From quite a young age, I suspected that the way I ate wasn’t normal. My mother would tell me I wouldn’t be hungry if I ate a piece of fruit just before my dinner. Even knowing she was right I still had to have the biggest piece of fruit available. There were so many scenarios like that. I was mostly a binge eater, but sometimes I underate. One summer, I was incredibly proud of myself when my stomach was flat enough to wear a bikini. Most years it wasn’t like that. I wasn’t overweight when I came into recovery. In fact, I had only been a little overweight a couple of times in my life. I never thought I had a problem with any substance until I found Addictive Eaters Anonymous through Alcoholics Anonymous.
Living was a bigger problem for me than my eating and it was getting worse.
To tell you the truth, there was nothing about my eating that was really a terrible problem. It was how I felt about myself and how I didn’t know how to live life that was the problem. When I was in my late twenties, I had my first nervous breakdown and another in my early thirties. By that time, I was unemployable, a client of the mental health system, and on antidepressants. Prior to that point, I had been a healthcare professional and on the outside, it appeared that I was leading a normal life. Of course, even while my life appeared normal, on the inside I felt far from normal. Insecurity engulfed me but I hid it well and presented really confidently and competently. I was basically Miss independent, opinionated, career woman. After my first breakdown, I was diagnosed with a depressive disorder. Later I would understand that is how the disease of addiction manifested in me.
I couldn’t link my nervous breakdown with the way that I ate – I wasn’t ready.
I remember a couple of occasions while living at a halfway house talking about how I ate. One night, while talking to a staff member, I revealed that the highlight of my day was the hot chocolate drink I had after they had all gone home. I knew if you put the right amount of milk in and you leave it in the microwave for long enough, you get this perfect froth on the top. Sharing this seemingly insignificant thing made me feel like I was revealing the absolute core of my reality.
No professional ever suggested that I might find people like myself at a 12 Step fellowship. However, if that suggestion had been made, I believe that I would have rejected the idea. I don’t think the disease had progressed enough within me, at that point, to be able to admit or identify I had a problem.
Alcoholics Anonymous helped me become ready for AEA.
After being unemployed for seven or eight years and a client of the mental health system, I got a job at the organisation where I still work now 25 years later. At that time, I thought that being employed would be the solution to my problems. I would be a respectable citizen again and be able to hold my head up high. Perhaps I’d join a tennis club on the weekend and everything would be okay. But of course, everything was not okay and work had started to become stressful.
My boss invited me to a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. I thought it was a very strange invitation to extend to a nice woman like myself. He encouraged me to listen to the similarities and not the differences, which I did. Then I started going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and coming to terms with the fact that I had the disease they talked about – that I was an alcoholic.
The seed was planted.
I met a few women who were in recovery from food addiction and the seed was planted. I knew that my eating had been just like my drinking in many ways. After a good six or eight months of going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, I agreed to go to a recovery meeting for addictive eating. I was encouraged to go to six meetings, which I did. At the end of those six meetings, I decided I wasn’t as bad as the other people in the room. Although I could see there was a solution, I just didn’t believe I was as bad as they were. It took another six months of eating. By then it had been a year of not drinking or taking antidepressants. I felt miserable and I knew it was because of the food.
I finally decided that living in the solution had to be better than living in the problem.
This meant approaching the people who were in recovery from addictive eating and asking them for help. For anyone who thinks they may have a problem with food, I would recommend making contact with AEA. Try at least six meetings, and listen for the similarities and not the differences. Even though the disease of addiction will try to resist doing all of those things, you deserve to do it for yourself.
I found it really helpful advice when I was invited to my first 12-Step meeting to just see if I could identify. We talk about the doors of the fellowship being wide open. Nobody is going to insist you do anything because we all know that if you want to get well, it has to come from within. One of the things that really helped me was knowing that the people in the meeting had no vested interest in me coming back. They knew they had found a solution and they were going to carry on getting well and trying to carry the message, regardless of what I did. It was completely up to me whether I chose to avail myself of their help or not. I found Addictive Eaters Anonymous through Alcoholics Anonymous; something I had never dreamed would happen.
I would encourage anyone who is interested, to come to a meeting of Addictive Eaters Anonymous and to listen with an open mind.