It is exactly what addiction is. Doing the unthinkable simply to quell the beast within. It’s a horrible, wretched bitch of a beast that I struggle with just about everyday, and even more so in the week before my period, when not even my daughter’s food is safe.
I remember it as if it happened yesterday. I woke up before everyone in my house, and the sun was shining like a beacon on my face. I quietly got out of bed, went to my dresser, and grabbed the only picture I had of my father and me.
He was not a major part of my life. We had a pseudo-relationship, and between memories I had and things I’d been told, I hated him. I looked at the picture, grabbed my first-grade safety scissors, and cut myself out of it. Then I took a red pen and put an X over his face, and wrote “I hate you” all around the white photo border. I set it down on my bed and stared at it.
And thus, my eating disorder was born.
I walked out of my room, down the hall, and straight to the refrigerator. I took out everything. E-VER-Y-THING. The Entenmann’s cherry pie. The cheese danish. The bread. The peanut butter. The jelly. The turkey, cheese, mayonnaise, mustard, hot dogs, ketchup, relish, sauerkraut. The milk and the juice and the cereal and the Kool-Aid. All of it.
And then there was the butter. I stared at it and it stared at me, daring me to add it to my pile of all things delicious. I eyed that butter down, and then I did the unthinkable.
I bit into it.
Yes. I bit into a stick of butter. However, for some reason I couldn’t bring myself to eat the whole thing, so I left it there. My gap-toothed badge of courage left squarely in the top of it. I stared blankly at that stick of butter.
Standing in front of the fridge, feeling the cold air tickling my toes, I briefly contemplated hiding the butter in the back of the fridge, but like a bear gearing up for winter, I’d eaten everything in sight and there was nowhere to hide it. So there it stood. In my nursery rhyme, the cheese didn’t stand alone, the butter did. I closed the door, watching the dying of the light within, not unlike my own light, and wondered if my light would go out (much like the refrigerator light had gone out) when my mom came downstairs and realized I’d eaten all of her groceries.
Unable to care — or even feel —at that moment, I walked back to my room, put all the empty pie tins, bread bags, and plates under my blankets, and waited — for what felt like an eternity. I heard my mother’s footsteps coming down the stairs. I held my breath as I heard the refrigerator door open. I dared not blink when I heard her close the door and make her way down the hall to my bedroom. I only stared when she asked me where all the food was, and if I had eaten it. And I think I cried a tear or two when she pulled back the sheets, found the wreckage and the picture I’d massacred. I didn’t get in trouble. And I didn’t get counseling. We just got more groceries.
This was how my eating disorder began. This is when I first consciously ate my emotions. THIS is when I said, “I don’t need you to love me. I don’t need to love myself. I don’t need to feel or be felt. Hear or be heard. See or be seen. I just need to eat. I just need to eat because food will never judge me. Food will never leave me (unless I make it leave me, which I did. In college. A LOT.). Food will never hate me, will never beat me, will never touch me when I don’t want to be touched, will never point and laugh and call me names. It will never lie to me. Food just has one requirement . . . to be consumed." And in true eating disorder fashion, I consumed food when I felt like the world was consuming me. Food became my life jacket, my 911 operator, my addiction, and my sponsor.
Many refrigerator doors have opened and closed since that Saturday morning 31 years ago, and I have continued to struggle with my food addiction. As an adult, I have eaten until I couldn't take full breaths, undoing my pants and lying at an angle on the couch just so I could be somewhat comfortable. I have fallen asleep on these nights wondering if I would die in my sleep from food asphyxiation. I have gone to my garbage can after throwing out cake because ‘Dammit, just stop eating, Adiba,’ and fished out the pieces that weren’t touching other gross things, and eaten. Yes. I just admitted that. I have, in the past, eaten food out of the garbage. Why am I admitting that? It’s vile and disgusting, and totally does NOT fit the image of the confident, burlesque-dancing, body-positive activist you know today. But . . .
It is exactly what addiction is. Doing the unthinkable simply to quell the beast within. It’s a horrible, wretched bitch of a beast that I struggle with just about every day, and even more so in the week before my period, when not even my daughter’s food is safe. Sometimes it is as easy as just having a glass of water to satisfy the feeling, and other times it comes down to completely ruining any food left on my plate — drowning it in sugar, salt, pepper, coffee grinds, and soda. And when it’s really bad, it’s putting the cake on the very bottom of the garbage bag. Yes. It is a struggle — a daily struggle. A borderline battle. But you know what they say, knowing is half the battle. I know I can beat this. One pat of butter and one piece of cake at a time.
My name is Adiba Nelson, and I am a food addict.