A Confession

In my teens, through my twenties and half way into my thirties  I used food the way a junkie uses heroin, only my “highs” didn’t last as long.  As a teenager I realized there was nothing like eating large quantities of food to quell my discomfort, boredom, pain, happiness, sadness or anger.  I found I could “cancel” out my overeating by purging.  Vomiting quickly became as much a compulsion as eating was.  At a certain point I had to do both, and though I didn’t think of it as one and the same, both provided the relief I sought from the pain I was in.  Very quickly I went from making a decision to eat, to feeling it was no longer a choice, but something I had to do.  The pain felt so unbearable, the food and vomiting so wonderfully seductive and numbing, I began to feel I would die if I didn’t give in to my compulsions.

By the time I was seventeen I knew I had a problem.  I had tried, on numerous occasions, to cut back or stop, but I could not.  By the time I was eighteen it was clear to me that I was an addict, but few agreed.  Being addicted to food is not a popular or commonly accepted idea.  Being addicted to food is not considered, by many, to be a true or real addiction.  Instead people said, “Just go on a diet.” “Just stop eating when you’re full.”  “You’re not an addict, you just like food.”  “You can’t be addicted to food, you just have a problem with will power and self-control.”  “Why don’t you talk about it, maybe that will help you understand your real problems.”  “Fast for a few days and cleanse your body.”  “Here’s a hypnotist I know, he was very helpful when I decided to stop smoking.”  “You need to get a hobby, take your mind off eating and food.”

So for years I followed everyone’s advice.  I went to psychiatrists, psychologists, behavioral therapists, group therapy, eating disorder specialists, body workers.  I tried diets, fasting, cutting out particular food groups, visualization, aromatherapy, and read every book I could find dealing with weight loss, compulsive eating and dieting.  I kept journals and wrote about my feelings, I weighed myself and measured all my body parts.  I kept detailed records of weight gain and loss with the corresponding inches gained or lost.  I viewed myself with a critical eye, carefully evaluating the “problem areas” and resolved to work on those with trips to the gym and exercises targeting those troublesome parts of my body that didn’t measure up.  And as I did all of this I kept telling myself that there was obviously something fundamentally wrong with me or else I would be able to eat like everyone else.

It never once occurred to me that my self loathing and self-criticism did little except make me want to eat more and only served to increase my anxiety and self-hatred, which in turn increased my compulsiveness.  Over the years as I continued to try, and failed at various “treatments” I became more and more depressed, until eventually I felt the only real option left was suicide.  And as I contemplated this, as I seriously began to consider this as a viable option I was told to go to a group of people who were grappling with the same issues I was – food and compulsive overeating.  It was there in those rooms filled with people just like myself that I felt, for the first time, I belonged among the human race.  Finally I had found my people.  Up until that point I felt like an interloper, a perpetual outsider, the one who couldn’t figure out how to live with the same kind of simplicity and ease everyone else seemed able to do.

This group of people taught me how to be in the world.  I learned that my actions, the things I said and did, affected how I felt about myself.  These other addicts helped me navigate life one day at a time, reminding me that I was not alone and that others had come before me.  They held out their hands, offered me  support and guidance and encouraged me.  They taught me about honesty and taking “the next right action” and the importance of being present.  I came to understand that my life was of value and that I in turn had something to offer others.  As I learned to behave in a kinder more tolerant way toward others, I became kinder and more tolerant of myself.  As I became more tolerant of myself I felt more comfortable in my own skin and began to accept myself for exactly who I was.  As I did this day by day I found my compulsions lessen.  I found I could concentrate on other things.  I realized I had a great many interests and was able to begin pursuing them.  I found I had the energy and the desire to help others who were like I once was.

Now, close to twenty years since those early, painful days when I first discovered I was not alone, my life has completely changed.  That person I was all those years ago is not who I am now.  But I still remain an addict.  It is who and what I am.  It is important for me to remember that, because it is when I forget that I once again find myself back in the food, obsessing about my body and how much I weigh, wondering how many calories are in any given food and where and what I can or cannot eat.  It is so easy to go there and when I do, I lose out on my life.  As an active addict everything and everyone else takes a back seat to my addiction.  Active addicts are not fun to be around.  They have little to offer.  But those of us who have come out the other side, who have learned how to be in this world without picking up our substance of choice, we have so much to offer and give.  Some of the finest, most generous and trustworthy people I know are addicts with years of recovery under their belts.

I am an addict.  I am a mom.  I am a wife.  I am a friend.  I am a human being.

