Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Interview - Stephanie C.

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

Stephanie C.

  • What was your experience in using the Twelve Step Program for your eating disorders?
I usually out my self as a big Twelve Step girl, on Saturday morning I was speaking at a meeting. I owe my recovery to the twelve steps. I'm recovered from bulimia, anorexia, exercise bulimia, orthorexia, laxatives, I've got a whole list. But I am completely recovered from all of it, but I do identify as a compulsive over eater because that is how I gauge my relationship with food in my life. I don't really have problem with food anymore, I'm a gourmet cook, I love eating, I go from a size two to a size four. I am extremely functional, I can eat anything and everything, but not all at once, not every day.  I know fear of food.

  • What was your fear of food like when you were in your disorder?
I would take one bite and then be exercising for six hours, or running, or taking laxatives, and throwing up. I had a complete fear of food, because it was the one thing in my life that I could control. If I could control my food, I could control my life and life would be okay. I couldn't be in intimate relationships, I was completely emotionally unavailable, the list is long.   I did it all. My life was ruled by food and body obsession. I've never been over weight, it's not my body type, but I had body dysmorphic disorder, so I saw my body differently than others. When I start phases where I'm like, “I have go to get back in shape”, my husband is like, “You are crazy.” But I'm not, because I know what it is to really be in shape. But I'll go three or four months without working out and it doesn’t phase me, I have to be in the mood. Sometimes I'm like, god damn it, I need to get in shape and I get in shape. After twenty-five years of exercising my body is very malleable, so I'll bounce back. But for me being not being in shape, no normal person would recognize that by looking at me.

  • How is your life like now that your are recovered?
My life is just huge today! I've got a husband, a career as a gourmet cook.  I have two step children and a biological child, tons of friends.  I have healthy, long term friendships with all my friends.  I volunteer a lot with different organizations and with my kids school. I'm just very present in my life.  My life is full. If I could get knocked up and get pregnant three more times I'd be all over it. I'm not afraid of anything like losing my body, I just like being in my life.

  • Can we talk about your path? You said you had several titles for your eating disorders, where did it start and where do you think it came from?
My feeling is that I had hunger in the world and my hunger became about food. It did not become about drugs, or alcohol, or sex. My hunger was identified by my relationship with food. I grew up with a mother whose only obsession was with education,books and knowledge. She grew up in a non-nurturing environment, spent a lot of time in a Catholic Foster home, Catholic Orphanage's. She believed taking care of us was with books not food.   My mother ate to live she didn't live to eat. Food was not a pleasurable experience for her it was just something she had to do in order to fulfill her obligation of motherhood and she was a single mother. She didn't know how to cook. My family members are terrified to go up against my mother.  She's a political activist, she's really strong, she's like Angela Davis you just don't fight with her, it's not worth it.

Food was the only way I fought with my mother.  It's where I was in control.  It was the only time I said no. I would fall asleep most nights with my head in my plate, because it was a fight.  She'd say, “You aren't leaving the table until you eat”, and I would wait and tell her she couldn't force me.  My earliest friendships, I became friends with people who had parents who knew how to cook. I remember when I was twelve, I also didn’t have a close connection with my father, who didn’t want to knowledge of his paternity. The one male figure in my life was my mother's brother, who was successful and strong.  He provided clothes and food.  He was a fabulous uncle, and then he raped me when I was twelve. That changed the trajectory of my relationship with myself, I no longer felt safe, and felt as if there was something inside me that was horribly broken; for my father not to have claimed me, my mother who loved me but was not loving - she couldn't show it in a way that I could relate to. My uncle was the only male role model who loved me so for him to rape me it meant that there is something horribly broken in me at a very core level.

That is how I grew up.  That was my belief. Over the years it came out in my inability to be intimate and my inability to let anyone really close to me, I needed to control all the pieces of my life. My life was very out of control, I went to a lot of schools, a lot of moving and my mother with her crazy politics and inability to sit with things, herself.  That is how my eating disorder happened.  There was a lot that I could not control, and eating was something I could control. I started exercising like crazy. I'm black, so I grew up eating really unhealthy, soul food and really big portions. As I went through puberty my body started to change, and I started to want control over my body. I have two older sisters who were fabulously built, they were 36, 24, 34, 5'8, gorgeous. My mother and my sisters all stopped traffic and I was the runt of the litter. 

  • When you were young did you know what you were doing? Did you know about these tactics to control food?
No, I didn't know, I had no clue. Bulimia was something that wasn't talked about, or anorexia. And I certainly would not have stared it in the face.

  • When did you know you had a problem?
I moved to LA, because that was another thing that I thought was really fabulous about my disease, I did a lot of geographic's I was like, “Oh, I'm uncomfortable, I should move, I should change jobs, I should change boyfriends, I change friends.” I was a constant changer. I kept thinking that if I could fix my outsides than my insides would feel better.

When did I know? I came to LA, and was so bat shit crazy, but I was keeping it together. I was working on this article in a woman's magazine, and I'll never forget this, it said, “Bulimia The New Diet”, and it was all about how all these women were becoming bulimic in the quest for a perfect body, and how it was killing them. I did not read it that way. It was like my how to, I was like “Whaaaaa fabulous, I can eat whatever I want!” I tried, and tried, and tried, and eventually threw up, and it was as if I had found the Holy Grail. For the first few months it was fantastic, then it turned on and I had less control, and then I was out of control. Out of control, in pain, suffering, the whole thing. I couldn't stop eating. I couldn't control my eating disorder. I was in trouble, I was in old fashion trouble. I didn't know how to do it, I didn't didn't know (19:36...) and I made every bet with myself. Then I started doing laxatives and started exercising like crazy. A few years into it I saw a TV movie and at the end they mentioned over eaters anonymous, and I thought, “Interesting, I wonder if I should go there?” 

Eventually, I went to a meeting, it was a woman’s meeting in West Hollywood, it was a really big meeting, on a Monday night, walked into the room and (I) had an anxiety, not an anxiety attack but was like, “holy shit, holy shit.” I kept thinking that these people are not like me, they don't know what I'm like, if they knew what I was like... I'm different from them. They all drive  BMWs and they're are rich, I'm different. I just kept trying to find that thing that separated me so that I did not have to acknowledge. It took me a long time, but eventually I hit bottom, like actual bottom, I was like junky. Throwing up ten times a day, throwing up water, carrots. Whenever I ate I felt feelings, and that was unacceptable to me. I was constantly was being triggered, I constantly had this anxiety about my eating, about my life. I'm not good enough, I'm too good, fear, shame, any of these things that got triggered sent me over the edge. Now, I just don't get triggered anymore. I have been in this program for so long, I know so many people who have stories worse than mine. I'm lovable  and (22:00..) about my self. I am completely worthy and have tremendous amount of real self esteem as opposed to false self esteem.

  • You mentioned you had anxiety about your first meeting. What was it that made you keep going back?
There was no where else in my life that I could hear what I heard and be honest. I would leave the meeting and have the biggest binge. Then I would move, I moved to New York, London, Vermont, I just kept moving, and I would go to meetings. But it was only in LA that I found this level of recovery.  You would leave a meeting in LA and not feel alone.  People would be like, “Hey you want to go out with us? You want to do this? Hey, you want to hang out? 

