Two weeks ago, I promised to be honest. To be transparent. To “invite you into my storm.” Why do that, with a bunch of people on the internet I don’t know? Because I believe there is a common thread that runs through us all. I believe that MY story is YOUR story, and vice versa. And I have come to understand that by sharing our stories, we become stronger while at the same time becoming more vulnerable (in every possible good sense of the word. Maybe “softhearted” would be a better word to use.) Also, a lot of the people who read this are not strangers. And I suppose this is my cry for help (and when I say “cry for help” I mean that I’m going to say this and then I never, ever, ever want anyone to mention it again unless I bring it up, first)….
Many of you know that I was anorexic and bulimic in high school. Maybe, clinically, you can only be one of the other, but I would participate in both. I would go for long periods of time without eating anything at all, and then I would stuff myself full of food, eating as much as I possibly could, then throwing up and ingesting entire boxes of laxatives, afterward. People who don’t have eating disorders don’t understand what it’s like to binge. They don’t know that you can make yourself numb with food. They don’t know what it’s like to eat so much, so quickly, that your stomach hurts so badly you have to go and lie down, only to get up a few minutes later to do it again. They don’t know what it’s like to plan for this need to lie down, by making sure the kids are in bed and the husband is asleep before sitting down to the caloric equivalent of three days worth of food, eating as fast as possible, and then escaping under the covers. This is what binge eating is… or at least what it was for me. What it still is for me.
Because for the past 20 years (with a brief respite or two of “dieting” [sometimes successfully] in between,) I have used food as a drug. When I met Jesus, I promised myself that I would never make myself throw up or take another laxative again, but in the absence of purging and laxative use, I continued to binge. I didn’t know it for what it was… a disorder. An addiction.
I was recently reading a book by Anne Lammot where she talks about her battles with bulimia and suddenly it hit me: “Oh my God, I’m still bulimic.” I don’t throw up anymore, and I don’t take laxatives, so I don’t know whether the clinical definition of “bulimic” still applies, but it doesn’t really matter. The point is, I have a problem. I use food in exactly the same way the alcoholic uses alcohol, or the drug addict uses drugs. And maybe, once upon a time, the alcoholic only drank when she felt especially sad or vulnerable, but eventually she didn’t know how to live if she wasn’t perpetually drunk or high. I don’t consider myself a sad person. There isn’t anything “wrong” with my life that drives me to numb myself with food. I just do it. Mindlessly, senselessly, night after night after night. I’m a drug addict, only my drug of choice is food. And the worst thing about having food as an addiction is that abstinence is not possible. Somehow, I have to learn a way to stop using food as a drug and not stop using food.
This is especially difficult for me to write, because “normal” people (is there such a thing?) might not be able to understand this addiction. Even the use of the word “addiction” will cause some of you to roll your eyes. Maybe “compulsion” would be a better word. And there is a stigma attached to people who overeat – one that is worse than that attached to drug addicts or alcoholics because everyone understands that drugs and alcohol can be addictive. Almost no one understands that food can be, too. I feel like I’m standing naked in front of the world, with my tenderest insides exposed and asking the world: please, please be gentle.
For those who love me, who maybe think I’m slightly crazy to label food as an addictive substance, would you be willing to put aside your preconceived notions and just pray for me? I don’t want to talk about it, but I need help. I’ve never, ever admitted that before – not like this. My hands are shaking as I type. I feel like I’ll never be able to look anyone in the eye again.
I need help.