Freed from my secret life


I came to my first meeting because my obsession with food was driving me crazy mentally, and because I was afraid I would not be able to stop putting on weight. I was embarrassed and angry about being there. I found the meetings very confronting and I only managed two, even though it had been suggested by a member to go to six. I stayed away for several months and then came back to stay, after more time of battling over and under eating and the obsession with food. I had already been in Alcoholics Anonymous eighteen months at that stage. After putting down alcohol and drugs, the food obsession became extreme.

Part of the appeal of 12-step fellowships for me was that they were anonymous, I knew people outside of meetings wouldn't know I was there. I was embarrassed and ashamed about the way I was, I thought I was a bad person. I thought how pathetic I was that I was obsessed about food, how weak I was that I couldn't control it. I wanted to have the courage to kill myself, but I couldn't do it because I knew it would never be OK for my children that their mother died. But I was angry and full of self-pity about the way I was, I was seething in resentments and blame. Through my whole life I had been trying to put on a front to make people think I was normal, when I knew I wasn't. I thought it was because I had a bad childhood, but I know now that was just a red herring, and that my real problem is that I was suffering from addiction. 

So, my secret life. These are the things that gave me pleasure: I abused food, alcohol and drugs. Although those things also had negative effects on me, I lived for the highs I got from them, I had a love affair with them, especially food. I shop-lifted frequently and enjoyed getting away with it scott-free, it gave me the buzz I craved. I did it in the presence of my friends and children secretly. I compulsively lied, I especially enjoyed embellishing stories and exaggerating. I couldn't seem to be honest, even when there was no need to lie. I was dishonest in lots of ways, always to benefit myself. I gossiped constantly. I obsessed about men and lived in a fantasy world, having affairs in my mind about men I knew and famous men. I was a shopaholic, terrible with money and always in debt. Always spending on myself.

These are the things that I didn't like: That even though I loved them, I was abusive to my husband and violent to my children. I hit them when I didn't believe in hitting children. I put holes in the walls. I ranted and raved at them for hours. One of my little children used to say "please can I go now Mum, I have a headache". He used to get lots of headaches for me berating him for hours on end. I was deeply ashamed about doing that and would over-compensate later to them. I know now that I used my anger as a tool solely to get what I wanted. I kicked the dog and cat. I was often either depressed or on a high, I was frequently suicidal. I couldn't manage in social situations, I was constantly full of fear. I couldn't put my pie in the sky aspirations of a career into practice. I sat and ate and watched daytime TV. I hated myself, I secretly knew that I was insane, that I was totally nuts. And how I fixed myself? Eat more and more, give myself treats. Go shopping, go in a drinking binge. Cry to my husband, who would try to do nice things to make me better. Then, I would put my lipstick on and try to be normal around people.

I had some nice friends, I was a parent help at school and playcentre. I was on the PTA committee. I was quiet, friendly and nice around people. I lived a double life. One of my close friends said to me when I told her that I was coming to meetings, "Why?, you're the happiest person I know." The secret life, I had an image to uphold. I didn't want to admit to others about the reality of me and what was wrong. I also know now that I had no real insight into how I actually was, the food kept me in a fog. Even though it was very bad for me, I believe it was far worse for my husband and children who had to experience my behaviour. They would have been on eggshells all the time. 

I have learned since coming to meetings and living the steps as a way of life, that I'm a sick person, not a bad person. It has taken me a long time to accept that I am not in charge of what people think of me. I was hung up on that for a long time. It stopped me progressing in recovery, because I kept relapsing because I didn't want to appear different in front of people. I thought if they really knew me, they'd hate me, like I hated myself. The effects of each relapse finally got me to the point of surrender. When I realised that if I kept trying to impress people and try to make them like me, I would never truly accept and take responsibility for my disease, which is in every cell of my body. 

I learned I had to be open and honest with people and the more I did that, the easier it became, and, actually, the more opportunity I've had to help other suffering addictive eaters. It still rears its head up occasionally, but I know what to do now, I've realised that we all have things and this is one of mine. One time, my husband said to me that he thought I was avoiding inviting our new friends around for a meal because of my food plan. I realised he was right. So I invited them, and made sure I weighed and measured in front of them. It gave me the opportunity to tell them about myself, just briefly, not my life story. But these days my thinking is to be completely honest about myself to people, if people don't like it, that's OK, and, in fact, most people hardly care. But even if they did, it is me (and my family) who has to live with my addiction, and I want to be free of that struggle, and live a good life. A good life to me is being able to help, love and be useful. This is what makes me feel comfortable in my own skin. This is what the steps promise me and that is now my experience. I have been given a wonderful life in recovery, not only free from the obsession with food, but free from all those other horrible aspects of the disease as well. But it's a daily programme, and it's important what I do, on a daily basis, to place myself in a position for God to be able to help me. Rigorous honesty is one of the key aspects of the programme, and for me it is critical in me staying sober and continuing to get well.