  • Describe your road to recovery?
Let me tell you it was a long damn road.  I was in therapy, I had a great therapist who I still go back to occasionally. That and a great sponsor. I grew up straight atheist, no spiritual anything. I'm the only black girl I know who doesn't believe in God. I thought, God is for weak people. I started going to church, this was like twenty-three years ago, and after ten years I just felt like I didn't need it. I felt burned out on the meetings, on programs, on hearing people talk about their fucking eating disorders.  Enough all ready. Because I didn't have one anymore. I did not recognize one anymore. 
Four years later I relapsed, somehow, the truth was always in the back of my mind. I would think, “Ehh, I might throw up again, I don't think I will, but I don't know.” After that month of bulimia, I called my best friend, who was not in a program, but she did have a sister who was bulimic.  I knew from the moment I relapsed that there was nothing in it for me. I wasn't going to feel calm, I wasn't going to feel better about myself, I wasn't going (to get) the thing I got when I had the information, I knew way too much. I relapsed, it didn't work, and I said enough. I just stopped. It's weird my recovery totally changed. I decided it would be really healing for me to write a book about my experience. I sold a book.  I wrote about my experience, and while I was writing the book I thought, “Maybe I should go back to program and see how that is”, so I started going back to program. I felt recovery in a way that I had never felt before. I felt a freedom (I starting eating) french fries, burgers, pizza, pasta. I could eat whatever I want, and it wasn't struggle for me because I didn’t have that hole in me anymore. I didn't have that hole that made me want to eat everything - that made me want to binge. I don't (wouldn't) binge. It didn't even occur to me. My body would tell me I'm full, and I know I wouldn't get emotionally unsatisfied by eating a doughnut. If I want a doughnut, I am going to eat a doughnut cause I want a doughnut, not because I'm trying to get something from it.

  • How do you think the program helped you outside the social aspects of it?
I worked it. I found a sponsor, I found a community. People who came in with me were all ready to get abstinent. I found sponsor, and I'll say that bulimic people take bulimic sponsors, and anorexic people will take anorexic sponsors.  That is just how it works. Well, I picked a compulsive eater sponsor, and she had a lot of time in AA, which is not my issue at all. But she was in six programs, and she looked like a spark plug, she didn't look anything like my dream. (It wasn't like) I want what she has cause she's a size two and we went out together and she had a burger. This woman had a level of commitment to her recovery, and I thought, “That is what I want, I want that!” She was tough, it was tough love. I did not go for the fluffy. I went with the, “You know what? If you want to work with me, you are going to stop throwing up, you're going to stop playing around and get through this, and you're going to start working this program. You're going to get control and you're going to stop, and that's that.” That was fantastic for me, because I'm hard headed. I don’t want someone who's going to cosign my lack of commitment. 

 I didn't need that, because I am trying as hell, I can be a  great victim or be phenomenal, so I didn't need someone who going to be. “Oh that’s okay, you'll get it.” I needed someone who was going to be, “Ha, you really want this? Let me tell you how: thirty meetings, thirty days; sixty meetings, sixty days; ninety meetings...” My program was my life, I was full on in rehab. Sometimes I would go to two meetings a day. I had a close friend Kate, I could call her. I had a hand full of friends that I could call everyday, and we could sleep on each others couch. It was all about the program. Some people had husbands, and families, and had kids, and successful careers.  I (felt), “Holy shit! I need to do that!” I wasn't ashamed to know that I didn't know how to do that, I didn't know how to have a healthy relationship. But, I got good! I did the whole thing, I called all my friends when I needed them for support. I wanted to be really honest. I was tired, I was tired of the fact that here I had I spent most of my twenties in the toilet and being a fuck up, because I was afraid to acknowledge I was a human being and not perfect.

  • How important is it to find a sponsor, and find the right sponsor?
You have to have a sponsor. I was with a sponsor and in a year I did two twelve step programs.  I got another sponsor - a super successful writer, and her story was very similar to mine. She was in about three programs, but she was also hardcore and she was very pretty, really successful, and really bad ass. I wanted that. She was not playing around with her abstinence, because for her it was life or death. She is now, twenty or thirty years later, my best friend. She is like my sister, we go on vacations together with our kids, I’ve worked for her and worked with her.  We are very close. And I have other friends like that from recovery.

  • It's almost like finding a family of people who can identify what your issues are?
Yeah, and I have to say I worked the program, it was like I was paying for it. I (said) “I going to get everything I can out of this.” I was so tired of myself. I was tired of ending relationships, and dumping boyfriends, and dating unavailable men, because I was deeply unavailable. I was just tired of my patterns.

