LIES MY FATHER TOLD ME
19 February 2003
My father gave up alcohol for Lent every year. He joked that it was to prove that he wasnt
an alcoholiche could go for 6 weeks without booze.
At 5 p.m. (cocktail hour) on Easter Sunday (if we hadnt had gin fizzes
for breakfast), there would the the familiar tumbler of bourbon in his hand and the 5
oclocks 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 drunkand 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 couldnt be an alcoholic -- he
had never missed a day of work because of alcohol.
Of course he didnt think about the friends
hed lost, the children hed lost, the wife hed lost. Alcohol had nothing to do with that. Of course.
He also said that he wasnt 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 righthe 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 dont 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 didnt 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 placeand
since hed hidden it, he couldnt 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 therebooze,
drugs, cigarettespeople 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, Im 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 dont drink again for
monthssometimes more than a yearat a time.
But food is something else. Its the addictive personality in me. The same addictive personality that might have
made me an alcoholic has made me a food-a-holic. Ive
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 dont have a laundry basket!) but as my weight began to
creep up, I became more desperate to hide how much I was eating.
I dont understand why youre so
fat, people would say (only they said heavy because its
politically incorrect to say fat.)
I never see you eat an
inordinate amount of food.
Aye, theres the rub. They dont 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. Youd
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 dont 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 didnt want (because
you cant 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 cant 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.
Theres 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
giftbut I thought about it. I checked
the Sees web site repeatedly. Could I
actually order a box of my favorite Sees 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
Id 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 Id eaten them all in the car.
The thing about addiction, though, is that it has
no logic. Its not tied to appetite. Its 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 dont even realize that
youve eaten so much until you suddenly come to and realize that half the
kitchen is gone. And of course, you
havent enjoyed what youve eaten,
because you ate it so quickly you never had time to taste it.
When Im 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 doesnt matter if Ive gained lots or not, I feel different. Eating all the nutritious stuff (Ill stay
away from judgmental words like good and bad) makes me feel good. I dont actually have to lose lots of weight
to feel good. Its a head trip. I can move fast, I can think better, I look in the
mirror and I dont 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 cant get
enough of anything. (Funny how broccoli never
sets off those moleculesand lettuce wont satisfy those cravings!) The thing that you could take a tiny nibble of
yesterday, today becomes a trigger food. A
nibble isnt enough. And once
youve had a triple helping, hell, you might as well eat all the other foods that you didnt realize
youd 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, doesnt that sushi look good. And then you have to run out for a candy
and so it goes.
Sometimes the trigger can be emotional. The pissy days when youre sad,
or worried, or frustrated and youll eat anything.
Even the broccoli (only cover it with a thick cheese sauce). Theres something about the hand-mouth
coordination that tries to stuff the emotion back down again. You may be suffering in silence, but thats
only because your mouth is too full of food to say anything.
As I look over my own behaviors (and Ive
done all of the above at one time or another
and probably some Ive 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
wasnt really lying to me. He was lying
to himself, and working desperately to believe the lie.
I know. I have done the same
So, in the interest of truth and honesty, I gained
9 lbs at weigh-in today. It was over 2 weeks,
since I didnt weigh last week. Im
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 didnt 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 its become a toggle switch. Thankfully,
I havent 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.