I can’t stop eating. Well, I can – you know to breathe and sleep and run errands and…okay, so I can stop eating. But it’s really hard. The worst for me is sweets. When I start I just can’t stop. Before I got pregnant with Elby I was sugar-free for almost two years; two happy and free years. But early on in my pregnancy, I couldn’t stop thinking about candy -specifically banana Laffy Taffy. At the time I worked in an office where there was an unlimited supply of old skool candy and it was all I could do to keep away from it. Every night I went to bed and every morning I woke up sweaty from dreams of Hot Tamales, Lemonheads and Tootsie Rolls. Eventually I caved and went to town on the candy stash. I was ruthless. I’d grab handfuls and tear into them like a savage not letting anyone else eat them. “Get your own,” I’d practically yell, “I’m pregnant over here!”
No one could believe that I ate that way because I was very thin -like, I just got married thin -and so I got a lot of bemused looks and friendly teasing because I guess it’s sort of cute to see a thin, pregnant woman eat like a pig. But inside I felt bad because although it didn’t show on the outside, on the inside I was out of control. I gained 60 pounds by the time I had Elby and only 7 pounds 2 oz. was baby. Eventually I lost the weight by working out and getting back off the sugar but it took a year and a half. Lately, because of the lack of booze in my life, the sugar has been making a strong come-back.
This problem started long ago. When I was five I distinctly remember being obsessed with the Halloween candy my parents had purchased for the upcoming holiday and stored up on a top shelf in our pantry. One night I climbed up, brought the bag down and knowing what I was doing was wrong yet unable to stop myself, I tore it open and scarfed it down like I hadn’t eaten in weeks. My mother discovered what I’d done shortly after and she was furious. I distinctly remember feeling burning shame and yet, I did similar things again and again. My mother thought I lacked self control.
As I got older things did not get better. My parents always kept ice cream in the house and every night after dinner I was allowed a half a coffee cup full, a very appropriate sized serving for a child, a serving that I as an adult would feel is more than enough to give my daughter after a healthy meal. But it was not enough for me. I would hear the ice cream calling to me from the freezer after my parents had gone upstairs. Try as I might to ignore it and knowing full well how angry my mother would be if she found me out, I’d sneak into that box of neopolitan and eat an even amount of chocolate, vanilla and strawberry hoping that keeping the three layers even would disguise what I’d done. I was called selfish, piggy and untrustworthy for eating it but I couldn’t help myself.
By the time I was thirteen, food had become a good friend, a buffer to the world. While the rest of the junior high school population giggled on the phone and hung out at the mall, I hung out in the family rec room with slices of dried salami and column after column of Ritz crackers eating myself numb. When I was sixteen I discovered throwing up which enabled me to wear my lack of control on the inside, something I believed to be a major coup at the time. As anyone who’s been bulimic knows, the behavior is highly addictive. There came a point in my late teens that I couldn’t stop no matter how hard I tried. Every day I desperately promised myself never again. Sometimes I made that promise several times in a single day. That’s how strong a hold it had on me. It was like there were two people in my head at all times bickering -one that only wanted relief at any cost and one that knew she was dying inside and would have to put up a strong fight to dig her way out of the deep hole she’d dug.
The relief finally came when I gave up fighting. It was in the surrender. I stopped puking for good at 22 but just like with alcohol, I’m not cured. What I’m realizing is that I’m just a big old addict -an addict who will look for any way to distance myself from myself. I’ve heard secondary addictions referred to as a game of Whack-a-Mole; alcohol gets hit with a mallet and sugar pops up, sugar gets whacked down and suddenly out of nowhere it seems like a great idea to take a Tylenol PM. Do you see how insane that is? Who the hell could get high off of Tylenol PM?
I remember when I’d just started getting help for bulimia and I revealed to my mother I’d had this problem.I cried when I told her, sobbed really. But I was so proud of myself for dealing with it, for being brave enough to sit in rooms and tell strangers I did this shameful thing. My mother’s reaction wasn’t what I’d hoped for. She got angry with me and let me know in no uncertain terms that it wasn’t her fault. At that time I was pissed and I remained pissed for a long time because truthfully I had blamed a lot of my problems on my childhood. But looking back, she was right.
I’m an addict and it’s no one’s fault. When I drink alcohol, I can’t predict where it will lead me. When I eat candy, I can’t predict with any certainty whether or not it will end in a peaceful night watching the Bachelor or whether it will set off an obsession for more which will last for days or weeks.
I’m not making any big proclamations here. I’m just letting the secrets out. I know that eating candy is a lot better than drinking. You can’t get pulled over for driving while under the influence of fattening snack food. But it is damaging to my clarity and I have to acknowlege that.