Last time out I talked about having a lightbulb moment. I've recently become fully aware of something that's been in front of me my whole life. Two years ago I wrote a post about being a food addict which you can read here. It would help to read it first if you can as it's the origin story. I've always perversely been proud of my behaviour around food. How many people apart from me can eat six iced buns or five bars of Wispa in two minutes? I've almost worn it as a badge of honour. Tales of my visits to all you can eat buffets have become the stuff of legend. Nine full plates of food at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco? One of my greatest achievements. I would have eaten more but we had a plane to catch!
I've blindly accepted it all as simply part of my make up. Although I'd questioned what the root cause could be, I wasn't bothered about it and never really saw it as a problem. It was a few weeks ago when I suddenly began to feel uneasy about it. Nothing in particular had happened to bring it sharper into focus, I just felt something wasn't right. I spoke to a friend who had and still has issues with food. Talking about our behaviours and feelings around food it dawned on me. It was like being slapped with a big and very smelly cod. I'm a compulsive overeater and a binger. I have a problem with food. Not something to joke about or wear as a badge of honour, it's a serious issue.
I started looking at countless examples of this going back to being a child. On a holiday camp aged eight I used to have six bowls of dessert and felt so proud of myself. Throughout my life I've gorged on (mostly) sweet foods and at times felt I have no control. It's almost as if my hand is working independently to my brain and stuffing food in my mouth. In that moment I feel unable to stop it. One biscuit suddenly becomes fifteen. Even though I don't feel hungry I keep eating. None of this was new to me and I hadn't repressed memories of eating. It was more a case of not allowing myself to recognise that it was an issue.
Maybe I was denying my awareness to protect myself, who knows. What I did realise was that I needed to do something about it. I made enquiries and soon had a assessment at a centre dealing with addictions including food. This led to me being accepted into the group. The time was split into two; half group counselling and half workshops to help with techniques etc. When I walked in for the first time I felt a myriad of emotions. Anxious about what to expect, nervous about meeting new people and excitement that maybe I could change and have a healthy relationship with food over time.
Within a few minutes I found myself feeling relieved as well. I was hearing a room full of people talk about issues around food that I completely related with. It's not that I thought I was the only one that felt that way. It was just comforting to hear and know we were all there for the same reason and in it together. At lunch my first day one of the other clients at the end of the table mouthed "Are you ok?" to which I gave a thumbs up. I thought that was nice of her to ask.
At the next group counselling session I thanked her and said that I appreciated it. As I spoke the words I felt tears rising and started to cry. I explained to the group that it obviously meant more to me then I thought. On reflection over the next day or so the truth dawned on me and it was terrifying. As with the eating it was something that had been ever present but I had never acknowledged it. I feel undeserving of love or anything positive from other people. I had found that simple act of kindness overwhelming and hard to accept. A good friend of mine called me after my first session to see how I'd got on. I couldn't believe he'd want to know even though he's a really good friend.
I went shopping recently with my daughter and she helped me choose a couple of tops. I felt overwhelmed and couldn't believe that she wanted to spend her time doing it. Seriously, what the hell? It's not a big deal in any way but at the time it felt massive. Whenever anybody has done something nice for me, asked about me or shown that they care I try and deflect it away. It seems too big for me to comprehend and accept. Even with my wife Rachel who I know loves me. It can still feel too much for me to handle and I just feel undeserving. I often push her and the girls away and take myself into my own space, believing that I'm on my own, it's them against me. It sounds ridiculous reading it back but that's where I am sometimes. I've started to recall other situations where I struggled to accept love and kindness from others and there are countless occasions. How was I not ever aware of it?
When it comes to how I feel about myself it's slightly different. I've always had confidence in myself and my abilities. I never feel anything is beyond me and that I can achieve anything. I always knew I'd never settle and would only be with the right person. That's Rachel by the way, just to clarify! If I haven't been happy in a job, I've left. Like the problem I have accepting compliments, what's behind it all is worrying. In most scenarios like this the cause is previous trauma and now I'm worried I've repressed things from the past.
It's been a couple of weeks since I started this post and I guess I needed a bit of time to reflect more on everything. The truth is, I can't control the food urges most of the time. I don't really crave anything but one bit of chocolate and not only does the whole bar disappear but the other three alongside it and anything else I can find. I've got lots of other trigger foods like sweets, biscuits, cake, anything by Mr Kipling and lots more. As you can see, sugar is the common denominator most of the time. When I eat any of my trigger foods it's like a bomb goes off inside me and I HAVE to eat everything around me. In this situation I never feel satiated and will continue to eat until either all the food has gone or Rachel physically forces me out the kitchen.
I'm never hungry between meals and I'd describe it as mindless eating as opposed to mindful. The food gets shovelled down at lightning speed without any thought or outward emotion. In those moments I feel completely powerless to stop and it's nothing to do with willpower. It's been a huge amount to process but I'm taking it one day at a time. Having a healthy relationship with food and not eating my feelings is not something I've had before but in time I will. Alongside the support group I've joined a 12 step programme which will help me on my journey towards a healthy and peaceful relationship with food and myself. Today (Jan 18th) is officially day one. I've now got good support in place and although it's a struggle to accept it all, I'm trying.
I've always attributed any emotional issues or struggles in my life to my parent's divorce when I was three and my dad emigrating to Canada with his new family when I was ten. I only found out about a year ago that when my dad left home I cried constantly for about two weeks. I picture three year old Paul sobbing and it breaks my heart. I just want to give him a hug and tell him that he'll be fine. Maybe I blamed myself for him leaving, who knows. Maybe there are other events that are buried away. All I know is that it's not something I want to leave undiscovered. As painful as it may be, I need and want to heal, no matter what it takes. I want to make peace with my past and embrace my future.
I'm 50 next week and want to live the rest of my life in the fullest way possible. Life's too short to waste a minute. In all honesty, for a long time I would say I've existed rather than really lived. I want to be able to feel unbridled joy and laugh so much I cry. I just want to feel with nothing in the way like eating mindlessly. I want to be the best husband and dad I can be. I want to embrace life and find peace.
That's it, that's who I am and where I am today. The journey has begun and it will take time. See you next time.
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