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. … 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.