As far back as I can remember I always felt different to my peers and food was always important to me. My childhood memories would include always seeking to please the adults in my life [as an only child there were almost no peers pre-school] and part of this was always cleaning my plate.
On arrival at primary school I felt awkward, different and insecure. We had moved house 6 months before I started school when I made a friend for the first time and this was my only experience of relating to someone my own age. We didn't attend the same school so I had to make friends anew. I 'loved' my kindergarten teacher who was pretty, slim and painted beautiful mermaids with sparkles glued on in our autograph books. I was afraid of my next teacher - so much so that I wet my pants in class rather than ask for permission to go to the loo! My third and fourth year primary teachers also brought fear into my life and added to my feelings of being stupid. Around this time my school nickname of 'Podge' became more prevalent as my size increased. I am not particularly conscious of the food being a big issue for me at this time - just my size! At age 9, I moved up to the 'Big School' where our year went from being the most senior form in the building to being the newest. In my second year in 'Big School' [fourth class] I had a teacher who gave me lots of attention based on my shortcomings - my handwriting would be compared to that created by a hen walking across my page, etc. Ö but I loved the attention more that I hated the hurt I felt.
By the time I was sitting my 11 plus to move up to secondary school [this was just a move to the classroom next door not a physical move like previously] I had discovered I was good at something - arithmetic. My teacher encouraged me and put me to sit in the back row with the top girl [we were seated in order of how well we did in exams so needless to say I sat in the front row]. This was one of the few positive memories I have of my early school years. Because we sat 12/13 subjects for the 11 plus my brilliant arithmetic was insufficient to pull me through and I ended up repeating this year. I think my classmates simply moving to the classroom next door made this worse for me rather than if they had moved to a different building. This must have been very painful for me but I believe I shoved the pain down with food, pretending that it didn't matter.
When I think through my secondary school years I can see someone who desperately needed attention - somebody who wasn't clever enough to attain this by good works and so subconsciously chose poor work and misbehaviour as an alternative route. Massive fear about being found out, being punished and not being liked haunted me but was insufficient to prevent my 'attention seeking' behaviour.
At about age 16 when I was due to sit my O levels something twigged - I don't know what - but I did attempt to study properly for the first time in my life. It was really too late but I did manage to get a couple of O levels.
I went on to study French for a year and then did a year at secretarial college. These were totally different experiences for me where I felt motivated to work and did well. I still needed to be 'in' with the crowd which found me doing things I didn't really want to do just so that I could 'belong'. It saddens me today to realise how I dealt with that issue - not only being far but being fatter than all my friends - was by acting out my low self esteem in a people pleasing role. Why would any boy go out with me? There was only one reason in my mind so I always obliged! Looking back I don't think I had one teenage relationship where I felt equal.
Food really took hold while I was abroad studying French so in true compulsive fashion I took up smoking to lose weight before returning home! This worked up to a point. I thought I could just give up the fags when I got back but of course I could not. I increased my daily intake over the next 3 years to about 40 per day which tempered my eating and weight to degrees.
When I finally decided to give up smoking due to my having difficulty climbing two flights of stairs to my flat, I did so very much aware that food was my enemy and would be looking for an opportunity to get a hold of me again. What I find really interesting in hindsight here is that it was my lack of fitness rather than my size that brought me to this decision - I can remember the evening I made the decision very clearly and weight did not come into it. In spite of my awareness that food would beckon when I gave up smoking I ballooned over the next six months to being heavier than I had ever been before and here started my rounds of the slimming clubs. My first venture brought my perfectionism to the fore, when I followed the diet to the letter, lost all my weight and more to become slim for the first time in my life [age 21]. I moved to London shortly afterwards to join my boyfriend, who interestingly enough had been in London during this dieting period. In the beginning keeping it going spurred on by my new wardrobe of size 10-12's was quite easy but as the novelty wore off it became more and more difficult - and I found myself eating reasonably Monday - Friday but bingeing like mad at the weekends until eventually the bubble burst completely and I was totally out of control again.
