"Denial ain't just a river in Egypt."
- Mark Twain
Funny thing about this quote - I remember it as being something Al Franken said as Stuart Smalley on Saturday Night Live. I looked it up online to make sure I got it right and discovered that it actually belongs to Mark Twain. Clever, very clever, this internet of ours. Instantly elevates me from aged pop-culture referencer to Champion of Classics.
I've been thinking a lot about denial and what changes honesty causes to occur inside me. Self-delusion makes for a messy life. Peel off the lies and you're left with something much simpler. Unfortunately it also is raw upon first being exposed, but new skin always is. I've written before about needing to shed a few pounds but I chose not to write about the bigger issue for me, my eating disorder. Today in the spirit of honesty I've decided to spill it.
I'm a compulsive eater. These days they also call it food addiction and binge eating, but when I first became aware of what my problem was I learned it as that. Food is to me what alcohol is to an alcoholic: friend, mother, lover, confidante, enemy. If I had nothing with me on a desert isle but unlimited supplies of certain foods I could live out my remaining days quite content, albeit well over 400 pounds. So I suppose I wouldn't have too many days to live out. Good thing since I'm not sure I'd have the energy to cut down enough coconuts to cover up a 400 pound body.
The genesis of my disorder doesn't really matter for the purposes of this blog, though I have enough insight to see bits of its birth. I went to a twelve step program (Why do they always say "twelve step program"? Why don't they just call it by name? We already know it's anonymous. Saying its name isn't going to give anything away) the summer after my freshman year of college. In the years since I've seen a few therapists who specialized in eating disorders and have found a great deal of healing. Each one of them brought me to a new level of health. Sadly, I've come to admit that this disease is never fully going away. I have good days/weeks/months and bad ones. On good ones I can eat one cookie and enjoy its taste. I can even keep cookies in the house if I want. But otherwise, it's much better for me not to keep any in my home. I have a weird split personality about food. My first line of defense is usually strong: I won't buy stuff I know I have problems resisting. I know that in a weak state and left alone I won't be able to resist the allure of bliss, sweet bliss as I float away on a cloud of sugar nirvana. It lasts all of 3 minutes or however long until the item is eaten. Make that, 3 minutes minus 15 seconds or so. As I approach the last couple of bites I'm already thinking ahead to what I can next eat. So goes the cycle.
So in this latest round of semi-sobriety, I've come to admit some very hard honesties to myself. One cookie will do nothing for me: I will barely enjoy its taste, and the bliss I seek in eating it won't last long enough to sustain my mood. It will take many cookies for me to experience the physical change, the actual calming of my nerves, the relaxation of my muscles and the slight haze that sets over my brain. You thought I was exaggerating when I compared myself to an alcoholic? To an addict? I'm not. Sugar causes biochemical changes within me; I don't need a medical scan to show me the changes in my brain. I experience them vividly. I know what to eat to give myself that high. And like any addict, the amount required to achieve that high increases with time. So I've admitted to myself now that my method of medicating just doesn't work. As such, I've been avoiding cookies and the like altogether. I've been doing Weight Watchers since January and have successfully dropped about 20 pounds. I know, I know - what happened to the "9 pounds" I was carrying around for months? Ah, yes. Escaping over the holidays and into the new year with all the baked goods I could get my hands on rapidly increased my weight gain. Today I feel and look good, and my clothes are all fitting again. The food plan for WW keeps me constrained so I really don't have the ability to binge, though I still want to every day. EVERY DAY. I am not satisfied on the anxiety front but at least I'm not compounding it on the body-hate front by not fitting into my wardrobe. I imagine my approach these last few months is like an alcoholic sobering up by himself, alone, with no real support. No one who knows exactly what he's going through. No one to lean on when so help him God, that bottle is screaming to be imbibed. What I've done is commendable but highly tentative and not recommended to anyone.
I've already done the hard work, haven't I. Perhaps I should hit a meeting, connect with others battling my same demon. I know it's the right thing to do.
"Always do right - this will gratify some and astonish the rest."
- Mark Twain
Mr. Clemens may be on to something.