1988 in New York City

1988

37 responses to “A Confession

  1. This is an issue me and many of my family members, the females struggle with. Addiction. Obsessive behaviors and the like. Thank you for your honesty.

    This may be a long shot, but here it goes. Two days ago I was deeply impacted by a post Autism Speaks placed on their facebook page. The article they referenced was called Study Confirms “Optimal Outcomes”. I was impacted because am one of those moms, just like all the rest, who raise my voice in support of early intervention. It inspired me to write this, http://wheredidthebirdgo.com/2013/01/optimal-outcomes-dont-wait/ and I am hoping somehow you can share it via your blog or twitter. Please know this gives no gains to me and my family. Only that it creates a positive affinity for those who read and those struggling to find hope. This topic of early intervention tugs at my heart strings. Tugs to strongly because two years ago we started this intervention with Cali. The present will now tell you Cali is overcoming and learning how live with autism rather than reacting to it.

    Someone, somewhere, right this very moment, is on their knees seeking a higher power to find that hope or comfort they desperately want and deserve. Someone like me two years ago.

    What do you think? Would you help me share the post. Or even if you want to write your own referencing the article, that is just as great. It’s just about getting the messages out that provide hope. I know how influential you are with your readers and among the autism world. Thanks for reading my comment:)

    • It’s really, really wonderful you found something that has helped your child flourish. That’s what all parents hope and yearn for, that we might encourage our children to be all that they can be.
      Having said that, I’m going to be really, really honest with you – I cannot and will not ever promote Autism Speaks, their website or anything on it for a whole list of reasons far too lengthy to go into here. But if you want to know at least some of why, here are a couple of links – https://emmashopebook.com/2012/10/11/the-latest-from-autism-speaks/
      https://emmashopebook.com/2012/05/17/parenting-and-the-depiction-of-autism-in-the-media/

      The second part of this regardless of what one thinks about Autism Speaks (and I understand you aren’t asking me to promote them) is ABA, again I have way too much I could say about this, so (sorry) here’s another link which pretty much sums up how I feel about ABA. https://emmashopebook.com/2012/10/10/tackling-that-troublesome-issue-of-aba-and-ethics/
      I’m sure you are not using this kind of intervention with your daughter, (I’ve heard a great many people in recent years who use a “ABA” and it does not resemble what was thrust upon us in the slightest) still the very topic is so upsetting to me, I really cannot speak further about it at the moment. I’m sorry I can’t be more helpful, though there are tons and tons of parenting blogs that would be more than happy (I’m sure) to help get the word out and I’m sure they have massive followings.
      I am sorry and hope I haven’t offended, these are tricky topics with lots of emotions from all sides, but the bottom line is we all want to do what’s best for our children. For me, that’s meant doing far less therapy and far more understanding and figuring out how to be the parent she needs me to be.

      • It never hurts to ask right. We all have our beliefs and opinions as I’m sure you have come to know very well with years of having your blog. I’m not offended. Thanks for taking the time to reply. Cali does do ABA in conjunction with Hippotherapy, OT, ST, play group therapy, play project therapy, developmental therapy (floortime), I guess you can tell I am an advocate of therapy. Therapy that helps me understand and figure out how to be the loving proactive parent that she needs me to be.

        Thanks again for responding.

  2. Wow, Ariane. It must have been hard to make this confession publicly. I am proud of you for being so open. You, undoubtedly, will be helping many, including myself, with your words. I am so glad you have recovered from your food addiction and are on the other side, but that you have the conscious awareness that you must still be diligent in not letting food control you again. Psalm 139 came to my mind as you shared your story of hope. You might want to read it sometime if you haven’t already. The gist of it is that we are fearfully and wonderfully made and that God knows all about us and loves us just the way we are. I am so glad to count you as one of my friends, though we have never met in person yet.

  3. Oh My Dear. Please read the book, Wheat Belly, by William Davis, MD. It turns out the newer strains of wheat produced in the Agricultural revolution of the 1960s-80s have proteins that create a heroin like reaction in the brain and increase food cravings (for many many ppl). These proteins were unintentionally introduced and under recognized new additions in the high yield wheat we grow today. Davis writes about his own experience with food cravings and diabetes and lots of other illnesses he has cured in himself and hundreds of patients. Not just ppl w/ celiac. He describes the process of ppl blaming themselves when in fact the “healthy whole grains” we have all been advised to eat are the culprits.

  4. I love you dearly for all your honesty and compassion. You forgot one more thing you are, remember, you are a “Full time Goddess”.

