Growing up, I always felt different as if I had been born on the wrong planet. I thought the reason must have been because I was adopted (I wasn’t), and it was my father’s fault because he was an alcoholic. I always wanted to be like my friends, most of who were slim, but always felt I wasn’t as good and something was seriously wrong with me. I never knew food was an addiction. What I did know was that I always wanted to be thin and had spent a lifetime thinking I was fat.
From primary school age, I had very little confidence and was extremely paranoid. I hated eating in front of people, as I truly believed people were looking at me thinking I shouldn’t be eating, as I was too fat. When told later, in recovery, that I had anorexic thinking, I was quite shocked. It had never occurred to me when I had tried on a pair of size 16 jeans but was in actual fact a size 10, the image I saw in the mirror of a young woman with massive hips and a huge backside was a distortion of reality and a characteristic of anorexic thinking.
To me, it really didn’t make any difference in my thinking from taking a bite of an apple, to eating a packet of biscuits or chocolate bars. As far as I was concerned, I had instantly put on weight and was fat. I tried vomiting, but when I burst the blood vessels in my eyes and couldn’t cope with the actual act, I never attempted it again. During high school, food was secondary to my thoughts of how different I was to everyone else. Body image consumed me. My moods were so erratic, I believed I had a personality disorder or schizophrenia. My doctor assured me this was not the case and referred me to one of many counsellors.
As the disease progressed, I was full of anger, self-hatred and loneliness, which could only be described as ‘a real inner sense something is missing and I am really alone’. I began to see a counsellor but never spoke about the way I ate or what I did with food, as I never really knew food was a problem or an addiction. I was later referred to anger management groups, self-esteem courses, hypnotists and other forms of therapy. I tried positive reinforcement and affirmation, but couldn’t seem to change my thinking or actions. I went on to have a family and life got worse. Pregnant with my fourth child, my ex-husband (a non-addict) and I were fighting every day. My moods were dictated by whether I was having a thin day or a fat day. I was on and off the scales repeatedly and tried with all my might to stay on a diet. I was full of guilt and remorse. I took my self-hatred and anger out on my children. I struggled to walk down the street, as the paranoia was so great. I thought everyone was looking at me, thinking how fat I was.
The turning point arose from yet another argument with my ex-husband. The counsellor I began working with had previously worked at Queen Mary Hospital for alcoholics, drug addicts and family members. When I spoke with her about my background, the way I felt, the way I treated my family and my sense of guilt and remorse at not being the mother and wife I wanted to be, she suggested I attend the hospital's family members’ programme for six weeks. I still remember her words: “If you don’t do something to change, you will end up with screwed up children and no husband”. I cried all the way to the treatment centre, but I knew I had to do something to save my family and myself.
This was the beginning of my journey into recovery. There, I learnt about alcoholism and that addiction was a disease, not a matter of willpower. I still didn’t know food was an addiction but I identified with the behaviours and thinking shared by the other alcoholics attending the programme. I completed the six-week programme and attended an Al-anon programme the following year.
But life didn't get easier. I remembered one girl in Queen Mary Hospital who had told me about a 12-step fellowship for people addicted to food. I hid food inside the newspaper to get it back to my bedroom while in the treatment centre and I think she probably knew, without me saying, that I had a problem with food.
Back home, I could not stop eating. I ate so much I passed out on the couch and had no idea where my children were. I was impatient, intolerant, yelled at my kids and had limited problem- solving skills.
The day I phoned a member of a 12-step fellowship for food addiction is still very clear in my mind. I was looking in the mirror crying, as I felt so ugly and fat. I was covered in psoriasis and I didn’t want to live. Two members visited me and shared what it was like prior to them finding recovery from food addiction. They offered to take me to my first meeting. From that first meeting, I felt I was home. I was so relieved to find out what was wrong and that I wasn’t crazy. I had been so sure I had a personality disorder or schizophrenia, but when I heard other people talking about the way I was feeling and the daily struggles they used to have, I knew I didn’t have to search anymore. There was one thing that was wrong with me: I am addicted to food and will never eat like a normal person. I left that meeting with such a sense of hope. For the first time, I knew I was with people just like me.
For the first two years I could not stay sober. I didn’t know why I couldn’t stop eating and stick to a food plan. I was ringing my sponsor, praying, ringing other fellowship members and attending four meetings a week, yet I'd be eating on the way home from meetings. It was humiliating having to tell others I had been eating when I so wanted what I saw in others. My sponsor kept saying: “Keep doing what you are doing, it is a gift”.
The last day I ate off my food plan and had the obsession to eat remains very clear in my mind. My children were playing in the lounge. I could hear them talking, but it seemed their voices were echoing in a tunnel, I was totally focused on wanting the food out on the bench. My body and my mind were crying out to eat. I was sobbing and the craving was strong. But this time I wanted to not eat more than I wanted to eat. I didn’t have to eat. That was eighteen years ago, when my last baby was six weeks old. I have not had a drink, a pill or any mind-altering substance since then and my life is vastly different today.
I accepted I was completely beyond human aid. It is called surrender. I developed trust in a person who still sponsors me today, a lady who had been in recovery for many years, who quoted the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous and when she spoke, captured the hearts of all those in the room. She has always had my best interests at heart and has never suggested something to me that she wouldn’t do herself.
Through the support of my sponsor and other fellowship members, and the fact a Higher Power has completely removed the desire to eat addictively, I no longer think about food. The feelings of loneliness and self-hatred have left me. I no longer have a sense of doom. Life has taken on a new meaning. I know that everything passes, good and bad, and that the most important thing for me to do is share my experience, strength and hope with others, that they may too find a life beyond their wildest dreams.