Two years ago on this very evening, I was sitting in this very chair. In my lap was a bowl of freshly made buttercream frosting, tinted robins-egg blue. It was my third bowl that night. Nine cups of powdered sugar. Three sticks of butter. The Notebook played quietly on the TV, and every time Noah’s heart got broken, I cried for him, but I was really crying for me. A month before I had reached out to the National Eating Disorder’s Association (NEDA) help line. After 28 years of suffering, I finally began the early stages of accepting that my life was out of control. I could not stop eating. I was/am a food addict.
As my husband and toddler son slumbered peacefully upstairs, I gorged myself on sugar and fat until I felt sick, until my heart was racing at more than 110 beats per minute, until the food no longer tasted good. Every bite tasted more cloying than the last and yet I continued to spoon it in. To say I was behaving mindlessly is an understatement. I was well out of my mind before I sat down that night, alone in the flickering TV light, comforting myself for having come to the end of another stressful semester of teaching, another birthday party, another graduation party, another summer course prep, another and another and another.
The movie ended, and I put my licked-clean bowl in the sink, rinsing it carefully to hide the evidence of my binge from my husband. In fact, I took the time to carefully cleanse the entire kitchen as though it was a crime scene. All powdered sugar dust carefully swept up from the counters and floor, the mixer scrubbed to a bright shine and lifted back onto its shelf, and all butter wrappers thrown away inside a paper bag.
I was still crying when I dragged my tired, overwhelmed body upstairs to the shower to wash away my shame of having binged again. I had failed again, I thought. Failed my diet. Failed my doctor. Failed my husband. Failed my son. Failed myself. And for the first time in almost 30 years, I knew that if I did not stop bingeing that I would die from it.
Binge eating was killing me.
As the water ran down over my back, I cried more. At one point I got down on my knees in the warm spray and called out for help, pitifully weak at first, and then louder and louder, before I turned off the water, dried my body, slipped into my nightgown, and fell into bed, sad and scared, and for the first time, completely and utterly honest with myself. I felt bare and raw and desperate.
The next morning I became abstinent of all trigger foods, including caffeine, alcohol, all processed sugars, all flours, and all processed foods. Abstinence was my first step on my road to recovery, and I have not looked back once since then.
Giving up those foods wasn’t a cure. Abstinence, instead, allowed my body, mind, and soul to get clean. Food addiction, like other addictions, robs the sufferer of her Self. Compulsive eating took me away from me. In fact, two years ago on this very day I had no idea who I really was. I think I was more afraid to get to know the ME without food than anything else. What if I didn’t like that person? What if she wasn’t worthy? What if she wasn’t good?
That first year I found out that I really do love myself in a thousand different ways. I love myself most when I am doing something to help others. It turns out that without the food, my life is fuller than I ever imagined it could be. I was only living a quarter of my life while I was still in the food. A quarter!!
That first year was magical in many ways. I had power and control over food for the first time I could remember. I had no problem being around former binge foods. I could make them, touch them, but I had no desire to eat them. For me, those foods had become my torturers. As the wicked step-mother says in Everafter after Cinderella asks if she had ever loved her, “How could one love a pebble in her shoe?” The same was true for me with hyper-palatable foods.
As old-timers tell us, the first year is about what not to do. The second year is about what you do.
At the end of the first year, I felt great: empowered, in touch with ME, and capable of making great decisions.
Falling Off that Pink Cloud
Then, something happened in the second year that made me realize that recovery for EVERYONE has its ebbs and flows. After going back to campus in the fall semester, dozens of colleagues and students kept complimenting me on my weight loss. At this point, I had lost 75 pounds. At first I was flattered, but then, it began grating on me.
People were staring at me.
Why were they looking at me?
Why were they noticing my body?
Stop it, okay?
These negative emotions hit their zenith around the third week of classes when I walked into my neighborhood coffee shop for a morning smoothie. As soon as I opened the door, I wanted to run and hide. A table full of men at least 15 years my senior stopped talked and stared at me as I walked through the shop. They leered at me. I could feel their eyes scanning my breasts, my hips, my ass. Suddenly, I was 11 years old again. I felt like I was being devoured, violated, abused.
I got my smoothie and walked slowly to my car. I cried the entire hour to work.
I did not binge that day. I did not binge the next day, but slowly my portion sizes began to creep up. They got a little bigger at each meal. I stopped keeping track of what I was eating. I slowly stopped meditating. Before I knew it, I was on the slippery slope and heading for a binge. I tried over and over again to re-right myself, but it would last only a week or so before I was slipping into larger portions again.
Thankfully, I maintained my abstinence from trigger foods. If not for that, I am certain I would have started bingeing again. But I KNEW that if I did I might not come back from that dark and desperate place. I wrote about what I was feeling. My therapist and I processed my childhood experiences with sexual violation. And little by little I regained my foothold over this disease.
I never let go of my recovery. I just loosened my grip.
What did I learn in year two?
- No one has perfect recovery. No one.
- Starting over every time I slip up is left over from diet mentality.
- Starting over does not offer me a new beginning but an excuse to wallow in my addiction.
- Abstinence is essential to making good decisions in recovery and in life.
- Being in recovery is not the same as living in recovery.
- I will be living in recovery for the rest of my life.
- I need to stay in close contact with my inner self. Once that connection weakens, it gets harder to re-strengthen.
- Gratitude is essential to my recovery.
Giving back to others is essential to my recovery.
- Being honest with myself and about myself is essential to my recovery.
- A recovery plan that works for me today may not work for me tomorrow.
Living in Recovery
Just moments ago I started crying, not from sorrow but from disbelief, from joy, from gratitude, from serenity. I have been humbled by this second year. I have been stripped of my EGO. In its place is a wholeness of a kind I never knew before recovery. I like myself. I like being around myself. I like spending time with myself. I no longer feel the need to hide from my feelings and fears. If they come, I let them wash over me, knowing that they will go as they came.
As for the men in the coffee shop, I saw them again about a month ago. I smiled at them, disarming them far more than a sneer ever could. I can’t say that I am healed in regards to sexual abuse, but I can say that I am stronger than I have ever been before.
Will there be rough days ahead in my recovery? Of course, there will be. It is life after all. But what is different about year three is that I KNOW this to be true. I know that every year of recovery cannot and will not be like the first year. And I am okay with that. In fact, I am better than okay with that. It gives me even more freedom to let go of the future and the past and live in the moment, which is right where I am. Which is right where I should be.
Many people have asked me what I will do to celebrate my second year in recovery. I am putting together a FREE online course that teaches binge eaters how to use writing as a part of their recovery process, and I am finishing my book, The Optimistic Addict: Recovering from Binge Eating Disorder. Giving back what so freely given to me through NEDA, OA, and the members of my Food Addiction Recovery Facebook group. You know I love you all!
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