Today, my life looks a million times different. I looked old, I'm not joking you can Google and look at a picture. I was twenty years younger than I looked when I was throwing up. I looked tired and puffy. I shared at a meeting the other day and person came up to me and (I said), “Oh yeah, my kid is in middle school”, and (she said), “I'm sorry, you have a kid in middle school? You're over thirty?”. (I said), “Oh my god I'm over thirty.” I get carded every where, and it's because I really do have a new freedom and new happiness.

But, it's not perfect. I've had tough things happen to me in the last seven years of abstinence, (but) it doesn't cost me my abstinence, it's not a question. I don't want to be the woman who goes out to dinner with people and be like, “I can't have that, and I'm going to have this that way.” You know what? Bring it the way it comes.

The one thing I learned, is when I was cutting out the joy with my food I was also cutting out the joy in my life. When I meet people and they're normal, and they're passionate about food, they're passionate about their life and that's what I want. I learned that that's just an indicator of how you show up for yourself.

  • What step resonated with you the most?
Being powerless -  over food, over my husband, my children, powerless over my career, powerless over my control issue. I'm powerless.  I'm completely powerless.  I'm a strong, black girl, and the idea that I am powerless... I can't get my head around that. I come from the super woman myth, black women are super women, we can raise our kids alone.  I have a child who has a great committed father, a great committed step father. I have a healthy relationship with my ex-husband. I don't really like him that much, but that's the consequence. You do it so your child has a good relationship with both parents and doesn't feel any pressure. My relationships aren't all about me any more, and it's not just because I have a kid, it's because I get sick of my self (acting that way). I kind of want my life to revolve around me. At the same time I have amazing boundaries, I don't do anything I don't want to do. That's probably the thing that's best and worst about me.  You have to want to be recovered more than anything else.  You have to want your life to be bigger than food, and recognize your fear, anxiety, issues, how they get triggered, and how you deal with that trigger. That's all.  You have to learn how to identify... “Oh my god, I feel shame.  I feel less than.  I thought I was the only person in the whole world who felt like this.  Understanding that you are not - that's it. 

I remember going to therapy, and always being very protective of my mother, a single mother raising me, making sure I went to ballet and did the right things for me.  But, she wasn't loving and nurturing in the way that I would have needed. She thought that if she was too soft, then the world would eat us up. I knew I had the kind of mother that if I ever told her I was raped, she would have killed my uncle.  It was not about her not believing in me.  My therapist said, “She did everything she could, but can you except that is wasn't good enough?” That was like blasphemy!  But, coming to terms with that, that people can do their best but it's still not (good enough for you) - that was a big part of my recovery.  She made me stop taking what people gave me and know what is good enough for me. I get a vote in my life.

  • What would you tell some one who is skeptical about the whole religious side of the twelve step program? What would you tell someone who is scared to a meeting, but needs help?
Okay, the God thing. Here is something great that I picked up from one of my first meetings. There was a man at the meeting who was an anorexic, and he didn't get the God thing. His sponsor said, “You don't have to believe in God to be abstinent, (but) what do you believe in?” And he said (and this was twenty years ago) that he believed in Michael Jordan, because when Michael Jordan gets to the basket he's going to make the shot. The sponsor said, “Okay, than your higher power is Michael Jordan.  Your higher power looks like Michael Jordan and acts like Michael Jordan, and that's it.” You don't have to believe in God, you have to believe in a power greater than yourself. No where in the program does it say you have to believe in God. There are people whose higher power is nature, the trees.  I've heard all of it. As someone who comes from the non God thing, I'm a big believer in God at this point in my life. I find it very comforting, and it helps me to know that I don't have to be in control of my whole life, which means I don't have to be in control of your life. That's fantastic for me. But I understand people having a  problem with God. You don't have to believe in God to believe in a higher power.

This isn't a program for people that want it, this is a program for people that need it. You have to be willing to walk into a meeting, no one can take you into a meeting, because this is about your recovery. No one can make you try to get you to get help and it's a process. I suggest the program to people and you can drag someone to water, but you can't make them drink. You can only share your experience.   I'm recovered, so if you know that about me and want what I have, do it.  It worked for me.

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