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19 February 2003

My father gave up alcohol for Lent every year.  He joked that it was to prove that he wasn’t an alcoholic—he could go for 6 weeks without booze.   At 5 p.m. (cocktail hour) on Easter Sunday (if we hadn’t had gin fizzes for breakfast), there would the the familiar tumbler of bourbon in his hand and the 5 o’clocks would follow for the rest of the year, until Lent rolled around again.

Later, when his alcoholism became more pronounced (in truth, I can only remember one time seeing him falling down drunk—and that was the Christmas the year before he died, when he couldn't remember his grandchildren's names), he would get defensive and say that he couldn’t be an alcoholic --  he had never missed a day of work because of alcohol. 

Of course he didn’t think about the friends he’d lost, the children he’d lost, the wife he’d lost.  Alcohol had nothing to do with that.  Of course. 

He also said that he wasn’t an alcoholic because he only had one or two drinks a day.  Of course the day started with breakfast and the drink was in a tumbler and it kept being topped off, but he was right—he only had “one drink a day.”

I shake my head when I think of the lies my father told himself to keep from acknowledging that he was, in fact, an alcoholic.  That he was addicted to alcohol.  He went to great lengths to hide his alcohol intake from people.  I don’t know if he stashed booze around the house, but I do remember a full tumbler (it would be a “large glass of orange juice” size in a local diner) sitting in the back of a dish cabinet one year when we went to spend Christmas with him.  I dumped it out.  He didn’t dare make a comment, because to comment about my having poured out his booze would have been to acknowledge that it was there in the first place—and since he’d hidden it, he couldn’t very well do that.

Alcoholism is a terrible disease.  It destroys families.  It destroys health.   But it is just that:  a disease.  There are those who can drink without becoming alcoholic.  There are those who can easily stop drinking if things begin to get out of hand.  An alcoholic is addicted to the poison that is killing him/her and that addiction is a very powerful thing, and very difficult to combat.

With all the bad addictions out there—booze, drugs, cigarettes—people tend to forget that there are other, less obvious addictions.  My addiction is food.  I could easily have become an alcoholic.  I come from a long line of alcoholics on both sides of the family.  There was a time when I did my share of drinking, but I was one of the lucky ones.   I decided to stop, and I just stopped.   It was an easy decision.  And, having made the decision not to drink most of the time, I’m fine with it.  I can have a drink now and then, but it happens rarely.  When it does, I enjoy it, and I rarely have more than 2, if that.  Then I just don’t drink again for months—sometimes more than a year—at a time. 

But food is something else.  It’s the addictive personality in me.  The same addictive personality that might have made me an alcoholic has made me a food-a-holic.  I’ve heard all the tales of the lengths to which food addicts go to hide their addiction.  In the early years of my addiction, I would laugh at some of the stories (thank God, I'm not THAT bad!), until I discovered myself doing the same things.  I never hid chocolate in the laundry basket (probably because we don’t have a laundry basket!) but as my weight began to creep up, I became more desperate to hide how much I was eating. 

“I don’t understand why you’re so fat,” people would say (only they said “heavy” because it’s politically incorrect to say “fat.”)…”I never see you eat an inordinate amount of food.” 

Aye, there’s the rub.  They don’t see me eat.  Food addicts are very good at hiding the amounts they eat.   I would eat entire meals by myself in the laundry room before going out to a big dinner.  Then I could not quite finish my meal and everyone wondered how I could be so fat.  You’d think my stomach would burst, but when you eat as much as I ate, your stomach loses its ability to feel full or empty.  It just feels all the time.   The stomach is on the eternal seefood diet.   See food.  Eat food.  Sometimes you don’t have to see it; just think food, eat food. 

There were days when I could eat half a pound of butter a day, but to cover up, I would make sure that the cube in the butter dish was just the same size as it was before I started.  Sometimes that meant going out and buying another pound of butter.   Sometimes it meant eating half a cube of butter I didn’t want (because you can’t throw away food, dontcha know?  If you toss out half a cube of butter, a starving child in China will die) in order to leave the butter the way it had looked in the morning, in case anybody was keeping track. 

And you can’t just eat butter plain.  You have to have it ON something, so that meant eating more bread or tortillas or pasta than I wanted, and then buying more to replace what I was too embarrassed to admit having eaten. 

There’s the old nemesis:  donuts.  Go out first thing in the morning, buy some to take home for breakfast.  Only buy twice as many as you are going to serve and eat half on the way home.  Then eat “your share” when you get home, after carefully dusting your body and the car for telltale crumbs. 

When making something gooey for company, always make too much because then there will be lots left over.   People will marvel at how much work you went to to make delicious desserts.  You just want them to get out of the house so you can finish the leftovers.  After everyone else has gone to bed, of course.   

