Covid 19 – This Body of Mine, Part Two

I met my ex-husband when I first landed in AA, and three years later decided I liked him. I mean, I liked him. He seemed a normal guy to me. Steady, stable, kind and reliable. Smart and focused. Funny. I liked the way he dressed. I really wanted to date him. Have a relationship with him. But I wasn’t normal. I spent a lot of time with my head over the toilet bowl. I figured if I wanted to get involved with a guy like that I better get more normal myself. So I started going to ABOA (Anorexic, Bulimic, Overeaters Anonymous) meetings in NYC. I found lots of young women like myself. With their help, I began to learn how to eat. I got involved with the guy, got married, and did not live happily ever after.

The one thing about alcoholism and drug addiction is that there is a clear path. Do not pick up the first drink, the first narcotic. Not so with food. We have to eat, so where does that leave us? I continued to go that NYC meeting for a while, then found a few meetings closer to me in Brooklyn, where I lived. Looking back, I can’t say exactly how it happened, but I stopped binging, I stopped vomiting. I went through a short period of trying to go on a diet-for-bulimics that someone came up with, but that didn’t work. Eating, for me, is about control and I couldn’t control what I ate. But with bulimia, at least I could control what I kept in my body. Having someone tell me what to eat made me feel out of control again and I rebelled. I decided to eat my way. What I had on my side was that I knew how to eat healthy. I’d been a vegetarian for a few years (which does not necessarily mean healthy) and knew to eat whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables. I began to be able to feel when I was full and so stop eating. I was eating to satisfy myself and my weight stabilized at 125 lbs.

Then came crisis in my marriage. By this time I had two children, ages 1 and 3, and I had a mental freak out. I couldn’t take it. I didn’t want to be married, I didn’t want this life I chose. I was trapped. I couldn’t get out – I had no job, I had kids, what was I to do? And I discovered a sort of anorexia – my anxiety was such that I had no appetite, and having no appetite I went days without eating. And after a few days when I felt hungry, I’d eat and then puke it up. Before too long I was 102 lbs.

My then-husband didn’t notice. My sister-in-law did. Knowing my history, she asked if I was vomiting, I told her no, I was going through a hard time and eating was difficult. That’s all. She didn’t look like she believed me, but what could she say?

I had an extraordinary doctor, Dr. Kokayi. Board-Certified, NYU, but who also studied homeopathy and acupuncture. I’d roll my eyes at that as soon as the next person, except when used by the right doctor they work, and I am the proof.

Like so:

-I had developed a ganglion. That’s a terribly painful cyst that made it nearly impossible to use my right hand. Dr. Kokayi gave me a remedy and in two days it disappeared.

-When Philip was 3-1/2 years old he was still in diapers. He was afraid to poo on the bowl, and yes, of course I had a mini potty just for him. No matter how much and how kindly I spoke to him, he wouldn’t use it. I took him to Dr. Kokayi who talked with him for a while, then gave me a remedy to give to him. I remember its name – Pulsatilla. Three days later Philip was using the toilet.

-And my first visit to him was quite astonishing: Seven months pregnant with Natalie and my back was torturing me. It was suggested I go see Dr. Kokayi. We met on a Friday afternoon in May. Since I was too pregnant to lie on my belly and get acupuncture in my back, he put the needles into my ears and left me to sit a while in the exam room, wondering what the hell I was doing. This baby’s only getting bigger, how could the pain possibly stop? But It did stop. Monday morning I was pain free and remained so for the rest of my pregnancy.

I brought my kids to him while we still lived in Brooklyn. They never had antibiotics – whatever they had, he cured with homeopathy.

I bring him up because I was a miserable and desperate 102 lbs. Eating/not eating was ruling my life and I could do nothing about it. We sat down in his office and he looked at me a while. “If you don’t start eating, “ he said, “I am admitting you to the hospital.”

