I recollect getting my first little buzz from alcohol at the age of 10 when my father gave me a beer at a Fourth of July picnic. I note that many folks in recovery remember their last drink. I also remember my first drink. After a few years of sobriety I recognized my addiction to tobacco was quite similar to my addiction to alcohol. Through a 12-step program, an online (IRC chat) community and Nicorette gum, I successfully dealt with the physical manifestations of my nicotine addiction.
A few years ago I recognized my compulsive overeating as another true addiction for which I needed to work a recovery program. Seven years ago I successfully dieted my way down to a suitable weight through Weightwatchers. Since then, I have yo-yo’d back and forth, gaining 20 pounds, losing 10, gaining 20 and so forth. Right now I am about 25 pounds overweight. I get plenty of exercise and bike a lot. A few years ago I became friends with some folks who were in recovery from either bulimia or anorexia. Coupled with my alcoholism recovery, the friendships provided me tremendous insights into my eating disorder.
Upon reflection, I realize that I had a full-blown food addiction long before my first beer at 10 years of age. I recollect well when I was 5 years old, I would pull a chair over to the kitchen counter and climb up to the sugar canister to eat scoops of sugar. On the kitchen shelf I ate spoonfuls of grease from the can my mother poured in the residue from frying bacon and other meat. I often ate till I was in pain. In elementary school, I had a pretty successful career at shoplifting and stealing money from my mother’s purse. Without exception, the only thing I ever shoplifted or bought with stolen money during those years was food – more specifically, candy and pastries.
By the time I hit high school, I switched over to alcohol, speed, and tobacco as my drugs of choice and earned enough money that I did not need to steal to support my addictions.
Here is where the revelation on my eating disorder came to the fore. About three years ago my wife was standing in the kitchen having a conversation with our daughter on the phone. The daughter lives about 200 miles away. Although I could not hear the entire conversation, by my wife’s responses, I understood that our daughter had just been physically assaulted by a relative. I was completely incensed, wanted to take action, but I was 200 miles away. There was a package of cookies on the kitchen counter. In the course of the 10-minute phone conversation, I ate the entire package of cookies. Were I not in recovery from alcohol addiction, I would have drunk a bottle of something in that 10-minute period. Were I not in recovery from nicotine addition, I would have chain-smoked cigarettes. Instead, my response was to eat. When I reflect over the past few years, my overeating generally results from my not dealing with life on life’s terms, the same reason I anesthetized myself with alcohol in the past.
Personally, I find my eating disorder even more “cunning, baffling, and powerful” than addiction to alcohol or other drugs. I can technically be “sober” by just not putting those substances in my body. However, I must eat, but I must do so in a non-addictive way.
I am grateful to my time in recovery from other addictions to understand that I use food in the same way and that recovery has less to do with the physical substance and more with living life on life’s terms. The simple knowing is half the battle. The next question is – So what am I going to do about it? To me, being able to ask that question is an exciting aspect of recovery. It is not a matter of getting holy. Rather, I am grateful for the opportunity to make choices.