Posted by: innerpilgrimage | July 14, 2011

How Many Pounds Does Anxiety Add, Again?

      It’s amazing to think that two years ago yesterday, I had no idea I would be here. I guess that’s the power of having a power greater than myself involved in my life.

      July 13, 2009, I had a photograph taken, one which I still have on my phone. I keep it there for newcomers, because something changes when they spend an hour in meeting with me then see the Size 5 Lane Bryant Jeans (from when they did the Red-Blue-Yellow semi-personalized fit . . . I was a red) and the 2XL men’s check-print pink shirt straining to cover my body. Just over two weeks before, I had stepped on a friend’s scale. It read 283 or 293. I remember the 3 and the decade-present 2, and I remember the grim reality I was going to break 300 lbs. soon. It’s possible I did, because I had a family reunion with my family of origin coming up mid-July 2009. Aunt, Uncle, cousins, a cousin-in-law, a sister and brother-in-law, their two kids, my parents, my spouse, and both of my sons. My family of origin is a trigger, and I have so many learned coping mechanisms based on decades of relating to them. I knew about OA, but I hadn’t yet mustered the shreds of whatever-brought-me-into-the-door. Suffering in the heat, I saw my doom and it was written clearly. There was no thin woman inside waiting to get out. I was a dead, morbidly obese woman walking.
      Maybe it was surrendering to the powerlessness of the addiction that got me in the door September 2009. I was neither a high-threshold recovery nor was I a “last gasper”. I was somewhere in-between. I had chest pains, but I had not been immobilized by a full-on heart issue. I feared even walking into a doctor’s office because I could not stand the idea of finding out the sands in my hourglass were up and I had diabetes. I believed I deserved it. I was willing it into my life and fearing it at the same time.
      I look at the numbers, and I realize I have been given the gift of sitting at a weight around 160 lbs. since January. This is where my Higher Power wants me, and I said words of thanks this morning. This wasn’t me. Without a Higher Power, I am the woman in the straining pink shirt and jeans of two years ago. With one, I am this. And I am very, very, very grateful for the gift of what has been taken away.
      I finished reading Power versus Force last week, and I followed it up with a Nova program entitled: Dying to Be Thin.
      I accept now that as my weight was sliding down the scale (something I still sometimes disbelieve when I see the numbers–I see myself as that 280-lb. woman when I look in the mirror), I was sliding toward the anorexia. I thought I would be perfect when I got to “goal weight”. Of course, goal weight initially was hoping-beyond-hope to settle at 200 lbs. again, with a pipe dream of 180 lbs. just beyond. I find it interesting that as I hit marker after marker, the anorexia took a stronger and stronger hold. I didn’t understand what was happening until I faced off with the truth of my addiction: I starved myself in the morning and binged in the evening to “control” my anxiety. Food was G-d, and whenever I forget my spiritual Higher Power, it easily returns to deity status.
      Hypersensitivity has been a part of my life since I can remember. In the Nova special, they talk about how seratonin affects the desire to be an anorexic. Eating creates seratonin; not eating diminishes its production. Too much seratonin creates intense anxiety, the always-on hypersensitivity. The problem is that the brain creates new receptors to catch the missing seratonin. In an effort to stop the anxiety, one stops eating. When one stops eating, new seratonin receptors are created. Anxiety returns because the receptors catch more of the thin flow of seratonin. And when one eats . . . Katy bar the door.
