Monthly Archives: April 2009

Topic: Getting out of isolation

Isolation. Am I an isolator? I think I didn’t have that tendency, growing up, but I became one. When I was a child, and in my teenage years, I thrived on being around people. I was open – I found it easy to speak to strangers and make friends. In fact, in my teens, as home life was going badly I relied on friends as something akin to family. They were who I wanted to be around, not my home family.

I think one part of the change that happened came when I lived at my aunt’s, whose psychological terrorising of us all was continually invading, violating any privacy we might have had. So I became more protective of it. But I didn’t overeat compulsively yet, at that time – that came later, once I had moved out and was living with my grandmother, who also (though in a different way) had a habit of attempting to violate my privacy. Her way was just more sneaky, spying and such. So again I became protective – and of course once my overeating really took off, the shame of that increased my isolationism exponentially!

The food has always been a source of shame to me, ever since I began to binge. Which wasn’t until very late in my teens, early 20’s. So because this is such an integral part of me, of my life, I isolated from people and from life. Because of the shame, mostly, but also because I genuinely did not want to be with others when the food became my best friend.

People began to look unpredictable, I became fearful (of being “found out”), I was guarding and protecting myself. So I looked at people with suspicion, and would not let anybody near. The food replaced them, my friends, my family – the food was where I found consolation, where I went when things went well and when they went wrong. It usurped more and more of what my world had been.

In Greysheet abstinence it still took me quite a while to come out of the shame and isolation. First, the shame went… slowly. For my first six months of abstinence, nobody I knew personally knew that I was doing anything different with my food. I had never eaten in front of people anyway, so what I did in private, nobody knew. But of course after six months, people began noticing that I was losing weight and as I gained confidence and read other GS’ers stories, I slowly began to “come out”. Today everybody I know knows what I do and I have no problem going anywhere with my scale and food backup, and eating out, eating with others, having others eat with me… no shame there.

But the other thing, of food being a better friend and viewing people with fear, that took much longer to go. And it’s probably still not fully gone, although I can see immense progress – especially recently, I have been connecting with people so well and I’m thriving on it. But even years into abstinence I would often feel safer around food than around people. My food was safe (abstinent) and people were not safe. They had their own minds, they were unpredictable, and I feared them. As I grow in abstinence and recovery, and maturity dare I say, I’m so encouraged by how easy it has been for me recently – I haven’t tried harder, it has simply happened. I’m so grateful for this programme and the chance it gives me at living a full life where food is in its place!

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Writing Group Topic: The Centre of Calm

Calm, or lack thereof, is definitely an interesting topic for me… there is a discrepancy between what I feel like inside, and what that looks like to the outside world.

A good example – years ago, when my mother was still alive, I used to compete in international music (instrumental) contests. This involves being on stage alone, playing various challenging pieces, as a jury sits in front of you taking notes and a discerning audience behind them compares you with everyone before and after. I didn’t like it (playing instruments, as a whole: it was my mother’s thing) but I couldn’t not care. Many of the people, both in the jury and the audience, would be people I knew and my mother knew. So I was nervous, petrified, frightened before going on stage. Often, people backstage with me would make a remark on how incredibly calm I was! While others would fret and wring their hands and climb the walls with nerves, I was (looking like) an oasis of calm. I just sat there, not moving. What they didn’t see was that I was more like a deer in the headlights: frightened to inability to move!

So people around me tend to think I’m quite calm. Comparing myself with others, I know that others feel more intensely than I do, overall. And I don’t rage, I don’t tend to get angry, neither inside nor outside. I’m not stuffing it in or pretending: I really am that calm (call it placid, if you like…). Feelings, for me, are deep: they go right to the heart. Like love, caring, that sort of thing. Anger is in a different category, it’s a temporary, fleeting thing that isn’t real the next day (or even the next hour). I don’t tend to have those temporary, stormy emotions at all.

As for worry? I used to think I’m not a worrier. Then my job situation became, well, interesting, and I’ve been thinking through it a lot. Is that worry? I’m not worried about myself – I’m just occupied with what’s going to happen. But I can take my mind off that without too much difficulty. It’s a discipline thing, partly, but also I think it’s just a personality thing where I’ve been lucky 🙂

Writing Group topic: Chairing the committee in my head

I’m the chairman of multiple personalities!

