For the last couple of years, I’d been restricting my food to the point where just having a normal meal became an anomaly. And yet the food program is pretty much the only 12-step experience I have never landed in and felt that I didn’t remotely understand. I remember a woman talking about not wanting to get up to go the bathroom at work because she didn’t want her co-workers looking at her ass. It took a few uncomfortable hours of fighting her own biological urge to pee before she figured out she could tie a sweater around her waist to camouflage it. I was confused. Who wouldn’t want people looking at her ass? I just didn’t get it.
Then again, that was a long time ago—before the second kid and the divorce and the subsequent relationship and break-up that I was convinced would kill me. (Spoiler alert: it didn’t.) On balance, it was also years after my involvement in the industry notorious for creating eating disorders in those already prone to them—fashion. It was also years prior to being put on the anti-depressant that knocked out my appetite—the med I am currently detoxing off. As I sit here at lunch to write about my relationship to food, I am still having symptoms of SNRI withdrawal that make me feel like I’m living in a horror movie (paresthesia, brain zaps, night terrors anyone?) But other senses have also been waking up during this detox—namely my taste buds.
I started modeling at age 16 because I was skinny and tall and the former was as incidental a fact for me as the latter. I had been skinny and tall for as long as I could remember and had been replacing meals with cigarettes for almost as long. I may have made up for the meals I skipped with the sugar intake of alcoholic beverages I partook in later, but I never gave my weight a second thought. Even when I quit smoking cigarettes and put on a few “kilos” (this was in Australia) and my modeling agent told me I had to lose them again (he suggested eating lots of celery), I didn’t blink. I just started in on the celery and went back on the cigs. It was the difference between thin and model thin and I accepted it without question. If I looked better on camera when underweight, then underweight I would be.
Fast forward a few lifetimes later to when I gained 70 pounds during my first pregnancy, a fact made more bearable when I read that Catherine Zeta Jones had as well. Maybe because I still don’t have a sense of how many kilos that was, I never really worried about it. I also manically pushed my possible terrified baby in a stroller as soon as I could walk properly after the C-section—recovery from which took an unexpectedly long seven weeks. One of the things they never told me about having kids was how difficult it would be to drop the pregnancy weight, and yet I was only pushing that stroller around a few weeks before I was pregnant again. I approached the second pregnancy with only two moderating practices when it came to food. The first was that if I were craving something, I didn’t need to have the exact thing; for example instead of fried chicken, I wouldn’t die if I just had chicken. The second was that instead of drinking organic apple juice by the gallon, I could drink water with just a splash of apple juice and still fulfill the craving. Turned out it was the difference between gaining 40 pounds and 70.
After my kids were born, my weight went up and down depending on how much yoga/weight lifting/eating dark chocolate I was doing. One thing was certain: in my marriage, I was not burning off any calories in the bedroom. Partly to deal with this fact, I was put on a revolving door of anti-depressants, and when I look at pictures from the latter part of my marriage, I cringe a little. It’s not that I look “fat” exactly—just like I’m carrying some kind of extra weight. I am buried under something in those photos; it may have been my suppressed sex drive.
By the time my penis in shining armor had swooped in and rescued me from my marriage (which was not his intention), the weight started sliding off me with each passing orgasm. So the first thing I started saying to every psych doctor about meds was, “I don’t want to put on weight.” I am one of the rare people that has never had a sexual side effect, nor anything else for that matter, from anti-depressants. I have never felt too tired, too fat or too depressed to have sex. Much as I didn’t obsess about my weight over the years, gaining it from a medication was a deal-breaker.
In the last year of taking the meds, through the back and forth and final forth of that relationship, my rapport with food became one you might have with an estranged relative. I didn’t associate with it anymore and I really didn’t miss it. I have been off refined sugar for most of the last couple of years, but only now am I realizing that I might have been “off food” as well. Even with severe hypoglycemia that causes me to turn homicidal if I don’t eat on time, I took delight in skipping meals and delaying eating for as long as possible. Cooking for myself was unheard of—it was something I did strictly for my two boys and mostly under duress. I picked at whatever they were eating while standing behind the stove serving up endless amounts of carbs for them to mow through. Most nights, they ate two consecutive dinners while I didn’t eat enough for one. If I didn’t have kids, I would probably eat nothing but a can of smoked trout when I got hungry (Omega 3’s!). If I didn’t have kids, I might not eat at all.
I am sitting in a cafe as I write this, having just completed the best meal I’ve had in recent memory. It is also the only actual meal I can remember having in at least six months—sitting at a restaurant, under no duress and with no children present. I ordered a healthful plate of something that I feel will nourish my stomach, nervous system and spirit, as opposed to something I absentmindedly ingest. This is a hippie-dippy vegan establishment with no refined sugar but a vibe so positive it still feels like you have overdosed on sickeningly sweet pie. It is an achievement in marketing, exemplified by the fact that when the server brought me my “Rawmond Joy” (a coconut and chocolate concoction that makes you happy to be alive), she knelt in front of me and murmured deferentially, “Your Joy…”
The balance of flavors in my lunch was so sublime, I imagine hipsters in man-buns in the kitchen prepared it while doing perfect yoga balance poses as they sautéed it in unicorn tears. I stood up, and despite the heart-stoppingly good-looking clientele, the flowery scarf I tied around my waist was not to cover my ass but because I was expressing my individuality, man. Once again, I am reminded of that seemingly banal adage, bandied about so much in recovery, and yet one which continues to hit me in an increasingly profound way the more time that passes:
I didn’t get sober to be miserable.
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