I don’t know that he could have forced me into a hospital, but I had a vision of myself being there for what I felt a most shameful reason while someone in the family took care of my kids. He could have kicked his foot all the up my ass and it wouldn’t have had more of an impact. I went home and started eating.

Even that wasn’t the end of this. There’s the noise in my head that tells what’s okay to eat, what’s not okay, how much is enough. That voice is always telling me I eat too much dinner. That voice is proud that I never eat breakfast and that I eat salad for lunch. That voice warns me that all this not exercising and all this eating what I want is going to make me fat.

I can tell you I’ve lost the desire to binge. I don’t have food cravings, I have hunger. I had a pretty long spell of not vomiting, then Philip died. My weight had been 118 lbs. since I gave birth to him. One of my reactions to his death was to start drinking and stop eating. I could not control the universe and bring Philip home, but I could control my eating. Days I’d go without food, and when I ate, I picked at my plate. When time went by and the hunger grew too strong, I began eating and vomiting. I went back down to 102 lbs. and wanted to stay there.

During this time I was living on the top floor of my friend Nadiya’s house. One evening, I left Natalie upstairs so I could use the bathroom on the first floor. I wanted to vomit where Natalie couldn’t hear. When I was done, I felt a pain in my chest on my left side, where my heart is. I knew it was nothing but I pretended. I bent over, concentrated on the pain, told myself I was having a heart attack. Made myself believe I was have a heart attack. Stayed with that pain as long as I could and I began to panic because Natalie was upstairs and I knew how much she needed me. I couldn’t die, it wasn’t time.

And that’s how I stopped vomiting that time. I’ve probably vomited two or three times in the years since. The worst of this addiction has gone. But what’s left is the power I give to that voice in my head that leads every day to a moment of despair about this body of mine.

Truth is, I am not my body. My body is simply the vehicle through which my thoughts, my actions, my emotions, my spirit come through. It is not the most important thing about me. Love is the most important thing, always is. Shame about my body is another block to loving. It means I decide how people feel about me based on how pleasing I think they think I look. It came between K and me because I could present myself any way I wanted during the day but at night we were two naked bodies and mine was always scared and hesitant.

And that opens a whole new door of pain; I leave it here, for now.

© 2020 Denise Smyth

Covid 19 – This Body of Mine, Part One

Chinese curse: May you lead an interesting life.

Yes, these are interesting times. To say the least. But in my world things are quiet. Dull, even. There is pain and death all around me but I’m detached from it, like something about this isn’t real. That doesn’t mean I’m not doing what I’m supposed to. I don’t want to be sick – I have a friend who said her sister got the virus and it felt like she had glass in her lungs. I am in the high risk category. This could kill me and that’s frightening.

I am, so far, in the fortunate group that has no symptoms. But with so much going on around me, I feel like I’m missing something. On the one hand it’s a GOOD thing I’m missing – on the other, I want something happening here. Something different. Something new. Something interesting.

It would be good to be grateful for the calm I’m living in. What I am right now is antsy. What is this thing l’m longing for? This feeling isn’t new. I feel like this when I have down time – after work, on the weekends. Now all I have is down time.

This week, I had a root canal. Hey – I got out. I baked chocolate chip cookies, lemon cookies, caramelized onion-gruyere biscuits and Naan stuffed with cheeses and kale. And I worry that I’m gaining weight. Oh, we’re all gaining weight, some say. I take no comfort in that. While I’ve been Bulimic and Anorexic, I no longer vomit what I eat or restrict it to the point of starving. But my mind is all messed up about it. If you saw me, you’d say I could use a few more pounds. Not that I would believe you. I’d tell you my weight but I threw my scale out because my self worth fluctuated by the pound when I owned one. I’d say I weigh between 112 – 115 lbs. I am 5’5”. I wear a size two or extra small. And I still see myself as a half-chubby (that would be the bottom half).

