A Story of Recovery:
The Biggest Change
I woke up this morning thinking about my first day in an 8-week residential treatment program for food addiction. I was 41 years old and had been bulimic off and on for 25 years; I was underweight and unhappy. It was two days before Christmas, and although I did not particularly want to be there, I didn’t want to be anywhere else either.
How had I gotten there? At the time, I had my own business and had been married for the past 15 months to a man I adored. Those were two of the things on the top of my list of “if only I had (fill in the blank), then I would stop this crazy eating.” Yet, there I was, unable to stop by sheer force of will.
I don’t know when I became a food addict; I may well have been born that way. I was always more interested in food, especially food that contained sugar, than were most of my friends. If I had a friend over on a Saturday, we would spend the morning in the kitchen making some sweet thing or other. Once the baking was over, my friends wanted to go outside and play, and I never quite understood why they did not, like me, want to stay and sample the fruits of our labors. I always reluctantly went outside with them, not wanting to appear piggy or odd, although I knew inside that I was. My parents were always concerned about their weight and, subsequently, mine, too. My dad prided himself on the fact that he weighed the same as he had when rowing on the crew in college. Looks were important in my family culture.
Fear, doubt and insecurity plagued my life from a very young age. I remember clinging to my mother’s legs when she tried dropping me off in my kindergarten classroom, and as I peeked out from behind her skirt at the group of kids doing what normal kindergarten kids do, I could not imagine myself in their midst. That fear dogged me throughout much of my life, stunting my growth and blocking me from trying new things.
At age 15, when I discovered the effect that alcohol had on me, I knew I had found the magic elixir, the substance that would grant me the courage to push through my fears. Over the next few years, I developed a bravado that belied the frightened little girl who lived behind the façade. About a year after the magic discovery of alcohol, I learned that I could eat mammoth quantities of food, throw up, and not gain the weight that 10- and 12-thousand calorie binges should have added to my body. That was in 1961, before the term bulimia had entered the mainstream. Once again, I had found what was to me a magic solution…to eat the foods I craved and keep with the family culture of “looking good.” Alcohol gave me the courage to be out and about, carrying on in the world, but food kept me isolated. The way I ate was not socially acceptable, so I binged and purged in secret, always eating “like a lady” in public.
My weight would fluctuate up and down for the next three decades. The latest diet fad would serve to make the 10, 20, or 30 unwanted pounds (5, 9, or 14 kilograms) disappear, but they always re-appeared, generally much faster than they had dissolved. Until “The Drinking Man’s Diet” appeared on the scene, I had never found a regime that allowed alcohol, thus my periods of dieting were alcohol-free and usually sugar-free. I never made the connection between the calmer, more manageable life and those sugar-free, alcohol-free zones. I wanted to be thin more than I wanted life itself. When people suggested the possibility that perhaps this or that diet was not healthy, or I was getting too thin, I didn’t care. Thin was all that mattered. “They are just jealous,” I would conclude, and I would soldier on.
For much of the time in those years, I led a double life. On the outside, I was a pretty high-functioning human being, going to work, succeeding in securing more than one graduate degree, singing in the church choir, supporting myself, maintaining an apartment—all those things that normal people do. I did not miss work when nursing a hangover from too much alcohol or a night of binging and purging. There were too many of those mornings; all those absences would signal a problem, and I could not allow that. The importance of maintaining the façade that I learned so well during my childhood carried long into my adult life. I simply could not let anyone know how much I was hurting.
That was the path that led me to the food addiction treatment center. I would like to tell you that I have been abstinent since that time, but that is not my story. That program did, however, set me on the path that eventually led me to FA 18 years later. By the Grace of God, and with much gratitude and humility, I have never left.
How has my life changed since I joined FA? A better question would perhaps be how has it not changed. The physical change has been the addition of several healthy pounds. I was underweight when I arrived and scared to death of gaining weight. My first sponsor guided me gently yet firmly through that process, having once been there herself. My relationships are better, primarily my marriage. The way I was eating and the variety of secrets I held are hardly ingredients for a healthy relationship of any kind, much less a marriage. I have nothing to hide and it is such a freedom! I no longer take myself so seriously—I have learned to laugh at my absurdities and myself. I take this disease and this recovery very seriously, however. I make mistakes, acknowledge them, and carry on. Oh, I have my moments, but they are just that – moments – where they used to be days, weeks and sometimes even months or years.
Perhaps the biggest change is the trust and security I have found in a higher power, a power I call God. I was raised going to church and Sunday school. As a young child, God was someone or something “out there” who had very little to do with me. I cast about for many years looking for a spiritual home; the seed had been planted. In FA, as I found relief and recovery from food addiction, I “came to believe” in a power greater than myself who was responsible for it all. It also became very clear to me that this God required my cooperation. God would not snatch the fork from my hand; I had to be willing to put it down. As it says in the book Alcoholics Anonymous, if I fail to enlarge my spiritual life, I cannot expect to get well. If I were to pick up food, that connection would be the biggest loss of all, a risk I am not willing to take. FA is my home.