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Imodium (Loperamide)

On my thirtieth birthday, I gave myself ten years to live. I was devouring phenomenal quantities of food, then making myself throw up. I couldn’t stop myself — despite the ripped-up stomach, scratched throat, bleeding knuckles and grotesque lack of nourishment which I expected to kill me by the time I was forty.
Three weeks later, I found Overeaters Anonymous — and abstinence. Now I give myself ten decades to live!
I don’t know exactly when my compulsive overeating began, but it was definitely a progressive disease. As a child, I was a hearty eater. In high school I was unhappy enough about my weight to drink coffee without sugar, and I ate uncontrollably while babysitting (then tried to “cover up” because I felt humiliated that so much food was missing). By college the “yo-yo syndrome” was well on its way. I went abroad during my junior year and for the first time in my life I gained weight to the point of growing out of my clothes. I was amazed — and puzzled — that I ate so much.
My compulsive overeating progressed at an alarming rate. During my senior year in college I began to question all the values of my strict religious upbringing. I became horribly depressed and suicidal, dropped out of school and spent several months in mental hospitals.
The chaos that erupted then continued for almost ten years, beginning to subside only when I became abstinent in OA nearly a decade later.
During those years I wildly and excessively did everything I had been prohibited — drinking, smoking, sex — with no new values to guide me, to tell me when to stop for my own good. I tried to commit suicide when I was twenty-one, then managed to pull myself together enough to finish college and to hold a job for two years.
Meanwhile, I had discovered that food and health are connected, so I ate healthfully for two or three months at a time, then began overeating on the most healthful of foods, slipped into the junk and was soon binging on the worst. This cycle went on for years: I would find a diet that worked until I lost the weight, then I began to overeat again — always amazed and perplexed that I did so. Each time, my weight soared higher than before.
A popular diet club gave me a ray of hope. I became slender, and began to feel much better about myself.
It was time, I decided at age twenty-seven, to confront the God question, which I had shelved all these years. I went to seminary to grapple with my religious tradition — to either chuck it or find a new understanding of it.
I became an atheist, largely because of my studies, but more because of my seeming non-experience of God. I felt that, despite my years of crying out for help, God had done absolutely nothing about my eating problem.
I had come to seminary slim and elated, but soon found myself very depressed. The last illusions had burst. Being in seminary was not enough; being thin was not enough; lovers and money and success were not enough. Nothing was enough. Everything I had achieved simply mocked me, reminding me that the problem was within.
Four months after starting seminary I “blew” the diet club, devouring quantities of junk that astounded even me. My astonished friends and professors watched me blow up enormously in a matter of days. Every other day I went out for a new pair of jeans, each the next size larger.
That was why I became an atheist. Where was God? What did God have to do with my eating compulsion? Why didn’t God give me the strength to stop? For years I had been imploring God to help me, but nothing had happened — except that my compulsion kept getting worse and I kept feeling more hopeless.
I began therapy, and I am not sure I would have stayed alive long enough to find OA without it. My therapists helped me to feel the real hunger behind my compulsive overeating — the deep sadness and terror and rage and longing — and to accept the needy, insatiable baby within me. I came to accept myself, binging and all, and to know, as I often screamed out in therapy sessions, that “I’m not bad!” I felt a glimmer of hope that I would eventually stop escaping into food to block my feelings.
But I was afraid that I might kill myself in the process. My overeating had gotten so severe, in fact, that one night I sat in a pastry shop after a binge and decided that the only solution was to stop eating completely — to commit suicide by slow starvation. This would achieve my goal of killing myself, but it would also give therapy time to work if it were going to work.
Then I got the brilliant idea of numbing myself with alcohol, which I could buy with the money I’d save by not eating. I bought some liquor, returned to my lonely dorm room and drank one bottle, poured down some more, then guzzled still more. I felt so intensely the split between what I wanted to do and what I actually did that I took a knife and scratched a delicate line down the middle of my forehead and nose to symbolize that rift. Then I scratched deeper lines outward from my navel, like spokes on a wheel. (Every time I binged, I had fantasized plunging a knife into my belly, the source of my problem.) In my stupor, I scrawled a note explaining that, if I died, it was not intentionally. Even the next day I felt poisoned, and feared that I might not come out of it alive.
Shortly after, I read an article about anorexia nervosa, and learned about self-induced vomiting. Throwing up whenever I ate soon became a second agonizing compulsion.
I wanted to get my seminary degree and hightail it out of there and then never deal with God again. Much to my disliking, I still had to meet one requirement in New Testament.