New city, new slimming club, same routine; little miss perfect would show them! And yes, I did. I even went to the extent of training to become a lecturer with that slimming club [another control or so I thought] as I was moving to Dublin when I married later that year. Again, once back from the honeymoon the bubble burst again and before I knew it I had reached another all time high!
City number three, slimming club number three - why not go in at the top - after all I was a qualified lecturer! To get their hands on the London slimming club's contract the Irish club agreed to train me in their ways [which additionally included exercise] and to put me in charge of a group on the basis of we will all lose together! I don't have to tell you what that sort of pressure did to me. So I took myself off to a health farm for a week to prove that 'it worked'!
I finally gave up my efforts at slimming when God blessed me with a pregnancy. Apart from giving me a status symbol to make me feel good and giving me an excuse for my size, this also had the strange effect of totally putting me off excess food. I came out of my pregnancy two stones lighter than when I started. The novelty of motherhood and my new life at home carried me through the next year before I started to use food again as a crutch. My experience on my second pregnancy was the same as my first and in spite of some regained weight, I ended up a stone lighter than at the end of my first pregnancy!
The next year being the busy mother of two small children kept my weight reasonably level, however, by the time my second child was into his second year I was beginning to struggle once more. I spent the next year and a half yo-yoing up and down. When he was two and a half he went to playschool for a couple of hours each morning. Now after 4 and a half years I finally had a few hours to myself again - so what did I do? From September till Christmas I compulsively played squash four times a week, went horse riding three times a week and attended every coffee morning going. I was okay weight wise at Christmas but was becoming very edgy. Between Christmas and New Year I put up a stone and in January felt too fat to return to my compulsive exercising so I sat at home on my own and ate. I isolated more and more as that year went on; every few months a token effort at another diet would emerge but whatever success I had was short lived. I had also become afraid of my substitution of alcohol for food when I felt too full to eat any more so I gave it up for 4 months which assured me that I didn't have a problem and then resorted to it once more!
At the beginning of that summer I read an article about a twelve step fellowship in which it said 'if you are presently on a diet but know that you will not keep the weight off, this could be for you.' I hadn't actually admitted this to myself yet but when I read it I knew it rang true. I was then on my pre-holiday diet. I telephoned to enquire about my local meeting and on receipt of this information delayed quite some time before going along.
When I did go I felt immediately at home in spite of the God issue with which I was uncomfortable. It was such a relief to find people like me - I thought I was the only person who abused food the way I did; who ate out of bins, children's leftovers, anything, anywhere, who was as obsessed with my shape and weight as I was; who weighed 6-8 times each day as if it were going to change dramatically in that time span!
In those days the suggestion was 3 meals a day with nothing in between and I eagerly grabbed at this because I thought I needed structure. Novelty coupled with perfectionism brought me down this road successfully for more than a year until again my bubble burst. But this time it was not as disastrous as previously because this time I was a member of a loving fellowship who did not think I had failed and more importantly this time I had allowed a loving God into my life and this God let me know over the next twelve months when I tried to 'get back' my willpower, that God needed me broken to be able to work with me. Today I recognise this period as the beginning of the end of my life as a control freak.
Through the God of my understanding, I finally accepted myself as I was - another all time high -and reapplied myself to the steps as best I could. Gradually, ever so gradually, the clouds lifted and I discovered a beautiful life in spite of my size - I felt the way I thought a thin person would feel - yet not the way I had felt on the few occasions I had been thin.
I continued to work away at the steps for the next 15 years or so: steps 1 - 3 are the foundation steps which are concepts we think about, steps 4 - 9 are the working steps where we discover what really makes us tick and steps 10 - 12 are the maintenance steps which I practice to the best of my ability on a daily basis. Through imperfectly trying to live this way my life has become better and better. Food is no longer an issue - weight and size can still creep up on me but do not take me over as they used to. Ten years ago I joined OEA as I realised the weight, size and eating had never been the real issues - me and my character defects were at the crux of my problem and this fellowship concentrated on these central issues.
