Okay, so I went up and down on the scale and after that night of binging, I knew it had to stop. How I was going to do it was a mystery. All I knew is I had to do something because it was constantly on my mind. "What will I eat for dinner?" "How many cookies can I eat?" "Nothing fits, I look terrible. I hate myself."
Honestly, I don't know how this happened, I may have just taken out a phone book and looked up Overeaters' Anonymous and then went to a meeting. I didn't know anyone there. I didn't know anyone who ever went there. I think the meeting was in a church off Fairfax, south of 3rd Street.
I looked around at the people and I was surprised to see that most of them were not overweight - in fact, many of them were quite thin. I sat in the back of the room and listened to what people had to say. They talked about their experiences before coming into OA, being fine during the days, but eating all night long...peanut butter out of the jar, ice cream, cakes, cookies, stopping at fast food restaurants and buying giant meals. Several of them talked about food plans, eating three times a day with nothing in between, writing down what they ate, calling their sponsors, and they spoke about a higher power.
How I was going to just eat three times a day with nothing in between was incomprehensible to me, a major nosher, but I figured with all the stupid diets I'd been on, I could probably do that. I could write down what I ate and get a sponsor, and I did, that night. I can't remember much about her, but she was very nice and she helped me get the eating under control. I also remember thinking, higher power? No way. But I went home that night and I called the therapist I was seeing at the time. He was kind of an odd guy, he ended up marrying Florence Henderson of all people, but I vaguely remember the conversation we had.
"The people at the meeting were really fit and attractive and they really seemed to have their food issues under control. I want to be like that, but they talked about God and I just don't believe in God."
"Well... can you fake it?" he asked me.
"Yes. Pretend you do. Just for the sake of trying to lose the weight."
I never grew up with any sense of there being a God. We were Jewish, but that meant lighting candles on Friday night and eating corn rye with sturgeon on Saturday mornings and bagels and lox on Sunday. So for me being Jewish had major perks, especially on the weekends. Now you know where the eating disorder began. And it also meant that everyone in the world was either Jewish or not. I didn't know much about other religions, "He's a Jew, she's not." "So what is she?" "Not Jewish."
We never prayed. We rarely went to temple except for weddings or bar mitzvahs. I didn't go to Hebrew School. My parents never said, "Oh, dear, let's pray for this or that..." They did say "Goddammit" a lot. I was told that Jews never got on their knees to pray. Ever. I loved scenes in movies or television when kids said their prayers at night beside their bed. I thought that seemed like a really lovely idea, but I was never allowed to do it. I think I probably snuck it in a few times, "God, could you get me that doll I want? Or the bike?" I never prayed for world peace, although I did pray during the Cuban missile crisis that the world would not come to an end. And I remember after Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King died asking God to please stop all the killing of our leaders.
You're wondering what this has to do with a frozen trout, right?
I decided that night that I would "act as if" and write down the food I ate each day and call my sponsor. I went to meetings all over town, several times a week, and listened to stories even worse than my nights of binging. I discovered that you could also go to open AA meetings and listen to really dramatic stories of people in recovery from alcoholism. (As a writer, this intrigued me so much I actually became addicted to meetings.) I started writing the steps, but I don't remember how far I got. The first step is "we admitted we were powerless over ________(food, alcohol, money, whatever) that our lives had become unmanageable."
I learned that addictive behavior can be to many things: alcohol, food, shopping, gambling, sex, pornography, religion, television, computers, gossip, George Clooney, the list is pretty much endless, and the one that I have recently realized is my worst addiction, people. Taking care of people, trying to "cure" them, knowing what is best for them. I guess I always thought I was Lucy in the Snoopy comics, offering advice. The people program is Alanon - and it's about growing up in a home with alcoholics (even high functioning ones), or some kind of dysfunction, or marrying an alcoholic or someone with a serious addiction, or having a child or relative who's addicted to something. It's vaguer than AA or OA or other addictions. And it's harder to solve in a way, because most of us are in contact with people every day, our friends, family, the people we work with, etc., and a lot of our reactions are rooted in our childhood responses and emotions.
Anyway, back to food. I dropped the weight and kept going to OA and open AA meetings in L.A. for several years. When I moved to Manhattan, I could never find a meeting that felt comfortable to me, so I stopped going. I have, over the years, had a few "slips" - especially after 9/11. I will never say that I am "cured." But I have learned to eat what my body craves and to stop eating before I get uncomfortably full. For people who have no eating problems it's hard to understand. I have no problem with alcohol. If I never drank another sip of beer or wine, or any kind of alcohol, I couldn't care less. But a life without ever eating another piece of chocolate cake would seem a bit sad to me.
My concept of a higher power has become something I cannot imagine living without. I meditate and ask for guidance and I have never been let down. There are a few people in my life I trust to give me the kind of divine inspiration I need, if I feel lost. I have never had another experience like the one I did that night almost thirty years ago, but I certainly had some difficult nights.
One day at a time, I'm trying to become a better person and I can honestly say it's one step forward and two steps back.
I don't know if any of this makes any sense to anyone, but it's just my story. This year, because of my separation, I haven't been able to eat much. I'm trying to enjoy the fact that I'm thinner now than I was when I was in my early 20's.
Last May, when I went to Miami, I put on a bikini for the first time in over thirty years and I have to say I looked pretty good in it. And when I go back in November, I'm going to wear it again.
And I believe that for anyone suffering with compulsive eating, there are answers. It may take a while to find what works for you, but it's out there.
I believe now that my eating had to do with loneliness. And while I still feel lonely sometimes, it's nothing like it was when I was younger, when I was growing up in a house that was chaotic and when I was living alone in a strange city with few friends other than a box of Pepperidge Farm cookies. Or even when I was married and raising my daughter, while my husband was on the road.
Now, in fact, I enjoy being alone much of the time. And I always feel somehow, I'm never really alone.