My favorite quote from the Harry Potter series is spoken by Dumbledore shortly after Harry has been struck down by Voldemort. Harry is experiencing the afterlife and he asks his former headmaster if any of this is real or if it is all just in his head. Here is Dumbledore’s brilliant reply:
“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”
I think the essence of this quote is what I need to successfully navigate step 3 in my 12 step recovery from compulsive overeating.
As far as I can go back in my childhood memory, I had faith in God, specifically Jesus. I can recall with clarity talking to Jesus as an imaginary friend. He was always looking out for me and I loved him. I prayed to him at meals, in church and at bedtime, but only because my parents made me. But we talked constantly. Whenever there was no one else in the room, we would talk and talk and talk. We sang. I showed him my art. We were pals. Sadly, I continued to go to church and that simple faith got all bollixed.
I learned about the Old Testament. I leaved about Revelations. I learned about the Devil and I learned about hell. At the point those seeds were planted, my faith was doomed. As long as things went relatively well, I was able to cling to my faith. I was a really rotten Christian, but a Christian none-the-less.
Then I doubled down by going to Bible College. Ish!…make it stop. I made the colossal mistake of learning theology. I learned that the Christian Faith was cobbled together with some very outlandish claims. I was compelled by peer pressure to tie my spirituality to my political views. I accepted a very narrow world view and avoided anything that might lead me to a contrary point of view.
At a certain point, it all became too much and I had to moderate my views. I changed denominations and embraced my liberal views. But I still tried to keep my teetering world view intact. This helped for a while. I even began to think of going into the ministry.
But then I experienced true tragedy. I felt real pain and I began to really empathize with the pain of others throughout the world. My narrow world view could not explain what had happened to me; nor could it explain the suffering of others around the world. In the span of a couple of years, my faith utterly collapsed.
I briefly tried to revive it with a program called Imagine. But ultimately that turned out to be just another money making scheme ran by a corrupt minister.
So here is the big question: How do I turn my will and my life over to someone or something I am not sure is real?
This is where I must turn to the great theologian Albus Dumbledore. “Of course it is happening inside your head…but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”
I love the way step 3 is worded. It does not say turn over your lives to the God of the Jews, or the Christians, or the Muslims or the Hindus or even the Flying Spaghetti Monster. It says God as we understand him. That leaves space for even me.
I cannot, nor can anyone for that matter, empirically prove the existence of a god. They cannot prove their point of view or their system of theology is right. No one can even prove that god does not exist. God in any way shape or form is not open to the scientific method. You can debunk stories, dates, and miracles of all kinds. But as to whether or not there is or is not a god is open to debate.
Here is what I do know. That kid, the one who talked and sang to Jesus, he felt safe, loved and protected. It may have all been in my head. But it was right and good.
So that is who I will ask for help. S/he may all be in my head, but that is also where all the food goes. So if it works, I think I will give it a shot.
“Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”
Today’s entry is inspired by a bit of dialogue from, “Return of the Jedi.”
Luke: Search your feelings, Father, you can’t do this. I feel the conflict within you. Let go of your hate.
Darth Vader: It is too late for me, son…
Luke: Then my father is truly dead.
Countless times, every morning, people ask, “How is it going?” Nine times out of ten, I reflexively grunt back the obligatory, “Good.” Once in a while, I will briefly do a quick self-assessment of my state of mind, before grunting, “Good.” Same answer, but at least I thought about it.
When I am by myself and I really think about how I am, more often than not, I define myself as an emotional state. I am OK (or more truthfully meh). I am angry. I am mad. I am depressed. I am disappointed. I am unworthy.
Hmmm…I think I am seeing a trend.
Emotions are like asteroids in a gravity field. Stuff gets clumped together. Peebles becomes stones. Stones become boulders. Boulders become mountains. Mountains become asteroids and asteroids become planets.
At its very core, a planet might have started out as a diamond or a nugget of gold. But the planet is not defined by the initial bit of matter that started it, but by what predominantly makes it up its surface. If you are surrounded by granite slabs, you are granite.
That is where I find myself. I have always had a dark side. But for much of my life it did not define me. I was happy, funny, silly and a good friend. But life took me through some rough territory and I allowed my environment to start to shape me. Over time, my surroundings began to change me until now I am so corroded by anger, depression and despair that it defines me.
Like the quote above, I cannot let go of my hate because I feel that it is too late (that sounds like a Jesse Jackson quote). My solution has been to binge, medicate and watch TV. I eat and eat and eat. I take enough antidepressants to choke a horse. And I immerse myself in a world of television make believe. Then when I am exhausted, I go to sleep.
I wear my unhappiness around my waist. If left to my own devices, it will kill me.
Somewhere deep in my core, is the person I once was. Choking between layers of fat is the best version of me. But I cannot free that person. He is imprisoned.
