I don’t 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 wouldn’t 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 can’t 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 mother’s 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 it’s 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 wasn’t 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 - it’s 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 don’t 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