I used to be a slave to the voices in my head, especially the greedy one. She doesn’t just compulsively overeat, she simply wants everything and more of it. Compulsive overeating is just one aspect of her greed, although it’s probably the strongest. When in active addiction, in the food, I felt almost one-dimensional: as though everything about me was filtered through the lens of my food problem, as though there wasn’t really any more to me than that. That’s why I loathed myself, not just the compulsive overeater within me. I thought I was her!

So this week’s reading actually showed me a new way of thinking about all the thoughts / personalities within myself. I used to dismiss the idea of multiple personalities – I’m not a schizophrenic, I only have one personality and that’s me. But that’s a very limited view. In fact I now see that they are all there, but they are not me… that is to say, not one of them is me but they all together make up me. That’s a significant thing to me, and I don’t know if I’m expressing what I mean very well. I am not the unkind, fault-finding pragmatist; I am not the insecure scared wallflower; I am not the greedy, thieving glutton. All of these are inside me and I can act on their prompting at any time, but not one of them IS me or indeed has any power over me unless I choose to listen to their “suggestion” and act on it. Wow!

This also means that I have a lot more power than I thought I did. As Paul writes, I can acknowledge an impulse as a “suggestion” and not act on it. Wow! I’m not a puppet on my disease’s string! That’s a revolutionary idea too. Of course I used to think I had simply exchanged the strings, from those of my disease to those of Greysheet – not my own will. And when it comes to food then I still do have to submit my will. But I’m not powerless in the sense that I can’t choose my actions… I choose to do Greysheet, I’m not in bondage to it. I have been struggling lately, probably because things have been so frustrating with my weight, with the willingness to be absolutely exact about my weighing. (strangely though, I’m never tempted to have LESS when the scale is at 3.95, for example). I have had to consciously reign myself in and make myself go back and take the little bit off that makes the scale go over, where if I was completely surrendered it would simply be an unthinking reflex action. I’ve had to lay down my will more consciously lately.

But the point is, that’s an adult way of dealing with things – I make my choice. Whether I make it easily or not isn’t so much the point as the FACT that I’m making it, is.

I must stay surrendered, that’s my decision as the chair of this particular board.

People “out there” who need Greysheet

I have a coworker who is severely obese. She is constantly on various diets (I have worked here for over 2 years and she always has been dieting). I have shared aspects of my story with her, she knows what I do with my food and I’ve been honest with her as to why I do it. She has said that she eats “desperately” too, and that she honestly thinks she has a problem with food. I don’t push, of course – but I’d give her any support if she reached out to me.

Recently she has found a new diet, which is liquid only. She hasn’t eaten in weeks, on this diet she is paying incredible amounts of money for some liquids that she has to take in. The weight is absolutely falling off her, and she’s ecstatic. Now she’s selling all her “fat clothes”.

My heart breaks… of course I wish and hope and pray that this will work for her, but I have no faith that it will. The most disheartening, painful, hurtful thing that could happen to her is to regain the weight… the desperate struggle to hold on to the thin clothes, unrealistic as that is… I’ve been through all that. My heart goes out to her but I know there is nothing I can do. I watch, and pray for her – first that it works, and second that if it doesn’t, she may know that support is at hand if she only asks.

We can’t help anybody outside of programme unless they want it. As they say, Greysheet isn’t for those who need it but for those who want it. But sometimes it’s painful to watch, to know I have the solution and I am happy and healthy and the wonderful food I eat, as I watch my coworkers (not just her) eat the equivalent of cardboard, desperately keep trying new things, even as their waistlines grow…. *sigh*

But as for me, the best thing I can do for them right now is not to eat, NMW.

Writing Group Topic: Choose – brain or computer?

I thoroughly enjoyed it! Mind you, I’m taking Paul’s stance as tongue-in-cheek of course. But he makes some very valid points.

First of all, let me say… I have an Apple computer so I don’t usually experience the slowness, problems, and general annoyance that is Microsoft. Hence, I’m comparing my brain to a higher standard here.

