Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Interview - Laura F.

Healing through the community support of group meetings, the twelve-steps, therapy and treatment centers.

Laura F.

  • When did you decide to come out of the refrigerator about your eating disorder?
I am out in every way possible, I'm out as a lesbian, as a recovering alcoholic, my bulimia, compulsive over eating, drug addiction, about my cigarette smoking.  It’s a part of my story. People are like, “What?!”  They have a large disbelief that this was what my life was like.

(It started) out of the womb, literally. I come from years of severe child abuse and when I was born, the youngest of eight, my father was full blown terrorizing the family. My mom was completely overwhelmed and completely depressed having this crazy husband. Her only coping mechanism was to put food in my mouth, so I just took to it. I started compulsively over eating right as a child, because by the time I was in Kindergarten I was really fat. By the time I was in 4th grade I was in an obesity clinic, I weighed what I weigh today at 48, - 120 pounds. The doctor said, “We're going to have to put you on a diet.” I was completely a wreck because I couldn't stop eating, and a diet scared the hell out of me. On the drive home drive home from the clinic all I was thinking of was how can I get my next food. When I got home I just stared shoving food in my mouth. I really thought that I was defective, I thought there was no hope. I was scared to be alive, hated myself, could not stop obsessing about food, or thinking about when I was going to eat next.

In 7th grade, my father did some crazy stuff.  He tried to kill one of my sisters. We were taken out of our house and went to foster homes. From the time that I was in 7th grade to the time when I was 17,  I was in foster care, in Long Island New York. That whole time I was a wreck. I was coping with food and with alcohol. The alcoholism started in 7th grade. I took to beer and started drinking and was out of control. I hung out with all the wrong crowds. I was having a good time you could say, but I was dying inside. I was tortured by the fact that I was fat and made fun of, even though I hung out with the ‘cool’ kids - smoking, drinking doing drugs and partying. I just tried to hide the fact that I hated myself for being fat, by hanging out with the cool kids.

Moving ahead, by the time I got to California and got into college... I thought that if I left New York it would save my soul. I had relatives that moved to California for just a year, so I came out here and moved in with them. My drinking and drug habits got a thousand times worse. My cousin gave me a gift, in retrospect, they threatened to throw me out on the street if I didn't go to college. I managed to get myself into college, and that's when things got really out of control in terms of my addiction. By the time I was 24 I was walking to a bridge to kill myself. I was constantly talking in therapy about suicide and how I was going to kill myself.  There was no way out. Nobody ever suggested a 12-step program, and when I think about all those years in therapy… but when I was working at a bar in San Francisco, there was one woman that came in and it was love at first sight.  It was a gay bar. I was drunker than a skunk, high on everything plus... and she came to meet me. I call her my angel.  She is really responsible for me getting sober. I mean I had to take the action, but when I met her everything started to change. I knew I was sick but I thought I was a hopeless case.  When I met Stephanie, I thought, “Oh my God, this gorgeous, fantastic, absolutely wonderful woman can love this fat, ugly, drunk…there has got to be some hope here.” I didn't get what she saw in me. She would say things to me like, “I totally see your light and love, and don't see anything else. I think you're beautiful and wonderful. Yeah, you have a drinking problem, but...”

So it was actually our falling for each other that took me away from the bridge, and towards meetings. I was planning my suicide in my mind, what am I going to do, how am I going to do it, what's the note I am going to leave. It was all being planned and plotted. I remember that one of the things I used to do when I was in therapy was tell the therapist how much I hated my father, and how much he ruined my life, and how his abuse ruined everything. You know: victim, victim, victim. It was all real,  He did abuse us, and he was crazy, and told me everyday I should have never been born, but I was living my life as a victim and I couldn’t get any feeling of, “I'm okay.” It was all dark, dark, dark.

I remember having this thought, “If I kill myself that bastard will really win.” At that time in my immature thinking it was so cut and dry, he had all ready won so much because I was miserable. But if I kill myself he will really have won. That was one of the things that turned me around from killing myself. I am not going to let him kill me.

With that I got a really clear message that my life mission was to heal, so you can help other people heal. I didn't know what the hell that meant at the time, but I knew it was my path and the thing that pushed my ass into a meeting. The big part of the story is that I was really lucky that the first meeting I ever went to the whole thing was on the third tradition, which says that the only requirement for membership is to be willing. If I don't have to do anything accept get my ass here, I can do that.

