I’ve debated writing this post for quite some time. In fact, I’m still not sure if I’m actually going to publish it. I’m not even sure I know quite where to begin. There are so many aspects to this topic, and so many ways to approach it that I’ve been quite paralyzed by indecision. I’ve written it and rewritten it in my head for weeks and each time I’ve done so, it takes on another meaning. This topic is, in fact, bigger than me. It’s bigger than a lot of people, and that’s why it causes so much trouble. The topic is this: addiction.
There is a man close to my heart who is struggling with it. He is strong, and smart, and brave, and gentle, and kind. He is honorable. He is the kind of man who you’d trust with your life. The kind of man you’d trust with your children’s lives, so when I was told of his current predicament, my immediate reaction was disbelief: “No, it couldn’t actually be true. There must be another side to this story.” I think my actual words to his wife were “but it’s like Bizarro Superman. It’s the complete opposite of who he is.” She agreed, but it didn’t make it any less true.
This cut me to the core. I felt for his wife. I felt for his kids. I felt for him, and I desperately wanted to talk to him. To see him. To hear it from his own mouth. To know why. I wanted to tell him I was there for him, and remind him of who he is. I wanted to give him a big ol’ bear hug and tell him it was going to be ok… right after I told him to get his sh*t together. In fact, I tried. I tried to get in touch with him, but couldn’t. And that hurt just as much as anything else. I felt like he was just … gone.
Months went by and then one day I got a message from him asking me to call – which I did immediately! It was a great phone conversation which led to a great visit. He isn’t out of the woods, but he is trying very hard to put his life back together. He has sought help. He is going to meetings – daily, I think he said. He told me everything. What it was that he thinks triggered it all, where he is now, and why he didn’t call or write me back. That was the bit that hit me like a brick. He said he was afraid he let me down. He said he was afraid I’d judge him. He said he was sorry for thinking that, but he just couldn’t stand the idea of knowing that I might. That still eats at me. It eats at me because I know exactly what he means. I would never judge him, because I am afraid of being judged. I have kept a secret from most of my loved ones for years. I have never shared it, because I am afraid of the exact same thing. It’s interesting, because I’ve thrown it out there to certain friends nonchalantly: “well, you can’t go by me on that one, because …”. Usually, the response is “really? wow”, and then they move on. None of them has judged me – or if they have, it was privately and has never interfered with my friendship with them. Not even once. But here I sit, deliberately avoiding divulging it, because I am worried that I will be judged. Worried that if I happen to look too thin or tired or if I pass up a tray of dinner rolls, I am being judged. I’m worried that my credibility will be lost. I’m worried that my loved ones will worry. Or feel guilty. And the idea of them feeling guilty makes me feel guilty. I never want to be a bother to anyone. I never want to lose the illusion that I have it all together & my life is a magical fairy tale and that absolutely nothing is wrong. Because my life is a magical fairy tale and I do have it all together (the fact that I’m in yesterday’s clothes and am usually wiping poopy or boogies off my hands notwithstanding). But I’ve been thinking about him, and thinking about how unfair it is that he has been so honest with me, and is going to be forced to be honest with everyone who cares about him, while here I sit hiding my own addiction. It is a kind of addiction …. well, maybe it’s more of an obsession. Well, here goes nothing: I struggle with anorexia.
No, I’m not trying to directly compare alcoholism to anorexia. I know they are different animals altogether. They are different, but there are a few things that they have in common. Both cause physical damage that can be lasting, and if either goes unchecked, can kill; both are life-long struggles, and both are things we don’t like exposed.
Now, you might be thinking that I must be very vain if I obsess about the way I look so much that I’d be willing to starve myself; and I’d be lying if I said that self-image wasn’t a part of it. It is part of it, but the bigger part of my experience with anorexia is obsession. Obsession and control. How long can I go without eating? How few calories can I consume and continue on? How light can I get without alarming anyone? I used to be able to make an entire meal out of 2 strawberries (and would feel guilty about eating that second one), and would eat rice individually. Yes, you read that right. I would sit there with a chopstick and pick up individual grains of rice until it grew so wearisome I’d say “forget it”, and dump the rest. I knew how many calories were in a single m & m, and could, in fact, eat only one. I would chart out how many times in a day and how many calories I’d consume – and yes the m&m counts. I even counted the diet pills I was taking for awhile , because they did, in fact, contain a calorie. I made up detailed spreadsheets, and had webpages bookmarked for quick reference. I made a science of cataloging food, an obsession of self-denial, and the lighter I got, the better I felt – both mentally and physically. I can’t explain it. There was – and is – a kind of euphoria in lightness. -and I was addicted to that feeling.
Let me also address the common misconception that anorexia is for teenagers. I can assure you that it is not. I didn’t spiral out of control until I was out of college, and I’ve struggled with it ever since. I say I still struggle with it, and I do. Often I have to talk myself into having lunch, but this does not mean that I do not have it under control. (There’s that word again: control. I really do have a thing for it.) I was exceptionally lonely and unhappy when I was at my worst, and today I am in a much better place; and even when I am feeling low, I would never want to set an unhealthy example for my kids. I have also turned my obsession with food around: instead of worrying about how much I am eating, I now worry about the quality of food I am eating and serving my family. These days I’m all about nutrition, and learning about what different foods can do for me – and my family. I might freak out a little too much when my kids are offered a non-organic apple, or find out that they had a juice box, cupcake, AND box of nerds at a party, but in the end I do know that there are worse things. And there are. And at that very same party I will probably ask for a cupcake.
Again, I’m not trying to directly compare anything he’s going through with anything I’m going through. Except, of course, that fear of being judged. It really is the root of this confession. I guess I just want those in my life to know that I am keenly aware that no one is perfect. I know how quickly an obsession, at least, can spiral out of control, and I know how hard it is to come back from that. I know what it’s like to hide what I’m going through. I know what it’s like to lie about what I was consuming, and I know what it’s like to not want to be a disappointment or worry to anyone. I know what it’s like to fear judgement from those I love the most, and I know what it is like to be ashamed. There is so much more to say on this topic. Or maybe I’ve said too much. In any case, I’m going to stop writing and hold my finger over the “publish” button and wonder if today is the day I actually press it.