I don’t know what happened precisely, but something did. Something went off in my head, and I was suddenly able to step outside of that uncontrolleably bingeing version of myself – like a snake shedding its skin – back into my own body and breathe the fresh air of relative sanity.
It was good to be back.
I think what did the trick was realising that I needed to focus not on the bingeing but on the why I was bingeing.
A few days ago I was watching Queen Victoria’s Children on iplayer (it’s surprisingly interesting) and the observation was made that Bertie, King Edward to be – who had a hopelessly bad relationship with his mother, who blamed him for the death of his father – had rapacious appetites for all things physical including food, and that
“he looked for emotional satisfaction from physical appetites”.
I so recognised myself in that description.
Since last May I’ve been off work, because of my problems with my jaw joint and the trigeminal nerve. These prevent me doing a great deal of talking and as I talk for a living (I work in the English Department of a high school, working with students with Special Educational Needs either leading interventions, taking groups or working one-to-one) it became impossible to do my job.
I’m single and aside from my very wonderful 18 year old live alone; and wonderful though he is, and very close though we are, he does of course not spend a great deal of time with me, which is as it should be. I have no family (aside from my children) within a hundred miles and I couldn’t be social with friends as initially I couldn’t even hold a conversation, and still now have to restrict the amount of talking I do.
What’s more, the heavy medication I was put on (and have significantly reduced on my own initiative, in collaboration with my GP) meant I was off my head for hours a day.
Just when I was suddenly so much alone and so isolated, so frightened about what my medical condition might mean, off my head half the time and in considerable discomfort, I had also to give up nicotine and caffeine. What else was I going to do but comfort eat?
I already, of course, knew all that.
What I didn’t know, what hadn’t occurred to me, was that due to my extreme isolation (imagine being unable to talk or use sign language; it’s made me realise how fundamental the ability to express oneself is to being a human being) I wasn’t just confort eating, I had turned to food so passionately as it was now the only thing I could connect to. What alerted me to this was recently watching the TED Talk, Everything You Think You Know About Addiction Is Wrong as a follow on from a recommendation made by Julie Ramage. In it Johann Hari puts forward the theory that people develop addictions when they feel disconnected from the world around them, and their drug of choice (recreational, nicotine, caffeine, food) is the only thing they feel able to connect to. I instantly recognised that in the behaviour of people around me whose addictions had got the better of them, and I recognised it in myself.
A few days later I noticed Russell Brand discussing the premise of his latest book, Recovery, which is pretty similar; and while Russell Brand isn’t someone I’d choose to spend more than 5 minutes watching I do think he’s a phenomenally intelligent man who has a great capacity for analysis and self-analysis; and I think he’s right. People form addictions when they cannot connect – for whatever reason – with the world around them; meaning the only real connection, the only real relationship, they can have is with their drug of choice; which makes it the most important thing in their lives, even when it’s destroying their lives.
Incidentally, I am not the only one who has been in that kind of romantic relationship either, I’m sure.
And when I understood, the spell broke. I realised I need to find new, positive, healthy things to connect to (How interesting I said ‘things’ and not ‘people’ to connect to – but I’m not going to censor that comment because I think it’s very telling and I want to remember it) to and to strengthen existing connections.
Incidentally, one thing the last nine months of isolation have taught me is how very good I am with my own company, although even I can have a little too much of it. That’s one good thing that has come out of this episode in my life – I cannot imagine having the level of contact with other people I used to, I don’t think I could tolerate that much interaction with other people anymore, confusing and unsettling as even the best of people can be; I’ve learned peace in my own company, which I guess makes me more self-sufficient than I was.
But deprived so brutally of work, routine, other people, my health and plans for the future, and my usual drugs of choice – well, there wasn’t anything left to connect to other than food, was there?
PS. my most recent scans have revealed that I have a lipoma, a benign tumour, in my shoulder mere inches away from my jaw joint, and it is that which has been causing my medical problems. Hopefully it will soon be surgically removed and my jaw and nerve can heal.