The more I learn about addiction, the more I learn that behaviours I thought were unique to me are quintessential addict behaviours. “Black or white” thinking or “all or nothing” thinking would be a perfect example here.
Between the ages of maybe fourteen and twenty-one, I suffered intermittently from bulimia. It started, I think, as a way to deal with living with my extremely controlling and verbally abusive mother. She knew I had a problem, by the way, but did absolutely nothing to help. I would binge in secret when she went to bed, but she soon noticed that the snack cupboard was running low. One of the few times she ever really acknowledged my bulimia was to announce in a disgusted tone one evening that “I’m off to bed now, and you’d better not be stuffing your fucking face”.
My bulimia was particularly bad when I was twenty/twenty-one and was having a “year out” from university in France. I can still remember the utter torture and self-hatred I experienced during that time because I was so obsessed with food. I wasn’t overweight at all, but I wanted to lose ten pounds for some reason, and with typical bulimic logic I decided that a normal diet was not for me. I thought I was too fat to wait to lose weight by dieting normally. My bright spark idea was to starve myself completely for one whole week and then – only then! – would I allow myself to diet normally. Of course the one-week starvation never happened. What happened instead is that every night I would promise myself that tomorrow (oh, tomorrow!) would be the first day of The Big Starvation, but I would be lucky if I made it to noon the next day before I broke my vow. My poor body was so undernourished and my poor brain so obsessed with food that I would gorge myself on whatever I could find – usually high-calorie, simple carb foods because my body badly needed the energy. And then, of course, I would make myself puke and utterly hate myself.
This pattern went on for God knows how long. I never cease to be amazed by just how fucking long I am able to cling to a terrible, terrible idea that is clearly not working. You’d have thought I might have cottoned on earlier that the Big Starvation wasn’t really the way to go, but oh no – I kept on trying to starve myself, and feeling like a pathetic failure when I couldn’t.
I never sought any medical help for what I was going through. In fact, I didn’t really realize that I was bulimic until years later. I thought that my problem was just a lack of willpower. One day, however, I’d finally had enough. I’ve always been a feminist, and I began to realize just how much of my beautiful woman’s brain and energy were being consumed by thoughts of food, weight and body image issues. I would be returning to the “Motherland” soon, and going in to my third year of university, and I knew that I’d never be able to study and achieve all my goals if my life revolved around food.
It was incredibly hard at first, but I made myself sit down every day and have three healthy, filling meals. My body and brain were soon properly nourished again, and all my cravings for simple carbs disappeared. I hesitate to say that I was “cured” of bulimia, as I believe that I probably now suffer from body dysmorphic disorder, but I now never diet; I just listen to what my body needs and I never deprive it of anything. If I want chocolate, hell, I’m going to have some. Everything in moderation! As long as I exercise regularly, I can keep all food obsessions away.
Since I have such a chequered history with setting rules for myself that I can never live up to, I must admit that I am a little nervous about my SLAA “bottom lines“. When I broke some of my bottom lines last week when I flirted with The Arab, there was a part of me that said: “Ha! See, SLAA: you can’t tell me what to do!”. I have an urge to rebel against any goals I set for myself no matter how good for me they might be.
Many of the women in SLAA have taken up to two years off from dating, and it is definitely recommended that you have a period of abstinence when you first start the program. I do agree that I shouldn’t be in a relationship right now, but, really, no dating at all this year? I’m scared that by telling myself that I can’t date that I’ll just go ahead and do it anyway. Maybe that’s what this thing with the Arab is all about? Would it really be so wrong of me to go on an occasional date with somebody to learn how to have good boundaries and not rush into a relationship all guns a blazin’?
It’s hard to know. It’s also possible that my desire to “socialize” myself with healthy dating is really just the addict in me using a lot of clever reasoning to justify still being around men.