Thursday, July 9, 2009


Yes, I have, and no, it wasn't on alcohol or drugs. It was on food.

A couple of months ago I joined Overeaters Anonymous, not too sure of what I would find there but willing to believe this 12-step program could help me. It did, by teaching me that food for me had become much like alcohol and drugs had once been--a way to escape reality, discomfort, pain, sadness, frustration, anger, unhappiness. Of late, food's main purpose--to nourish--had turned to something unhealthy, yet another means to avoid responsibility when life was unpleasant and felt out of control.

There's nothing new about this, it's at the very heart of any addiction. We eat, drink, smoke, have sex, shop, gamble to excess in the belief that if a little makes us feel good, a lot will make us feel great. For many, food is an inexpensive drug, affordable when other reprieves are not, legal, sanctioned and often encouraged. It makes us feel good, and is bathed in parental approbation--as children, we got approval from eating what was served us without complaining...

So for about eight weeks I did relatively well. Having realized that my hunger was often an emotion rather than a need for food, I found my appetite almost automatically curbed. Meaningful little things happened: I ate smaller portions and was satisfied with less. I did not feel the compunction to finish everything on my plate. I could order a dish at a restaurant and immediately pack half of it away for later consumption.

I wasn't working a particularly good program. No sponsor, no meal plan, only a couple of meetings a week but it was working. I lost a little weight without having to resort to grueling exercises or diet pills. I went to the gym as always and to my surprise found it painless to resist the post work-out Starbucks treat, the deserts, the second helping at lunch or dinner. I made friends in OA, found helpful people who were free with good advice.

Then a lot of bad stuff started happening... A relationship went down and the friendship it held changed drastically, investments vanished, my free-lance customers disappeared. A book I had been working on for six years refused to sell. I realized I was exhausted all the time and was diagnosed with sleep apnea. There were a lot of deaths, one after the other, and too many funerals. I suddenly got the feeling that the best part of life was done. One middle-of-the-night I woke up to the realization that, after two marriages and many relationships, I'd probably end up by myself. I could not blank out images of my late father, a kind and gregarious man, who died alone in an assisted living facility following an accident there. Days became far too long. I would get up in the small hours of the morning, try to write and find that well empty. Relapse adds to the sense of disillusionment that plagues addicts, and feeds into the vicious circle of attempt/failure.

All this was wrapped in an over-arching sadness. I started eating randomly because it felt good. In a world full of arbitrary events, food was something I thought I could control. It wasn't as deadly as alcohol or other intoxicants--I know I am powerless over those--but it numbed almost as well.

Now I'm trying to recommit but it's a joyless enterprise for now. I'm not totally out of it yet, but recognizing there's a problem is a first step. We'll see what happens.

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