Posted in 40 in 52, guest article, Women Worth Knowing

Everything Must Go: Guest Article


Do you remember Valarie? If you haven’t read her Women Worth Knowing profile yet, do that. But don’t let it distract you from the following article she wrote.

Yet here I was on my 39th birthday strapped up to an EKG, fat, lonely and in tears. What had happened to me? I knew I had to go deeper and do more. It wasn’t just about the weight. It was about everything. How did I fix everything? Shouldn’t I just pack it in and accept that I was going to be a fat, miserable person for the rest of my life? I was caught up in my head, thoughts spinning and hope dwindling. I wanted to change but I just couldn’t seem to manage it. A line from my journal from that year reads “I feel like I’m swimming thru glue”.

I know Valarie as an amazing, honest, brave woman, so I asked her to share her adopted life philosophy with us. Always looking to live better, Valarie has faced down some personal demons that are triggers for a lot of women–that are triggers for me. Perfectionism, binge eating, over-spending, clutter. I always look for her posts on LiveJournal and gobble them up because it is a rare post that doesn’t give me some full meal or crumb of knowledge. Eventually, she’s just going to have to write a book. Until then, we’ve got this from her.

Everything Must Go
by Valarie

My 39th birthday started with a bang. I spent the first few hours in the emergency room because I was convinced I was having a heart attack. I was at work and had been experiencing a dull pain in my left arm all night. Of course because I was now 39 and therefore ancient, this meant that I was having a heart attack, not that I’d overdone it with the massive spring cleaning/organizing I’d done the day before. I was 39, overweight and with a grandfather who had died of heart disease. There was no other explanation – I was having a heart attack. I promptly gave myself a panic attack just thinking about it and a caring, calm co-worker drove me to the hospital.

Luckily the EKG showed no evidence of a heart attack and the caring, calm doctor gently suggested it might have been muscle pain from the massive cleaning binge the day before. I left with my very own copy of my birthday EKG and promptly went home and had a good old cry.

Where was I going and what sort of state was I in that I automatically assumed 39 plus arm pain equaled heart attack? I was a mess. I’d been overweight most of my life. It was a fact of life for me. I moved to California 10 years ago to escape my problems. It was a total shock to me to discover that I’d only brought them with me. Yes, I left the bad relationship and the hometown blues behind me but a great many of my issues were in my own head and these traveled those 3000 miles along with me.

Within two years of moving here I had gained over 100 lbs. I’d done Atkins and Weight Watchers and many other diet plans and potions including Xenadrine. I weighed more than I ever had in my life. I was so stunned that life in California wasn’t automatically absolutely perfect that I just ate and ate and ate. It was my way of coping with things and had been for years. I slept and I ate. In between I worked at a job I hated. Sadly, I was still happier than I’d been back east so I didn’t really need to look at me. It was just the weight. If I could get that off, all would be perfect.

Even when I got a job I loved I still ate. 16 hours sleeping followed by eating a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder Value Meal and then an entire bag of potato chips was the norm for me on my days off.

I was in therapy and on antidepressants. Both helped so much but I knew deep within my heart that there was more. I wasn’t where I wanted to be physically or emotionally. I realized that I had a binge drinking issue and stopped the vodka. I realized that I had an overspending issue and gradually conquered that. I read the Melody Beattie books on co-dependency religiously (5 years with an alcoholic and addict had left me ragingly codependent).

Yet here I was on my 39th birthday strapped up to an EKG, fat, lonely and in tears. What had happened to me? I knew I had to go deeper and do more. It wasn’t just about the weight. It was about everything. How did I fix everything? Shouldn’t I just pack it in and accept that I was going to be a fat, miserable person for the rest of my life? I was caught up in my head, thoughts spinning and hope dwindling. I wanted to change but I just couldn’t seem to manage it. A line from my journal from that year reads “I feel like I’m swimming thru glue”.

I tried to look at my accomplishments and how far I’d come and that worked at times. But I couldn’t escape from the overwhelming feeling of failure. I floundered for quite a while, wanting so much and feeling unable to achieve it.

Every year, I would go on vacation (usually to follow my favorite band – the Manic Street Preachers – around England) and find myself really motivated to change. I could clear my head of work drama and other drama and really know that I wanted to change. Unfortunately little came of these vacation realizations. Some small changes were made yet my deep dissatisfaction remained.

