How Much Is Good Enough? Work’s Role in My Relapse

November 4, 2010

One of the first things I learned when I joined my Twelve Step program back in 1999 was that when it comes to figuring out how to live my life, I have to consider my recovery first, my family second, and my job third.

When I’m in the grip of addictive eating, I’d way rather hang out on the couch with a pile of food than with my friends or family. (Eating in isolation was so easy; hanging out with people when I was feeling crummy about myself was so much work.)

When I’m eating addictively, I’m too distracted at work to do a good job. And I can bet you good money that, as I did through high school and half of college, I’d be spending a lot of time in a toilet stall, stuffing down candy bars before throwing them back up.

So for a long time, for five and a half years, I put my recovery first. But once I entered the work world in 2004, keeping that order of priorities became a bit more difficult.

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What My Husband’s Bipolar Breakdown Taught Me about Bulimia

October 14, 2010

Seeing my husband suffer from a severe psychotic episode gave me a new appreciation of the fact that when I was binging and purging, I had truly been mentally ill.

This may sound strange. After all, bulimia is classified as a mental illness in the DSM-IV, and for six years (1993-1999) I binged and purged as many as four times a day. I saw nutritionists. I saw therapists. I wasn’t stupid; I knew something was wrong.

But here’s the thing: I always understood why I was engaging in insane behavior like sticking my fingers down my throat, sitting in freezing cold baths, and trying to burn off my tastebuds.

It made sense to me to ingest fake Russian steroids, stick a weight-loss patch on my arm, and spend four hours a day at the gym. I was under the impression that when I got thin, my life would be perfect, so everything I did was designed to help me lose weight.

My actions always seemed perfectly logical to me.

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One Marriage. Two Mental Illnesses.

September 29, 2010

When John and I got married in 2006, he was well aware of my history of binge eating and bulimia. He’d come to Twelve Step meetings with me and heard me talk about all the dirty details of my eating career. He knew that without the FA program, I’d be a heavy, depressed mess. He also knew that with it, I am a happy, healthy, and vibrant woman. With it, I am the woman he loves.

Moreover, John was aware of all the limitations my recovery from this eating disorder—this mental illness—entails:

  • I don’t eat flour or sugar.
  • Unless I’m eating at a restaurant, I weigh and measure my food.
  • I go to three Twelve Step meetings every week.
  • I call my sponsor (my mentor in the program) on a regular basis, and I get up early every morning to take calls from my sponsees (the people I mentor).
  • I spend time in prayer and meditation every day.

John went into our marriage with his eyes open. The fact that I had actively pursued a solution to my problem (versus his mother, an alcoholic who died of her disease) was attractive to him. My limitations were no big deal.

I, on the other hand, was blindsided when mental illness struck John two years into our marriage. His breakdown was sudden and violent and scary. Overnight, psychosis changed his personality radically. I questioned whether the John I knew and loved would ever return.

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Twenty Questions about Food Addiction

June 20, 2010

When I wandered into my first Twelve Step meeting in January 1999, I was 19 years old, weighed 185 pounds, and had been bulimic for five and a half years. I was nervous about going to the meeting–I always wanted to present the image that everything was fine–but as soon as it started, I knew that I was in the right place. These people spoke about food addiction, and I felt as though—after years of trying to play tennis with a ping pong ball—someone had finally pointed out to me my mistake:

I was an addict.

What was wrong with me finally had a name.

It was an incredible relief.

What really got me, though, was one of the pamphlets. It had (and still has) a list of 20 questions to help people determine if they’re food addicts:

  1. Have you ever wanted to stop eating and found you just couldn’t?
  2. Do you think about food or your weight constantly?
  3. Do you find yourself attempting one diet or food plan after another, with no lasting success?
  4. Do you binge and then “get rid of the binge” through vomiting, exercise, laxatives, or other forms of purging?
  5. Do you eat differently in private than you do in front of other people?
  6. Has a doctor or family member ever approached you with concern about your eating habits or weight?
  7. Do you eat large quantities of food at one time (binge)?
  8. Is your weight problem due to your “nibbling” all day long?
  9. Do you eat to escape from your feelings?
  10. Do you eat when you’re not hungry?
  11. Have you ever discarded food, only to retrieve and eat it later?
  12. Do you eat in secret?
  13. Do you fast or severely restrict your food intake?
  14. Have you ever stolen other people’s food?
  15. Have you ever hidden food to make sure you have “enough?”
  16. Do you feel driven to exercise excessively to control your weight?
  17. Do you obsessively calculate the calories you’ve burned against the calories you’ve eaten?
  18. Do you frequently feel guilty or ashamed about what you’ve eaten?
  19. Are you waiting for your life to begin “when you lose the weight?”
  20. Do you feel hopeless about your relationship with food?

The pamphlet said that if you answered yes to any of the questions, you might be a food addict. I answered yes to 19*.

I joined the program back in 1999. I lost 55 pounds and have weighed 130 pounds ever since. I haven’t binged or purged in nearly 11 years, and I’m no longer obsessed with food. It’s a rigorous program–some people think it is much too strict–but man-oh-man, has it worked for me!

*I couldn’t relate to #8. I didn’t nibble; I binged.

as soon as it started, I knew that I was in the right place. These people spoke about food addiction, and I felt as though—after years of trying to play tennis with a ping pong ball—someone had finally pointed out to me my mistake:

I was an addict.

What was wrong with me finally had a name.

It was an incredible relief.