God Of My Understanding
By: Georgia Boonshoft
I never used to qualify my body as part of me, a God-given temple to house my soul. I looked at it as something to be manipulated, changed, loathed, and feared. From as early on as age ten, I felt uncomfortable in my own skin; big, awkward, unacceptable, gross. As I got older I grasped on to my body as something I could control in a world that I felt was swallowing me whole. Focusing on what went in and out of my mouth, how much I exercised, and how I looked, allowed me to obsess over something that seemed tangible, rather than feeling any real emotions surrounding the life that was happening around me. I felt joy, sadness, anger, frustration, fear, lust, excitement, and disappointment, all within my little bubble of disordered eating, food, and body obsession. To me, it was so much easier to focus all of my emotions on a few concrete things that I felt were in my control, rather than allow them to exist in relation to real life. I didn’t like feeling vulnerable, I didn’t like that I didn’t get to decide who died when, how people viewed me, which friends were loyal, what job I got, or even if it was raining on a day when I had plans outside. My disordered eating gave me wings. Until it took away the sky.
I was never aware of how I really looked during that time. Even at 130 pounds, (I’m almost 5’9), as my hair fell out in clumps and my breath reeked from malnutrition, I felt like a whale. My period stopped and I was tired all the time. I lost all of my friends because while they were out being teenagers, I was at home, watching Paula Deen on the Cooking Channel as I killed myself on the elliptical, wondering if today would be the day I finally passed out mid-workout. I couldn’t hang out because I needed to go home and eat my Lean Cuisine. I needed to enter everything I ate in an online calorie tracking website, as well as log my exercise. Calories consumed minus calories burned equaled net calories for the day. My goal was often zero. I was anorexic and an exercise bulimic and couldn’t for the life of me figure out why the “chubby” girl on the street had a boyfriend, and I didn’t. I couldn’t figure out why my life wasn’t perfect. I hated myself, but I felt that was normal and that nothing would ever change that fact.
A doctor informed me that, with a resting heart rate of 30, I was close enough to death that I needed to do something. I was happy to assist in my recovery. It had been a long time since dieting and planning and obsessing had been enjoyable to me. I was ready to get better and have my life back. Little did I know that being ready doesn’t mean shit. In my attempt to gain weight and get healthy, I began to binge eat. I stuffed my face with whatever I could get my hands on, justifying that it was “doctor’s orders.” I often ate so much that I couldn’t get off the floor.
I attempted many times to make myself vomit, but my gag reflex was nowhere to be found. I shot from 130 to 170 in a matter of months, aided by a three-week study program in Italy, where I was either blackout drunk or too full to move the entire time. I had only drank occasionally during my anorexia because why in the hell would I drink my calories? But now I was free to put whatever I wanted into my system, and I found that drinking numbed the pain maybe ever better than food had. The high one gets from being empty and the high one gets from binge eating are the shortest highs of any substance. Alcohol could keep me good and numb AND allow me continue to stuff my face. I felt like a whale. I longed for the days of being a size two and being able to see my ribs in the mirror. I couldn’t believe I thought I was fat during that time, because now I was REALLY fat. I hated myself for having been “perfect” and not having known it.
So began my senior year of high school. I was bloated and depressed. I watched entire TV series on my computer, alone in my room. My boyfriend broke up with me, calling me fat and stating that I’d have no friends in college. I cried and I isolated and I cut myself and I even ran manically out of the house a few times. I threw myself on the floor in tantrums worthy of a three year old, and swung around sharp knives, threatening to hurt myself and everyone around me. I was having a psychotic break.
“Health” in those days meant solely physical health. In preparation for college I white knuckled through putting together some semblance of sanity in my life. I exercised occasionally, ate a little too much on some days, and then compensated by not eating much the next day. I lost about twenty pounds and felt as though I was getting my life together. I could even go out drinking and occasionally not eat everything around me in a drunken haze! Food and body hatred and self-loathing still controlled my thoughts, but I was definitely on the mend. Wasn’t I?
During welcome week of my freshman year of college I learned how to purge. I made friends with another anorexic girl, someone who was “MUCH sicker than I was,” and found that throwing up was easy when you have a belly full of booze. Thus began the cycle of my freshman year of college... restrict all week and exercise like crazy, binge drink on the weekends, and binge and purge while I was too blacked out to feel the pain. I was dying on the inside. I isolated from my friends. I never participated in regular college life, I was always too busy planning and binging (alcohol or food), or “making up” for said binges.
During this time a close family member went into outpatient rehab for drug and alcohol addiction. I felt so powerless being away at school. I couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t just STOP when she was obviously hurting herself and those around her! Little did I know, she has a disease of mind, body, and spirit, that inhibits her from ever having the “willpower” to stop on her own.
I came home from that first year of college thinner than I had ever been. The difference was that now I was mentally fed up. I didn’t fucking care what I weighed or what I ate, it was too much work and I was exhausted, depressed, and hated myself more than ever. The scariest moment of my life was waking up one morning and not wanting to mess with my body or my food, but not having anything else to do besides just that! I had no friends, no hobbies, no passions, no interests. I was alone. Suddenly, I had no desire left to exist in this world. I was a burden to myself and others and I just wanted out. But I was too cowardly to do it myself, so I started walking really slowly when I crossed the street, hoping against hope that I would get hit by a car. I prayed for my own death, I prayed for release.
