There is a period of time after you figure out that shit is not working and you need to change things where you feel so alone. I call it the darkness. The door behind you has closed because you can't un-see or un-know what you have now seen but you are too far from the end to see any light. You are completely and utterly in the dark.
Though it feels alone or like you are the only one there with your nasty little troll let me tell you something; Through that darkness have walked a lot of people and many will walk through it after you. Chances are if you are walking through it right now there are people walking through it with you. Unfortunately we don't talk about these things. We don't share the hard, crappy, nasty stuff about life and so everyone just walks around in the darkness thinking they are alone. I'm going to share my darkness with you. Maybe it can shed a bit of light on your darkness. If you have been here or are here, know that you are not alone. If you are about to get there know that you are not alone and that it passes if you just keep moving forward. One step at a time, one foot in front of the other.
If you have not read the first part of this story you can read it here.
When I left for school the shame I had after three sexual assaults turned into a fear of more. I was so scared all the time. I had heard so many stories of women getting sexually assaulted and been warned so much to watch my drink and not walk home alone and so I just never went out. I missed out on frosh week and all the sorority and fraternity parties. I went to class and back home and to the library. Never went out at night unless I was working and noticed that I had developed a fear that was growing. I not only feared another sexual assault I also feared every footstep, dimly lit road and strange noise. I couldn’t watch any tv that was remotely scary or suspenseful and started having frequent nightmares that eventually turned into night terrors.
The fears I held eventually turned
into paranoia which grew and got to the point
where I could not be alone at night.
I always felt like someone was watching me or out to get me. I eventually lacked so much sleep that my only way to get energy was to eat more perpetuating my cycle of self destruction.
I got severely depressed. I was so big that I was constantly uncomfortable in one way or another. I was unable to complete the simplest of tasks. I was unable to do my part in any team work we had to do. I felt lazy, fat, useless. I felt like no one wanted to be around me and so I stayed away. I didn’t want to participate in anything. I felt tired all the time and felt that others must be talking about me constantly. I thought I knew everyone else’s narrative about me because it had become mine. I wanted to crawl under a rock. I never wanted to leave my bed. I felt like I was crap at my job and felt intense shame for feeling useless and not knowing why I couldn’t manage the simplest of tasks. I contemplated suicide on more than one occasion. The only thing that held me earthbound was my relationship with my boyfriend-who is now my husband. He was always there to help but even he didn’t know the extent of the shame, fear and self hatred I had. Eventually he begged me to get help.
I went to the doctors only to find out that on top of my hypothyroidism I also had high cholesterol necessitating medication-a stronger dose than my father-as well as type II diabetes and I was depressed, sincerely and seriously depressed. I also weighed a whopping 280 lbs furthering my feelings of shame and depression. I had stepped into the darkness, now I knew how bad it had gotten and I knew that if I didn’t make a change I would die and all of a sudden I was no longer apathetic about life but the sheer amount of weight I needed to lose seemed unsurmountable.
When my boyfriend proposed and we started talking about the future I knew I wanted children, not now but one day but I also knew I didn’t want to have them like this. I didn’t want to be unable to play with them, I didn't want to be tired all the time and depressed and I really wanted them to be proud of their mom, not embarrassed. So I made a decision to lose the weight.
Between what the doctor had told me and
my wish to have children I had a goal, a purpose.
At first the weight seemed to come off pretty easily. I lost my first thirty lbs before I even bought a scale or really had to make any huge changes. I started going for walks and stopped snacking at night but after that things got harder. So I started counting calories and became more obsessed with food than I ever had.
Immediately after breakfast I would start thinking about what I was going to have for lunch. I would count down the minutes to my next meal like I was counting down a time bomb. I knew that the second that clock hit the desired time I would finally be able to eat again and boy would I eat. The more I tried to restrict the harder it was. I would go to bed at night thinking about breakfast and so on.
Sometimes when people in my office would bring doughnuts or pastries in I would tell myself all day that I wouldn’t have any. I would make deals with myself. “If there is still a chocolate glazed doughnut there by the time I can have my lunch then I will eat it”. Inevitably whether it was there or not I would have one and spend the rest of the day convincing myself not to have another. I was completely addicted to food. All food. By the end of the day I would have made another deal with myself that if there were any left I would have one on the way home to celebrate not eating the whole box. If there were any left I would usually grab two and shove one in my purse. I would eat it later in hiding. If there were none left I would hit the doughnut shop on the way home and get one -dozen- to eat over the next couple of days but they never lasted that long.
I was a slave to food; If I could only
change everything about myself. If I could just be
skinnier, prettier, smarter, skinnier, skinnier, skinnier….
The calorie counting got easier over time. I would eat nothing at breakfast, have cheesecake or three doughnuts or something for lunch and then have a head of romaine lettuce for dinner and nothing else-if I had maintained my willpower. If not dinner became a free for all. Like dogs rushing in for scraps I would lunge at my food and inhale it as fast as I could, guarding it like someone might come and take it away. I knew what I was doing was not healthy but it was all I had. Anytime I ate something I “shouldn’t” my troll would show up - Why can you not do this one thing? - you are a failure, you are broken my troll would trill. It set the tone for the rest of the day, week and sometimes even month.
