It took me a long time to understand the primary reason I continuously relapsed in my recovery. I thought my inability to stay abstinent from foods that harmed me was simply a lack of willpower, despite what I know about the relationship between willpower and addiction. (In short, willpower plays a minuscule role in the early stages of recovery.) In reality, fears that took root in childhood are at the heart of every relapse. I keep writing about this issue in this space because I still have not found a solution, and I have already felt the first swell of panic that has consistently led me back down the road of destructive thoughts about food and ultimately corrosive eating habits.
Recently, I have lost quite a bit of weight because I changed my food plan a little. Originally, I made these changes to wipe out obsessive thoughts about food and reduce body-wide inflammation, but rapid weight loss has been a happy side effect, sort of.
As I wrote about in my last post, not long after puberty I was raped by a 27 year old man. This one incident was traumatic enough, but it was preceded and followed by men leering at my body with bad intentions. Men staring at the woman’s body I had developed as young as eleven. Men I trusted. Men in my family. I lived in fear of these licentious looks. Afraid of being raped. Afraid of once again having my body and mind separate and maybe never reunite. My young girl mind figured that adding fat to my body was the best way to make it stop. It was the only power I felt I had.
So I ate.
And it worked, for the most part. But getting grown men to leave me alone also meant boys my age weren’t interested either. So, not only did I eat for protection, but I also ate for comfort. I found solace–for a little while–in bowl after bowl of macaroni salad and big bags of chips and dip. Depression colored my adolescence, like it does for so many. I was fat, afraid, and alone.
My first “successful” attempt at dieting at age 20 yielded a more than 100 pound loss and the attention of a guy I liked. We broke up in part because he felt that I needed to lose even more weight. After he was gone, I regained it all.
My second trip down Diet Lane resulted in another 100 pound loss. After a guy pushed me into a corner and ripped at my dress while trying to kiss me, I regained the weight (and then some) in a matter of months.
Journey three ended much the same way. This time, the assault was by a man I thought I could trust.
The fourth go round resulted in the most weight lost ever, and I felt it acutely as men stared at me when I walked down the street or into the grocery store.
I know this must sound egotistical. I mean, it must seem as though I am rather full of myself, but that is not what I am getting at here. When I am fat(ter), men barely look at me at all. I become (mostly) invisible. I lose a few dress sizes and start feeling confident again, and it is no wonder people look up as I walk by. It is not that thinner me is any more attractive than other women, but that I am literally not hiding under my blanket of fat, which means in part that I wear more flattering clothes, fix my hair, put on make up, and use a more confident stride.
And here I am feeling healthy and strong and losing weight again, and the fear is already seeping out and coloring my efforts.
The other day I wore a dress for the first time in years to a friend’s birthday party. It flattered my waist and hips and the red and orange hues brought out my natural skin and hair colors. I had been free of obsessive food thoughts for months, and I felt confident and healthy for the first time since my last relapse.
I had to stop at the store on the way to the party, and on my way in the door, a man catcalled me. I pretended to ignore him, but inside I was scared beyond rationality. Within minutes I suffered from a severe case of fight or flight, but I had my son with me, so I kept going. I quickly shopped for what we needed, and I practically bolted out the door, nearly collapsing once I reach the front seat of my car.
I wanted to scream, “Stop staring at me! Stop hurting me! STOP!”
Instead, I cried for five solid minutes, my little boy begging me to tell him why.
So, this is where I am on this path.
I have sought advice from friends who have been through similar situations. I have tried various forms of therapy. And of course, I have worked the steps again and again. And yet I can’t stop feeling like I am standing on a precipice with paradise behind me and Hell’s fiery gape just over the edge waiting to consume me.
Readers: If you have found away to heal from this kind of trauma and successfully regain your health, I would love to hear from you. At this point, I am pushing through. No signs of obsessive thoughts or behaviors around food. But I fear that as my body becomes the size it is meant to be that I will not be able to win the battle.
As always, though, I remain the Optimistic Addict.
Do you want to read more of my journey through more than 30 years of battling food addiction? Check out my memoir: The Optimistic Food Addict: Recovering from Binge Eating Disorder.