One of the greatest miracles I’ve experienced in OA is discovering my own personal God – and I really have. I wanted to skip straight to this part and spare you my food history. But I feel that if I do not acknowledge my past, and the hell that it was, if I don’t remember where I was and could still be, if I don’t live the programme each moment – my healing will stop and I will go backwards. Better to start at the beginning in that case.
My insanity around food started when I was ten and my dancing teacher initiated us into a world of dieting. The scale immediately became my God and my weight was my ticket to acceptance. Within a year I was purging out the “little extras” that weren’t on my grapefruit and rice cake diet. And not long after that, as puberty started to teach me that life was full of complications, weight became my way of gaining control, bingeing my way of letting go and not feeling, and purging my way of undoing the potential weight gain of bingeing.
I could feel my control mechanism was turning on me, but my mind was already warped and I wasn’t able to stop and did not know how to turn back, what would I turn back to? My bulimia reached the point where it had become an accepted part of who I was even though I was ashamed, desperate and often ill. I just knew that if not today, I certainly would be purging by tomorrow, and it was simply too exhausting to fight what I saw as the inevitable. I became so deceptive – bingeing and purging in private – the “rush” and release was a fix I needed often.
My disease reached full bloom at University. With no parents to monitor my eating I began to skip meals and purge more often. The highlight of my humiliations came on the day that “lovely, timid, shy Charmaine” was exposed as the Res food thief – I had been reduced to climbing through windows to steal chocolate from my own friends. Believe it or not, this whole time I was in therapy with a psychologist whom I saw weekly to try and curb my compulsion – but every week I’d do exactly as I had done before.
Sharing this story is so painful because it reminds me of all my feelings of inadequacy and self-loathing, a life spent comparing myself to others always coming off second best. And the more I tried to be accepted by others, the more faults I found within myself and the more I wanted to be alone.
I ran away from the Res the following day. But my two closest friends, the very people I had stolen from, tracked me down, hugged me, gave me concerned letters from the same people that I had expected would hate me – all begged me to get help. The compassion, forgiveness and acceptance of these people gave me the courage to confront my disease and seek help, but still I could not forgive myself. So even though my friends and I had planned to move into a digs together the following year I was too ashamed and afraid I would continue to eat their food that I moved into a cottage by myself where I put myself on a strict diet and by the time the year was up I weighed 34 kg’s. I had finally attained the ‘ultimate’ in skinniness and won the game – and I was lonelier and more depressed than I had ever felt in my life. I remember getting out of the bath each day with that feeling, glancing at myself in the mirror and seeing all my ribs sticking out – this was the closest to happy I felt throughout that year.
During the year I stayed in therapy and feel sure I would have died if it had not been for my therapist, this amazing woman who made time for me, admired the bottles I decorated for her and replied to my letters. Though physical healing didn’t happen for me that year, I knew I needed to be with people and just eat. I moved in with two guys which I thought I was just great. And to them, every pound I gained was victory – me re-entering the human race. Feeling happy and accepted, I chucked in the dieting and gave up purging. I was able to “eat normally” for months, unfortunately, a food addict still lived deep inside me, and although I never binged as badly as when I was sick, I often ate 4 or 5 peanut butter sandwiches at a time. By the end of that year, I was 20 kg’s overweight. With my degree complete I got back to Jo’burg and I vowed to lose weight without purging, but within a week I was purging and within a month I was right back to my disease.
So when I came into OA, I was desperate to heal and terrified of gaining weight. With my first sponsor I devised a basic food plan, based on the dietician’s advice. I wasn’t eating as much as I should have, but it at least resembled normal eating. For nine months all my energy went into not bingeing or purging with only slight adjustments to the food. More recently, since forming a relationship with God and working with a sponsor from a very similar background I have been able to let go of my weight obsession. But the idea of fat is still very uncomfortable for me, and just when I start to eat “normally” terror strikes the deepest part of my being and makes me want to exercise until I drop and eat as little as is needed to just keep me alive.
But I know that this is giving in to my disease and that is not the way I want to live. I know the facts and for now I’m working on having the guts to stop exercising when I have had a healthy amount and to actually eat three meals a day, regardless of how fat I feel. It is also really important for me not to seek food to comfort me or head for food when I feel out of control. I’m only able to take these steps because of the changes that have happened inside of me: I am still quick to find fault with myself, but I can accept that there’s a lot of good in me too. By finding this place, where I don’t have to hide, I’ve learnt to reach out to people, to be kinder to myself and to stay away from the food no matter what. I’ve fought to be abstinent, I’ve taken baby steps and I’ve worked hard. Yet on day 70 of abstinence – the longest run I had ever had I found myself eating a cake and clearing out the fridge.
“Sane” Charmaine was well aware that she could use the phone, read literature or write. But I chose not to use the tools. I had come so far, yet convinced myself that just this once it was okay to have a little treat, that I was bound to stop after the next bite. And the craziest thought of all was “I cannot call my sponsor because she’s at the gym!”
Since I’ve been in my recovery I’ve also noticed a pattern that parallels my eating disorder. Since the age of 13 I started what I call “The Search”. First I looked in Grahamstown and then in Europe. With somewhat jaded eyes I went on to look in America and Canada. After five years my lack of funds forced me to come right back to the place where my illness started………and now I have found what I’d been searching for, and it’s here, in each one of us.
OA wasn’t precisely what I was looking for, but it’s led me straight to the things I need – not just to be abstinent, but to be sane and happy, to love myself and others, to have life……….things I have only begun to grasp since finally finding my Higher Power. My journey has been slow. In a year and a half I’ve taken three steps. But I’m not worried or ashamed, if my life has improved so much in only three steps, imagine how much more joy I have to look forward to. Life is not easy, but there is nothing that is too difficult or painful to bear – including walking through the fear of getting well.
I’ve learnt that my Higher Power is not out to get me, He loves me. If something that I call ‘bad’ happens, He always carries me through it – without exception. It’s just a matter of how willing I am to trust, take it easy and ask for help. I’ve also finally learnt to feel. I’m at a place where my disease is no longer my predominant mind set, but my strong healthy mind has not become dominant either. There’s a continual tug of war going on in my head and an overwhelming desire to arrive at serenity; but there is also the knowledge that if I slow my thoughts down, I will get there. If I focus on this day only, I can enjoy it and begin to make the changes that set me up for success and happiness now.
My actions have caused me a lot of trauma, but through the incidents I have learnt that there is a lesson in everything – and the lesson has always been love.