To be serious, though: I love the distinction between brain and mind. My brain is faultless, thanks very much, I’d be in big trouble if it wasn’t! Its only downside is the physical reaction to sugar, which slows it down radically. I remember well the fog and inability to think clearly after binges. It’s my mind that’s faulty. I guess you could draw a comparison to hardware and software. My hardware (brain) is fine; my software (mind) isn’t entirely so.

That said, both are working faultlessly these days – there are just certain processes I mustn’t attempt. Like, introducing sugars: big blue screen. Or living in my head, becoming introspective, overanalysing things: those don’t cause a full-on crash, but they slow down the system dramatically and could well lead to freezing and, eventually, crash.

  • on not being able to switch off: I’m not one to lay awake at night with worry. Sometimes I do wake up in the night and then it’s hard to get back to sleep, but it’s not usually with worry – more a physical thing, my body just not wanting to sleep any more, and then I have to find something to think about because otherwise I’ll get bored stupid. I often fantasise about food – my next day’s meals! hehehe…
  • on growing the things I focus on: that’s definitely true, as I shared last week – responsibility for my thoughts. The things I focus on definitely grow. But that isn’t so much about gratitude… I think gratitude, a positive outlook on life, is simply a gift I have had from childhood on. It’s just in my nature. There are two ways of looking at my life, I suppose –
    1) I’m single (boo hoo), I make next to no money, I don’t have my own place, I live in rainy England, I’m far away from my family… or
    2) I’m single (woo hoo!), free, working in a job I love and enjoy and where I make a difference, I live rent-free paying only bills, I have wonderful friends around me who care, it’s Spring, it’s warm and sunny, …
    – I could go on and on there, whereas I actually struggled to put items under 1). That’s just the way I’m wired.
  • on the idea of “rewind”: sure there are times where I desperately wish I could rewind and try again. I tend to be very frank and say what I mean, which can be unkind… I talk too much and listen too little… these are the things that occur to me after situations and I wish then that I could go back and do it over. But honestly: do I really want that? Not really – I’m way too perfectionist and I’d never get it right, anyway! Besides, I’m learning to like my own little quirks and rather than berate myself for them, I look back and think, “well next time I’ll remember not to… (whatever)”. The beauty of it is that there’s always another chance, and if for some reason there isn’t, then I have a God in whose hands I can leave the whole thing.

When it comes to choosing brain or computer, I’m with you all: I’ll stick with the brain, please! I compliment it to the best of my ability by using computers and the like – my filofax is referred to as my outside brain, because I would be totally lost without it. To-do’s on certain days, along with the hard landscape of appointments etc., is all in there. And Outlook keeps me on task, I put the things I need to do in there and it pops up to tell me what I should be working on. I’m a half-cyborg in that way, half of all I do is down to the computer and only the other half is down to my brain. But the brain’s the pilot!

Hitting bottom

I thought about my experience of hitting bottom. There’s the old saying, “Your bottom is where you stop digging the hole” – different for everyone. For me personally, I remember very well how I used to wish and pray for the ability to make myself sick, to get rid of what I had just eaten, and no matter how I tried I never could.

Today – as I live abstinently, sanely – I can only humbly thank God that I never succeeded. I suspect it would have cost me more years in the disease as I might have been able to avoid some of the weight gain… it would certainly have ruined my teeth… my oesophagus… who knows what else. Looking back I can barely believe how desperately I wanted to be bulimic! So I stopped digging before I got to that point, but I’m quite sure that eventually I may well have succeeded. And dug deeper.

Also, I never broke the 200-lb mark, not even close. The misery I had was bad enough for me; perhaps my threshold for pain is lower than that of others. I hated, loathed myself, couldn’t look in the mirror. I got out of breath too quickly. I sweated too much.

I remember one particularly humiliating episode, while living in New York. Once again I was on a diet and exercise regime, and so I went to run in Central Park. Much, much further than my fitness level allowed, I pushed myself hard. It was summer, and I was wearing long, loose training pants and a T-Shirt. My thighs rubbed together, but with the pain I was feeling all over and ignoring, I ignored the pain of that until it became fiery and very acute. So then there I was, in the middle of central park, and I felt like my inner thighs were on fire and bleeding – and I could hardly stop, bend over and check! So I had to keep going, at that point I was walking. Somehow, walking like the Michelin man or a sumo ringer, I slowly staggered back to the subway, and back home. It was a long, slow, painful, humiliating journey.

