For as long as I can remember, I would put as much food on my plate as I could in case it would all be gone before I got my first serving. I grew up in a household with two artists and there was always food on the table, but I think somewhere deep in my unconscious, I always worried that there wouldn’t be enough. In hindsight I can see that my mother had an overeating problem and my father was always obsessed with his work - what we called a ‘forgetful eater’. I can say that I inherited both those traits – the overeater and the undereater.
Food for me growing up was family time around the dining table, and even though it was madness and chaos in the household, it was genuine family time. Food was about my parents being together, the family being together.
Food started to be connected to the body around the time I hit puberty, and more prominently when I left the family home. If food was attached to the family growing up, when my parents divorced, food began meaning something else. Food wasn’t wholesome anymore, it was broken. It was this broken force that I would fill my body up with day by day. It was unfulfilling. Food was lonely. And the more food I put in my mouth, the more I fed the loneliness. I didn’t want people to see how lonely I felt, so I didn’t like friends (boyfriends especially) to watch me eat food. I would eat a respectable, minimal amount in front of them, and then when they weren’t there, I would binge on my own with no one watching me. My food was a secret.
By the time I hit puberty, I changed from the European system to the Australian system and felt even more like an outsider. I carried a mask that said everything was okay. My friendship group were all models – part of the ‘popular group’ – and because I felt I had no voice and that these girls could give me a voice, I started to hear their thoughts on food. Food meant getting fat. Food meant stretch marks. Food meant pimples. It was only at the age of 17 after finishing school and traveling all over Europe for a year with my best friend, that I found my own voice on food – in the toilet of my grandparents’ country house in Europe. The voice of extreme shame. The voice of extreme pain. A voice that had no words, just the sound of liquid coming out of my mouth. A voice telling me that I deserved the punishment. That I deserved all of this. The voice of bulimia. That resulted in me staying in my apartment in London for a couple of weeks binging on as many penguin chocolates as possible and watching films to numb out the pain, and then vomiting it all out so that I could start over all over again the next day. It was a ritual. Eat vomit. Eat vomit. Eat vomit. I hated it, but I was stuck in it.
I didn’t realise that this was all part of my disease. I loved getting drunk so that I had an excuse to binge the next day, religiously going to macca’s at 3 or 4am in the freezing cold in London wearing a heap of jackets just so that I could get that taste of fries and burger in my mouth, which would all be gone before I made it back to the apartment anyway. Being caught out in Belgium for eating the whole nutella jar and not owning up to it. I brought all of this behavior back home with me in Australia. The absolute obsession with food. The licking of bowls, the eating off other people’s plates when they weren’t looking, raiding other people’s cupboards when they weren’t looking, stealing housemates food in the fridge and rearranging the food so that they wouldn’t be able to tell, the daily diary intake of food that I carried around and when asked once by a friend ‘I never see you eat, what do you eat?’ – being able to show her this diary plan. I knew that this was not normal.
And always that FEAR, the great FEAR at the pit of my stomach that I would be caught out. The fear, the shame, the secrecy. I had the fear in my stomach-‐ the shame of overeating and the shame of an eating disorder. I kept it secret for years. My best friend knew parts of the eating disorder but no one knew about the overeating. I kept this secret from family, friends, lovers, boyfriends, and colleagues. All in my head. Like a merry go round. Searching endlessly for my next feed. Raiding shopping malls, convenience stores, and supermarkets. Eating out at restaurants with friends and then getting takeaway food on my way home because I wasn’t satisfied. Never satisfied. Never full. ALWAYS always wanting more more more. And on the flip side – the under-eating. The chain smoking and six cups of coffee a day and no food at all to suppress, suppress, suppress. I did that for about a year.
Then chance came my way last year in September, I was asked to work on this incredible project and I met this incredible woman who told me about OA. At first, I thought it sounded like a crock of shit. How could this 12 step program help me ? But I knew I had a problem. I had been lying, cheating and hurting myself for 10 years, and kept it secret from so many people. I remember picking up the phone trembling and saying, ‘Can I just come, do I need to do anything?’ and the answer was ‘no…just to rock up’. My first experience in those walls was like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I could smell the shame, I could sense the fear, I could lap up the pain. And as soon as the first meeting was over, I let out a huge cry outside and couldn’t stop crying. Hearing other people’s stories, identifying with other people’s stories.
Having other people truly understand what you are going through is one of the most healing forces. You cannot understand this disease unless you have experienced it. I met another OA member at the meeting weeks later and we started to chat on the phone three or four times a week. I remember the first time I admitted to her that I would think about food like a crazy person, that I just could not trust myself – she didn’t judge me, she didn’t tell me off, she just listened. Humour would become the basis of our relationship – being able to laugh about the fact that I thought I would die if I didn’t have a bite of an apple. I came to OA knowing two things, that I was a night binger (major problem) and that I felt so much shame around food. I was told that I needed to commit to six meetings. And even though I knew I had a problem, there is such a difference between knowing and doing something about it. I went to those six meetings and then I went to another 18 meetings. Four months later after so much resistance, and so much arguing and crying and screaming and yelling, I realised it was time to get a sponsor.
The first person I had locked eyes with in my first meeting ended up being my sponsor. On the 10th January 2013, it all began. I spoke to my sponsor and we started the steps. This woman has been an incredible force over these last four months of abstinence and sanity. She has been open and giving and allowed me to find my voice. The voice of sanity, the voice of reason, the voice of the adult, whilst also allowing the voice of the little girl inside of me who felt the only way she could deal with what was going on around her was by eating by herself in a room because she couldn’t trust anyone around her. Things have shifted so much since coming to OA…a real sense of trust. Trust in my work in ways that I never thought imaginable and trust in my relationships. I have also never felt so much clarity around my food, talking every morning to my sponsor and gaining a better awareness about trigger foods and learned behavioural patterning. Writing my meal plans the night before, not over thinking it, not procrastinating, just doing it. Knowing that when I am tired or emotional, the food is trickier; I need to be more vigilant, more aware, more ready to play the game. Because I have made a pact with myself and my higher power. That we will play this game so that I can heal myself and heal others.
But all that she asks in return is simple – ‘that I ROCK UP and GIVE UP’. I rock up to the meetings, I rock up to the phonecalls, I rock up to my meals with sanity and balance, I rock up by praying to my higher power. And I give up to my higher power, I give up being a perfectionist, I give up being a control freak, I give up thinking I know everything, I give up wanting the world to be at my mercy. ROCK UP and GIVE UP.