It’s my thighs, my butt. If I gain weight that’s where it will go and I have nightmares of the body I had when I was twenty years old. 138 lbs., all in my ass. People would call me bubble butt. Thunder thighs. I was told when I turned a corner it took my ass five minutes to follow me. I was told my butt stuck out so far it was like a tray you could balance glasses on. In passing two men I heard, “She’s nice looking,” “Yeah, but her ass is so fat.” I even had a boyfriend who claimed having so much weight on my butt was a health hazard.

If this wasn’t about me, I’d be laughing. Perhaps I should learn to laugh. As I write this, I admit I am. A little. But there isn’t a day goes by that I don’t angst about my flabby butt. I don’t do anything about it – I don’t exercise. I don’t even walk. But that’s another story. This story is about body image and the inability to see what I look like. When put my pants on all I see are my thighs sticking out. And the stomach I’ve developed which had always been effortlessly flat. I am not my body, I tell myself. But my body tells me otherwise.

It’s no wonder I was a solid 138lb. By the time I was in my early twenties, I drank like a fiend and ate whatever was in sight. I was never full unless I was uncomfortably full. My pants size continued to grow while my breasts were as small as two little teardrops. Cut off my legs and I would’ve been a Weeble. My pants size grew to the point where I was struggling into size 12 and that’s when it hit me. One more size up and I’d be in the teens. And I heard the guy I had a crush on called me thunder thighs. Something had to be done, and quickly.

I am an alcoholic and an addict. I want instant gratitude. Always. I didn’t know how to lose weight without eating less and I didn’t know to do that either. But I remembered something I’d read in Cosmopolitan Magazine about women sticking their fingers down their throat and vomiting in order to lose weight. Why not?

Within a a month or so I lost 16 lbs. I was now a respectable 122 lbs., but couldn’t stop there. I would have to vomit a certain amount to maintain, and even more if I wanted to lose more weight. Which is the way my addiction works for me. When I went out to drink, I had to get the first three down as quickly as possible to get that click in my head that told me everything was all right. That wasn’t enough, of course. I had to keep drinking to ensure everything stayed “all right.” 122 lbs put me in clothes I was comfortable in, but I was out for greater glory. 122 wasn’t safe, because what if I went to 125, which wasn’t acceptable. Better to get into the teens. But the teens soon turned into 102 and then 98 because double digits were best. 88 was my next thought, but 98 was where I remained for a while.

I learned to drink a lot of water when I ate. A full glass before and as much as I could while eating. All to make it easier to hurl my food down the toilet bowl. Sometimes, right before, I’d jump up and down or put my hands on my belly to shake it to make sure the water was all mixed up with the food. In the bathroom, I’d tuck my hair back into my shirt, lean over the bowl with my finger down my throat and heave. It was always difficult at first. Sometimes nothing would come out and I’d dig deeper, heave harder. Sometime a little bit would come out, just a tease. But I always kept at it until I hit that sweet spot, where everything just burst and flowed until there was little left in my belly and I was satisfied. Clean the bowl, wash my hands, rinse my mouth and I was ready to meet the world.

I had it bad. In 1983 I joined AA but it was three years before I got help with my eating disorders. I was vomiting nearly every meal I ate, and if I was having an emotional crisis I’d binge and vomit as much as nine times a day. I lived alone, so that was easy. Going out to eat, not so much. When time came to exit the dinner table and head for the bathroom, there would often be stalls that could be occupied. The stall at the end felt safest – furthest from the door, and the chance of only one person next to me. I would often sit and wait until the room emptied. Sometimes someone would walk in anyway and disrupt the process. If I thought I could be quiet, I’d continue. If not, I’d swallow and figure out how much longer I could stay in the bathroom without someone looking for me. I was not always successful. If I wasn’t, I’d go back to my table nervous and distracted, wondering how long before I got home, would I still be able to puke up my dinner or would it have already digested and turned into fat?

And when I got home, if I was having trouble vomiting, I’d drink some water and eat some more food in the vain hope that if I could get that food up, the rest would follow.

Part 2 tomorrow

© 2020 Denise Smyth

My Secret

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

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 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