September 8, 2010

Recovery

The other night, I was sitting in my home office, sitting on the floor and reading a book. (Most of my rooms have tile or hardwood floors, but my office has carpet. It's great!) It was a cool night, much cooler than it has been during the days here, and I was feeling great.

At around 9:15, my phone rang. It was a friend of mine from work. She was riding her bike and felt hungry, so she was headed back home - she wanted to go out and get something to eat, and would I be interested in coming along? rose at the rodin museum garden, paris, FRI'd already eaten dinner four hours or so earlier, but I'm always up for an adventure, so I said I'd tag along. About an hour later, she drove down to my neighborhood and picked me up, and away we went.

We ended up at an all-night diner in Lincoln Park. On our way there, though, we started talking about the stair race since she wants to do it too and she was planning on joining me the next morning for training. I told her I couldn't do very much just yet, only 5-7 flights, but after a month and a half of daily training, I should be better - plus, I hope to lose a little more weight between now and then, which will also help. Then, the inevitable.
"Oh ... have you lost weight?"

"Yeah, um, just like ... 23 pounds."

"Holy cow! Just by, like, eating less and stuff?"

"Yeah, basically. I walk every day and I'm watching what and how much I eat. It's going really well."
That launched into a candid discussion about binge eating. It's very hard for me to admit out loud that I'm recovering from a serious eating disorder, partly because I'm ashamed but also because "eating disorder" has certain connotations about it. If you have an eating disorder, why aren't you thin?

I started binge eating after my parents got divorced - living with my father meant processed foods, and I ate huge quantities. It gave me an unbelievable high. It became my favorite coping mechanism - the thought of doing drugs terrified me, but food was overly available. There are entire stores full of food! And once I got out of my small town and went to college, I discovered there were even restaurants you could pay to bring food to you! It was extremely destructive, but the feeling of getting high made me forget not only the original problem I was trying to eat away, but also my methods of forgetting.

People blame triptophan for their post-Thanksgiving dinner crash, but it's really the overload of calories. The same thing would happen for me when I had binged. I'd eat ridiculous amounts of calories as quickly as possible. I'd feel the pain of having my stomach completely packed with food, but emotionally I felt numb, and I loved it. Numbness, I thought, was better than pain or worry or stress. Then, I'd get sleepy and take a nap - which was great, because if I'm unconscious, I don't have to think about what's really going on, what problems are bothering me. sculptures from the rodin museum garden, paris, FRI'd wake up with headaches, a painful feeling in my mouth from having eaten so much (and so poorly), and I'd usually feel even worse than before the binge.

My middle sister also looked for a way to cope after the divorce, and for her, it was drugs. She had friends who knew where to get them, and so at barely 11, she was smoking and drinking. Now, over 10 years later, she's much more in control of her life, but she still has many of the same friends, and she's seen some of them end up on the complete opposite end of the spectrum. She said that when things start to get really bad, the addicts withdraw. They stop returning your calls because even though they love you, they know you love them too - and that means you'll talk to them about trying to get help. That's the last thing an addict wants to hear. They don't want to admit things have gotten as bad as they have, and so they prefer solitude. They end up choosing their drug over their relationships, not necessarily because they want to, but because they are no longer in control - the drugs are.

I know what she means when she talks about this. As my weight grew, so did my antisocial tendencies. Thursday nights in grad school, after a three hour seminar, most of my friends would go out to a bar, and I would just go home - I'd say it was because I was tired, or I didn't have money for drinks and a cab home, but really, it was not wanting to be seen. Two beers and a cab ride would have been $20 at most - hardly an expense. But it was never about the money. I could easily justify spending $50 on a binge. It was fear of ending up on the floor after breaking a barstool. As everyone else grew closer and bonded over shared pitchers of beer and jokingly telling stories about classmates and professors, I retreated into myself. I knew what I was doing was wrong, that it would kill me. rose at the rodin garden, paris, FRBut I wasn't in control - the food was. It wasn't enough to have a piece, I needed the whole pie. I didn't feel like I had a choice.

The other night, at the diner with my friend, I walked down the street not caring what others thought. It doesn't matter that no one there knew I had recently lost weight. To be honest, the weight loss is of secondary importance even to me. What I am most proud of is learning how to live and how to cope with stress without bingeing.

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