The same family member who had been previously struggling was by then a few months sober and she could sense that I was finally completely losing it. She proceeded to tell me about a 12-step recovery program for FOOD ADDICTION AND DISORDERED EATING, patterned after her own recovery program. I proceeded to tell her to fuck off, and that those kinds of things were for fat people. She somehow convinced me to attend my first meeting, where I sobbed through the entire thing. Here I was, surrounded by people who were just like me! People who had eaten out of trash cans, eaten things that were expired and/or still frozen, purged and then continued to binge, driven like a madman to get to food or to a place to “get rid of it.” People who had stolen food, hid food, hoarded food. My brothers and sisters.
I was informed that I do not have a moral problem, what I have is a DISEASE. A mental obsession and a physical craving. I have a disease of perception, and, in terms of body image, was looking at my body through a dirty mirror. You’d never look at a funhouse mirror with shit stains all over it and believe that the reflection was truly how you looked, right? Well, my mind was that shit-stained funhouse mirror.
I began to work that program with everything I had; getting a sponsor, going through the steps, attending meetings, fellowshipping with other compulsive eaters, and finding a connection with something bigger than me, something that was more powerful than little-old-control-freak me. I spent the summer gaining time abstaining from my sick behaviors and finding nuggets of peace and happiness.
When I went back to college for my sophomore year, everything seemed to unravel around me. I couldn’t understand why the program didn’t seem to be working anymore! I began white-knuckling it, struggling to put even a few days clean together. Turns out, it’s pretty hard to stay abstinent when you’re drunk all the time. My disease was like one of those plastic squishy toys filled with water... You squeeze one end and the liquid just moves to a new place. You’re never able to contain it fully. I had swapped food for alcohol and was just as sick as ever, with a new substance.
I was drinking without abandon, committing to my sponsor how many drinks I would have that night and then texting her to amend said commitment because I’d “handled the first two drinks really well.” I began carrying crystal-lite packets to parties so that I would always have a low calorie mixer; just add water and booze. No matter how much booze you added, that damn drink would always still taste like pink lemonade.
I discovered that I could pass out while sitting on the toilet, therefore shitting and sleeping at the same time, and I felt like I’d really achieved something important. I proceeded to tell all my friends about it, but they failed to recognize how important and significant this event was. I had people tell me they’d no longer go to social events with me because there was always drama. I agreed that there was always drama, but it wasn’t my fault, it just seemed to follow me, for absolutely no reason at all! I looked for approval when I only had two glasses of wine... “See, I told you I could do it!” My whole life was being drunk, recovering from the drunk, or planning the next drunk. The food was also getting more and more out of control. Once again I was having crazy drunken binges and compensating by eating nothing during the weeks. But the drunken binges were becoming more and more consistent. If alcohol was offered, I drank it. And I drank to get drunk. If it was clear I would only have access to one or two drinks, I often wouldn’t drink at all because it “wasn’t worth it.” I would abandon my friends at parties while in possession of their keys and disappear with shady people to shady places without letting anyone know where I’d gone.
How does this relate to my body image? Strangely enough, when I was shit-faced and falling all over myself, I felt sexy. I felt invincible and I flirted with whoever I damn well pleased. I lost all fear and inhibitions. I used the alcohol as a curtain to hide behind, always able to use the excuse that “it wasn’t me, I was super drunk.”
Again, I was losing my mind. I planned my life around alcohol and food, and began drinking occasionally during the day and on evenings when I had class the next morning. During finals week of fall semester that year, every single Christmas gift I received from my friends was related to alcohol. I got cocktail recipe books, mixers, bartending items, you name it. I was defined by my drinking. Suddenly, just as I’d done with the food, I was nothing else but this substance. I had nothing else.
My last drunk was on December 15th, 2010. It was un-monumental. We held a party at my place, and I began binge eating even before getting any booze into my system. I carried a bright pink drink in one hand and a bright green drink in the other. I let my friends draw all over me with sharpies because I thought it was “awesome.” Eventually I was sitting on the dining room floor with my face in a box of mixed nuts. The boy I was drunkenly sleeping with found me this way and asked me, with a disgusted look on his face, what I was doing, to which I screamed, “Get the hell out.” I ate everything I could get my hands on, and eventually passed out drunk in my bed. My best friend put a trashcan next to me and while doing so reminded me how well I’d been doing in my food program in an attempt to stop me from purging. Little did she know I’d already broken my abstinence with my binge. I was too far gone. The purge was just the exclamation point at the end of it all. The minute she closed the door I leaned over the trashcan and stuck my fingers down my throat.
I woke up the next morning sticky, sweaty, ashamed, bloated, and full of self-hatred. I had to clean up my apartment, which was covered in red cups. My eyes were so puffy I could barely see out of them. My bananas had been drawn on with sharpies. I took the grocery bag with my vomit in it from the trashcan. It was almost completely full. I couldn’t believe it. How could I have let this happen again!? I was doing so well with the food. I didn’t want to binge and purge, I wanted to get better. What was I doing wrong?!
