My name is David and I’m a recovering compulsive overeater and bulimic.
One of the first memories I have of childhood was when my father, this hulking, intimidating man, grabbed my overweight sister by the chin, shoved her against the wall and started calling her a fat cunt. I was about three or four years old at the time, a cute little boy with long, golden hair. Always trying to be the referee and make things okay, I got in between my father and sister and started screaming at my father. “Dad, you’re hurting her!” My father grabbed my shirt and pushed me up against the wall. I turned to my mom, who was standing by her bedroom in the hallway, and begged her, pleaded with her, to help us. “Mom, please do something!” She looked at me with sad eyes and went into her bedroom and closed the door.
I know today that my parents were just using the tools they were given by their dysfunctional parents. I can look back at the past today with loving eyes and a compassionate heart. My parents did the best they could.
We are all given basic instincts. Instincts for sex. Instincts for security. Instincts to be a member of society. My basic instinct for security was not met and therefore I went to something external to make me feel safe, to make me feel protected, to make me feel like I was not alone.
I went to the food.
My parents got divorced when I was seven and as much as my mom wanted to talk to me about my pain, we didn’t know how to communicate. My father would follow my bus home from school and I remember getting off the bus and looking at him in his car, and feeling this overwhelming fear that he was going to take me and abuse me, as well as this deep emotional fear that my mom wasn’t going to protect me. I feared physical pain and I feared abandonment. Two things today I still battle with. I would run down my driveway every single day and race into the kitchen, open a box of cookies, dump a handful into a cold glass of milk and chug it down. Then I’d pour more cookies into more milk and chug it down. And then some more. And then some more after that.
Food became my best friend. Food became my mom and my dad. Food became my God. It was always there for me when I got home from school. It protected me. It made me feel safe. It never abandoned me. Thank God the food was there when it was. If not for the food, I’d be dead today. I’m sure of it.
In fact, I was obsessed with suicide from a young age. I remember being five years old and looking down from my Grandpa’s balcony in Florida and telling myself that if I jumped, all my pain would go away. To be honest, the one thing that kept me from jumping was that I didn’t think anyone would show up at my funeral. Even though I was not in the food then, I was already showing signs of my disease. I was so selfish and self-centered that I cared what people would think about me even if I were dead. What five year old thinks like that?
I quickly became the fat kid in school. I was awkward and fat and I didn’t speak much. Some called me mute boy. But the fatter I got, the meaner the names got. One year I was Chunk. For a few years I was Pudgy. One year I came to school after summer break and my classmates started calling me Blue. I didn’t know what that meant but a few months later, I’d walk into class and people would sing the Baby Beluga song. They were calling me Beluga. I still didn’t know what a Beluga was, but I knew it had something to do with my weight. I walked to the library one day after school and asked the librarian about Belugas. She handed me a book on animals and I remember sitting in the children’s section of the library and opening the book and reading that Belugas got up to over 3,000 pounds. I closed the book and was devastated. These people were equating me with an animal that got up to 3,000 pounds. So I went home and I stuffed my face with the food.
I would go home from school and I would eat over the shame that people were calling me fat. I would eat because I had no friends. I would eat because all my friends had boyfriends or girlfriends and I was too fat to see my own penis in the shower. I would eat because food was the only thing that made me feel not alone. I would eat because I wanted to die. Then I would go upstairs to my room, do some homework, sneak back downstairs into the kitchen and eat over the shame about eating over the shame. Then I’d go upstairs to watch some television and sneak back down in the middle of the night and eat over the loneliness. This was a cycle that went on for years.
My disease took a turn when I was twelve or thirteen and I heard my older sister throwing up in her bedroom one night. She started losing weight fast and I’d hear her throwing up her food all the time. Although I never confronted her about this, I felt like it was our little secret. I knew why she was doing it. I had what she had, too. The more my sister lost weight, the more I wanted what she had. I went into her room one day when she was at school and went through her drawers. I found her diet pills and it was like I found the golden ticket.
They say that this is a progressive disease, like alcoholism, and I can definitely attest to that. What started as one diet pill that day in my sister’s bedroom quickly escalated to something deeper, darker and more dangerous than anything I could ever imagine.
By the time I was fifteen years old, I was taking ten diet pills a day. I lost all the weight and transferred schools to a prestigious prep school. On the outside, I had it all together. I was handsome and smart, but on the inside I was miserable. In my head I was still the same fat kid that hated himself. I was a three sport athlete, and I’d wake up, take some diet pills, starve myself all day, take more diet pills, then go to sports practice, go home, eat some carrots for dinner and then go to the gym. I was terrified of gaining weight so I stopped eating, even though I was probably exercising three hours a day. But what goes up must come down and all my starve cycles eventually led to binges. If I starved for a day, or a week, or a few weeks, there always came the time where I would go into the kitchen and go through a whole carton of ice cream, and then a whole jar of peanut butter, and then two boxes of cereal- because there always came the time that I needed to feel like I wasn’t alone.