A few months after my 39th birthday, the band announced their first US tour in 10 years. I’d gone to England 3 times in the last few years to see them but had missed their last tour due to financial issues. I was over the moon that they were touring the US and planned to attend 8 shows with my friend Katie. The excitement of planning that kept me going for a while and then the actual tour itself was amazing. Each show was incredible and I had so much fun dancing and singing and chatting with friends and meeting the band and driving across the east coast and Canada. It was perfect and just what I needed to boost my mood.

One of my favorite Manics’ songs is called Everything Must Go. They played it at every show. It’s a crowd pleaser – very upbeat, lots of shouting. I came home from that tour and wrote in my journal “My life feels too small now.” And I came back to Everything Must Go and realized that was what had to happen. Everything had to go – not just the weight but the old thought patterns, old habits, everything that was holding me back. My 40th birthday would be in a few months and this was my gift to myself.

Everything Must Go:
– the weight
– the health issues
– the lack of self care
– the physical dirt (my apartment was a complete mess)
– the mental dirt
– the outdated ideas
– the self loathing
– the half finished projects
– the sense of not deserving
– the financial mess
– the putting everything else ahead of me
– the lack of following my dreams (writing)
– the self doubt

Everything.

I sat down and came up with achievable one year goals for myself. I made to-do lists. I kept going but I also kept struggling. I took a huge step of giving up a major work project that I loved but which triggered my controlling and codependency and was just making me utterly miserable.

As part of my determination to lose weight, I ordered some diet books from Amazon. Not the traditional ‘do this diet plan’ books but first person accounts from people who’d lost weight and kept it off. The first book to arrive, serendipitously on New Year’s Day, was “Hungry” by Alan Zadoff. I began to read it and found myself getting intensely angry. My head was pounding and I was so enraged that I couldn’t focus on reading. I had to put the book aside and pick it up the next day after I’d had some time to think about things.

Why did I have such a visceral reaction? Because it was me. His story was my story. He binged on food, used it to deal with uncomfortable emotions, hid himself behind tons of extra weight. He was telling my story. He revealed himself to be a food addict. He had an eating disorder – compulsive overeating. This was physical as well as mental. I devoured the book and then just sat in shock. I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t a freak. I wasn’t just a big fat lazy pig. I had an actual illness.

He suggested making lists of red, yellow and green foods. Red foods were your ‘trigger foods’, the foods that you couldn’t eat without overeating/binging on. Yellow foods were foods that could potentially cause a binge. Green foods were food you could eat and eat normal portions of. Immediately I made my lists. It hurt me to think I that I could not eat these foods that were so beloved to me. No McDonald’s, no cupcakes, no icing straight out of the can, no potato chips. I was addicted to them. I had no chance of a normal relationship with them. I could no more eat a normal portion size of potato chips than I could bench press 200 lbs.

My therapist had mentioned Overeaters Anonymous to me before but I’d immediately dismissed it. I wasn’t ‘one of them’. I wasn’t a ‘big fat pig who couldn’t control their eating’ (my perception of people in OA – and fittingly enough, an accurate description of me as well). I didn’t need meetings with other fat people to help me. I just needed willpower. I was weak and just needed to ‘man up’ and do what needed to be done.

“Hungry” showed me what a lie that was. Willpower had failed me. I wasn’t weak – I had a disease. If I had diabetes, would I think myself weak for having to take insulin? No. This was the same thing. Biological and genetic components combine with personality and emotions and voila, you have a food addict. You have me.

I’d been to 12 step meetings with friends before and I loved them. The sense of unconditional acceptance, the sense of not being alone – I wished I was an addict or alcoholic so I could keep going and feel that love. Now I was to get my wish. I did research on OA and found that I could go to online meetings in a chat room. I went to my first meeting the night after finishing “Hungry”. I took my first step: “Hi, I’m Valarie and I’m a compulsive overeater.” I was blown away by the love and acceptance. Finally I’d found ‘my people’. I wasn’t a Special Snowflake with a problem so unique no one could possibly understand it. I was part of a group and there was hope.

