by Christina Fisanick Greer, Ph.D.
The Optimistic Food Addict
At least ten times during my ascent up the mountain I was sure that I wouldn’t make it. My son, husband, and I decided to hike to the top of Seneca Rocks, the only true peak on the East Coast of the United States. It is in the eastern part of my home state, West Virginia, and I have wanted to climb to the lookout platform since I was a kid. At 42 and nowhere near my peak of physical fitness, I struggled often during the 1,000 feet climb, but I kept going.
I have struggled with low energy off and on for years from Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, depression, and thyroid issues. It is debilitating. When I have energy, it is so surprising that I am literally jumping with joy. On days that my energy is high, I ride my bike and clean my house and go for a walk with my son. On days that my energy is low, I feel frustrated and defeated, even as I try to honor my body by resting, which for me means working from home.
The day we climbed the Seneca Rocks Trail was a low energy day. I hadn’t slept well the night before, which worsened my fatigue. My body ached from tiredness, but I refused to sit at the base of the mountain and wait while my family ascended without me. I pushed on, resting when I could, leaning on a climbing stick my son found for me at the beginning of the trail. It was one of the most physically demanding challenges I had ever completed, and I did it for my son as much as for myself.
Seneca Rocks. I climbed to the top!
I didn’t want my son to think that just because something is difficult that it should be abandoned. I believe strongly in quitting for a variety of reasons, but at this moment on this day I felt the urge to show him what it felt like for someone to struggle and feel like quitting and still succeed.
I have had many days like this in recovery. You know those days where it APPEARS like it would be easier to quit than keep going, but in the end, the easier choice is to continue hauling ass because to fall down and stay down means you will only have a taller mountain to climb later.
Choosing to stay in recovery is never easy when the voice of the disease is so loud that you can’t hear anything else. Sometimes I fail and the voice wins, which makes it that much harder to get back on track. Regaining my foothold in recovery takes far more strength and courage than staying the course.
After two months of solid, easy recovery, today I felt the path starting to blur. Maybe it was the shock of how out of shape I am. Maybe it was the fact that I noticed for the first time the toll this year’s relapse took on my physical form. Or maybe it was my husband’s rejection of my body that resuscitated the voices. In any case, by evening I was in a solid funk, a depression that felt uncomfortably familiar. As I felt anger, then sadness, then nothing, my mind began reaching for my old standby: sugar.
I could hear the negative messages building:
- You were the fattest person on the trail.
- Just three years ago you could have climbed that trail with no problem.
- Did you see your thighs in those family pictures?
- How can anyone look fat in black?
- He doesn’t want you anymore because you are fat.
- He always loved “dressing” his last girlfriends in designer dresses.
- Designers don’t make dresses for fat women.
- Tomorrow, we go back to starvation mode.
- Tomorrow, we start going to the gym for more than just swimming.
I let those words swirl in my head for a few hours, feeling them eat away at my peace of mind like maggots on spoiled meat. I was supposed to make dinner, but I couldn’t stand the sight of food. I couldn’t get up from my chair, but my son needed fed.
We went out for dinner, instead, and I ate a regular portion of food, even though my mind was screaming, “Eat! Eat! Eat!”
By the time we were headed home, the voices had become more pathetic than demanding. Instead of screaming commands, I felt the little girl me pop her head out and gently implore, “Maybe if we ate something we would feel better.”
But even she disappeared as we pulled into the driveway, far beyond the last opportunity for binge foods.
At this moment, I felt tired, but grateful. I was able to avoid compulsive eating by hiking through the pain just like I did yesterday on the mountain. I pushed on through the brambles and over rock strewn walkways to arrive at the summit: peace of mind.
If I hadn’t kept going, I would have missed this view from the top.
Recovery is really not about what you do or do not eat, but whether you have allowed the disease to control your behavior. There is no doubt I was in the grips of Binge Eating Disorder today. I was caught in its net, but I pushed free and continued climbing. I did it for my son. I did it for myself. I did it for the little girl who just wants to feel better.