|Jim's Story||Disordered Eating||North Bergen, New Jersey|
I should like to share my story with you in the hope that it may help others.
The earliest memory that I have of an unhealthy relationship with food was one of sitting in front of a black and white TV set on a gold cart with a can of Buitoni Spiral Pasta in cheese sauce eating its uncooked contents with a fork. I just enjoyed it too much. I was three years old. From that point on, I was to struggle on and off for the next 31 years with food, body size, and self-esteem issues.
I was a painfully self-conscious child and was very sheltered by my parents. I had few friends and was not allowed to leave the house often to play with other children. I quickly turned to reading, thinking, and eating for amusement. By the time that I got to grammar school, I was already fairly plump. My mother, while on a visit to the uniform store to purchase Catholic school uniforms, chose to describe me to the saleslady using the more flattering term "husky". That was fine with me. I thought that I was "husky", while the other children at school were less creative and called me "fat". Whatever I was, I knew they did not like it. Neither did I.
Very often, I struggle to remain honest and original in the telling of my story. Although every story is surely a selective representation of fact or fiction, I have struggled not to make my past conform to any notions that I may have in the present. As my life went on, I did very well academically, but was an utter failure socially, due in no small part to my size and my sheltered life. The teasing and taunting that I experienced drove me deeper into isolation in my own world.
A big part of living in this world was the ability to reinvent myself so that I became acceptable in my own eyes. I emphasized and exaggerated the more interesting aspects of my family history, began to learn other languages, and gradually became a compulsive liar. I was utterly ashamed of my family (especially my fathers side) and tried to distance myself from them in every possible and impossible way. At this point, I had reached high school and had very few friends, partly because of my size and lack of social skills, but partly because the lies that I was telling were so absurdly untrue that I quickly became the object of open ridicule. From eighth grade until the end of high school, I was in psychotherapy on a regular basis. I am still assessing its merits and whether or not it served to create an identity that was even more spoiled than the one I had when I began.
In middle and high school, my classmates tortured me frequently. They seemed to take great pleasure in humiliating the "fat kid". I did not take all of this lying down. I found the strength to fight back verbally and physically when they became physically abusive. The novelty of my resistance made be a bit enigmatic to them because I was no longer the lumbering victim that they wanted. I also had a growth spurt and became more active physically in an effort to lose weight and prove to them that I could live in their world whether or not they liked it. These efforts paid off and I lost a tremendous amount of weight in about a years time. I also developed a very close relationship with someone who was to remain my best friend for years. This was also something that I needed.
It was at this time that I had my first sexual experiences and found that the world of womens' bodies and minds was at least as interesting as the Battle of Hastings. Discovering that my body could be a locus for experiencing pleasure and a source of pleasure for someone else was a totally foreign concept to me, but one that has seduced me and intrigued me to this day. Now, at the age of 34, I am still astounded when women tell me that they find me attractive. So much and so little has changed.
After graduating high school in three years, I left there as a thin 17-year-old with his first car. With the help of several friends who were as tormented as I was, I proceeded to squander four years of a partial scholarship to a local university. I remained thin during this time and found myself in a string of relationships with women that were utterly unhealthy for me. During this time, I began to realize that I was being driven to distraction by some nameless inner torment. This was beside what I could identify as emotional baggage from my days as an overweight child. I held a meaningless pizza- delivery job and learned Italian from my boss. This was the only saving grace of this job, apart from the cash income that it provided. The free, greasy, Italian food was always a struggle for me. The tide was high, but somehow, I held on.
From 1985 to the end of 1986, things changed. Both my best friend and I had serious accidents that cost us the use of our right legs for six months. Sedentary and nutritionally ignorant, I sat about and began to pack on the pounds again. When I got out and about, my friends and I discovered cocaine and alcohol. On Thanksgiving of 1986, my mother had a heart attack. Around this time, my high-school friends and I became more deeply involved in using cocaine and drinking on a regular basis. Before 1986, driven by the fear of becoming one more alcoholic in a family whose pedigree as world-class drunks rivals any, I avoided any involvement with drugs other than Hostess cream-filled cupcakes.
In 1988, the bottom dropped out of my world. I was very depressed and remained heavily involved in cocaine and alcohol abuse for several months while drifting through a series of temp jobs that I could never manage to keep. On New Years night of 1988, my mother died. I was too sick and tired to visit her from my nights of excess. I did not believe that it happened until my father told me that she had died. I began eating as if there were no tomorrow. I did not really think that there was going to be one.
Soon after that, while in a drug and food induced haze, I met my next girlfriend, whom I was to live with for 6 and a half years. During this time, my father lost our house, my sister became involved in drugs as well, and I had to find a new place to live with my girlfriend. During this time, every substance that I put into my body became a source of stimulation and comfort.
Gradually, I stopped doing drugs for a while and was able to get and keep two steady jobs, the last of which I remained at until the end of 1996. I was at this time that what was an incremental weight increase became exponential. I was drinking a lot and was eating lots of sugar-filled garbage. Childhood feelings of self-hatred, fear, isolation, and awkwardness returned. I was reaching "critical mass" for a second time and it took me four years of this living to get into recovery. Just before I began an outpatient program for drug and alcohol abuse, my friends dubbed me the "Crack, Everclear (grain alcohol), and Entemmans(local NY/NJ bakery)Guy".
During the first year of my recovery from my unhealthy relationships with drugs, food, and alcohol, (1992-93) I was exposed to OA, a 12 Step program that offered me some structure and support when I really needed them. I also learned that I was diabetic and that I was suffering from very high cholesterol levels and asthma. At first out of utter desperation, I began to attend OA regularly along with attending other fellowships. I met a lot of great people (one of whom is now my beautiful fiancée) and gradually realized that my girlfriend and I had to go our separate ways. For 6 years or so we had been inseparable, but through couples therapy that was part of our recovery program, we realized that we could no longer be together. We separated in July of 1994. It was to be the best and most liberating thing for both of us.
Right after the separation, I got involved in a very painful and unhealthy relationship with a tormented young woman that lasted two years. The difference here was that despite the torture I experienced, I did not lose sight of my goals and continued to develop professionally and along a more deeply spiritual path as well. During this time, I had managed to stay clean, sober, and maintain a preferred relationship with food. For a very long time and all throughout my years of madness, I have held very strong Buddhist beliefs. They helped me through the last six years, through the insanity of last relationship, and in to the joy and love of my present one.
In 1997, I realized that I had been suffering from ADD and set about getting treatment for it. A program of alternate cognitive strategies and the correct medication has helped tremendously.
It is only now that I am relatively free from the torments of ADD and unhealthy living that I can begin to nurture others and myself in accordance with my deepest beliefs. I realize now that I can really be a force for good and love in this world. I now treasure my body, accept its beauty (well, at least a bit more), and see it and all other bodies as expressions of the beauty of the Universe. I now fight the oppression of all living beings whenever and wherever I can.
My heart will always hold a special place for all of us who have suffered to one extent or another because of how we look or because of how we think we look. As a result of my own suffering, I find this sort of oppression most repugnant. Each day I live, I am more of a testament of resistance to the notion that my body or that of anyone MUST conform to unrealistic normalizing expectations. I refuse to take part in practices that promote misery-manufacturing delusions propagated by mass-culture.