  5. Linda Gran-Daniels

    Ariane, I think there are few blogs/articles I read, that I feel are truly as honest and from the soul. I feel you write totally, openly, because you realize that by sharing your experiences, someone, somewhere is going to find acceptance in themselves. In coming out of retirement to go back to teaching, I always start my first class sharing I am a recovering food addict. Many laugh, because people sometimes don’t see the version of us now, not imagining the journey that has taken us to where we are now. Food is more addictive than heroin/cocaine/alcohol….for so many reasons. You have such a gift as a healer, through your writings, Well, I have “over” posted, smile. You are just such a remarkable woman.

    • I had a friend who was both bulimic and a junkie who told me getting off heroin was far easier than stopping the cycle of overeating and vomiting. Thanks for the support and encouragement. I am working on a book. The first proposal I wrote was rejected, but I”m working on another now!

  6. It must have been hard to write this and very brave, thank you for sharing.
    You always write with a warm honesty, the kind of honesty that is more than just saying the truth, what you write is respectful and full of compassion, I think that’s more difficult and rewarding.

    I consider myself an addict to self-harm, it’s different to talk to those that have been struggling the same way. The support is different and without judgement. When we meet people like us we feel less alone and I think that’s a good first step towards healing, not only about addictions but other painful subjects too, I only stopped feeling so ashamed after seeing others that have a similar journey.

    • Thanks so much. I think part of the allure of bulimia is certainly the self harming aspect of it, or so it was for me. Yes, finding others who know and have traveled a similar path was crucial. So glad you found your people too!

  7. Your honesty and directness is and always will inspire me. Love ya:)

  8. OCD comes in many forms…doesn’t it? I have been thinking about this lately, kind of like the chicken and the egg. Anxiety or ptsd and you need relief. then the self-hatred. over and over again it becomes ocd. or did ocd come first, then anxiety/ptsd/self-hatred.
    Yesterday Emma and I went to get our eyebrows waxed…(yes, she does!) and the woman and Emma began a conversation about OCD. She was telling Emma how her brother has autism, yada yada, and she too has OCD. Emma was asking for her suggestions of getting out of the loop. Actually a great experience for me to see how far Emma has gained confidence in herself!
    and PS, great minds…emma wrote a blog about why she is addicted to diet soda and how i am a mean mom for intervening!!!!!! I love having “typical mom-daughter adolescent” junk, what a joy!

    • I love that Emma writes about how the bubbles tickle the back of her throat! How wonderful!
      I’ve read a lot about OCD, as addiction and OCD certainly overlap, but in all the reading, and after 22 years of being active in an eating disorder and now almost 20 years in “recovery” from it, I still don’t know which comes first. I do know that if I refrain from acting on the compulsion I do not have any chance of engaging in the cycle, you’ve described, once I act on the compulsion the cycle clicks into place and is much, much harder to break out of.
      Sending you and Emma love.

  9. I had to think hard about this brave, honest posting, for I have never had this issue, and it is hard for me to understand it. However, you wrote it from the heart, honestly, to your friends, us, and we love you, and you deserve a response on this awful challange. It pains me, as it must so many of your friends, to hear for this suffering, and makes me so happy you have fought it, and met the challange with great valor, and continue to fight it. Isn’t it marvelous how much we grow to except ourselves as we grow older? Giant hugs to you, Ariane! This post also makes me once again marvel at how you are able to “get” the autistic experience so well, even though it is not your experience. I will always try to “get” your experience, and may never understand it correctly, but I will try, because I have grown to love you, Emma, Richard, Nick, and all those friends who comment here, because of who you are, and because of the community you have built for us with such compassion, honesty, and…valor ❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤

    • Thank you so much for all your love Chou Chou. And I love you.
      It is actually because I spent all those years feeling broken and fundamentally “bad” that I think helps me relate to what it’s like to have one’s neurology under constant scrutiny and criticism. In my case it was self imposed, which I think, though a prison, is not as harmful as an entire society. I also know that my self harming behaviors, though different because they were less about being expressions of frustration and more premeditated attempts to punish myself has given me great insights and tremendous compassion. In addition I have all of you telling me what’s it’s like and giving me your thoughts about what can be helpful! So in the end all of this has served to help me feel closer to not just Em but to so many and for that I feel nothing but gratitude! 💕

  10. Chou Chou Scantlin

    Oh! And I forget to mention Granma Paula! I have grown to love her, too! XO!

  11. Thank you for being brave enough to write this post from the first time I read this blog I marveled at how perfect your life seemed to be just goes to show nobody’s life is perfect. My mom just finished telling me I shouldn’t blog about anything too personal because it’s embarrassing but after reading this post i realize blogging is about unashamedly showing people all of who you are. Thanks for showing the world your heart.

