My Secret

I ended my last post with what was to be next. Instead, I digress.


 AA says you’re only as sick as your secrets. The light’s supposed to shine away the dark. Because it’s always there, the light. It’s a matter of if you see it.

Secrets are built into addiction. It’s a matter of survival. “Addiction” becomes this thing you are, not this thing you have. It’s a force, and it wants to survive. It’s not supposed to be able to thrive in the light. So where does the light come from? Just from telling the secret? What exactly happens when you say the thing you think you are or think you have? With all the AA I’ve absorbed, you’d think I’d know.

I have bulimia and anorexia. I don’t mean I had bulimia and anorexia. I mean I have bulimia and anorexia. That’s been my response to Philip dying. At first I wouldn’t eat. For months after Philip died I picked at food. I was drained. A bag of bones my clothes hung on. It wasn’t so much a choice; the food wouldn’t go down. Anxiety was a tsunami in my belly. If anything went in, it would have been blown back out.

In the mess of days after Philip died, people wanted to feed me. “Are you hungry? Can I get you something to eat?” they’d ask. I could only shake my head. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t do normal. I couldn’t pay attention to anyone because they weren’t in my world. In my world the only answer was, “I will never eat again; I will starve myself to where my son is.”

David Foster Wallace, himself a sober addict when he died, wrote about benign and malignant addictions. “Many addictions, from exercise to letter-writing, are pretty benign.” He then adds, “…  something is malignantly addictive if (1) it causes real problems for the addict, and (2) it offers itself as relief from the very problems it causes.” And so round and round I go.

I am so damn angry. And I’ve a habit of punishing myself when I suffer loss, which I wrote about here. In the past, it was about The Guy. The one who always turned out to be a jerk, because, of course, it was his fault. All I wanted was to be loved. I lived for these guys, yearned for them, dressed for them, got on my knees for them; why the fuck couldn’t they love my need away? So I’d leave them, depressed and angry, and start the Food Games. Months of barely eating until my body couldn’t take it any more, at which point I went to war with it. Hunger was a betrayal, forcing me to eat when all I wanted to do was die. I’d sneak into delis and grocery stores, head down, walking as close to the shelves as I could, as embarrassed by my hunger as by my cartful of cookies and cupcakes and chips. I’d start eating in the car, and once I was home, tore through that food until I felt like a blimp about to burst. Then into the bathroom to hurl it all back at the universe. And soon as I got hungry again, I did it all over. Buying more food at different stores. At my worst, binging eight or nine times a day. At my worst, all 5’4” of me weighting 98 lbs., and counting down.

It was my mind that drove me crazy, and my body that I punished.

So what happened? At 28, I met my husband and it hit me it was either him, or my crazy. I chose him. I got help. I settled down. I learned how to eat, how to listen to my body. I stabilized at 125 lbs. The more I let myself eat, the less food was an “issue.” I got married, had kids. And to my wonder and surprise, after Philip was born, I lost more than my pregnancy pounds. I weighed in at 118, where I stayed for the next 20 years.

The blow of Philip’s death blasted me into a suffering I was helpless to deal with, so I turned to food. Same pattern – I went from barely eating, to vomiting. Back and forth, back and forth. Down to 102 lbs., obsessed with staying there. Telling no one; not anyone, for longer than I can remember. Until the day I told Kirsten, told Rose, who is sweet and lovely and who I’ve yet – but hope – to meet. Finally, I told my therapist. And most importantly, I told Natalie, because I would never have taken the risk that she’d find this out through a blog instead of directly from me.

I’ve been throwing out weight and height to make a point, to make the picture clear. To make myself see what I am doing, to shake myself into some semblance of caring for myself. Because much as I’m taking the steps to do what’s right, it’s coming from “I have to,” not, “I want to.” The have-to is because of Natalie; I love her enough to understand she needs me right where I am. It’s all for her; I don’t know how I ever let it get to be for me, too.

Here’s where I stand: I have stopped throwing up. I am afraid to eat, even though I do. I do not weigh myself. I am probably somewhere between 110 − 115 lbs. I am told I am too thin. I do not believe that. When I look in the mirror I don’t see what you do.

And I’m exhausted; I’m tired of worrying about food, tired of it always being on my mind, tired of the voices in my head  that don’t even sound like voices, just sound like normal thoughts. Normal? Here’s a sample: “Oh, are you going to eat that for lunch? That’s too heavy. You better not eat breakfast. Eat some grapes and drink some Vitamin Water. Don’t finish what you’re eating. It’s good to leave food on your plate. What are you going to eat for dinner? You ate lunch, after all, you can’t eat too much for dinner. And don’t eat too late. What? You’re eating popcorn at 10:00 at night? I don’t care if it’s fat-free; that’s bad. Very bad. Bad, bad, bad.”