So I started going to meetings, and went to a meeting that really changed everything where a woman spoke about, “If not now, when?” I literally had an earthquake in my body.  It was the moment where everything changed, I thought “Oh my God!”

  • So you had no skepticism about meetings? You just fell right in?
No, I felt like I was home. Once I really got into the program I was doing two meetings a day, every day, for five years. I was no nonsense. No matter where I was in the world there was a meeting. By my second year of sobriety, I did this crazy thing and went to Europe for a year. I thought, “What the hell?”  I did meetings in Israel and Europe and everywhere, and every day or as much as I could get to them.  It really carried me.
  • How long have you been abstinent?
I lost a hundred pounds from 24 to 25, and I am 48, and I never gained that hundred pounds back. In the 24 years it's been since I lost the weight I still had cravings for food. In the first ten years I was addicted to diet pills for a while and had a little bulimia with the laxatives. But I can honestly tell you in the last ten years, my relationship with food and the scale and my body, there is no charge.
  • Is there any one of the steps that particularly resonated with you?
Well, the forth step is the one that no one really wants to do, but it's the most powerful for me. You have got to let go of the crap that's holding you back.
  • There is a lot of skepticism about the spiritual side of the program. A lot of people thinks it's cult-ish or religious. Who is your higher power and what would you say to someone to get those assumptions out of the way for them?
I'd say, take what you like from the meetings and leave the rest behind. It’s not right for everyone. I have had people say to me that they have tried a 12-step program but they couldn't deal with the God stuff. I ask them, “What is it about the God stuff that scares you or you feel resistant to it?” Because, there is something deeper that people aren't willing to look at.  It’s not to say that religion hasn't corrupted people’s minds and made them afraid to think. If you feel good, if you feel connected, if you feel community that’s what it’s about.  If people feel peace for believing in a higher power, believing in God, why would you judge that?

When I started going to meetings, people would say, “Think of God as a light bulb, a piece of paper, a door.” Anything you want to think about. You don't have to think of God as a man in the sky with a  beard or whatever. That was really comforting to me. God can be anything and God is everything. If it's the word that feel scary, then you don't have to use that word. You could refer to universe, or heaven, or spirit, or light bulb. Make up your own.  I use the word God, I love the word God and totally love God.

  • How important is sponsorship in the program?
It's crucial. It's really important - to have a sponsor, to be a sponsor, because in giving we receive. We learn so much about ourselves from doing it and serving someone who is still suffering, lifting them up and inspiring them. It works for both people.
  • What would you say to the younger version of you to get yourself into the program?
There is nothing wrong with you. The reason I became a coach is because I see people as naturally creative, resourceful, and whole. They have all the answers inside of them and it's just a matter of getting away from all the crap and all of the belief system that has covered up the truth. What I would say to somebody is that, “You are loved as all that you are, and if you become willing to get involved and really willing to get help there is a whole universe of people out there to support you.” In isolation we wilt and in communication we thrive. If anyone is suffering and trying to do it alone, it's not going to happen.
  • What is “One Pinky” and how did you start it?
One Pinky is a community for women online who are suffering from eating disorders, and I created my own 12 week course called “Body and it's Mastery.” It deals with all kinds of exercises and tools for women to go very deep in their process of overcoming pain and suffering. It was inspired by the coaching I was doing with women one on one.  I really believe in the power of community and the power of group. How One Pinky came to be was when I was 220 pounds and hating my body, I was 24, and I was talking to a women and she was talking about how much she hated her body and she was tall and thin. I said, “I'm fat and ugly you're tall and thin, this doesn't make any sense that you hate your body.” We both looked at each other and we got it. It had nothing to do with our outside, it had all to do with our inside. So she and I made a pinky promise to love our bodies for what they did not what they looked like. Year after year we would reconnect and say things like, “Are you appreciating your thigh for what it does and not what it looks like?” That was part of my healing, this whole process with this women named Mary who also worked the 12-steps.

It all started with one pinky, and that's how I grew to love my body!” Self-acceptance is key. We cannot change anything if we are at war. If we are at war with our bodies we are just going to continue to suffer. If we can accept it as it is, then we can open up space to make change and welcome people in. War doesn't help anything or anybody.

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