I had a lot to learn. I had to practice abstinence – avoiding my trigger foods. I had to look at trigger behaviors as well as trigger foods. For example, I work graveyards, 6 pm until 6 am. Usually every night around 2 or 3 am, I start getting tired. This means I don’t feel like eating. I just want my bed. This causes my blood sugar to drop which makes me cranky which makes me reach for the easiest, most familiar form of comfort – my trigger foods. I’d not eat after 2 am but then driving home at 6 am I’d stop at Jack In The Box and pig out. To help with this, I have more smaller meals including a snack around 5 am – an apple and a piece of string cheese. This boosts my blood sugar and doesn’t leave me ravenous and craving trigger foods.

I have a food plan – a list of foods that I eat. I take enough food plan food with me to work so that I’m not tempted to order in or go get fast food on my lunch break. I was never big on breakfast. Waking up at 4 pm, I never really felt like eating. Now I get up and have a bowl of Special K. This again helps keep my blood sugar levels even and leaves me much less likely to have cravings for trigger foods. I go grocery shopping only with a list of food plan foods.

To me and other food addicts, eating a trigger food is the same as an addict shooting up. I think of that mental image each time I want to eat about something – I picture myself with a needle in my arm because that’s just what a trigger food is to me.

This has not been all sunshine and roses. My first month was amazing. I was motivated, I was excited, I was doing this! Then real life crept in as it has a habit of doing and I found myself struggling. Now I wasn’t just dealing with the food but was dealing with the emotions underneath it. When I was upset, I never had to feel those feelings – I just ate until they were suppressed. Now I had to face feelings and deal with life without my crutch of food.

How did I do this? One day at a time. Yes, it’s a slogan but it works. Sometimes one minute at a time. I followed the 12 steps. I gave up my self will and surrendered to my Higher Power (HP). Some days this was easy while others I was grim and whiteknuckled, praying just to get thru the next 5 minutes without going out and going to McDonalds. I went to meetings, I joined email groups, I read a ton of literature and books. I re-read “Hungry”, I wrote in my journal, I prayed A LOT.

I spent my 40th birthday at home, reflecting on where I had been and where I wanted to go. After 6 weeks in OA, I was already happier and finally felt I was moving forward. I didn’t have many regrets about turning 40. Sure, I wished I’d learned some of these lessons years ago but on that day, I knew that I liked myself and that I was finally doing what I needed to do and that felt great.

I was not only doing the 12 steps of OA but also CODA – Codependents Anonymous. I knew both were problems and though I regularly read my codependent books, I knew I wasn’t really working the program. The two issues were intertwined and there was really no recovery from one without recovery from the other. As I got better, I knew there was more work that I had to do. It was almost like an archaeological dig – uncovering layer after layer and learning about myself. I’ve really had to ‘work the steps’ and not just give lip service to the process.

Losing weight helped but surprisingly wasn’t as important as I thought it was. I was feeling better overall. My emotions weren’t all over the place. I actually let myself have emotions. Those old thought patterns that I’d listed on my EMG list were changing. I have a twelve step workbook and try to write in it every day. I’m overcoming my resistance to the 4th Step (the long one where you write out your history) and working on it. I’m able to look at things that happen from a different perspective. And I’m happier, which is very weird for me. I have a level of contentment that I never thought I’d have.

I’m 4 months abstinent and have released 30 lbs so far. I have a budget and I stick to it. I pay my bills on time. I’ve completed so many unfinished projects, especially around the house. I have cleaners come in once a month to clean my apartment. I read my recovery books regularly and write in my workbook and journal.

Most importantly, I have bad days, sometimes even bad weeks. But I don’t eat about it. I distract myself, I write about it, I go to a meeting, do whatever I need to in order to get thru it without eating. I even let myself feel my emotions – even the uncomfortable ones. I don’t beat myself up every day. I still do beat myself up from time to time – my inner perfectionist is fighting hard to stay and not go away – but I can recover and again, I don’t eat over it, drink over it or overspend over it. It is not easy but I want this for myself. Finally I figured out what I need to do and I’m doing it.

I finally added in exercise last month. I add in things gradually as time passes. I try new foods, change up the food plan, increase my walking pace and time – but all at a reasonable achievable level. I was nearly completely sedentary so to expect myself to walk for hours on end at a high rate of speed was just ridiculous. I remembered what I used to be able to do when I was going to the gym regularly and had to throw that vision of myself out for now. This is where I am now and so this is where I have to focus.

