When I was very young, maybe four or five, I remember my parents arguing one night, I remember him hitting her, and I remember feeling very scared. I crawled to the back of my closet and I fell asleep, and when I woke up, it was morning. No one had come to look for me. No one even noticed that I was “missing.” And I got the message: no one wants me… there is something wrong with me.
When I was seven, my father checked into an inpatient mental health facility and was diagnosed as bi-polar. He was and still is a very active compulsive overeater, and there were many rules in my house about food. For example, we were never allowed to eat the first or last of anything. However, since my father was bi-polar, the rules were never consistent. One day, I could be spanked for eating a banana, because he was “saving” it… and a few days later, be yelled at for eating candy instead of one of the bananas sitting there going brown on the counter. I was always walking on eggshells, always trying to figure out what to say or do or not say or do, what the right thing was… because clearly whatever I was doing wasn’t the right thing, no matter what it was. And I got the message: there is something wrong with me.
I have always used food to numb my feelings, ever since I can remember. I would eat my Halloween candy in 2-3 days. My parents would hide it, but I would always find it. I remember stealing out of a piggy bank, where my parents were saving silver and half-dollars for me (I wasn’t supposed to touch them) so that I could go up to the corner store with a girlfriend and buy goodies to eat. This was a HUGE piggy bank. And it was half full with half and silver dollars. By the time I was done spending them, there was an inch left. I don’t have a clue how much I spent, but it was probably hundreds and hundreds of dollars over time. I never had the same relationship with food that I saw other people have. I could never stop at just “one” and I was always thinking about something “yummy.” Again, I got the message: I was different, there was something wrong with me.
I could never get enough of anything, whether it was food, love, attention, either positive or negative, it didn’t matter. I once gave a friend's mom a little birthday gift. I must have been eight or none. This was a woman who was the night and day opposite of my mother, tall, blonde, beautiful, she radiated light. I so wanted to be her, to be enfolded into light like that. I had such a longing in my heart. And when I gave her that gift, she praised me and petted me and I was so hungry... my appetite was beyond words, I was like a hungry little ghost. I came back to her door with another gift, and she smiled, and patted me, and then I brought another, this time she just smiled, a little strained… and still I was hungry!
So I crept to her door, stuck another little wrapped trinket in the mail slot. And hid in the bushes. Saw her come to the door, find it, roll her eyes and sigh. She called into the house to someone that it was another gift from that weird little girl down the street. Poor thing, she said. Her pity and her impatience with my offering(s) crushed me. And felt that pierce my heart like nothing ever had. I wilted, and my heart felt like it died. This has happened to me, over and over and over again, in so many forms… so I learned to stop giving, fully. I will give part. I will give some. I will give pieces. But I swore that no one would ever get the whole of me. And still, I was hungry… and I knew I wasn’t like anyone else, and there was something wrong with me.
I didn’t really start gaining weight until I hit puberty, but when I did, it didn’t seem to stop. I had an eating buddy, and she and I would go buy bagloads of junk food, take them to our “fort” in the woods, and binge. Her sister once made a huge batch of bakery goodies for her entire marching band, and my friend and I stole them out of the kitchen, and together, we ate them all. It was she and I against the world. I seemed genetically predispositioned to gain more than her. Or maybe it was the fact that I could eat her under the table! :x She was chubby, but I was getting FAT. Once, walking through a store together, someone put tags on us, “Large” and “Extra Large.” I was the extra.
I started being teased for my weight. One older boy in the neighborhood called me “goat” because that’s what he said I looked like from behind. I hated gym, I hated changing in front of the other girls, and I hated when we were forced to take off our shirts and stand in a line, waiting for “scoliosis” screening. I felt humiliated, the girls stared and pointed at my rolls of fat. I felt like the girl in “Blubber.” No one liked me because I was fat. Now I began physically manifesting that message: There really is something wrong with me.
I don’t know how many times I've tried to diet or lose weight. Every summer before bathing suit season. Every special occasion. Every time the girl at the concession stand rolled her eyes because I was coming out of the movie theater AGAIN to get more fluffy white stuff. Every birthday. Every Christmas. Every Monday. I remember doing the “grapefruit diet” in 6th grade. ½ a grapefruit in the morning. ½ a can of DRY tuna for lunch and a small salad with no-fat dressing for dinner. I did that one for three whole days. I tried my first diet pills at the age of nine. I starved myself completely for a week at the age of 11. But I couldn’t do any of this for long, because there was nothing else in my life that did for me what food did. Food never let me down. Especially junk food. It always tasted the same.
I lived with such inconsistency in my life, between my father’s bipolar and the fact that half the time I didn’t know if I was going to come home to a dark house because the electricity was cut off because we couldn’t pay the bill, or a friend would say, “I tried to call, but your phone was disconnected.” Food remained a comforting constant. Food wasn’t changeable. Half of me wanted to stop eating compulsively, and half of me just wanted to die or disappear. I put on a great act, I got good grades, I did what I was supposed to do, but very few people, if any, ever saw the real me. My heart was cold and I felt detached from the world and everyone in it. I was lost, and I was sure that food was the only thing I had to hold onto. And I knew: There was something very wrong with me.