      Enter the binge. I have gotten food-highs before. Now, I’ve talked to addicts of other substances, and we share one thing: A sense of control. Why did I choose food and the romance-high instead of alcohol, drugs, gambling, shopping, or any number of other addictive substances? Because I felt a sense of control, still, with food and attraction-chemicals. With the other addictions, I felt out-of-control, terrified I could not stop myself from being harmed. So, they didn’t sing the right siren song, and I missed out on them. Just like an alcoholic can look at food and not feel its draw, I looked at alcohol and drugs as losing physical security, and I looked at gambling and shopping as losing financial security.
      Throughout recorded history, being thin has been considered a hallmark of self-control. The will not to eat was often seen as a spiritual strength, the ability to forgo a basic human need in order to get closer to G-d. St. Clare and St. Francis, both of Assisi, suffered Anorexia Sacra, or “Sacred Anorexia” (an interesting side note–the latin word sacra also means “accursed, horrible, and detestable”). The sanctity of deny-and-die, the ultimate food-related martyrdom, may have lost a little through time, but it’s still there. Our unnaturally thin celebrities receive adulation for showing this holy willpower over food–sometimes succumbing to other addictions in order to give the perception that they are in control. The paradox is that a woman who is the size her body is supposed to be at is often considered having less willpower than one who succumbs to this unholy self-mutilation through food restriction. A woman who is supposed to be at size 16 is considered out-of-control because she’s not a size 00, 0, or 2. She abandons everything womanly for the body of an undernourished adolescent boy, or G-d-help-them, a Holocaust survivor, in the name of high fashion.
      This is not self-control, this is mass femicide.
      I am a product of the culture. Nailed in the 1980s by “The Perfect Size 6” (A modern size 2 based off of pattern measurements, as I recall), I picked up the concept that I was not good enough if I was not Vogue material. It took me until I was an adult to realize that those women didn’t look like that, either. Airbrushing, then the advent of Photoshopping (An epic Photoshop fail is a lovely eye-opener to the extreme of what they do in fashion magazines) created an unattainable goal. We are given permission to desire but not to find fulfillment of those longings. Perfection, not progress.
      It’s a slow process, especially since I can be held up in a meeting as an example of OA success. And when I am? Out comes the truth about my anorexia. I’m not bulimic because of my discomfort vomiting, otherwise I would be an A-B-C (In meetings, it’s self-introduction shorthand for Anorexia, Bulimia, and Compulsive Overeating) instead of just an A-C. To be honest? I just say I’m a food addict. It makes it easier and it’s politer than the equally honest, “I am food’s bitch.”
      A few awareness moments over the last few weeks have given me a lot to think about. I finally fully connected the anorexia to the compulsive bingeing. Both give me a payoff–reduced anxiety. Not eating drops the seratonin production. A full-on sugar binge makes me loopy, though I still have the perception of control. Having been a staunch advocate of doing-it-without-drugs, I can see how anxiety-control medication and a one-on-one relationship with a prescribing psychiatrist supplements the power of a 12-Step program. It takes a very-aware psychiatrist to understand the medication isn’t the cure . . . it simply gets the anxiety out of the way (like abstinence gets food out of the way) so one can start learning to recognize the manifestations of it in the past and find realistic approaches and solutions to problems which cause an anxious hypersensitive to stop like a deer in the headlights or run blindly like a rabbit until she dies of a broken neck or back due to an unanticipated impact (Not sure if rabbits hearts explode, still–but the breaking of a terrified rabbit’s spinal cord is not uncommon).
      So, I see addiction as freezing in terror as danger approaches or running blindly from the danger–only to meet with deadly consequences. The gift of addiction (besides being able to serve others’ recovery needs) is that it was a survival-based coping mechanism. A life affirmation played in a minor key, it allows a person to successfully complete the march to their own early funeral.
     