    • Nisha, I think it’s important for any of us who are blogging to be aware that our words are being read by a great many and some who may not have our best interests in mind, but even so when we write honestly about our own very personal struggles I think the good it can do for others who may share our challenges outweighs any risks. It is when I write of others that I edit and, yes, even censor myself, but otherwise I do not. If I did this blog would not exist! Keep writing! You have a story to tell and it is important.
      I am cheering you on.

  12. I loved this blog. I mean who is this person that is Ariane? Often your blog is just about you being Emma’s mom but you are an interesting character in your own right. I would love to see more of these blogs. Plus you have a natural gift for writing. I just marvel and amaze at it. Truly a gift.

  13. I agree with Nisha that reading just your accomplishment’s like accomplished jeweler and author it made you seem like a person too real to be true who just happened to have a daughter who brought challenges to this seemingly perfect life. Don’t deny it raising someone on the spectrum is probably a bigger challenge if not at least a very different challenge than most parents have, I am not saying that it is not incredibly enriching and rewarding which you have shown the world by talking about the amazing things you have learnt from Emma, its just also really difficult.

    • I completely understand what you’re saying; if I think of moments, individual moments, then yes, it is challenging having a different neurology from my child. As her parent it pains me to see how the world and our society treat those who do not fit the neurotypical mold, that is the single most challenging and difficult thing I, personally, grapple with.

  14. And I’m beginning to believe more and more in ESP, because this morning, just a few minutes ago I was thinking about you, Emma, and, wait for it…Chou Chou Scantlin! It is obvious that I am thinking every day about you, Emma, Richard, your struggles to be the authentic YOU and your wisdom and love in urging Emma to be the authentic person she is, but Chou Chou? Why does she pop into my mind? Love, I believe, travels in waves of ESP that we can feel, even when we don’t verbally communicate.

    So here’s to loving human beings like Chou Chou, Emma, and YOU.

    Granma Paula

  15. ariane – so grateful to have gotten to find your honesty and authenticity. your courageousness is most appreciated. (lowercase is used for the sake of expedience; no offense is intended, and i’m trusting that none is taken…) living, for the past half-life, with increasingly greater mindfulness. would love to share more, and shall, on a variety of things – if it’s welcome.

  16. I can relate with you on so many levels. I have two boys on the spectrum, and I find the hardest part of everything is preparing myself for how society will judge them with their different neurology. I have no idea how we will cope. I too, have an eating addiction. No one has ever known, still don’t to this day and I am 36 now and it started when I was 16. The strangest part is, I don’t have an excuse for it. I don’t have a painful cycle going on of self loathing or acceptance, or even guilt. (other than limiting my life which will, in turn, hurt my family and children who will need me) There is no desire to self harm in any way, nor have I ever questioned my self worth or felt others were superior that me, which makes it all the more harder to understand. All I know is that I do love food, love to eat anything I desire, almost as much as I love being a confident size 8-10 (Aust) as I need to be to face the world. And there those two battle it out, almost as if I am just the player being pushed into their game of war against each other. I’ve tried to get out for 20 years, but I keep giving back in again. I too have always envied others who have such a simple non complicated relationship with food and their image that they don’t even need to try….You must be so proud to have accomplished that and finding your freedom. I long for that day. I also wonder how OCD plays a role, as I have a ‘thing’ (!) that if I or my family touch our dog, or the rubbish bin, or anything that spreads germs we need to wash our hands before we touch A SINGLE THING! I know that’s OCD to a degree, and I’ve gotten worse with age, so I wonder how that and my eating disorder are intertwined. Everything also has to stay in it’s ‘place’. On a different note, I am also starting to question therapy, what it actually trying to accomplish and it that is the same as what I want for my children. All I want from it is to assist with their development, NOT to change who they are in any way….I wonder if that is a contradiction in itself or not. Confused, but thankfully therapy has not and is not playing a large part in our lives as I use emotion and experiences to connect with my children on a far deeper level than any therapy can offer. I thank you for sharing your journey with me, particularly because I feel our journey’s are similar and I don’t often find any sense of familiarity or belonging in this big, unfamiliar world.

  17. Thank you so much for writing back, and for the links that I am looking forward to reading up on. I am a huge admirer of your entire character and I honestly see you as a role model to so many others also. The experiences in which you share are benefiting my family too and I thank you with full sincerity for being the human being that you are and for sharing yourself so unselfishly to anyone who wishes to appreciate you.
    Fondest Regards,
    Carly

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