My earliest childhood memories are of me eating food in secret. Up until the age of twenty-three, when I came into recovery, I went to great lengths to steal money from my family, friends and neighbours to buy food. No matter whose kitchen I was in, at any opportunity I had to be alone I would raid the cupboards and fridge. I had huge embarrassment about the way I ate, as I recognised that others didn't eat the same way. I never knew how much food was enough and during the times that I would eat with other people, I remember feeling mortified if comments were made about the volume of food I had served myself. Whenever I had finished a meal, I would wait in anticipation for the next.
I often overate until I threw up and on weekdays, before school started, I'd buy food from the shops and hide it in the gym cupboard. This was my secret hideout and I would lock myself in there during break time to have my supply. My packed lunch would be eaten daily before school even began.
Growing up, I found it difficult to form friendships and relationships with people. I would make up stories, tell lies often and never felt comfortable in my own skin. Eating food was a way of escaping from feeling so socially awkward.
My eating got progressively worse over time. The quantities became greater and my obsession with food and how I could get my fix was constant. I hated the physical effects of gaining weight and became obsessed with exercise. I lost weight and I loved the attention it brought from others. I felt like I had discovered the meaning to my life and all I needed to do was to get and stay thin.
My thoughts and actions revolved around not putting on weight, so extreme dieting, exercise and the introduction of laxatives became a part of my daily living. I was very moody and gave a lot of grief to others, particularly to my family, if they got in the way of what I was trying to achieve. This way of living was very difficult to maintain as I had a constant craving to eat.
Sooner or later, I would find that I couldn't stop eating again and all the weight I'd lost would go back on. It was despairing. I had no idea that the problem was within me and centred in my mind.
I started drinking alcohol and taking pills and the obsession I had for these substances was instant. I believe I was an alcoholic before ever picking up a drink. All I needed was the substance of alcohol to set me off.
Through a number of circumstances, I was introduced to a Twelve Step programme for people addicted to food. I got great relief because there I found people who I could identify with. They openly shared (without shame or guilt) about what their eating had been like. I was amazed how they could live and be free from the constant calling to want to eat.
I recognised that, for me, I had the disease of addiction, and throughout my whole life I had swapped one substance for another. It made sense to me that I needed to put down every drug (food, alcohol and pills) to have a chance at a sober life.
I asked a woman to sponsor me and to show me how to work the Twelve Steps with the help of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. I had to set aside what I thought I knew about getting well and accept that my best efforts had brought me to a place of complete physical, mental, emotional and spiritual bankruptcy. The power of choice with food was gone for me. I had no idea what to eat, how much to eat, what foods were right for me to eat or what time I should eat.
I started on a weighed and measured food plan to provide nourishment and energy for my body. I became open to the idea of a Higher Power and began to get a sense that I was being taken care of, the more I took action with the Twelve Steps and accepted I needed help with all areas of my life.
Today, the compulsion and obsession for food, diet, weight and exercise has been lifted. I have the peace of mind I always wanted and I continue to see this in others too.
For my own recovery, it is imperative for me to share my story with others and pass on what I have been given. I'm truly grateful that there is a solution and that members of Addictive Eaters Anonymous continue to be there for me.