It’s three in the afternoon on a weekday. I’m jogging on Santa Monica Boulevard doing my usual four miles: out Santa Monica to Fairfax and back along Sunset. Oddly, there are a lot of other folks jogging at this time of day. I’m wondering: does anyone in Hollywood have a regular nine-to-five job? Or are we all out here in the sunshine getting exercise after another long shift working at home?
As a writer, I sit in front of my computer for most of the day and if I’m lucky and things are really going well, sometimes well into the night. Which of course leaves me being stationary for long stretches of time. And if I don’t get out and run or go to the gym, I’ll just sit typing. Every few hours I do get up, but it’s usually to make something to eat or drink. Then I sit in front of the computer consuming said refreshment and reading what I just typed. When I’m not working, I’ll sit some more while on Facebook, Twitter or reading the New York Times online. And if I’m stressed or I have a deadline to make, the entire time I’m sitting, even when I’m eating, I’m obsessing about some really gross sugary snack that I know I shouldn’t even be thinking of. Only somewhere in there, if I’m not careful, after a few hours I’ll say, “Fuck it” and wander all zombie-like the one-and-a-half blocks to 7/11 (where all bad things to eat wait for me). Once there, I’ll beeline right past the bananas, protein bars and yogurt and grab a really unhealthy processed sugar-infused bleached wheat flour conglomeration—as a matter of fact I’ll grab two, because hell, I hiked all the way over here. I can’t just come to 7/11 for one little pack of snickerdoodles, now, can I?
And herein lies my problem. I’ve got an eating disorder. Growing up as an unwanted fat kid lost in a divorce with two narcissistic parents, I found solace in food. Eating until I felt ill led me to discover the joys of bulimia all on my own and without even knowing that there was a name for what I was doing. But you know, even a dumb 12-year-old fat boy figures out that if you eat too much, you get fatter. So at 14, I switched teams and headed into anorexia. Because that’s where the real control freaks go. Luckily, or maybe not, a few years later I discovered drugs—more specifically heroin—and I was off on that wonderful pink cloud of junkie chic thin. I could eat all the crap, fast food and candy bars I wanted and not gain an ounce. Woo hoo, this shit’s a miracle, right? Except that I did the inevitable crash-and-burn and this skinny punk rock art school graduate was soon running with decidedly non-artistic strippers and thugs. Fast forward 20 years and arrests, jails and felonies had all been entered into my resume. I woke up one day on the exercise yard of a correctional facility wondering just how in the hell I got there. Not how did I literarily get there—that part was pretty obvious. But what had happened and why did I get there? Only I was 125 pounds. I was rock star thin. At least I looked good.
Parole and a couple of long-term residential rehabs later and I was in recovery. I was going to meetings. I had a sponsor. I was working the steps. I had a coffee commitment. And I was eating everything in sight. It’s like I couldn’t get enough sugar. I could easily down a pint of Ben and Jerry’s, an entire pack of Oreos, three glazed donuts and a “fun size” bag of Fritos in one sitting and still want more. And then one day I was staring at myself in the mirror and I had a gut and I heard “fat boy.” Sadly, no one else said it. No one else was there. I said it.
The next day, after my regular ice cream and cookies, I was standing over the toilet getting rid of it. Two weeks later, I was living on black coffee and three saltine crackers a day. It was just like they say about your addictive behaviors: You start again and it comes back full force worse than when you left it because it’s been doing push-ups in the parking lot waiting for you to slip. Your eating disorder is apparently at the gym training for the triathlon of kicking your ass as soon as you let your guard down.
That was 13 years ago and I’ve been going back and forth with anorexia/bulimia the whole time I’ve been clean off drugs. There will be periods when I’m okay. Then when I get ambitious and take a chance, like moving to Los Angeles five years ago with less than a $1000 in my pocket to change careers, it’ll erupt in my brain, anxiety will take over and I’ll go back to binge eating and throwing everything up. Because not only does wolfing down a half dozen snickerdoodles make me feel sick but it also brings up a ton of guilt and shame and even more self-loathing. Then the vicious cycle begins where I want to stop but I feel horrible about myself and my appearance or really how I think I look to other people. And just like with drugs, I use more food to try to fill that gaping hole in my soul. Which of course doesn’t work. In fact, it makes me even more insecure and depressed.
And then, as if all that wasn’t enough, here’s the coup de grâce of this entire complicated mess: Not only am I a punk rock/ex-junkie/musician turned writer but I’m also in my 50s and not exactly your typical eating disorder type of guy. Plus, I am a guy. And I know things have changed dramatically since I was a kid doing what I thought only I did. But still, the stigma of this behavior isn’t that well accepted among straight males. I don’t know a lot of men like me that I can talk to about this, though there are tons of folks that get why I don’t drink at dinner parties. Many consider me thin and maybe I am. I just don’t see it. No matter what I weigh, I look in the mirror and see fat boy.
So yeah, I’m over 50 years old and still wondering just when does this go away. Only I know that, just like with my drug addiction, it never does and I have to vigilantly work a program. I have to exercise and eat right and continue to go to meetings and work with my sponsor. Because just like with my other “problem,” being vigorously honest about it and working the 12 steps are the only things that help.
A red light stops me at Highland and Sunset and I jog in place at the curb. Across the intersection, there’s a pizza by the slice joint, frozen yogurt stand, steam table Chinese buffet, Fatburger and Southern fast food chicken franchise that religiously endorses hate. I’d never eat at any of these places yet they all call to me. “Good workout today, Patrick!” they yell. “You deserve a special treat. Eat something that’ll make you sick!” Instead I turn down Highland and keep running.