It’s a good thing they warned me that relapse – or the gentler way of saying it, backsliding – is normal in the stages we go through, changing from entrenched ways of being to healthy new habits. I was about to go into my private, self-brutalizing mode until someone reminded me there might be value for me and others if I shared my story.
My relationship with food has always been tightly coupled with anger. As a child, I lived in a turbulent household. The unpredictability of my father’s alcohol-induced rages turned me into a timid, fearful child. Since the angry tirades usually occurred late in the evening, I spent my youth feeling tired and nervous, always anticipating a bad event, even when things were relatively calm. I ate candy for comfort and energy. My father was a controlling, invasive parent and I came to think of myself as incapable of independent thought or action.
I had to do something to soften the blow when Vera shared her brutal take on our concept “It’s not just about food.” I’m supposed to create a safe environment for sharing. Sometimes it’s hard since I can’t always support the speaker and the listeners at the same time. My best hope the day Vera spoke was damage control, wielding my magic wand like the Good Fairies – after the fact – undoing the worst of Maleficent’s curse.
I. I Hate Myself Therefore I Eat
“How is Suppers different from other groups and therapy?” This question was put to me, and I have a lot to say on the subject. I hope my story will help others who struggle as I have struggled.
It’s taken a lot of time in therapy for me to acknowledge that I have a story someone might want to read. My friends at Suppers have been working on me for months to start the telling.
When I started Suppers, I wasn’t expecting to have a spiritual experience. I went because my way of eating had gotten me into a lot of trouble. I had dug my way in with a fork and spoon and I needed to dig myself out with the same tools. I had church and a 12-step program to take care of my spiritual needs, so I imagined that the spiritual side of Suppers for me would be about penance. I looked at what wasn’t on the menu and knew I would feel sorry for my sins.
Petey was four years old when this happened. He’s almost a man now, and I have no idea where he is. But this was my first experience of the finger of God, and the hand was Petey’s.
Petey’s mom was one of the alcoholics I loved who loved me. We raised children together for many years and admired each other for our differences. I was hard driving and always busy; she felt her day was complete if she found a perfect branch of flowering quince. She was beautiful, sensitive, and a very good friend. She relapsed.
In my many years of searching for answers to my depression, panic attacks, and abdominal pain, no one ever suggested that my mood problems and bellyaches were all the same problem. And nobody told me that what was going on in my head was “downstream” from my gut, which is just a fancy way of saying one caused the other.
When I got clean, I was so thoroughly embraced by my friends that I felt a tight circle of support around me. It was like they were arm in arm, three people deep, holding me up and loving me until I could love myself. I had good medical insurance, a therapist I trusted, and friends from church. I needed all of it because it was a day-to-day, moment-to-moment struggle just to stand up. The depression that made me so vulnerable to alcohol to begin with was right there, ready to take up residence once I quit.
My Logical Miracle happened before I learned about Suppers. But I sought out Suppers to volunteer as a summer intern because I know most people could not do in isolation what I was able to do mostly on my own: turn around my diagnosis of Lupus on nothing but food. Suppers gave me a chance to be a resource for people who have Lupus. We are led to believe by the medical system that the only way to manage it is with a long list of medications.