I have just celebrated 28 years in fellowship and my life is so full. Today I am not fearful to attempt new things or meet new people because my fear of people, places and situations is lifted by God on a daily basis through the twelve steps.
I donít know whether I was born an obsessive eater or simply became one, but I most definitely was a child with an eating disorder. I have very few memories of childhood and most of them involve food. In one I was sick with the measles ,and as a result had to miss my primary school Christmas party. I was terribly disappointed and my mother offered to make me anything I wanted to eat. I chose chips and they were very comforting. Another memory is of being 8 yrs old and it was a Saturday morning and my mother was having a lie-in in the double bed with my younger brother and sister. She wouldnít let me join them in the bed, she said I was too big, probably meaning that she needed space for herself, but my reaction, if I knew it ,was to feel frightened. Looking back I canít say that I remember any feeling except for the immediate comfort of food, but I would guess today that I might have been eating to avoid feelings of rejection and exclusion. I went straight from the uncomfortable situation to the food, without identifying any feelings. I offered to make breakfast and I ate as I cooked and I remember not being able to wait for the bacon to be fully cooked and eating it half raw. So at a young age I was seeking comfort in food for reasons unknown to myself. It was quite simply a coping mechanism and I never questioned my need for food. I also remember that all spare money that I had was always spent on food for myself and I dreaded having to share any of my treats with anyone else.
I have memories of my motherís frustration with me when she would go shopping and try to get clothes to fit me. At this stage I knew that I was a nuisance and that in some strange way I was on my own. No one wanted to take responsibility or care for me exactly as I was. So in my thinking I became convinced that there was something very wrong with me. I continued to grow up in a neglectful environment. Secondary school was very difficult for 5 years. I desperately wanted friends and to be liked and loved, and the harder I tried to fit in, the more alone I felt. I believed deep down that I would never be liked for myself. So I kept trying to find ways to make people like me. If I only discovered what it was that people wanted me to be then I believed that I had the power to become that person. I also believed that losing weight would allow me to take my rightful place in the world. I saw myself in all things in comparison to everyone else that I knew, and I always came bottom of the ladder in my own eyes. In many ways this was an intensely difficult time as my coping mechanism of food no longer shielded me from pain. The results of my obsessive behaviour with food showed in my weight and size and this caused me more emotional pain. I spent a lot of time trying to avoid being criticised for my size and also avoid those who would try to help me and suggest that I lose weight. When people who were well intended would take me aside and offer helpful advice - all I felt was a sense of foreboding, that what was happening was that someone else was pointing out my deficiencies to me and confirming what I had already suspected. that I was unloved and unlovable.
Adolescence brought the difficulties of relationships with boys and sexuality. My belief that I would only be acceptable and likeable if I made the other person like me got me into an emotionally painful sexual situation. I had experienced rejection before, but nothing prepared me for being used sexually and then rejected and scorned. At this stage my low self esteem and self will had brought me to the brink of despair. I decided that no one would ever get near enough to hurt me in this way again. I felt as though I was building big brick walls all around me in my head. I got a short term sense of security from convincing myself that I was safe. I would keep the world at distance and never be hurt again. I had one firm friend that never deserted me - food, and food was all I needed. I could and would manage to live with no dependency or trust in others.
With this need to control came the dieting days. I loved the sense of power I felt at the first signs of weight loss on a diet. I felt so superior - now I would show the world. I had arrived. The diets were always of my own creation, as any sensible diet with itís suggestion that I might try to change my long-term eating habits was a prospect I could not bear to think about.
I had no wish to give up food forever. I just wanted to be thin for long enough to make things alright, and attract the people who would make me feel alright about myself. The diets, sometimes aided by slimming pills, were always successful in the short term. I would follow a rigid regime for a while , and then the bubble would burst, and I would begin to eat differently. In no time at
all I would regain the weight I had lost, plus a stone or two more. When my eating would move from control to bingeing I would have no consciousness as to how or when the change had happened. I would all of a sudden realise that I had regained a lot of weight and the thoughts of trying to control would surface again. I never seemed to learn from my own dieting and regaining history.