After a huge binge followed by the vomiting ordeal, I bumped into a seminary professor in Central Park one summer evening. (Looking back now, I attribute that encounter to “Higher Power.”) Walter told me about a course he would be teaching, utilizing art forms such as clay, body movement and painting. Since I had to take something, this seemed the most tolerable way out. I signed up, intending to make this my lowest priority, to just slip by But I found myself getting emotionally involved in our class explorations, often angrily, sometimes longingly — never neutrally.
An abstinent day seemed like the best present I could possibly give myself for my thirtieth birthday, which ended up being a nightmare instead. (I had learned the term “abstinence” at the one OA meeting I had attended — and loathed — a few months before.) I went out and drank excessively, smoked for the first time in months, wolfed down a monstrous meal, then stocked up on plenty of junk. Drunk and stuffed but unable to wait till I got to my room, I pushed down more food on the subway. Back in my lonely room, I lit my birthday candles, then crammed in the rest of the garbage. After forcing myself to vomit, I rolled into bed, sick and despairing — thirty years old and utterly miserable.
The next day I went with Walter’s class on a weekend retreat, where I expected not to be able to binge. No sooner had I arrived, however, than I was gobbling down sweets and sneaking off to make myself throw up. The next night was a repeat performance, and I crawled into my sleeping bag feeling more hopeless than ever.
We were working on some New Testament healing stories that weekend, and I had cried out my rage that they stirred up my longings to be healed, then left me hanging.
I woke up in anguish on the last day, thinking about the horror of my whole life. I began to cry. Not wanting to awaken my roommates, I went into the kitchen, where I flailed my arms furiously at God, yelling vehemently, “I hate you! I hate you! I hate you!” I felt as if I would break.
I was sobbing violently when Walter came in. I told him about the gobs of food and the vomiting, and asked whether he could pray “even for me.” He placed his hands firmly on my head and prayed, calmly but insistently, for God to heal me and to fill me.
For about a week I ate “normally.” I was elated that the “miracle” had happened. But soon I was hanging on by the fingernails, feeling as if I had to overeat. “This isn’t healing!” I screamed disappointedly to myself and angrily to God.
I did the worst binging of my entire life during the next two weeks, and felt more despairing than ever. I had come to accept myself, binging and all, but cried out to my therapist one night, “I don’t care how much I accept myself — I don’t want it anymore!”
“Try OA again,” she suggested.
“But I hated it!” I protested.
“Give it another try.”
“OK,” I sighed. What else could I do?
After therapy, I holed up in my dorm room and ate for a couple of hours, then — for the last time — I climbed up on a chair and vomited into the corner sink. (The bathroom was down the hall.) When I had finished, just after midnight, I went downstairs to a public telephone and called Overeaters Anonymous to find out where there was a meeting the next day.
That was the beginning of my progressive recovery — and of my gradual return to trust in God, in God’s goodness and in prayer.
The next morning I went on a fad diet, then got to an OA meeting at noon. This time I identified with what people were sharing. I was amazed when I heard the first three steps. I had already taken them, unwittingly, with Walter! I was thrilled when the meeting ended with the Lord’s prayer. (I had just learned in Walter’s class that “Our Father,” in its ancient form, is an infant’s cry for nourishment.) I felt hopeful that I was finally in the right place, that I had come home.
I was still wary, however — afraid that this might be just another tantalizing false hope that would leave me more disillusioned than ever.
Still dubious about the effectiveness of prayer, I implored God to give me a vegetarian sponsor. At my next OA meeting, two days later, I expressed my need.
“You must give up your will!” a woman admonished me, thrusting a non-vegetarian food plan under my nose.
“God!” I screamed silently. “What am I to do?”
“I know!” whooped another woman. “Pearly.”
Pearly, a vegetarian as committed to abstinence as anyone can be, agreed to be my sponsor. I will always be grateful to her for my life. She supported and guided me through many difficulties and dilemmas, always reminding me that it is worth it. Together we grew in our firm commitment to abstinence as the most important thing in our lives without exception.
I continue to cry out for further healing, to demand that God fill me with other things so that I can enjoy my food as food and nothing more. My prayers are being answered, perhaps not in my time or in my way, but in God’s time and in God’s way — which, I increasingly trust, is best.
Abstinence from compulsive overeating is the foundation upon which the rest of my life is gradually being built. Abstinence gives me the emptiness I need so there is room to be filled with other things. Little by little, I am being filled with that for which I really hunger: people, love, meaningful work, pleasurable activities — life.

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