Since I couldn’t control the fact that I was fat, I started covering it up. I had a lightweight jacket that I started wearing tied around my waist to hide my body. I wore that jacket every day, with every outfit, everywhere. I wore it to school, I wore it whenever I went outside, I wore it to family functions, even at Christmas. The only time I took it off was to sleep or shower. My friend even wrote in my high school yearbook, “I want to know the secret of the black jacket.”
I covered it in other ways, too. I figured I was never going to be the pretty girl, so I had to be the smart girl. And although it hurt my heart and wounded me deeply to be a “fat girl,” I pretended looks didn’t matter, that I was smart, I was capable, independent, that pretty and thin wasn’t “important.” I completely denied that anything beautiful or feminine might have any value. I did such a disservice to myself, to the core of myself as a feminine woman: I simply buried my heart, steeled it, locked it up, walled it off, and left it for dead, while I trudged on, zombie-like, eating my way through the hours.
Inside, I was dying.
I had a boyfriend in high school, my friend’s brother, actually. He and I were “going together” but it was a secret. I once asked him why he wouldn’t tell his friends about me. I asked him, sure I already knew the answer: “Is it my body? Because I’m fat?” His answer surprised me: “No, actually… it’s your face. You’re just not very pretty.” There went my last vestige of hope, that maybe I was a fat girl with a “pretty face.” That’s when I decided: There was nothing about me that was acceptable.
It was years before I connected my binges with that numbed, sleepy, buzzing feeling I got afterward, that’s how incredibly disconnected I remained from my body. Miserable doesn’t even begin to come close to what I’ve felt, and the food never made it better, it actually usually made it worse. Not at first, of course, but over the years, I felt like a slave to the food, to “feeding the beast.”
The lengths I have gone to for this compulsion never cease to amaze and frighten me. I have stolen food, from stores, from friend’s houses, from places I was babysitting, from places where I was doing births. I have stolen money for food, from my husband’s wallet, from my children’s birthday cards. I have baked things for my children, for their parties, and have eaten them all, only to have to re-bake another batch (and then ate half of that!) I have eaten their Easter and Halloween candy and said I didn’t. I have left my children alone in the car to go in and buy binge food. The worst has got to be leaving my two small children alone at home sleeping in their cribs one afternoon to drive up to the corner store to buy binge food.
Feeding the beast became a full time job, and that’s all I did. The bottom had completely dropped out of my life by this time, my family was torn apart, my marriage was shaky, my children were traumatized, we were on the brink of losing everything financially… and all I could think about was food. How I could get it, when I was going to eat it, how I was going to hide that I was eating it, and how I could get more. Nothing else mattered. And the irony was that the food wasn’t really even working anymore, because the more I fed the beast, the more it demanded. It was never enough. A war was being raged in me, and the beast was winning. It was relentless. It was never satisfied. It wanted complete surrender.
And I know the beast isn’t going to go quietly. But I'm ready to end this. Somehow to do battle with this. I want my obsession with food to be lifted. I want to learn what hunger, actual physical hunger, really is. I want food to just become fuel, nourishment for this body.
I want to find a way to keep the beast at bay, so I can learn how to nourish my SOUL. Because as much as my body needs actual physical food, my soul needs soul food. I want to find the real “food” I was looking for all along--what I’ve really been hungry for, why my bottom seems bottomless.
While the beast once felt like my savior, and then my enemy, now I can look and know that it was sent to bring me a message. It was teaching me, showing me how to get what I was really craving. It taught me surrender, it taught me powerlessness, it brought me to my knees again and again and again… I learned that lesson… and now instead of surrendering to the beast, I’m surrendering to something much much greater.
I don’t know if my hopes will come true for me. I can only hope. I look around now and feel connected and part of something greater that I never have before. Maybe, maybe, there’s really nothing wrong with me, either.
When a baby is born, it is completely amazed with life. They are in love with themselves and everyone around them. We all arrive as a miracle. Babies aren’t self-conscious, they don’t compare themselves with other babies, they don’t doubt their worth or their greatness…
I know that I had to be taught otherwise. I had to learn to dislike myself, criticize myself, abuse myself. With each painful circumstance, harsh word, and incomprehensible wound, that natural state of grace that I came into the world with was covered by self-protective mechanisms. The beast came with the face of a friend and told me that food would fill that emptiness. It hurt too much, and to stop the pain, I simply shut down my natural state, I buried it. I knew it was worth it. I knew I would need it. And now… now is the time… now is the process of recovering that part of me...
I can’t say that I'll be perfect, that I won’t struggle, that my life will be transformed forever, I can’t say that, because I don’t know. I feel change happening, I feel myself becoming, but I don’t have any idea where that’s leading. I’m simply feeling my way, and thankfully, I have an amazing man beside me who loves me and who is going through a similar journey.
A caterpillar doesn’t know it is going to become a butterfly, it can’t even conceive of what it will be like to be anything but a caterpillar. All it can do is spin a cocoon, and have faith. Trust the body, trust the process, and trust all the other butterflies that broke free and spread their wings.