My inner perfectionist fights this – “You should be able to change it all now once and forever! You’re a big fat slob!” etc., but I’m getting much better at shutting her up and taking it one step at a time, one day at a time, one minute at a time.

I’ve just reviewed my one year goals and adjusted them. My desired weight loss for that time period wasn’t realistic. Now it is, based on the rate I’ve been losing weight. I’m getting much better at getting out of my own way. I surrender all of my issues to my Higher Power every day and it works. Some days this is harder than others, but I still do it.

I’m gradually getting back in touch with my spirituality. I’d let that lapse a few years ago. Why would I need that when I was running the world? Once I realized that my attempts to control the world weren’t working and got into OA, I was able to also realize that I needed help. For now, I’m content to call that help my Higher Power and I love that in OA you can conceptualize your HP exactly as you need him/her/it to be. I realize that I am a spiritual being and I need that to be an important part of my life, not just in an ‘Oh God, please make me thin!’ kind of way. Developing that relationship with HP is now something I do every day, just like eating food plan food, getting on the treadmill and writing in my journal.

Epilogue:

I just had my worst week ever since I started EMG. Major work drama happened that pushed my buttons and I let myself get sucked in instead of focusing and maintaining my distance. I was unexpectedly stabbed in the back and I was utterly miserable. I had one day where I thought I was literally going insane. Trying to deal with emotions – primarily a lot of pain and anger – without the food to numb them was nearly unbearable. I could taste the food, feel the beloved numbness and wanted them so badly. I knew I could easily stop at the store and purchase my numbness in just a few quick minutes.

But I kept picturing that needle in my arm. Yes, I had a long way to go. Yes, I was discouraged because during the previous two weeks, I had hit a plateau and not lost any weight. Yes, that inner perfectionist came roaring back with diatribes on what a failure I was and how I should just give up because I’d never succeed at anything. I could do what I wanted – OA members would be supportive of a ‘relapse’, so would my friends. No one would criticize me – except for me.

I didn’t go for the food. I wanted to more than I have ever wanted anything in a long time. I didn’t go for vodka or shopping either. I don’t know how I got thru. I cried a lot and felt those damned emotions that I hated and didn’t want. I prayed a lot thru the tears. I sobbed out my surrender to HP, I yelled it out thru the pain and I made it a silent mantra. Forget about one day at a time; I was getting thru one second at a time by the skin of my teeth.

I got thru. Not on my own but with the grace and guidance of my HP. I fought tooth and nail but eventually surrendered and gave up my attempts to control the universe. I stuck to my food plan and didn’t binge or eat trigger foods. I kept up with my exercise and even added in walking on my lunch break at work three days in a row.

I did sleep a lot. Sleep has been my go-to stress reliever since I was a child. But this time even that was still different. I didn’t call off work sick and spend days in bed ignoring anything and everything while I wallowed in victim mode. I just slept a few more hours on my days off. I still worked out, still ate my food plan and still read my books and wrote in my journal. I got thru it. It was ugly and painful and nowhere near that perfectionism my inner voice wanted but I got thru it. I learned the lesson and instead of wallowing in pain and self-pity, I’m moving forward one step at a time.

This week I noticed some overdraft charges on my bank account. This means I need to take a closer look at my finances and how to better manage them. This makes me frustrated. But, another day, another step, another lesson. I’m in a much better position than I was 5 months ago and in 5 months from now I’ll be in still a better position. 42.

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Author:

Happy. That about covers it.

8 thoughts on “Everything Must Go: Guest Article

  1. “But i didn’t eat about it” – Wow – that’s a really great phrase. Thank you for sharing this, Lane!

  2. Val!! I think this was such an amazingly brutal and brave post. It’s so hard to face up to the truth that is within us. (I STILL struggle with mine, often confusing the lies for the truth.) But you have stared it in the face, no matter how scary it can be and you’re standing up to it.

    I am so proud of you, there are no words that can express the depth of that pride. To bare this all is not easy. It’s hard enough to admit it to yourself, but to share… You’re so wonderful and this is yet another reason why I love you and think you’re wonderful.

    1. Thank you so much. You’ve been a great inspiration to me with your own triumphs and your own story. Love you bunches. 🙂

    1. Poetrywater, thanks so much. 🙂 I’m always happy to make new friends in recovery. Feel free to email me anytime.

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