Once I got home I saw that the chafing had actually destroyed the seam, which had disintegrated and the ragged edges of fabric and stitching had produced something of a burn on the insides of my thighs. That didn’t heal completely for weeks! I don’t remember if I ate that day, but I’m sure I did (or soon after): after all, now that I couldn’t exercise for a while, what was the use anyway?

That was one of my bottom experiences. I didn’t get abstinent then. A bottom experience was never enough for me to get abstinent… I think I needed all of them, together, added up to defeat any notion of willpower or self-sufficiency I had. I had to be beaten, and I guess it took me fewer beatings than it did others – I’m a wimp really – and more beatings than still others who had the sense to recognise their patterns earlier. I hate thinking of all these humiliating episodes I went through and yet they took me to where I am now: abstinent, healthy, sane. For that I am grateful.

Writing Group Topic: I am responsible for my thoughts

This is something I’ve been aware of for a long time. I’m not responsible for the thoughts that enter my head, but I am responsible for which ones I choose to entertain there – that’s just a different way of saying what I learned in church, that I’m not responsible for being tempted but for how I respond to the temptation.

The idea that we’re responsible for our own thoughts is for everyone, I believe, not just addicts like myself. Some just struggle more with it – and even with certain ways of thinking and not others. That’s why I need outside reference – I need a truth that is higher than my own, a power that is higher than my own, simply because mine is flawed (as an addict and even if I wasn’t, as a human being). As a Christian I have that objective standard of truth. I often remind myself, when I pray, that “your thoughts are higher than mine, your words are deeper than mine, your love is stronger than mine…” – I need access to these higher things because if I don’t have an outside reference, I am left with my own thoughts which I am responsible for, and which as I know are fatally flawed.

Then again, I sort of got trained very early on to not entertain certain thoughts. I was a master of not hearing things, too. That comes out of my relationship with my father, who I learned to simply ignore (he has a habit of nagging and repeating himself) – it got to the point where I genuinely did not hear him. I was able to focus on something else and nothing could penetrate my focus. This level of concentration has actually been quite helpful sometimes, working in busy offices and so on… but apart from that, even when something he said or did registered with me, I learned to forget it almost as soon as it happened. That’s the way my mother dealt with him. He treated her shamefully – not physical abuse, but constant financial threats, using prostitutes openly, etc., things like that. But if you’d asked her, she could tell you that he wronged her very much but would not be able to NAME ONE THING he did. The specific instances just disappeared from her memory. It’s the same for me. Something bad happens, or is done to me, and the moment it does I almost shut off and it’s forgotten as soon as it happens. To this day I can’t tell you many things my father has done to me… all I know is that my relationship with him has always been one of disdain and disgust (me towards him) and that there are many ways in which he wronged me. But I can’t tell you specifics at all. It’s weird.

Then again, it’s not like I’m trying hard to unearth these things… today I just don’t dwell on it: I’m not a fan of psychoanalysis or other psychobabble and I feel no need to dig in a past that is past. As a Christian, I’m a new creation and my past doesn’t define me.

Of course, things “done to me” are only one side of the equation – many other things aren’t so easy to block out. From the beginning of my abstinence I’ve been able quite well to redirect my thoughts away from food. I had to train myself to get there. In the first few weeks, the only way I could escape food (thoughts) was by sleeping, so that’s what I did: whenever I wasn’t at work, I slept. Later on I learned to concentrate on the person I was with, if there was food in a social situation; I learned to stay away from recipe websites and cooking shows; I learned to walk out if temptation really came on strongly. It was a conscious effort and it often still is.

Another example that I’m going through right now – there’s a man in my church who I find very attractive. Unless he expresses any interest, however, he’s just my brother and I need to redirect my thoughts. The trick here is not to dwell on redirecting my thoughts but DOING it – i.e. it’s counter-productive to try NOT to think about something. I need to make a conscious choice to think of something else and then genuinely go there with all my mind. I’m not perfect at this, but I progress.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned it is that what I dwell on, grows. Whether that’s a resentment, a crush, or a food craving: if I dwell on it (or even dwell on the fact that I’m trying not to think of it) it gets bigger. There’s real discipline involved in making a genuine break from one track of thinking I’m on, to another – and it’s hard.