Since I wrote about my body image struggles the other day, I’ve felt so much better. I’ve been so focused on alcohol of late, I haven’t had the mental space to get to grips with the noise that’s going on in the background about food and weight. I don’t want to focus too much on it and get distracted from the really important work, which is staying sober, but I think it’s important to start to address.
The therapist I go and see actually specialises in food and body image issues, and I started seeing her to deal with those problems, all the while opting to ‘forget’ to mention my alcohol problem to her. Since I came out about how much I was drinking, all our work has been focused around that. For me, the two problems are so interconnected, exploring the reasons why I drink also helps me explore why get caught in the starve binge cycle, or chronically under ate and overexercised.
I don’t want to over-simplify a very complex issue, but for me my preoccupation with weight comes down to 2 key things: a lack of self-care and a preoccupation with what other people think. I’ve realised throughout this whole crazy getting sober journey that I have NO IDEA how to be kind to myself, how to rest and be still and nourish myself properly. I’ve always been addicted to over-achieving and staying busy. I was an academic over achiever and studied round the clock all the way through school until I graduated. When I started running I fell head over heels in love with it and went crazy on that. I learnt the power of being thin, the attention and admiration it got me and took it to extreme lengths. And then: drinking. My drinking was secret to preserve the external image that I wanted to portray, to look like I had it together whilst secretly falling about.
All of this behaviour wears me down emotionally, but on the outside, makes me feel like I look successful, driven and accomplished.
I love having this blog and AA because for the first time, possibly in my life, I can let the mask slip.
I wrote the other day about how I had a real mental wrestling match going on between feeling strong and healthy and feeling like a whale. I think this is in part because I’ve got two dialogues going on: what I think of my weight and what I imagine other people think of it.
I REALLY care what other people think about my size. Weight has always been a huge area of discussion for my family. My dad was very overweight when I was young, and then lost a lot through running. My mum has always been stick thin, but really prizes being thin highly. Every time we go to a family event they appraise everyone in the room “ooohh Tina has lost a lot of weight, James is looking a bit big isn’t he?!” etc etc.
I have so many specific memories of comments made around my size when I was younger. I was very slim- I did ballet 4 times a week and played lots of sport at school, but my Dad used to jokingly call me “thunder thighs.” Once I commented on my weight to him, looking for reassurance that I was slim, and he said “well cut back on the Mars bars then.” I didn’t even eat bloody Mars Bars.
When I was between 16 & 18 I exercised less and went on the Pill, both of which resulted in me putting on weight. Not tonnes, but enough to look bigger than I was. My mum was quietly horrified, and made comments about my stomach on several occasions. I was being fitted for a ball gown whilst in my first year at university, and she said I had “quite a bit of back fat.” When I look back at the size I was then, I was a UK size 10-12, (US 6-8) and not as athletic as I am now, but by no means fat. Slim but not toned.
When I discovered running and healthy eating, the weight steadily came off, much to the delight of my family who showered me with praise. My sister who has always been naturally big has received lots of teasing about it and comments on her weight and has recently fasted herself slim. She received the same plaudits from my parents. I get insanely jealous when I look at her…
That’s an aside. Back to the chronological story…. So, taking up running coincided with me meeting my (now ex) boyfriend who was very preoccupied with weight. I got slowly thinner and more restrictive with my food over the years, and he loved it, pinching my hip and proudly saying “there’s nothing there!”
When my eating issues got really bad, and my hair started to fall out, he used to call my “baldy”, faux affectionately. He once said to me “I don’t understand how you’re not thinner, bearing in mind how little you eat.” I was having CBT for my eating issues and he didn’t engage with it, didn’t acknowledge there was anything wrong.
My parents by this time were really worried, but he didn’t see there was anything unhealthy about my behaviour and weight.
When my boyfriend moved away for 6 months, I started drinking, as I wrote about in a recent post. I also started eating again, and getting back to a healthier weight.
My boyfriend was horrified- I remember us being on holiday and him walking behind me, giving me the once over and saying- “wow, you’ve got bigger.” “Where?!” I asked. “All over” he told me.
But I didn’t care enough to do anything about it. I was enjoying drinking too much, and it was hugely liberating to be able to eat again.
I left my job and had a month long holiday before I started my new one. I went off on a trip to the other side of the world where I ate normally, drank shitloads and had a ball.
I came home maybe 4 pounds heavier (and looking at photos, slim still) and again, my boyfriend was horrified. He started instigating weekly weigh-ins, saying “you just need to get back to the weight you were before holiday.” When I eventually refused to do them, he called me a quitter.
Meanwhile, my mum told me they’d cheered when they saw me after this holiday, because my weight was up.
I split up with the boyfriend, the weight issue being a major factor, and still see him occasionally, always worrying that he thinks I’m fat. He’s really thin now, and looks drawn and weak.
Enough on the details, but is it any wonder I feel like I’m constantly being weighed up by the eyes of others?! When the most important people in my life valued weight so highly? And in the case of my parents, still do.
One of the questions I’ve been asked by several family members over the past few 6 months is “how did you put on so much WEIGHT?!” as if I was the size of a house. I’m a toned, fit, UK size 12. I could lose some body fat, yes, but seriously, I’m not overweight. Just not skinny.
Society is a bit fucked, isn’t it, if loved ones feel it’s appropriate to make weight seem so important that it’s easy to believe that the love of others is contingent on you maintaining a certain size. I struggle with the idea that any new man will love me unless I’m thinner, which is bollocks, because if he doesn’t, he’s not worth my time.
Phew. It feels good to get that all on paper and out of my head.
For me, my sober journey is all about finding out how to be unashamedly me. No booze, no starving myself, just working out who the natural me is. If I’m designed to be around the weight I am now if I eat well and keep up my exercise, then that’s something I’ll have to come to accept. If I’m honest, I don’t want to accept it, and may not have to, but hey, I didn’t want to accept I’m an alcoholic and that’s worked out ok so far!