I realized after talking to a couple of family members about my blog that describing life behind my masks has made some of them feel like they failed me in some way. Like I have said in the past, I had a good family—not without issues—but one that was lovingly there for me. The child version of me lived in an alternate reality, seeing herself through a lens colored by fat and fear of rejection. In truth, I feel like I failed them because I spent YEARS lying to them. I lied so well they did not even realize it. I never gave them the opportunity to truly be there for me. They did what was right based on what I LET them see. I remember on one occasion the summer before my surgery, I was talking with my pastor and he said something along the lines of how surprised he was that I did so much, weighing so much. It was not said in a bad way and I took no offense, instead I heard what he said and almost felt a sense of pride. I actually walked away thinking, "Boy, am I good at hiding how much pain I am in! I even have my pastor fooled!" Hiding my pain meant I was doing a good job in my eyes. I was in constant pain and hating myself, but doing a great job fooling the world about it. I felt so bad that last summer before my surgery, I felt like I was letting my vacation bible school decorating partner down. She had to do the climbing and the up and down off the floor while I just sat there like a lump ordering people around. It was so hard for me. The following year she decided not to do VBS, and I still wonder if it was because she had to carry me through that last year. Even through all that, I hid the pain and just pretended it did not bother me.
Plain and simple, that’s what I did. I hid. I hid behind figurative masks, but I literally hid. Ok here it goes—how did I hide?
For one, I stashed my favorite junk food all over the house. When I was still living with my parents, I would open a box of something and then turn the box around so no one would see it was opened. I would not eat much at school and then go home and sneak as much as I could to comfort myself after a rough day. I worked at my aunt's bakery for a while in high school, where I would take the money she paid me and pay for desserts that I ate while I was there alone. Then I’d tell her that customers bought them. I justified what I did by paying for what I ate; I was not stealing, but I was still lying.
As I got older and had more freedom, like driving myself around and college, I could hide my issues better without necessarily lying. I would just stop to eat somewhere while I was out, and then make sure I threw out the trash before anyone else got in the car. I have gone so far as to drive with all the windows open in winter to get rid of the smell of food I secretly ate in my car.
Once I moved out and started a home of my own you might think I wouldn’t feel the need to sneak anymore, but I did. Now, I had a husband to hide from. I would stop and get stuff to eat on my way to and from work. If he was working late or away, I would indulge in comfort/junk food binge night, and then make sure the trash was out of the house before he came home. I would even encourage him to go play paintball for a whole weekend while mentally I had my shopping list already prepared! I stashed candy in my desk at work, zippered in my pocketbook, and anywhere else I could hide it.
When the kids were babies, it was easy enough to go out for fast food or hit WAWA whenever I wanted because they weren't telling. As they got older I had to be more creative. I did not want them to struggle with the same food issues I did, so I really did not take them to fast food places very often. I would run into a store and grab something to eat though, or slip something into the bag with the other stuff I bought. Sometimes I’d just hide food in my purse where the kids wouldn’t go.
This is what even my husband didn't know until this post. I would tell him that I was going somewhere like the library, to visit someone, or actually a few times the gym, but I would really go to some fast food place, get food and go to a parking lot to eat and read. And how did I get the money to eat out without my husband seeing it missing from our bank account? I would take an extra $10 or $20 out in cash when I bought groceries for the week. In a way, since working at my aunt’s bakery I had graduated from lying to lying and stealing from my family. I'm sorry that I lied to my husband and I’ve told him so. I just had to get away. I am the optimistic one in our house, and sometimes that can be overwhelming. I needed a break, but at the time I did not know how to explain this to my husband.
I knew that what I was doing was harmful to myself, but I could not stop. The only way I can think to describe it is that it was a compulsion. Food was my dirty little secret. It was like I was cheating on my husband with food. Many women have emotional and/or physical affairs with men. My emotional and physical affair was with food. I was burying under food things I should have been sharing with my husband, like my secrets, fears, and pain. Food was my comfort. I used it to numb my feelings and I convinced myself it was working, instead of seeking comfort from my husband.
After my secret outings I would feel sick and guilty. I would tell myself I would not do it again, but inevitably, in pain or stressed or sad, there I’d go again, trying to figure out how to get my next food fix and planning how we could meet up for our next “date.”
Even now those compulsions still wreak havoc with my mind at times, though not as much as before. I will admit to buying things I shouldn't, but I can say that I no longer hide it. If I buy a candy bar or doughnut and my husband sees it, I don’t go into panic mode. Knowing that since my surgery that candy bar will have to be spread over several days helps, along with buying just one and not three or four. Even as I write this, I have to admit to myself that food is still my comfort. I have just traded in fast food and candy bars for pistachios, yogurt and veggie straws. I’ve learned to be conscious of what I am eating and why.
To some of you, reading this sounds strange and you can't imagine doing the things I have done. But I have a feeling that many of you can identify with my behavior, and may even be saying, "I've done that." If you are doing these things, please find someone to talk to. I know it sounds weird, but go around your house with someone you trust and throw away all the junk from your hiding places. If you have stolen or lied to anyone to hide your addiction, go to them and ask for forgiveness. I think asking forgiveness is the hardest part for me. As I’ve shared, I have a strong need to feel loved and accepted, so telling people I care for how I have wronged them and facing the fact that they might not forgive me, or they might look at me differently is awful for me. I understand reaching out can even be embarrassing, but it is worth it. It is almost like going through the steps of AA—admitting your addiction, making amends with people you’ve hurt while hiding your food issues, and hopefully, finding acceptance and forgiveness.
Set yourself up to succeed by finding new things to do to relieve stress or find comfort. I started crocheting this year. I also color and read lots of books. Writing has also been a huge stress reliever. When you know you are going to be in a position to fall back into old habits—like if your husband is going away for the weekend—plan ahead of time for how you are going to deal with being alone. I have girlfriends over for fun time and to share a few snacks instead of bingeing alone in my living room.
I still stumble, but I am stronger than my addictions, and so are you! When I feel myself falling I know I have support. I reach for that instead of another mouthful of food. My pastor's wife said something to me when I was stumbling a few months ago. I had posted about how I was feeling after the deaths of several friends in a very short period of time. She said fear was the absence of faith. That hit me. Thinking back, many times when I was deepest in my habit of resorting to food for comfort, it was because I was fearful. With that in mind, when I feel prone to stumbling I choose to faithfully do what I know is right—including believing that God will help me—and work daily to strengthen habits that keep my fears at bay.
So my friend, who have you wronged while hiding behind a mask of secret addiction or compulsion? Who do you need to ask for forgiveness and when will you do it? What situations or challenges are likely to cause you stumble back into old habits? How can you be proactive in avoiding or overcoming these roadblocks?