I need a power greater than myself to show me the way back. I do not know who or what is out there, but I am calling and begging for help.
“Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”
When last I blogged, I spoke of my tenuous grip on sanity, that lead to my addiction to food. In this entry I want to begin to unpeel the multilayered onion that is my higher power.
I have no problem believing that there are powers greater than myself. What I struggle with is believing that there is a personality or individual behind that power. That is not a problem in OA. They don’t require you to label your higher power or align yourself with any particular creed or belief system.
But I carry a lot of baggage from when I did believe in a very personal and interactive higher power, specifically God. My misconceptions led me to rely too heavily on a relationship that let me down when I needed it most. Instead of tightening my grip on reality, it helped to facilitate my unraveling. Ultimately, I had to put that kind of thinking aside. I am not going to get into specifics here; nor am I going to try and resolve those feelings in this entry. For purposes of dealing with my food addictions, it is pointless.
What I am trying to focus on for my recovery is the fact that I am not the center of the universe. I am not alone. While I am whole in myself, I cannot function alone. My compulsive overeating requires me to believe that there is a power greater than myself that can restore me to sanity.
Here is how I have begun to come to peace with that realization: I am alive and am surrounded by other life. Life both seen and unseen saturates me, both inside and out. I am married and as a couple, we are greater than the individuals who comprise it. I have a nuclear family that is greater than the couple. My family is part of a much larger family made up of friends and relatives, which is greater than my household. That family in one way or another connects me to the whole of humanity. Humanity though it occupies the top notch of the food chain is just a small part of what comprises life on earth, which is greater than humanity itself. We are part of a galaxy which is part of a universe which is likely just one of many universes that comprise all of what is. Thought I am a tiny part of this cosmos. I draw energy and help is out there. There is a wealth beyond imagination that is there to help meet my needs.
There are ways of accessing the higher power around me that can help with my restoration to health. In my next entry I will elaborate on how I am trying to access that help.
“Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”
I will divide the next posts into two sections: Sanity and Higher Power.
Sanity: noun; the ability to think and behave in a normal and rational manner; sound mental health.
When I think of sanity or the lack thereof, I often look it as two extremes, the “normal” and the “crazies.” This is dualist thinking at its worst. I have areas of my life where I am normal to the point of being boring. I have some eccentricities, the spice of life. And I have some areas where I am downright dysfunctional.
One of the areas in which I am dysfunctional and/or insane is around the area off food and nutrition. Normal eating I would characterize as eating when you are hungry and stopping when you are full, on occasion indulging on some delicious but not necessarily nutritious food.
That is not how I typically ate. My typical eating pattern was skipping breakfast, but drinking 4-6 cups of coffee with hundreds of calories of powdered creamer in each cup. For lunch, I would go out to eat and have a full restaurant meal or fast food. I would liberally snack on treats and vending machine foods in the afternoon. When I got home, I ate dinner. Dinner was more-or-less an appetizer for the rest of the evenings eating. I would watch 3-4 hours of TV and graze the whole time. Weekends, I would eat out many times and binge on cookies, cake or ice cream. I was never hungry. I never allowed enough time to lapse between eating to ever develop hunger.
In addition to these awful eating habits, I would with some regularity have problems sleeping. I would go downstairs and binge. I was fully aware of what I was doing. I consciously thought this is bad for my body, but I would continue eating anyway. Whole packages of snacks and cookies would be devoured right before going to bed.
Consciously knowing what I was doing was wrong and bad for me and yet doing it anyway is my definition of insanity. The fact that I was fully aware of what I was doing, didn’t want to do it and doing it anyway made me realize that I was beyond helping myself. I need a power greater than myself to stop.
One of the important components of recovery for OA is having a sponsor. This has been a bit of a struggle for me. In general the ratio of OA participants is 1:15 males to females. In a typical large meeting there are only one or two other men. I find this surprising given that obesity seems to be pretty equally distributed across the sexes. At any given meeting, there are at least 3 or 4 women that are willing to sponsor. But I have not been successful of finding another male sponsor.
This means I am accountable only to myself. To be successful long term, I will have to address this issue. But for now, the journey is a solitary one.
“We admitted we were powerless over our addiction – that our lives had become unmanageable”
Surprisingly, it took me a bit to fully embrace this statement. Anyone on the street looking at me would instantly recognize me as having food issues. Unlike some other addictions, overeating (sans bulimia) shows quite readily on the body. In my case, the mid-section. But in my head, I compared my addiction to alcohol or drug problems. If I missed a meal, I did not go into the DTs. My life had not totally spun out of control. I still have a job and I manage my relationships fairly well.
But is any of that true?