Finding clothes was a nightmare, and I never felt able to dress like others of my own age. I could never fit into jeans for long, and often wore maternity dresses , as they were all I could find in my size. During this time I went to university, and spent most of my time believing that all would be well if I just lost the weight. I completely ignored people who were interested in me because I suspected that if they liked me, they were unworthy in some way. I missed out on a lot of fun and love in those days. I also hated having to share accommodation and food. I always felt deprived and hungry even when I was overeating.
After university my career progressed quite well, but I was always reaching out, striving to attain the next thing that was going to make me feel alright. I would have dieted and regained weight several times , without seeing any pattern to my behaviour. The weight gain was always the fault of some other person, place or situation. I needed to blame others because I could not cope with my own feelings of failure. I deeply resented myself and my life, but kept seeking the elusive fix which would cure all of this. I had a comfortable home, a good job, no major worries, and yet I wanted to die. I saw no point in living. At this time, someone I knew gave me a leaflet about a 12 Step fellowship. Somewhere in that darkness I knew I needed help. There were questions on that leaflet that helped me to identify that I might have a problem, and at my first meeting the sharing of one member really helped me to identify my feelings. The conversational tone in which I heard feelings described was like learning that there actually was a language to give expression to what was going on inside my head. Eventually I felt safe and at home, amongst fellow human beings at last. Sponsorship came soon in my first year of recovery. However I still needed to rely on my own will, and saw no need for me to make any amends whatsoever, despite coming away from steps 4 and 5 with a clear list of people that I had harmed.
For a year or two in recovery. I was trying to do it my own way, and not the way that is suggested in the Big Book[Alcoholics Anonymous], and at the same time I was of course expecting to gain full recovery immediately !!! It wasnít long before I found myself back in despair again, and this time the pain was excruciating because I was fully aware of what was going on. I finally hit my rock bottom and saw that the only way out was through the steps, and this time it would be all the steps. I completed my amends in the next 6 months and finally came to the point of feeling recovered. I finally listened and heard the message - the wonderful, simple miraculous message of the 12 steps and I got on with living.
Step 3 is a decision that I acted upon together with God in steps 4-9 and we continue this action in steps 10 and 11. He always shows up for duty - I am a little less than perfect, but I plod away and do my best and try to be always open to progress. The result of this has been that I have developed a relationship with the God of my understanding, and I have finally found a source of strength, love, care, hope and understanding that makes everything and everybody, including little old me, more than just alright. It makes me all that I can be for today. I feel that I have become the person I always wanted to be, but that I could never have known ,prior to recovery, that it was possible for me to be the person I am today. I know that I am a miracle and that all around me I see and know other miracles in recovery.
In 1999, after 10 years of recovery I became a member of Obsessive Eaters Anonymous. My years in recovery have given me deep understanding of what my illness really is. I fully identify with the first step of O.E.A. I am powerless over my obsession with weight, size and eating. For many years I have had been blessed with recovery with respect to my obsession with eating, but what I discovered in my recovery journey was that my obsession with eating was partnered by an obsession with my weight and size. Whilst eating is not a problem today I can still use my obsession with weight and size as a coping mechanism to get me out of emotionally difficult and confusing situations. It is occasionally a reflex reaction to my own feelings of fear and low-self esteem - itís much easier for me to say that things would be better if I lost weight, rather than look my fears about myself in the eye, in an open an honest and caring manner. I am as powerless over this reaction today as I was when I was 8 years old, the difference today is that the 12 steps give me a process that short-circuits the reaction and restores me to sane thinking about myself and life and others. I donít need to continue punishing myself today. In the 12 steps I have a coping mechanism that really works all of the time and which has transformed my life into one which is more happy, joyful and free that I would ever have dreamed possible