Years ago I remember a fellow NA attendee saying that out of all the 12 Step meetings of various persuasions he had attended (which included AA, CODA, Al Anon, Gamblers Anonymous and SAA) the worst horror stories, if there could be such a thing, were in OA. OA is Overeaters Anonymous although the name is a misnomer as the group works with all manifestations of eating disorders.
I’ve had problems with food, in varying degree of seriousness, near all my life.
It’s odd when I am around people who are actively immersed in this illness, I find myself to have little sympathy for them. Theoretically I should be filled with empathy and compassion, but instead I have more compassion for those around them, as the active victim is so trapped in their own space they have little realisation of how hugely controlling they and their slow death illness is.
I can remember little of the most active years of my eating disorder (a doctor said memory loss is normal as the brain isn’t receiving enough nutrients to function properly) and am still having issues with what remains of my teeth, along with assorted other physical problems even though it’s been many years since I was actively bulimic and anorexic.
Supposedly an illness of control,in my experience it is more about rage and inability to communicate, and as always what lies under rage is fear.
I can’t recall being influenced hugely by body ideals portrayed by the media, although initially I had wanted to be more of an acceptable body shape than my early adolescent pudginess. The affirmation and attention I received from men when I did become slim was terrifying rather than affirming, and I became quite depressed at how my weight seemed to affect my social acceptability.
When I get the very rare backwards lapse in my behaviour around food, it’s as if I have an inbuilt conduit into something amiss in my life that is creating a feeling of anger (generally relationships) and I can address it.
Learning to speak up, to stand up for myself and be aware when things are spiralling off kilter,has been a slow and hard won process. This is one of the reasons I enjoy being middle aged; life is so much less painful and difficult now. Yeah I still work at being slim and it is important to me but not overly so. What’s more important is being strong with a working mind and memory (and preserving my dental work is a big thing too).
I spent years of my life, filled with shame about my inability to nurture myself at the most basic level, without turning it into a binge and purge session that left me broke (binging is expensive), exhausted, and filled with even more self loathing.
I tailored my addictions around my weight (heroin is more slender friendly than alcohol),as far as I was able, and my morality towards acquiring food to binge with, was on a par with any active chemical addict.
I think I was in my mid thirties before I was able to eat in the presence of other people and even then it was another ten years before I was really comfortable about it.
I was of the generation who had collection boxes with images of starving Biafran children on them, and I was aware of how my illness smacked of middle class western overconsumption, which exacerbated my shame.
However it all must be very different now. When I was first hospitalised for bulimia, it was a near unknown manifestation of an eaten disorder and my treatment was accordingly, experimental.
I had no internet to compare notes and tips with fellow sufferers (in hospital it was forbidden for us to communicate) and there was no overwhelming powerful, image orientated ‘celebrity culture’ as there is now.
In fact this present era must be terrifying to be young in, as there is little room to make mistakes then move on, as I have done so many times.
What promoted me to write on this topic? Well in my last blog I mention that while I was flailing around for inspiration on something to write about, I’d considered writing about public toilets.
You see bulimics know where all public toilets locally, are located.
Just thinking I spent years hanging out in such places to either throw up, have sex or take drugs in, is pretty grim.
My relationship with public amenities is much more mainstream now.