Yes, I could restrict my calories for a day or two. But there was always the corresponding pendulum swing back the other way and I would over eat. Have I dieted? Yes. But can I stick to it on my own? No. Do I have cravings in the absence of sweet or salty foods? Yes. Do I have the power to change? History would say no.
My life does not appear to be unmanageable in the “rock bottom” sense of the phrase. But there has been a steady decline in the activities and social situations I was comfortable in. I did not play with my son the way many fathers do. And my health IS completely out of control. I have high blood pressure. I eat bad food. My cholesterol is high. I am at high risk for diabetes, heart attack and stroke. I am clinically depressed. I don’t sleep well.
So yeah, I manage to make it to work most days. But am I really managing my life? Am I in control?
Clearly, I am not. The casual observer is right. My myopic self-image is wrong.
My name is Ben and I am a compulsive overeater.
…and I am a compulsive overeater.
I decide that my diet is not the issue. The core issue is that no matter what I eat (healthy or otherwise), I eat too much. The reason I eat too much goes way beyond mere hunger. Just restricting my intake may work for a while. But if I do not get at the reason for the behavior, history will repeat itself. I will be right back where I started.
So I started attending Overeaters Anonymous or just OA. While it was a bit uncomfortable at first, attending a 12 step meeting. I very quickly realized that this was the prescription I needed. Every time someone opens their mouth to speak, I find myself saying, “Yep, that’s me.”
I have been attending meetings for a little over a month now. I have the basic gist of the program. Now I have to journey through the 12 steps*.
*I find the word step to be a bit of a misnomer. From what I have observed, you never completely finish a step. The minute you check off all 12 “steps” you are not done. If you stop working the program, you are likely to slip up. I prefer the work cycles. One cycle leads to the next, but each cycle continues throughout recovery.
So I am overweight, now what?
Weight for me has been two vastly different stories. For the first half of my life, it was no issue at all. I ate what I wanted with little or no thought given to my daily intake. My sophomore year in college, I went away to school in California. At the time, I was considered underweight. I was at roughly half my highest weight. Very quickly I began to pack on the pounds. But because I was so thin, it was of no concern. As I gained weight, I actually looked better. My childish features faded and my appearance became more masculine.
It was during this period, I first began to notice my weight. I did not have a scale in the dorms, but I could see the change in my appearance and clothing size. For the first time in my life, I took notice with mild concern that I needed to ease up on my food intake. So I ate more salads and cut back on soda.
Walla, problem solved.
Every time I gained a bit too much, I eased back a bit until I was back at my target weight.
But it became a bit more difficult when I got married. I had to add exercise to the regimen. And each time I gained, I lost a bit less. Gain 10, lose 8. And we were off to the races.
When I was about 30, I went on my first real diet. I joined Weight Watchers. And because I was still exercising, the pounds rolled off quickly. But I could never lose those last 10 lbs. I yo-yo’d back and forth. But I was still just overweight. And I was not too concerned.
At age 33, my stress went through the roof, my sleep patterns were radically altered, I stopped working out and I began using food to comfort my unease. In a little over a decade, I packed on an additional 80 pounds. I tried and failed to regain control. I tried cutting back. I tried to exercise. I tried to get more sleep. I tried dieting. I got a surgical Lap Band. And then I just gave up.
I was and am convinced that dieting does not work. Evolution is working against me. The less I eat, the more I crave. The more I lose, the more I gain.
Getting out of this morose required a shock to the system. It happened a little over a month ago. I was having bronchitis and I needed to see my Dr. When the technician weighed me in, I had crossed a threshold. My doctor sat me down and told me that something needed to change.
I have two blogs: One devoted to my experience as a VACTERL parent and one devoted to life in general. It is this blog, the one that is devoted to life in general, that I wish to take in a new direction.
But first, a word on why I write. I don’t consider myself a typical blogger. I don’t write purely for the joy of writing. As can be seen by my frequent breaks, I do not feel the need to constantly write. Writing for me is about clarifying my own thoughts. There is something about the writing process that makes me confront my beliefs and helps to focus them. My positions change over time and I use writing as a tool to explore my personal evolution.
It is because I am making a fundamental change in lifestyle that I feel the need to pick up the “pen” and write again.
I am overweight.
Not just overweight, obese.
At my highest, my BMI was 37.7. One month into my recovery, my BMI is 36. In order to be considered merely overweight, my BMI would have to be 29. That is roughly 56 lbs. less than my current weight. To be considered healthy, I would need a BMI of no more than 24 or a total loss of 96 lbs.
That is all I am going to say about numbers for now, because numbers obscure the real problem. The problem cannot be measured by a scale, though this is a useful tool. The problem is I have lost all control over part of my life. No simple change is going to lead to a course correction. I can no longer tweak some habit and return to health. I am not merely off the path, I am deep in the wilderness with no path in sight.
So this is the beginning. This is where I start.