A Story of Recovery:

Mess Hall Cellblock

When I grew up, everything looked great from the outside. We lived in a beautiful dutch-colonial brick home on five acres. My mother was a master organic gardener. There was an acre for cut flowers, a huge organic garden, and fruit trees. We raised honeybees, and there were horses, a dog, a cat, and some chickens. The front yard was a beautifully manicured acre with a horseshoe driveway. There was a summer house that was covered in trumpet vines, and a pond. The windows were all washed and sparkled in the spring and summer. My parents were very attractive, and they drummed into us the importance of being good citizens. My family was large: my parents, two sets of twins (I am a twin) and 10 siblings. I have two brothers and seven sisters.

My parents did not drink alcohol, but both grandfathers were alcoholics, and my parents said they would never be like their fathers. I think my mother was a food addict, and my father was a workaholic. My mother was always stressed out, as she had little support from our father because he had his own business and worked night and day to support us. My father was emotionally unavailable.

Inside the house there was chaos, with so many people and pets living there. The house was messy, and there were always dirty dishes piled in the sink. We did not sit at the table to eat family style; it was more like a mess hall. There was always a pile of dirty laundry in the basement and a pile of clean clothes on a big table that rarely ever got put away.

Every once in a while when it got very bad, my mother would hire someone to help out. I did not have the discipline to make my bed or do much of anything. The kids were all always fighting with each other. I took a lot of abuse from my siblings, but rarely was disciplined by my parents, as they were both overwhelmed. My mother always wanted to look like the good guy, so she would have the older siblings discipline the younger ones.

I couldn’t wait until I could get out on my own, and often dreamed of how beautiful and tidy my home would be. I vowed I would never be like my parents.

Unfortunately, when I grew up and had my own house, I could not find the discipline to keep up with the chaos, and I began to find my escape in food. After my second baby, I had some weight to lose, and that is when I started to diet. I found diet pills, and that was great for a while, because not only could I control the food, but I could clean my house and make it beautiful. I was filled with energy and was happy to have finally found the answer.

The diet pills eventually turned on me. I developed an anxiety disorder and had to stop taking them. For the next several years, I struggled with a messy house and a long string of every diet imaginable. Because I wanted to look good at all costs, I never told anyone that I was suffering from anxiety attacks. My anxiety was untreated and I developed agoraphobia, a disorder that that left me afraid to go out of my house.

After 10 years, I hit bottom. I could no longer live in the cellblock of my own home. I wanted more for my children, and finally went to a Twelve-Step group and got into recovery for agoraphobia. Learning and practicing the Twelve Steps was lifechanging. I learned how to manage my fear and overcome agoraphobia, and I started to live a fuller life. However, my food was still out of control.

When I was 50-years old my husband and I were going to renew our wedding vows, and I wanted to wear a white gown. I needed to lose 65 pounds (29.4 kilos) to fit into the dress. I had never worn a wedding gown because of my fear of walking down the aisle in front of people. I had eloped to marry my husband.

My friend told me about a program called Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous (FA). He told me it was a Twelve-Step program. I knew the Twelve Steps helped me in other areas of my life, and I knew I needed accountability. I was told it was not just a diet, but a way of life. I had no idea the miracle that lay ahead me.

In FA I learned that I could tell the truth about what I was going through and about who I really was. I learned to feel my feelings and not eat over them.

In hindsight, I feel that when I came to FA, I was much like that dutch-colonial house I grew up in. Despite being overweight, I looked pretty good from the outside, but if you opened the door to my heart, you would have seen the chaos inside. I was filled with anger, resentment, fear, jealousy, and sadness. I was $100,000 in debt.

I am grateful today that I found FA. I found a place where I can learn to feel my feelings and learn tools to help me live a manageable life,

I have been in a slender healthy body for 16 years, and my house is clean and organized. My debt has been paid off over the years, and we are debt free. Through the practice of weighing my food, I have learned to weigh and measure my finances and my time. My relationships have improved. I have found a place where I can take off the mask and find people who love me for the imperfect wonderful human being that I am.


This story was originally published in the Connection Magazine. Subscribe to the Connection Magazine for more stories of recovery. Or submit your own story of recovery.