For a while I stepped on the scale daily. If I was even one tenth of a lb under what I had been the day before then all was well. If I maintained it was ok but if I gained well that was it, my day was ruined. I shouldn’t bother trying. Of course this cycle went unbroken for quite some time as the more I didn’t lose weight the more I gave up and ate what I wanted and the next day was the same. The calorie counting became a mojor problem. I got to a point with it that I was keeping a journal of not only what I had eaten, its exact weight and calorie content but also its macro and micro nutrient content. Maybe the problem was that I wasn’t getting enough iron? Yeah, sure. This obsession got so bad that my therapist actually took away my journal after a lengthy conversation on how it was messing with my head.
Unfortunately I had no concept of what good quality food was. I knew that fruits and vegetables were healthy but the concept of lean protein vs fatty proteins and refined carbohydrates vs non refined carbohydrates was completely foreign to me. I did not know what a protein was. At the beginning I didn’t understand that pasta was a carbohydrate. Everything I read said that carbohydrates were sugars; pasta wasn’t sweet. I didn’t know that there was such a thing as brown rice or that eating more fiber would help me stay fuller longer. I didn’t know that ground beef and fish were not equal in fat content. I may have even thought that there was nothing wrong with pizza since it did hit all the food groups.
I had never been shown how to grocery shop and had never taken an interest in learning to cook so it was a very long road. My parents always fed us relatively well but with 5 children in the house there was a lot of pasta and one pot meals. It wasn’t until university that I learned what a mango was. I was completely unfamiliar with the fresh produce section of any grocery store and had never been to a famers market. I ate a lot of Lipton sidekicks as main dishes adding just a little bit of veggies.
Luckily my husband knew how to and loved cooking so he helped me learn. It was a long road with many mishaps. I eventually learned that being a vegetarian with the lack of knowledge I had was not helping me. I was eating a lot of pasta, cream of vegetable soup, cheese and muffins. When I started to eat meat again it was only marginally better as I had developed some pretty ingrained habits over the last ten years of meatless eating. Over the years I managed to ruin 3 large Le Creuset pots that had been handed down from my husband’s parents - I know, this still hurts me too - and have probably single handedly been responsible for at least 30% of the compost in the town we were living in. There was a lot of ruined food over the years as I learned how to manage the heat and spices I applied to our food.
Still as I learned I had many setbacks. Times where I would fall into old patterns and binge on anything I could get my hands on. I would talk myself into a cheat day that had not been planned telling myself that I would skip my scheduled cheat day or just not eat anything for the next couple of days but it never worked. I would recreate the junk food parties I used to have with my sisters all by myself. I would stuff myself till I was sick and keep eating. Inevitably when the scale didn’t budge I would once again feel useless and ashamed at my inability to have any willpower. I would eat until I felt sick and immediately feel regret, disgust and shame at what I had done. I tried to make myself throw up. Many times. It never worked causing me to feel like a failure once again. Not only could I not starve myself as I had no willpower I was physically unable to make myself throw up - Failure, broken my troll would sing.
When I couldn’t get the food back
up I would take laxatives and try to get
the food through me as fast as possible but that
only led to me getting dehydrated and sick
and not a lb lighter - Failure, broken.
When I decided to start paying attention to what I was eating during these binges it was excruciating. I was a bottomless pit and the calorie content of these foods was incredible. I hadn’t even realized how much food I could pack away before I felt satisfied. I stopped counting.
I was firmly planted in the darkness for years. Too far in to turn back but not yet far enough through to feel hopeful.
Over the years as I was trying to lose weight I noticed that I had some very peculiar tendencies. Or they seemed peculiar to me at the time. I would get upset at my husband if he left food on his plate, what a waste and I would finish his plate on top of mine. I would get VERY upset if I bought something for myself as a treat and he had even a bite - MY FOOD. I would hide food in our home and eat it secretly when he wasn’t around or hide in the bathroom to devour it. Noticing these things and being aware I was doing them was a tremendous help.
When you’re in the darkness, the slightest hint of light looks like the sun. For a long time, I was able to balance out my negative feelings by giving myself up to everyone. When I helped someone else, or sacrificed my needs for someone else, I saw a glimmer of light and for a long time I was addicted to that feeling of being the "dependable one”. It distracted me from the darkness. I couldn’t spend too long dwelling on my feelings or my needs, because the darkness would close in quickly and I would turn back to food and my troll would become very vocal. My self worth became tied to what I could do for others. So I ran from glimmer to flicker, always looking for more light. Even though I stumbled often, and took more than my share of steps backwards, I kept trying, and got a little closer to getting through the darkness every day.
Over the years I learnt a few things;
1-You can't skip the darkness. You have to go through it.
2-You are going to fail. You are going to stumble. Its the only way token moving forward.
3-You are never alone. No matter what your darkness is there are people right there with you. Finding them is key.