My “vacation” from dealing with food is truly over.
I knew it wouldn’t be easy.
Have you ever felt your body sing in gratitude as it takes in nourishment? Do you ever bite into a ripe pear and feel as if you’re a tiger slowly sinking fangs into the most succulent prey? Do you have any idea how fucking creamy plain yogurt can be? Have you ever been afraid of this kind of pleasure?
I have. I’m afraid of it right now. I know that it’s healthy and normal to enjoy eating. It’s the way things should be: my body needs something, its need gets met, and it feels good. Evolution has designed us to receive positive sensations from doing something that promotes survival.
For an addict like me, though, that design has gone awry. The jolts of reward chemicals that are supposed to be nature’s healthy motivators get caught into a feedback loop that creates the eternal search for more. So feeling that jolt of pleasure is frightening for me. In the past, some of my attempts to control my eating have revolved around the “If It Tastes Good, Spit It Out” diet: the point being to make food as un-sexy as possible so that these dangerous jolts of pleasure won’t occur. Any food I particularly enjoyed or looked forward to simply got eliminated.
But I haven’t eaten for almost a year! The texture and taste of just about every food is sexy to me right now. It’s like those mindful eating exercises where you take five minutes to eat a raisin: I’m hyperaware. How do I welcome the wholesome pleasure of eating without letting it trigger my compulsions? When it comes to substances, an addict in recovery abstains. It can be hell, but it is straightforward. We know that putting a certain substance into our body means that we’re not abstaining anymore and may be in relapse.
However, we have to eat. Abstaining from eating is not an option, and people in recovery from food-related issues have to deal with this. We can abstain from certain categories of foods that have been a problem for us. We can abstain from behaviors that are associated with our compulsion. We can place boundaries around our food and eating in various ways, but the fact remains that we must encounter food on a daily basis.
Nothing horrible is happening. My weight is holding where my doctor wants it, and I haven’t eaten any foods that are out of bounds. But I’m feeling the obsession; food is on my mind. I’m looking forward to eating, I’m getting sensual pleasure from food, and I find my thoughts turning to eating when I am bored or anxious. Keeping a detailed food diary is supposed to help with this, and I’m not doing it.
My past experiences with recovery have taught me some things about this that will help me if I let them. It’s time for me to reapply the principles of the program, because I know three things beyond any doubt.
The first one is that my addictive self, let loose, will turn my world into a hamster wheel, upon which I will scamper in an eternal quest for a way to eat what I want, when I want it, without consequences. The second thing I know is that this hypothetical way doesn’t exist for me. Inevitably, my tolerance for sugar, salt, fat and escapism increases until “what I want” is to binge daily on foods that harm me.
The third thing I know–and really need to remember–is that attacking this obsession with my will is a misuse of my strength. What will work is the same mysterious thing that has worked for me elsewhere: surrender. I don’t have to do this without help. I can ask my God for the willingness to fill out that food diary, and I can give the pleasure and eagerness I feel about food over to be managed wisely. By writing about it honestly today, that’s what I am trying to do.
My pride resists this. It wants me to believe that I’ve got this, that maintaining my weight loss is “just” going to be a matter of using the things I have learned and making sensible decisions. Why do I think this way? Why, when I accept so thoroughly that the source of my staying clean is a spiritual power, do I feel that I should be able to handle the food part myself? Why would my God haul me back from the cliff’s edge only to drop my ass over a different cliff?
Am I ashamed of being a compulsive eater? Do I think being a drug addict is “cooler” and taken more seriously; that it’s more okay to need spiritual help with it? Have I unconsciously bought into cultural attitudes around me?
Well, fuck. I think there is some of that hanging around.
It has to go. My eating disorder is a deep part of me, and it deserves respectful and loving attention in my recovery. Whether outsiders see me as weak doesn’t matter: the stakes are too high. When I started Not This Song, I was on the medical diet, so my readers heard a little about that but not much about this issue as part of my daily life. That’s going to change, because I will tell you the truth about living with this just as I do about living with my other issues.
I’ll do it imperfectly. My pride will continue trying to get in the way. But bits of truth have a way of slipping through.