Polish Here, Shine There

By Sam Jones 12/14/14

How my Debtors Anonymous recovery alleviated my eating issues.


The most gratifying thing about my recovery is the improvement I never saw coming. When I focused on my recovery in Debtors Anonymous, I expected my issues around tardiness, self-sabotage, and making a life for myself to change. I did not expect my food-related issues to improve dramatically. As they say in the rooms, “polish over here, shine over there.”

It took four years to stop sitting poolside at DA meetings and to take the actions to turn my life around. 

I attended my first DA meeting in February of 2010. I was 26 and never had a job (thanks to an inheritance). I wasted two years in graduate school with nothing to show for it. When I was not swing dancing or dicking around with grad school, I was ensconced in my apartment desperately avoiding any action that would provide me with employment or a stable life (the inheritance would last a year more). I was miserable, but could not change.

Like many people in the rooms, I did not have a one-note disease. One of my other issues was with food. All my life I had used food to medicate myself. I was an anxious child, eating made me feel grounded—the fuller my stomach, the better I felt. I would overeat regularly, sometimes finishing when I was stuffed. I would notice the “normal” full sensation, but it would be overtaken by worry, I knew I was still not at the point where I had enough to feel "settled" and I feared provoking the unease and discomfort of hunger. Not eating enough would also mean I was a failure and I did not want to face that self-inflicted shame. I was at the command of something beyond my control.

The roots of this went way back. One week after I was born, my mother brought me to the pediatrician for a follow-up. Things had not been easy, I would cry constantly unless held. The doctor noticed that I had lost weight. Apparently, my mother’s bosom could not keep up with my dietary demands. My pediatrician instructed that my diet be supplemented with formula and baby cereal. This worked, but the repercussions were long-lasting.

An abundance of childhood stresses helped set my eating patterns. I had an anxious and over-attached mother with poor boundaries. My father would rage easily and found intimacy difficult. I was hyper and worrisome, which made making friends a challenge. I was too smart for the special-ed school I was in, but not high-functioning enough for a properly challenging one. Life was painful, food made me forget.

Though I never went hungry, I always feared not eating. When hungry, I could not think or focus clearly and my mind would become a pool of anxiety. On field trips, I’d often inquire about my next meal. At sleep-away camp, my parents would instruct the counselors to get me a snack when I woke up to tide me over to breakfast.

When I ate, I was rushed and ravenous. People always remarked at how quickly I ate, but I couldn’t slow down for long—I didn’t know how to. I needed to eat fast and quench the intense discomfort. I was enamored with how food tasted and felt in my mouth; I didn’t want to stop the flow of sensation. Everything else melted away.

Even when I had enough, I could not ignore food in front of me. My meals would always end with a clean plate. When dining out, I would always ask my parents or friends if they would finish what they left untouched. While I felt proud of my ability to eat more than others, I was embarrassed about it, too. I was ashamed of having to ask, “You gonna finish that?” Fortunately, I never became obese, having a large-framed 6'2 figure made it easy to accommodate the mass without the bulk.

Work exacerbated my appetite; I would have to snack before and after lunch. Food would quiet the anxiety I would feel on the job, but at the end of the day I would be exhausted, irritable, and desperately wanting to eat. Dinner would magically resolve all of that, leaving me calm and centered.

I was afraid of becoming like my father, a far more advanced over-eater. There would be bags of candy around the apartment; he would have extra meals, like a large bowl of cereal. This gave him a very prominent belly. I knew he had a problem, and it was unsettling to see him act under its power and I was unable to help him. I hated knowing there was something unresolved and hurting inside of him.

When I got older, I tried timing my meals. I’d have dinner while watching TV online, following the time counter on the bottom of the screen, while trying to focus more on what I was watching than what I was eating. It helped a little, but it was hard to inhibit myself. I didn't like cooking, so I'd often boil ravioli for dinner, and there were always a few pieces more than I needed but the fear of being hungry later was too much. Nightly, I would regularly bear the discomfort of having eaten too much. All of this took a back burner to my attempts with DA recovery, partly because that is where the fire was and I was too scared to take the issue on.

It took four years to stop sitting poolside at DA meetings and to take the actions to turn my life around. Since that first meeting, my attendance had been regular, then not, then back to regular again. I found work, but I would be late constantly, and then I would dawdle to avoid my responsibilities. I had lost many jobs during that time. After having lost a position with a startup I loved and knew was going places, I resolved to work the DA program. I got a new job that I enjoyed. My problems with tardiness and insubordination were sufficiently managed. But what surprised me most is that my eating changed. As I settled into this new position, I was no longer an irritable starving mess at the end of the day. I began eating more slowly; dinner would last 10 minutes, and then 20. I could stop eating with food still on my plate. If I had to wait a while for dinner because I was meeting a friend or I had to run an errand before I went home, I could wait without anger or irritability. When eating with others I was able to eat at the same speed they did—never asking to eat their leftovers.

This was a phenomenal change; I didn't need to work another program for it to happen. Living a life free of self-sabotage and shame was enough to alleviate my food issues. It’s not perfect, I'm still trying to control my after-dinner snacking, and my diet could be healthier—but I am proud to no longer be a slave to the schedule of my stomach. I look forward to seeing what wonders await me as I continue my recovery.

Sam Jones lives in New York. This is his first article for The Fix.

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