenity and humility.

This very definition allowed me to develop my own initial concept of a Higher Power. This was God to me – these qualities.

Twelve Step recovery is all about a spiritual solution – a God guided life. So for me, it began as a life guided by justice, compassion, curiosity, awe,serenity and humility. I then added kindness, goodness, love, tolerance and patience. Through the years, my definition has kept growing.

Where do i find this ‘God”. Twelve Step recovery tells me I find it deep down within, that is where I discover the fundamental idea of God.

For myself, I began by connecting to the intuitive thought. Here’s an example:

You know when you write a self-righteous, angry email, and you go back and forth about whether or not to actually send it? Your mind talks you into it, telling you that you’re justified, because after all you’re right, you should send it, for sure. You hit send. And then right away your whole body cringes desperately, “Oh no. I shouldn’t have done that”? Well, that’s the intuitive thought deep down within that always knows the right thing to do. And that intuitive thought is the hand of God, wanting to guide me. If I learn to quiet my racing mind and listen to the intuitive thought, I’m connecting with Power greater than myself and beginning to live a God-guided life.

There’s got to be something bigger than me, or I’m in big trouble. If I don’t find Power, then I’m still running the show and making all my (warped)decisions. I was 40 years old, a drug addict, an alcoholic and a bulimic. I wasn’t working. I was living on my brother’s couch, until he kicked me out for stealing pills from his wife. AND I WAS MISERABLE.

When I entered the rooms of a 12 Step Fellowship, I heard a speaker say that I had to find ‘God’ (as i understood God)or i was doomed to repeat my addictive behaviors. After the meeting, I, a 40 year old atheist, asked the speaker if she could help me find God, and she said yes with complete confidence. Doubtful, I asked her how. Here’s what she said:

First, I had to lay aside old prejudice. All we’ve believed up to that point. (I figured I could do that. I was so miserable, and I had nothing to show for the life I had believed in.)

Next, I had to be willing to seek God. Just willing. I didn’t need to know anything or have any idea – I just had to be willing. (At that point, I was desperate. What the heck did I have to lose? Sure, I was willing.)

And then I had to pray. (Oops, I’m out. Prayer. I’m an atheist. No way.) But then I remembered. How many nights hanging over my toilet after bingeing my brains out, did these words come out of my mouth, ‘Dear God, please help me.) And then I’d recoil, how ridiculous, there isn’t a God. And if there were, He wouldn’t help the likes of me. But that fundamental idea of God, deep down within me, was there.

Finally, the speaker said I had to pray from my heart and pray with my feet, through the actions I take. These actions are very specific in Step work – the honest self appraisal, the amends to all those that I have hurt and the necessity of working with others.

It’s miraculous stuff. It took the obsession away from me, and freed me from the clamors of an addictive mind.

My own concept of Power assuredly doesn’t match the Pope’s or even Rabbi Rami Shapiro’s. But it does guide me, hold me and keep me safe.

More on the process in future posts.

The Truth About Lies About Food

Anorexia is a lie I tell myself that I can control my eating. I have not yet met the anorexic who doesn’t think about food ALL the time – every waking moment AND in her dreams. Food controls the restrictive eater.

Bulimia is the lie that if I throw it up, somehow I didn’t eat it – that I can eat without gaining weight, without consequences.

Compulsive eating – the lie that food solves my problems – heals my sadness, loneliness, boredom and pain. Instead, I end up so much more miserable, of course, after the eating episode.

Weight obsession is the lie that if only I am thin, I will find happiness, true love, fulfilling friendships, a fascinating career… And if thin is good, skinny is better! For me, I was never more miserable than when I was skinny. I could think of nothing but food; I was exhausted, isolated, angry and terrified – was this misery really my life?

My mind sure tells me a ton of crap (lies), so I can’t rely on it to guide my eating. Once I am ready and willing to learn (and accept) this truth, I can begin my path to recovery.

Does the Practitioner Need to be Thin?

A friend who sponsors compulsive eaters insists her sponsees lose weight and get thin. How, she asks, can they be an example that the 12 Steps work if they’re still heavy?

I’m not sure I agree. First of all, what if her sponsee is perfectly happy at her current weight and just wants to stop obsessing about food? If her relationship with food is healthy, does it matter what she weighs?

Being quite thin is difficult for me – it means starving. When i weighed 118 pounds, I would faint from hunger. For some people my height, 5’6, that’s a normal weight. But for my body, it’s way way too thin.

Being relatively thin is pretty easy for me, but my body loves to gain weight. If I don’t pay attention – even though my thinking is very healthy – my weight goes up. Do I need to watch my weight to be taken seriously as a sponsor or if I decide to become a therapist?

The truth is – I did judge when I was in the throes of anorexia and bulimia. How could I trust an overweight therapist? I automatically assumed they were miserable and didn’t know how to handle their own weights. How could they help me heal my eating disorder AND THE VERY MOST IMPORTANT PART IN THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD – STAY THIN.

I had one therapist who was pregnant. She worried that I’d miss her when she went on leave. I worried that she’d gained an awful lot for carrying just one child. I saw a chubby nutritionist, who kept repeating (without solicitation) that she was heavy because of some medicine she had to take.

I judged them both. But I also judged my thin therapists – one was so pretty I assumed she couldn’t understand what it was like to be me. Another seemed SO incredibly normal – what did she know about being crazy?

And so I wonder, as my weight creeps up for no particular reason – will I be less able to help those who suffer if I weigh more?

Discomfort

I have never liked being uncomfortable and firmly believed I couldn’t tolerate discomfort.

My life was all about comfort – I’d take three long bubble baths a day, buy myself anything I wanted, never clean or cook – basically, I just always wanted to feel “good”.

BUT, I was miserable. In avoiding discomfort, I got MORE uncomfortable. All the shopping put me in huge debt. Never cleaning left or taking care of my house left it a total mess. And of course, binge eating when “uncomfortable” made me the most miserable of all.

Of course there was the incredible physical discomfort of binging. After an episode, my distended and bloated stomach ached, my pants wouldn’t button, I’d feel lethargic and gross.

But the guilt, shame, remorse and self-hatred I experienced the next morning proved even worse – EXTREMELY uncomfortable..

The truth is I can actually tolerate discomfort. I’ll get through it. The world won’t end while I’m bored, lonely, anxious, sad, angry or tired. And soon the discomfort will pass. Not only will I be fine but the best part:

I won’t have to deal with the fall-out from binging!!!!! Hooray

I’ll take a little discomfort over post-binge horror any day.

Food and Control

Life seemed beyond control – nothing was going my way. The one thing, I believed, I could CONTROL was food.

Some years, with a steely will, I managed to eat tiny amounts. Other years, I tried desperately to control what I ate – starving all day, but losing the ability to restrict at night, when I’d binge until I couldn’t move. I would try to CONTROL my weight, through throwing up and taking quantities of laxatives (at which point, I couldn’t CONTROL my bowels, but that’s a different topic.)

And so, I believed, I had CONTROL over my weight and food. How wrong I was. Because what actually controlled ME was my food obsession. I thought about food ALL the time. The allusion of control proved entirely fake. My food obsession owned me, no matter what silly story (lies) I told myself.

There were a lot of lies: “I don’t actually NEED to eat at all.” “If I weigh less, I’ll be completely happy.” “Thinking about food is a fine way to spend my time.” And the biggest lie, of course, that I had any control.

Like I said, food owned me and I was willing to trade anything – friends, time with family, time at work – to sit home alone with my refrigerator. I just wished everyone would go away and leave me alone so I could binge.

Such a waste of a life. And not one I had any control over.