      Well, enough about the grim reality. I’ll follow this up with what Carl Jung said to Rowland H. (he was one of the two men who met up with Bill W. in the hospital and got Bill W. into the Oxford Group). See, Rowland H. was one of Dr. Jung’s patients. He even had a year of sobriety, thought he was cured, then tumbled back in. When he returned to Dr. Jung, desperate, he was given these words (AA Comes of Age, 1957):
     
      “Throw yourself wholeheartedly into any spiritual group that appeals to you, whether you believe it or not, and hope that in your case a miracle occurs.”
     
      When I read that (in Power Versus Force), I realized what had happened when I walked out of that very first OA meeting. I didn’t believe in G-d (I still don’t believe in a discrete G-d, a patriarch external to me), but I do believe in a power greater than myself. It’s ineffable (which is good, because the truly spiritual tends to leave us speechless in our awe) and it’s complete–including all of me and you and everyone and everything and even the nothingness between and beyond. But, since people need labels? SmeK! I am . . . agnostic. As the Monty Python sketch so aptly yet confusingly points out: “There’s nothing an agnostic can’t do if he doesn’t know whether he believes in anything or not.”
      I threw myself wholeheartedly into a world with a specialized language I knew was theoretically English but did not understand. I snatched up the OA 12&12 and only comprehended the chapter on Step One because the words of Step Two were confusing and the words of Step Three and beyond made no sense at the time–though they all do now. For any newcomer who is frustrated that s/he can only understand that Step One chapter? Same here, and the miracle of over 100 lbs. of weight loss did happen for me. It took the clarity of a few weeks of abstinence for me to understand Steps Two and Three and a lot of talking-and-listening to a Higher Power (through me–I don’t pray to externals, I actually connect to my once-Void inner space and let it go from there).
      Most importantly, I hoped that the miracle of a healthy body would happen to me. Sometimes I get all up-in-dat-addiction and try to understand it logically. I can’t. There is no logic to it, often the hallmark of miracles. Oh, sure, one can say, “Well, duh! She went from eating over ten-thousand calories per day to 1,600-2,000! Of course she’d lose weight!” Well, to follow that intellectual pathing, I’ve been eating around 2,500 calories since April and have not gained weight. Add to it that the mathematics of 12 calories per pound of weight one wants to be originally set me at about ten pounds heavier than I am now at a moderate activity level (which I do not maintain) and that my current calorie level of 2,000-2,500 calories should have me between 170 and 210 lbs? Logic and rationality need not apply. To that end, I thank my Higher Power for the gift of having a body I can do so much more in . . . and I say aloud that I understand I’m supposed to be this weight for my Higher Power’s purpose, even if I have no idea what it is at this point. And it doesn’t matter that I don’t know, because it is, even now, being revealed to me as I progress and learn. That’s the gift of infinite patience, or accepting things happen in my HP’s time–not mine.
      No, it’s not perfect. Yes, the old familiarity of addiction coping mechanisms is a powerful draw. And yes, I even indulge them slightly. My abstinence is not a diet. I have a food plan based on a set number of calories which cross many nutrition-dense food categories and which offer me the freedom of enjoying sweet-salt-fat in moderation. To be honest, I may even supposed to be at 175 lbs., because even at 2500 calories, I still feel tired. But until the sleep issues are resolved (I don’t sleep well)? I’m staying where I’m at until I get an intuitive hit to shift my food plan. To be honest? I know I’ll have broken abstinence if I have a full-on binge. Anything less than that is learning, and I won’t punish myself because I have a cookie and feel guilty that I’m not the poster child for “perfect” nutrition. Ascetic martyrdom is as addicted a behavior as wanton hedonism for me. Anyway, it’s more likely I’d lose abstinence by not eating. I just haven’t been hungry (well, right now I am, though I’m being mentally nagged to finish this rambling post).
      Here is the logical progression, the observable data set. Does it mean I am an success?
      My only request, as one considers that question, is to ask the more pertinent one: Should leaving the physically observable results of compulsive overeating to entering a body shape just hovering over the physically observable results of anorexia be considered recovery?
      I left a binge body and arrived at anorexia. It’s all addiction to me. When I am settled at my natural body weight and do not care what the vessel looks like to others but use it to foster compassionate connections, perform kind acts, and serve the needs of people who haven’t gotten the privilege of suffering First World issues such as food addiction? Then, and only then, will I believe I am truly recovered.
     
      October 27, 2009: 267 lbs, by a doctor’s scale.
      November 30, 2009: 253 lbs. by a scale at a store.
      December 21, 2009: 246 lbs. by the scale I currently use.
      January 14, 2010: 232 lbs. by the scale I currently use.
      February 14, 2010: 221 lbs. by the scale I currently use.
      March 14, 2010: 214.4 lbs. by the scale I currently use.
      April 14, 2010: 201.8 lbs. by the scale I currently use.
      May 14, 2010: 195.6 lbs. by the scale I currently use.
      June 14, 2010: 191.8 lbs. by the scale I currently use. Confirmed by the doctor’s scale.
      July 14, 2010: 181.4 lbs. by the scale I currently use.
      August 14, 2010: 178.0 lbs. by the scale I currently use. I am at “goal weight”, within 5 lbs. up or down of 175 lbs.
      September 14, 2010: 180.0 lbs. by the scale I currently use.
      October 14, 2010: 170.6 lbs. by the scale I currently use.
      November 14, 2010: 164.8. lbs. by the scale I currently use.
      December 14, 2010: 164 lbs. by the scale I currently use.
      January 14, 2011: 159.0 lbs. by the scale I currently use.
      February 14, 2011: 160.6 lbs. by the scale I currently use.
      March 14, 2011: 156.2 lbs. by the scale I currently use.
      April 14, 2011: 158.4 lbs. by the scale I currently use.
      May 14, 2011: 160.4 lbs. by the scale I currently use.
      June 14, 2011: 162.6 lbs. by the scale I currently use.
      July 14, 2011: 159.0 lbs. by the scale I currently use.
     
      I’m Jess. I am an approval and food binge-arexic. Or whatever. Point is, I’m an anxiety-free addict . . . meaning that I am addicted to being relieved of anxiety at any cost. And I am going to hope in my case that another miracle will occur and I will finally accept that anxiety has a special and valuable purpose in my life–otherwise it wouldn’t be there. Like maybe being so hypersensitive to everyone and everything around me may generate the gift of devoted compassion to those who desperately and truly need to feel their lives matter to someone.

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