I never did have myself sent candy for a gift—but I thought about it.  I checked the See’s web site repeatedly.  Could I actually order a box of my favorite See’s candies and have them sent from someone who might logically be sending me candy?  I did always buy an extra box when I bought some for a friend.  They make those boxes of a dozen truffles.  Once I’d eaten 3 of them, I had to finish the box (and then throw it away in a public garbage can) so nobody would know that I’d eaten them all in the car. 

The thing about addiction, though, is that it has no logic.  It’s not tied to appetite.  It’s tied to something else.  Those triggers that go off that put blinders on you, blinders to everything but the thing that your brain tells you it wants to eat.  Sometimes you don’t even realize that you’ve eaten so much until you suddenly “come to” and realize that half the kitchen is gone.  And of course, you haven’t enjoyed what you’ve eaten, because you ate it so quickly you never had time to taste it. 

When I’m in an eating frenzy, part of me can sit back and marvel at my total stupidity.  Eating all that non-nutritious stuff makes me feel terrible.   I feel heavy.  I feel bloated.  I feel slowed down.   It doesn’t matter if I’ve gained lots or not, I feel different.  Eating all the nutritious stuff (I’ll stay away from judgmental words like “good” and “bad”) makes me feel good.  I don’t actually have to lose lots of weight to feel good.  It’s a head trip.  I can move fast, I can think better, I look in the mirror and I don’t see the fat person that I saw just the day before who was filled to the gills with butter and chocolate.  I see a likeable person. 

So I ask why anyone, having experienced the “high” of a well-balanced diet and the “low” of a junk food diet, would deliberately choose one over the other.   

There are all sorts of triggers.  There are the trigger foods.  A bite of something (whatever it might be for the individual) sets off the “eating molecules” and suddenly you can’t get enough of anything.  (Funny how broccoli never sets off those molecules—and lettuce won’t satisfy those cravings!)  The thing that you could take a tiny nibble of yesterday, today becomes a trigger food.  A nibble isn’t enough.  And once you’ve had a triple helping, hell, you might as well eat all the other foods that you didn’t realize you’d been craving.  So you end up with three different breakfasts and then a pastry mid-morning and a huge sandwich and chips at lunch, and maybe some Chinese food and oh, doesn’t that sushi look good.  And then you have to run out for a candy bar…and so it goes. 

Sometimes the trigger can be emotional.  The “pissy days” when you’re sad, or worried, or frustrated and you’ll eat anything.   Even the broccoli (only cover it with a thick cheese sauce).  There’s something about the hand-mouth coordination that tries to stuff the emotion back down again.  You may be suffering in silence, but that’s only because your mouth is too full of food to say anything. 

As I look over my own behaviors (and I’ve done all of the above at one time or another…and probably some I’ve forgotten), I suppose that I am forced to look a bit more sympathetically on my father and the lengths he went to to hide his addiction.  He wasn’t really lying to me.  He was lying to himself, and working desperately to believe the lie.  I know.  I have done the same thing. 

So, in the interest of truth and honesty, I gained 9 lbs at weigh-in today.  It was over 2 weeks, since I didn’t weigh last week.  I’m only half following Weight Watchers these days, and perilously close to picking up some of those addictive behaviors that I hate so much in myself.   I didn’t stay for the meeting, but I came home and sent an e-mail off to my leader asking her for suggestions of how I can click that little switch back on again now that it’s become a toggle switch.  Thankfully, I haven’t completely turned off the switch that I switched on a year ago.

So--OK.  Time for another butt kicking.   Between now and the time I leave for Australia, I will lose at least another 20-30 lbs.  Given that in the past year I've lost up to 85 lbs, that shouldn't be impossible.  It also gives me an attainable goal to strive for--and I do better with tangible goals ahead of me (apparently).  Since I obviously didn't establish the good eating habits I thought I did by sticking with the program for a year, it's time to take sterner measures.   I will also lose at least 2 lbs by next weigh-in to kick start this new year.

Quote of the Day

Desire is half the battle; commitment is the other half. Because you really want to stick to a diet, and have started, you've won half the battle.

~ Anon.

Today's Photo

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This is what Walt bought for my
birthday dinner...the perfect treat!!

One Year Ago
Almost 60-Year Olds
Shouldn't bounce on Concrete
Technically speaking it only hurts when I move my right side. Neck, arm, lower back, leg. The toes seem to be OK. Getting into and out of the car hurts so much I'm almost tempted to walk, if it weren't so bloody cold.

Two Years Ago
Comin' to America
This white Anglo-Saxon mentality that certain places need to be run by people who look like us, or that places where we’ve always lived need to remain populated by people who look like us strikes me as incredible arrogance.

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Pounds Lost:  70
(this figure is updated on Tuesdays.)

On the Odometer

URL Total 741.6
Blue Angel Total 659.8
2003 YTD Cumulative:  173.6

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