I ended up going to four colleges in four years. The fear of abandonment overwhelmed me so I pushed people away before they could push me away. I couldn’t be intimate with other people because I couldn’t be intimate with myself. I was so scared of rejection that I couldn’t take my shirt off in front of other people. When I was a senior in college, I was living in New York City and I was quickly hitting bottom. I had no friends. My family didn’t really know me. I had no belief in anything other than me. My life was all about the food. If I wasn’t eating it, I was obsessing about how I was going to get it, or I was punishing myself and getting rid of it. I stopped going to class. I’d wake up and hit every Whole Foods in Manhattan, I’d start at the Lower East Side and just go from subway to subway to subway, bingeing my way through every Whole Foods stop. After I’d binge my way through every Whole Foods, I’d do a double or a triple Bikram Yoga class, or I’d take the subway back downtown to my 24-hour gym and work out from about 11 PM to three or four in the morning. I’d get back on the subway and take the train home after these long workouts and I’d just look around the subway and see that everybody was happy, everybody was out being social, with their girlfriends or their boyfriends, and here I was spending every single day obsessing about the food and exercise. I started going days without talking to people. I’d turn my phone off or just not respond to anyone’s calls or texts. I was having a nervous breakdown because I was living in my mind so much.
A few months later I decided I was going to kill myself. But first I had to have one more binge. I was at my mom’s house on Long Island, bingeing my way through the house like a ravaged animal. I mean, I was like a scientist, I had things in the oven, things in the microwave, I was eating out of the trash, out of the freezer, off the floor. Wherever there was food, I was eating it. I binged my way into my mom’s pantry in the hallway, and as I’m eating her leftover Halloween candy, I come across a book about a 12-step program. The miracle is not that I came across this book, there had been many members of my family in 12-step programs, the miracle was that suicidal, in my binge, I went into my bedroom, closed the door and read the book from front to back.
I went to my sister’s apartment the next month and I got honest for the first time in my life. I told her I was a compulsive overeater and a bulimic, and that I couldn’t stop eating or purging and I wanted to die. She had no idea. She printed out a meeting schedule for me and told me that I had to start going. She was my Eskimo. She saved my life.
I went to my first 12-step meeting in a small church on the Upper West Side. The room felt gigantic. I came to the meeting late and I left early because I was so scared of people, but I heard these strangers talking honestly about what I had been feeling for so long. They were expressing my sadness. For the first time in years, I had hope.
It took me almost eight months to open my mouth in the rooms. I was so scared of rejection and I didn’t trust what would come out of my mouth, but eventually one day “something” told me that I had to raise my hand and ask for a sponsor. I know today that that something was God. A woman came up to me after the meeting and told me she would sponsor me. She was twice my age and was completely different than someone I would have picked, but “something” told me to say yes.
The first week I started working the steps, I got abstinent. I have not binged or purged since, nor have I had flour or sugar. If this is not a miracle, I do not know what is.
I always thought that I had a food problem. If only I could eat like a normal person then everything would be okay, I thought. Eventually I realized that my problem is not the food. Yes, I am a compulsive overeater. I am powerless over food. When I put flour or sugar inside my body, they are like my alcohol and I can’t stop eating them. But food was just a symptom to my problem. My problem is that I don’t know how to run my life. When I run my life like I think it’s supposed to be run, my life becomes unmanageable.
My life is unmanageable because I have a mind that tells me lies. I have a mind that tells me that I am not good enough. I have a mind that tells me I’m fat, that I’m ugly, that I’m never going to get the job I want, or the girl I want, or the life I want. I have a mind that tells me that I am going to be alone for the rest of my life. I have a mind that makes my life so uncomfortable and unmanageable, that I turn to the food because I need some peace and quiet from my thoughts. My actions are sequels to my thoughts, and if I don’t have a mind that tells me to binge, or purge, or starve, then I’m not going to do that.
So I have to get a new mind. By working the 12 steps, I get to re-wire my mind, so that when life gets unmanageable, when something happens that I didn’t expect, I don’t automatically go to the food or try to punish myself by exercising for hours on end. When life gets unmanageable today, I try to connect with the universe through prayer, through meditation, through yoga, or through helping other people. By changing my mind I get to change my thoughts, and by changing my thoughts my whole reality changes.
Every part of my life has gotten better since getting recovery from my eating disorder. My relationship with my family is amazing. I have great friends. I am about to finish graduate school. But most importantly, I have freedom today. The freedom from my mind and from my disease is beyond anything I could have ever imagined. I will always have this eating disorder, but I have learned to live with it. I have learned to have compassion for it. It’s a sick friend who just wants to know that it’s not alone. I can relate to that. Although the thoughts still come once in awhile to act out with food or exercise, I don’t act on those thoughts. I send them love and let them pass through.
After three years, I recently returned to that meeting on the Upper West Side to share my experience, strength and hope. A woman came up to me after my qualification and told me she remembered me from three years ago. She said that while she remembers me, everything about me has changed.
I never thought that I could get recovery from my eating disorder. For anyone still struggling with compulsive overeating or bulimia or anorexia, I want to tell you that you do not have to live like this anymore. You are not alone. You never have to be alone again.