This isn’t the end; it’s just all I can say for now.

© 2014 Denise Smyth


17 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. jmgoyder
    Feb 01, 2014 @ 03:00:21

    I have had several bouts of this over the years and I know what hell it is. I am still a very unstable eater but thank goodness I no longer vomit. My thoughts are very much with you as you try to find the balance again (in terms of food I mean). My problem now is to do with drinking too much alcohol so I do know what you mean about addiction and it is scary. Love xxx


  2. tric
    Feb 01, 2014 @ 12:18:54

    When anyone struggles in this way it is not about eating or food, it is about control. You have lost Philip, and have so many complex feelings since. It is all too much and in a desperate bid to manage an out of control situation, you and others turn to food in this way. It is initially something you control, but ultimately it will control you, and will become another difficulty in your life.
    I feel for you. Life is so difficult. I hope you find a bit of sunshine soon.


    • Denise
      Feb 01, 2014 @ 23:36:54

      You’re so right about the control. And anger. It’s no answer, it’s a reaction.

      Thank you Tric; I appreciate your concern. A step at a time.


  3. behindthemaskofabuse
    Feb 01, 2014 @ 20:31:24

    What courage you have admitting this to yourself and then on your blog. My heart goes out to you, and I’m truly sorry that you’re in such pain. I have no wise words for you as I’m not in your shoes, but I’m here sitting with you xo


  4. Joyce McCartney
    Feb 01, 2014 @ 21:55:59

    So many times I read your blog and just want to hug you. So, virtual hugs. I’ve been faced with HIDEOUS weight gain since Tom died. In the beginning I did a decent job of keeping emotional eating at bay, mostly because I couldn’t eat. Then, the shock wore off and the trips through the fast food places kicked in. I don’t have the physical energy to workout, plan meals, cook. I’m starting to do better but my body is rebelling in this “fuck you” way that makes me feel like I’ll never be healthy again. I know I’ll never be the same person I was when he was alive.


  5. Denise
    Feb 02, 2014 @ 00:41:10

    Joyce, neither of us will ever be the same person; we’ve been shaken and rattled and all the pieces aren’t here any more. Isn’t it crazy that grief isn’t enough pain, that we do things like abuse food, that we separate ourselves into “me” and “my body” and we wage war? Or think our body’s waging war? Why don’t we do everything we can to comfort ourselves? I mean, if someone we love was suffering this kind of loss, we would be kind and loving and do what we could to help. Are we blaming ourselves for something we had no control over?

    Virtual hugs right back to you, and don’t forget to keep writing. I am always reading; I don’t always have the energy to comment, but I am here and I am listening.


  6. Rose
    Feb 02, 2014 @ 22:04:03


    First you made me cry, and then you make me proud ! I’m really proud of you, of the fact that you were able to talk to your daughter first, the fact that you exposed this issue here and the fact that YOU ARE trying to fight this…and as long as you keep trying, even if sometimes it might seems you are not winning the battle, is all that matters. You are a strong woman, with a BEATIFUL soul, and there are a lot of people out there that love you, including me..and for this simple reason, you don’t have to beg or think you are not loved ever again….

    Love from me to you!



  7. Denise
    Feb 02, 2014 @ 23:04:23

    Oh Rose, what can I say to that?? You’re such a bright soul – you saying this means much. I am grateful and honored for all your love, kindness and compassion.

    Hope you got my last…


  8. grahamforeverinmyheart
    Feb 03, 2014 @ 17:59:51

    Getting well for Natalie IS getting well for yourself. She is part of you. Her happiness is as important to you as your own (if not more important). Hopefully with the help of your therapist and all of your friends (physical and virtual) you’ll work out a more balanced approach to your eating behavior. I have confidence that you are already on the right road.


  9. Denise
    Feb 03, 2014 @ 19:39:23

    I am eating, I am not vomiting. Which makes room for all those feelings I was flushing down the toilet.

    I’m okay. You know how it is. We get grief attacks. At the moment, I’m calm. Then, I’m home with my daughter and it’s snowing. Excellent conditions for me. But I have to learn to weather things that don’t go my way, and not give up and start eating about them.

    But for now, right now, I’m okay, my friend. And I hope you are, too.


  10. Lucia Maya
    Feb 03, 2014 @ 21:28:39

    Whew, so painful, and glad you’re feeling better today. You express and articulate this so well, I get a real sense of what this must be like to live inside of…
    sending so much love.


  11. Denise
    Feb 04, 2014 @ 22:08:58

    Thank you Lucia, and much love back. I miss you or something. xoxoxoxoxoxo


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