Monday, June 29, 2009

I've been sober for 23 years, come September. I'm reading Caroline Knapp's Drinking: A Love Story. When I picked it up, I worried that reading about someone romancing the bottle would give me the willies. Weirdly, instead what it's done is confront me with my sick relationship with food. I think I'm having a Step One moment.

Food's a common substitute for alcohol. Anybody who's ever gotten sober at a club is familiar with the tables of food, the industrial-size pots of coffee, and the clouds of smoke hanging from the ceilings. Ever see Michael Keaton's Clean and Sober? One of the funnier scenes is when Michael is doing his Fifth Step with his sponsor in a diner. Every time the director cuts away to Later: Same Day, there are more dishes on the table. The sponsor drinks coffee, eats pie, has a milkshake, drinks more coffee, orders a sundae--you get the picture. And smokes the whole time.

So at first, I lost weight. I lost about 15 pounds, partly because I needed something to do and took up hiking, but also because booze just puffs you up. Then I got kind of obsessive about working out and dieting, and lost another 30. I probably got a hair too thin.

When I decided to go back to school and finish my education, I stopped working out and hiking in order to study, and I was no longer doing the shopping and cooking at home. I gained all 30 back, and then some.

After graduation, I lost a bit, but never got back down to a healthy weight. Then I developed high cholesterol and started getting diabetes. I went to pre-diabetes class, went on the diabetic exchange diet, and--you guessed it--lost about 50 pounds.

Then my Nigel got diagnosed with cancer, and I stopped losing. I actually put about five pounds back on. For a year, I have struggled with those same five goddamned pounds. Lose two, gain one, lose three, gain four. Lose one, gain one, lose it again, gain it again. For a couple of months now, I have been swearing I was gonna "get serious" about losing the last ten or fifteen I'd set out to lose back at the start--with the stunning result that I have merely stopped gaining. It's like the alcoholic promises, "I'll cut back," or "I'll quit--tomorrow" but nothing every really changes.

I have flirted with going to Overeaters Anonymous, but haven't gotten there. Then I picked up Knapp's book, and about fell over. My relationship with food is on every page. My experience with food echoes nearly every sentence she wrote about alcohol in the opening chapters.

Page 3: "I drank when I was happy and I drank when I was anxious and I drank when I was bored and I drank when I was depressed, which was often."

God knows, I eat when I'm happy, anxious, bored, and depressed.

Knapp talks about how every binge is an exception of some sort. This is true for food as well: Just this one M&M, just this one brownie, just this one piece of cake. Of course, as the chip ad says, "You can't eat just one." In AA, it's the first drink that gets us in trouble. In OA, it's that first compulsive bite, not the fiftieth. Knapp writes about how she "deserved" or "earned" a drink. It's been a sucky day: This calls for chocolate. I'm gonna eat this today/tonight, because it's been a bad day/night, but I'll count every carb tomorrow. Which of course I don't, because I'll have "just one" of something because it's a bad day, or we'll be celebrating something (a birthday at work? a new client?). I will have earned it. I will deserve it.

And the tricks we alcoholics play with "just one" work pretty well with food, too. Knapp writes, ". . . two glasses, but they were small ones, so I considered them half-glasses and counted them as one." When I drank, I used to keep topping off the same drink, and count it as one. I would brag that I could make one drink last all night (unlike my alcoholic friends and relatives, don't you know?) Compulsive overeaters play the same games. You can see it in the comic strip, Cathy. In one, Cathy and her mother discuss why eating cake crumbs and broken pieces of cookies "don't count."

And I compare. In Alcoholics Anonymous, newcomers hear "Identify, don't compare." This is because alcoholics can always find someone whose drinking is worse than our own and use that as proof that "I'm not really an alcoholic because I'm not that bad." I did that then, and do it now with food. I am always comparing my body size to other people's, what I brought for lunch to my coworkers' lunches, how fast I am eating, what I ordered, what (if anything) I leave on my plate to everyone else at the restaurant table. And wondering if they are noticing my eating. People with worse food problems than mine provide a perverse sort of comfort.

Like alcoholics, sometimes we overeaters hide it pretty well. I mean, obviously, a lot of compulsive overeaters are overweight, but not all of us are. And we carefully control our eating (sometimes) in public. I never binge actually at the office, although I can get carried away at a restaurant in front of coworkers. When I'm in the kitchen getting something for me and my Nigel, I sneak extra bites while I'm dishing it up, around the corner and out of his line of sight. What he sees is me, exercising portion control.

"Just today. Bad day. I deserve a reward. I'll deal with it tomorrow" (p. 6).


No comments: