From the Trenches of Food Addiction: Fear and Loathing

I so wanted to postpone writing this statement of where I am in my food addiction and in my body that I managed to make myself just sick enough yesterday to sleep through my 97-year-old father’s winter ball — which pretty much sums up what being “in the food” (or any other addictive substance or behavior) induces in the addict: emotional exhaustion, selfishness, a twilight life.

A little over two months ago I moved from Brooklyn, New York, to my hometown in order to be near my father, whose health grows more fragile each month. (Will he be at next year’s winter ball? How much does he mind my absence, even though my brother, sister-in-law, niece and nephew-in-law were there? Am I bad or weak or did I truly need that collapse?)

I’m slowly sorting out the practicalities of the move, but I’ve yet to get a car or an apartment of my own. I’m living in my brother’s basement and learning a lot about myself, given that I’m ever-single and in my late 50s, and living with people isn’t something I’m used to. Not being able to walk to the grocery store is annoying, and each request for a ride to the bank or a friend’s house risks being an imposition. Worst of all, I’ve had a couple of months of night binging — a thing I do when staying with people.

Night binging when I’m away from home is about taking some part of myself back. In the moment, it feels like the complete privacy I’m used to and crave, but that privacy is really an isolation that is a space suit against judgment, my feelings of inadequacy, fear of the future, loneliness. It’s also about taking my eating disorder back from trying to pretty it up in front of other people.

Every time I put on an article of clothing I haven’t worn in a while, I feel like I’ve gotten away with murder if it fits comfortably. At the same time, however, there are clothes I’m too scared to try on or that don’t fit comfortably anymore or that fit when last they were annoyingly loose. My life has been out of control since I decided to make the move four months ago, and the chaos is reflected in my food.

A few days ago, I decided that I would place one restriction on my eating: If I was going to end the day in eating, I would not do it in bed and I would not do it invisibly. I don’t know where the scale of shame sags most: letting my brother and sister-in-law see what I’m capable of, or waking up in the morning with food packaging and another food secret. After a few successful nights, I can say I feel better when I wake up in the morning. I feel more honest and have none of the frenzy to throw stuff out.

But I’m getting fatter and I’m scared. One of the scariest things is writing about this because it seems whenever I announce something about proving my food and addiction, I promptly screw it up.

Part of the need to screw up is not wanting to define myself by my eating disorder, and especially not by my attempts to attack it. There are an infinite number of parts to addiction, and when I’m “in the food,” the addiction is the puppet master. It doesn’t like it when I don’t jump to its command, and it especially enjoys my public pronouncements because it will snap that string back, quick and hard, affording it a glorious good laugh.

Knowing I had to write about one of my secrets crippled me yesterday. I hope I’ve paid the price in advance for it. The most shaming aspect of my fear is that I missed my father’s dance. The secrets of addiction make me pay, over and over again.

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