I called my sponsor and she surprised me by telling me to maybe try 30 days without alcohol and to go to an open meeting in the 12-step recovery program from alcohol. Um. Excuse me? Couldn’t she see that food was the issue, not alcohol? I would be perfectly happy with drinking so much that I puked, as long as I wasn’t the one inducing the puking. I tried to explain to her that I couldn’t take her suggestion because I was going home for winter break the next day and all my plans with friends in the city were to drink. The word “exactly” that she said in response still rings in my ears.
So I agreed. My mother picked me up from the airport and as we were driving home began to give me a speech on how she needed me not to drink in excess while home. Upon telling her of my plans to try drying out, I was amazed to find out that she had been very much aware of my drinking habits, even from 800 miles away. People across the country were concerned for me. Had I really been this blind to my own actions?
I began going to this second 12-step fellowship, and found myself super resistant to admit I was alcoholic. It had been so clear that I had a problem with food, but I wasn’t exactly sure about alcohol. Yes, maybe alcohol fueled my food issues, but did I really have a problem? Once I’d decided I wouldn’t be drinking for a while though, I found myself always craving a drink. The fact that I couldn’t focus on getting it like I had been made me NEED it even more.
Then it was presented to me that maybe I’m an alcoholic, with my drug of choice being food. I’d never looked at it like that! I was finally able to realize that I’m an addict through and through: alcohol, food, men, you name it. I can’t have one drink and just stop. I drank to get drunk, I drank to escape. I drank to numb out the same feelings I had tried to stifle with food.
To my horror, when I first got sober, I felt more uncomfortable in my own skin than ever before. Suddenly all my vices were gone. I didn’t have food and I didn’t have booze. I felt all kinds of wrong. I didn’t know how to be a person in the world, I didn’t have any tools for interacting with others or making friends or even getting through each day without my mind obsessing over something.
Thank goodness that 12-step programs are described as a “bridge back to life.” I began interacting with other addicts in both my programs, hanging out with them, talking, and socializing. We were out in the world and we were recovering. I was safe and I was held. Through this I learned how to better care for myself. I began to gain self-confidence and self- respect. For the first time in my life I picked out what I wanted to wear, rather than needing others’ approval before I could leave the house. I decided what music I liked and what I didn’t, rather than just downloading what “cool”” people were listening to.
I was no longer a shell, I was Georgia. I began to burst through little by little. I’m quirky, loud, impulsive, energetic, goofy, loving, random, and ME. For the first time in my life I was making real connections with people. I was discovering my passions and my goals and my fears and my joys and not needing to stuff them down with food or alcohol. I was being spontaneous and living in the present moment. I began practicing yoga and am now a 500hour certified yoga instructor. I am the manager of the studio where I teach and want nothing more than to spread healing and love through yoga.
There have been some road bumps. I have three and a half years sober, but only two years abstinent from my compulsive food behaviors. But mostly there have been triumphs. I lived in Vienna, Austria in college for a semester and had the time of my life. I went to India for one of my yoga certifications. I have met the love of my life. I have two kittens that I adore and actually take care of! I have relationships with my family members that are better than I could have ever imagined. I pay my own bills and I wash my own dishes. I go to bed and wake up sober and abstinent. My mind is calmer. I am less obsessive. I hardly ever think about binging or drinking and when I do, I have an incredible network of people just like me who I can reach out to. I work with a sponsor in both of my programs and also have sponsees. I still go to meetings and do service work and show up so that others have the opportunity to have the experience I’ve had.
And today I don’t hate myself. Not to say that I love or even like myself all the time. I just don’t hate myself. There are days when I’m completely in love with every inch of myself, inside and out. Mostly I’m just content and comfortable in my body. I have good days and bad days, but my feelings don’t always turn into actions like they used to. I don’t abuse my body anymore.
I believe in a Power Greater Than Myself. I choose to call this power God, just because it’s easier. I have a personal relationship with this God OF MY UNDERSTANDING. I couldn’t explain it to another person even if I wanted to. I just know that I’M NOT GOD, and that’s enough for me. I don’t set the world spinning, so if things are out of my control, there’s no need to take it out on myself.
I take action towards my goals and my dreams, but I let go of the results. I make plans, but I don’t panic if they fall through. I am (usually) nice to others, but it’s not up to me if they’re nice back.
I’m almost 23 and have my entire life ahead of me. I get the opportunity to make something of myself. I get the opportunity to help others. And I get the opportunity to have children who will never see their mother drunk or hear her making herself vomit in the bathroom. Self-love is essential to all of this. If I can’t respect myself, who can? If I let a random person on the street crush my self-image, then I am way too delicate to change the world in the way that I want to.
I AM POWERFUL AND AMAZING.
YOU are powerful and amazing.
Doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from, what you’ve been through... you CAN recover, you CAN be free, you CAN love yourself.
Just look at me... I danced naked in front of a camera.