So, you know the scene in the film Trainspotting? Where Ewan McGregor dives headfirst into a crap-filled toilet to retrieve some pills that he’s deposited in there? The scene that shocked a generation of cinema goers in the 90’s and showed us that there seemed no limit to the depths of depravity a person might sink in order to feed their drug addiction?
Well this was the scene that flashed into my head a few years back, when I found myself in a place of momentary joy. I had peeled back my toddler’s car seat in search of a missing Lego brick and found myself reaching for a dirt covered chocolate button and eating it with a sudden wave of delight. I’d unexpectedly struck gold! And five or six years on I’d probably do the same.
At the age of 45, as a married mother of two I find myself surprised by the fact that I’m still struggling with food addiction as a compulsive overeater and former bulimic. I imagined it was a teenage illness I would grow out of. Compulsive eating replaced bulimia after the birth of my first child, as it became impractical to purge. But as an alcoholic will always remain so, so will a compulsive eater. I will always be a compulsive eater, though with hope, one who is able to achieve abstinence in time, as an alcoholic can.
I still find myself surprised that it took me so long to realise that I was an addict. Food addiction is not particularly well publicised. It hides among everyday life and is not particularly visible, other than perhaps in those extra pounds. In fact to be a ‘foodie’ is often seen as an endearing or comical trait. But beneath the extra pounds and smiles, lies a world of hidden food wrappers, secret eating, manipulation and deceit.
Perhaps surprisingly, I have a vast knowledge of food nutrition. I steer my family towards natural food and medicine pathways. I cook from scratch, using whole and organic foods for prolonged periods. I’m not a smoker or a big drinker and have never had issues with drugs. A relatively clean life-style is led. But my compulsion drives me to eat packets and packets of chocolate, crisps and biscuits, boxes of ice creams, pull food from bins, manipulate situations to move me closer to food sources. Even on occasion, to steal food from people’s houses, finding their biscuit barrel or kid’s snack tin, left open on the side, to have a pull as strong as gravity.
As is common with addiction, I live life at extremes. All or nothing. I’m either in some extreme program to lose weight, or gaining a pound every few days on the compulsion merry- go-round. I’m now fast approaching 22 stone. I’ve gained 2 stone in 5 months. Lockdown has fed this reclusive illness most profusely. Yet through the years, I’ve probably lost my own natural body weight twice over, with extreme regimes. Bottom line; long term, ‘will power’ just doesn’t cut it.
I’ve tried countless methods to ‘trick’ my brain into compliance. Several sponsored diets. On one attempt, aiming to place a two year old burn’s victims need for equipment at the forefront of my mind instead of my own “selfish” need for food. From pills to personal trainers, I’ve done the lot. I’ve fantasised often about having my mouth wired or gastric surgery. I’ve visualised building a wall of butter packs in my home, to envision the amount of fat I wanted to loose. Fantasising about removing a pack each time I lost half a pound. The most extreme idea I considered was to make a public pledge of a ‘one year count down’, when after a year I would reveal myself in a bikini, (or naked even), to the world, hoping that the terror would be so great that I would starve myself for 12 months.
On a daily basis I undertake mental battle with myself. It’s the first thing I think of on waking. How can I beat this today? The thoughts persist with sleep, when I roll over in my bed and feel the unwanted flesh roll with me. Each day the battle plans come. I plead to a higher power to show me how to save myself, sit with the terror of my declining health, see the fear in my family’s eyes as they watch me destroy myself and fear a life without me and then I feel it all melt away in a delicious moment with the enveloping, blissful call of food. This is the state of my mind and the extremes I live in with this disease.
There is also a grief that accompanies this illness once you start to seriously look at it. You begin to grieve all the time you have wasted. The experiences turned down, dreams not reached for, opportunities missed. The bloom of youth you chose to destroy. The years you have doubtless, shortened your life by.
I wish to raise awareness of this illness. For sufferers to know they are not suffering alone. I have renewed hope. Today I joined my first local Overeaters Anonymous group meeting. Yes, such a thing exists!! The OA society follows the 12 step program developed for Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. A long search has brought me to their door. Perhaps it will take you or your loved one there too? I live in hope that this is the solution I have been seeking. Let’s see how I get on……To be continued…..