Alcohol was the master I served for over a decade. But like most alcoholics and addicts of my type, I often take orders from other afflictions. In fact, I’ve written about that for AfterParty Magazine.
I suffer from disordered eating.
There, I said it. Let me be clear, though: I do not identify as an anorexic, nor have I ever purged as a result of binge eating. But I struggle, every day, with the obsession that I am not the size, weight or body type I am meant to be. According to whom? That remains to be seen.
I wait about two weeks in-between “weighing sessions.” I allow that amount of time to elapse because every time I step on the scale, my heart sinks into my feet. The act itself ruins my entire day. It’s disappointing to self-report that I’ve gained another two pounds; it’s devastating to admit that I lost even more control over my weight. I never cared as much about such a small amount of El Be’s (=lbs, pounds) as I do right now. Not even when I was 16, tortured by the idea of going to Lake Mary for my sweet sixteen, forced to be bikini-clad in public. The idea that anyone other than my immediate family would see me in a bathing suit horrified me.
The first time I knew I had a problem with eating versus drinking was the first break I came home to visit my family freshman year of college. I studied at a small liberal arts college in Vermont, where I discovered the delights of Rolling Rock, 99 Apples and 10-foot glass sculptures from head shops. I mostly remember the -47 degree weather and the fact that one cannot step outside with wet hair without icicles forming. My family took notice that I gained weight, the dreaded Freshman Fifteen. It was actually the verbiage they used, saying my face looked “puffy.” That was code for fat, I thought. Looking back, i’m positive that what they saw were the first physical signs of my alcoholism. It stuck with me, despite their obvious love as evidence contrary to my negative thought processes. I spent the subsequent two weeks fasting on Yoplait and black olives. Fucking disgusting. Yet, effective–
I dropped 12 pounds in two weeks.
I came back to school expecting a huge reaction from my friends. There was none. I was bummed. More than that, I was super angry. Why had I gone to the great lengths I did in order to lose weight? Furthermore, why did I bother staving off my desire to drink in order to starve? I wanted someone to notice how much my hard work had paid off. I also wanted a goddamn potato chip. So I started working out, and I got both.
My best friend in college was my favorite person to work out with. We used to giggle uncontrollably anytime we came to the gym still wreaking of booze (amateurs.) I take most of the credit for that one, especially after I started sweating. It was hard to take much of anything seriously by that point, but we prevailed. My modus operandi was the elliptical. I loved that I did not have to go anywhere or do anything except move in the exact same motion for an hour in order to burn precisely 650 calories. What a gift. What a coincidence, too, because that’s how many servings of pretzels/chips/crackers I would eat later. The law of averages doing its due diligence, I guess.
I categorize my second semester of freshman year as the darkest few months of my life. Well, until sophomore year when my dad died. Oh, and grad school in New York. Followed closely by the San Bernardino/San Diego days. It’s been quite the ride into the depths! More to the point, I found that no matter where I was, I felt better about my drinking when I could manipulate the intake of food I’d give myself in a given day. I decided never to count my drinks, only my calories. I saw just one snag in this plan: I got hungry after a few drinks. That meant Oreos after hours. Speaking of which, and not to get too far off track, but there was one point during my senior year of college when I went home for Thanksgiving with one of my best friends and her family. We got shit-faced with her friends going out to all her old stomping ground bars. When we got home, I felt sick. Sick, like, I hadn’t eaten more than half a bagel all day, so my body didn’t have the ability to absorb the narsty amount of alcohol I dumped into my system. Lest we forget my affinity for Oreos, I got to a point where I had to throw up. Once I did, I saw that the contents in the toilet were completely black. I ran to my friend worried I was dying. She very sweetly tried to explain to me that what I was seeing were the Oreos I ate earlier, not sudden death. I laughed out loud, but inside I felt like a complete asshole.
Two summers ago, I saw a doctor for my anxiety. My counselor was sweet and helpful, and eventually responsible for helping me turn to yoga as a physical calming method. However, my body had had enough. I was a year and a half sober, deeply immersed in my 12-step program, yet suffering from debilitating anxiety. She prescribed me a medication that, long story short, made me very sick. I won’t go into the ghastly detail it would take to describe what I went through, but let’s just say my symptoms mimicked those of food poisoning. Twenty-four-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week, five-month-long-food poisoning.
I dropped 25 pounds in two months. I didn’t have 25 pounds to lose.
Once my symptoms let up, I had been on my medication for about six months. I felt so much better mentally. And eventually, I got my physical strength back. The one symptom I hadn’t anticipated remaining was the deathly fear I had of gaining all that weight back. So I began restricting. Multiple friends messaged me on social media, asking if I was okay after they saw a picture of myself I had posted. This made me feel exposed, guilty. Especially considering that the friends who said something were not in any way dramatic or critical, just worried. I felt embarrassed and stripped of justification. The medicine no longer caused me to lose weight. My doctor noticed, too. She confronted me about how much weight I kept losing. I told her what I was eating with about as much honesty as when I told my doctor in Los Angeles how much I drank–
The Limit Does Not Exist.
Another, little-known fact: my fiance is a cook at a swanky restaurant. When he moved home from NYC, he was taken aback by my appearance. If I’m being honest with myself, he had been concerned a few months prior. I chose to deflect then, but I couldn’t exactly swat away the truth with him standing in front of me, mano y mano. He expressed to me that there was deep irony in him dedicating his life to loving food, with a girlfriend who chose not to eat any. He was upset and worried. I came clean about how deep my obsession went, but I don’t think that allowed the worry to lessen. So I made it a point to eat every single meal he created. After a few months, I gained back nearly every pound I lost. I was at once proud and horrified.
It’s amazing. Amazing how the brain can convince you that you don’t need food, or love, or honesty. There is way more to this story than what I’ve disclosed here. But that’s because it’s an ongoing issue. I know there are people reading this–particularly women–who know exactly what I’m talking about. Those of us in recovery from anything know that there is almost always a long road to walk in order to heal. I am not sure what my road will look like, but I don’t want to know right now. If I knew what early sobriety would have required of me, I’m not sure I would have followed through with the journey. Thank God for blissful ignorance.
And thank God for writing.