Bad things happen when I try to be too good for too long.
It’s a theme I’ve written about before…Bounty Hunter and The Perils of Good Health are a couple of examples. But today, I’m thinking about a certain time and a certain scene that captures the feeling for me.
When I was twenty-two, I got engaged to a graduate student in mathematics. He came from a wonderful European family, was wholesome and innocent in his demeanor, and was quite gorgeous as well. I was his first serious girlfriend.
When we got engaged, I had recently finished college. More relevantly, I had recently begun my first attempt at applying the principles of recovery to my eating disorder. I was aglow with a fire of self-improvement, and I’d lost about 50 pounds, bringing me from my (formerly) highest weight down to a pretty healthy 160. Throughout our engagement, I felt that this version of me was the one he had asked to marry him.
The months went by, as he did his work and I attempted to find some of my own (I had been accepted to a graduate program, but it would not start for a while.) It seemed the course of my life was laid out–continue my education, get married, move to Europe or wherever he got a job in due time and use my skills to get a job nearby until it was time to start having children. Be a good wife, a good daughter-in-law and a good mother; be the woman who was good enough to be chosen by this admirable man.
On many days, we would eat lunch together in the campus cafeteria. From the limited choices I would assemble pretty much the same plate every time: 4 ounces of chicken breast, half a cup of brown rice, some green beans and an apple. Nothing wrong with that meal, but it got monotonous.
For some reason, the apple always took me the longest to finish. I’d cut it into quarters, and there would be two or three left when all of the other food was gone and we needed to get going soon. Getting all of it down, day after day, became a real chore. We jokingly called it the “Apple That Time Forgot.”
I remember those lunches so well, in the way a few selected memories stand out as a full visual. The sunlight slanting through the high windows, the scattered groups of students talking, and me a part of the young couple near the window. In those meals, I was playing the role of what I appeared to be; every bite of those nutritious meals felt like a promise I was making to my fiancé.
I was promising never to get fat again, and I was promising everything that went along with that in my eyes. Promising not to be lazy, or ill-mannered, or behave in any way that would embarrass him in front of his family. Promising to be good and never make him regret asking me to marry him.
There was just one tiny, itsy-bitsy problem with those lunches, that relationship and that plan.
When we were not in each other’s presence, I wandered the streets of that college town and I ate. God, how I ate. Novels in hand, I would go from one fast food place to another so as not to spend hours in one spot and draw attention with the amount of food I was ordering. I’d go home with a stomachache and spend the rest of the day in a fog of self-loathing. Periodically, I would try to stop. Reeling from withdrawal and hunger, I’d drag myself to a recovery meeting and cry, only to be out there again in a day or two.
I am a compulsive eater; I’ve known myself as one since long before I practiced any other kind of addiction. So my behavior was not that surprising, but there was something different about it during that year. It wasn’t just me using something because it’s what we addicts do–it was me having a secret life that screamed, over and over, that what I was trying to be wasn’t me.
How loud did it have to scream? Well, in the ten months until the engagement’s end, I gained ninety pounds.
Yes, bad things happen when I try to be too good for too long.