Kiki’s Story: A Disease of Isolation

I am a sensitive. I would never change that. A musician and composer, I know I bring joy into people’s lives that they would not otherwise experience. But there’s a price to be paid for having the sensitivity that makes artists valuable to a culture. I’m emotionally vulnerable and have always suffered with depression and anxiety.

As far back as I can remember, I have always wanted more when it came to food. This is so troubling for me that I’ve researched overeating and participated in many programs in hopes of eating like a normal person. From what I understand, breast feeding sets a baby up for a life of normal eating while formula feeding gets you hooked on sugar very young. I’m a child of the ‘50s. Good mothers bottle fed; my vicious cycle was set in motion very early. Sugar set me up to desire more food, especially sweet food, and to crave it when I didn’t get it.

I was only 12 when I formed the thought that I had a serious problem. On vacation my parents treated us to pancakes or waffles with lots of butter and syrup. I remember eating an entire stack of pancakes, and being hungrier than when I started! Something was seriously wrong with me.

The lines between my chemistry and my emotions are too blurry to sort out. All I know is that I live a life of not wanting to let go. I want to hang on to the people I care about. I want to keep moments of nurturing. Eating is a reliable but fleeting source of pleasure. I want the snack to never end. And when I don’t stop eating I lose control because my body doesn’t signal me to stop eating when I’m physically full. This sounds irrational, but while I’m in the middle of carb bingeing, I am simultaneously hanging on to the pleasurable sensation of eating while also knowing full well that I am going to feel terrible very soon. It feels like when water spirals down a drain. I am pulled into a vortex that I cannot resist. I am in a kind of a trance when this happens, and don’t want to be taken out of it. When I come back to myself, I ask, “What happened?”

What happened was that strong emotions had been operating under the surface, out of my awareness. On that foundation of vulnerability, any number of triggers can lead me to bingeing. Just seeing candy in a glass jar, or recalling something hurtful someone said, or anticipating a stressful situation and – boom! – I am eating ice cream. The narrative is always the same: I tell myself I’ll just have this one small dish, but that never happens. Between the huge craving set off by the emotional trigger and the sugar chemistry, I eat until I am beyond full, feeling sick, tired, and filled with shame.

So far I have found partial answers. I know I can’t cut out carbs altogether; it’s too restrictive. I know I benefit from doing music, but I can’t be singing all day. I know I benefit from programs and social support, but what I want is an even, peaceful relationship with food instead of this crazy rollercoaster. The program that helped me the most was The 30 Day Lift. It’s a daily audio program with assignments that help you get off sugar. I did it twice and stayed off for 30 days each time. But despite my best intentions, I slipped back when I was no longer working the program daily. As I said, I’m by nature sensitive and introverted. So when I joined Overeaters Anonymous it was uncomfortable asking people for help. Since it’s a 12 step program, everyone is strongly encouraged to get a sponsor. The rebel in me really resisted this; I considered my failings with food too personal to share with someone I didn’t know. I gave in and had a succession of sponsors. Some were more helpful than others, and when I kept slipping, I was told what I was doing wrong, and how I should eat. Well I already knew how I should eat! Something was missing. You have to tell your sponsor what you’re going to eat the day before, and I bounced between hating that and liking the structure. In the end, I couldn’t bring myself to call the sponsor every single day, plus the literature was moralistic and rigid, so I quit.

What I want to give to others is what I need for myself: an informed listener who knows from lifelong experience that it’s hard being sugar and carb sensitive. What I want to give and get is nonjudgmental listening, listening with love. At meetings, in person individually, or on the phone, I want that relationship where people feel like it’s their job to stay in the conversation while someone suffering from overeating explores the emptiness that craves to be filled. As they learn about the genetics and chemistry of compulsive eating, I want people like me to know in their bones that it’s not anybody’s “fault”, especially theirs.

I will always be sensitive. I will always be an artist. What I am giving and getting from the community of Suppers is relief from this sense that I suffer a disease of isolation. I have long been searching for a community where we can be there for each other without suffocating rules and obligations to tow the party line. And now I’m helping to create it.