I am one very lucky alcoholic. No relapses (yet). No DUIs, no loss of family (at least, not due to drinking), no jail, no institutions… I mean, I have really been blessed so far. And it's not because I've worked an amazing program, because I haven't.
Food, on the other hand… Well, I haven’t been so fortunate there. In recovery lingo, I’m a chronic relapser. At 5’0”, my adult weight has ranged from under 100 pounds (for about 30 seconds) to a very spherical 245. I may be a high-bottom drunk, but I’m a skid row food addict.
Lately, I’ve been able to manage the addiction with some success. I lost 55 pounds from my high of 245. But in just the past month, I’ve regained almost 8 pounds. Left to my own devices, I will gain it all back and then some.
There’s a lot I don’t know about dealing with food addiction – I mean, it’s not like alcohol, where you can just quit. But I do know one thing: I need to remember just what full-blown binging will do to me, just like I need to remember my last drunk.
So that’s what this post is about: what my life was like at my highest weight, which is where I lived until about two years ago.
I’ve discovered that being overweight has a lot in common with quantum physics. Let me explain. You know how physical matter starts to behave weirdly as the temperature approaches absolute zero? Fine, so maybe you didn’t. Take my word for it: strange quantum-mechanic stuff happens at super-low temperatures.
Well, weight gain is like that. Up to a certain point, being fat is mostly about tight clothes, some shortness of breath, and not being able to cross your legs. But at a certain threshold weight, the rules change, and it becomes something completely different in scope and effect.
I’m not sure what my threshold weight is, but I was above it at 245 and I'm below it now.
At 245, my weight affected every aspect of my life. A trip to the grocery store required a careful calculation: How far away could I park and still make it all the way to the back of the store without having to sit down?
My feet and ankles were permanently swollen, and the skin felt so tight I sometimes worried that it would split right open. I had constant pain in my feet and my back. I wore a size 3X when I could find it. I stopped buying shoes with laces, because I couldn’t reach to tie them. I fell more easily and more often, and getting up was difficult and humiliating. I snored. All the time. Really, really loudly.
I discovered that stepstools and ladders and chairs had weight limits, so I had to start reading labels to make sure stuff wouldn’t collapse under me. At recovery meetings, I had to be careful when I stood up, to make sure the plastic armchair didn’t come up with me. I could just barely fit into a standard restaurant booth; anything even slightly smaller and I found myself smashed in – that is, if I could get in at all. Getting in the car was a challenge, too. Oh, and riding on airplanes was fun; did you know they have seatbelt extensions for fat people? That was embarrassing enough, but it was even worse knowing I was crowding the other people on my row.
I couldn’t get life insurance. I couldn’t get a job. Dating – once I became single again – was out of the question.
One of the worst quantum weight effects had to do with personal hygiene. To put it bluntly, I couldn’t reach my own ass. So I had to use a long back-brush when I showered. There was no way to wipe after going to the bathroom, so I just hoped for the best. That worked, sort of (well, not really), while I was reasonably healthy. But when I wasn't so healthy, I had to ask my soon-to-be ex-wife for help whenever I went to the bathroom. Talk about your good times!
(I'm sorry. I know that's really disgusting. But it's part of what waits for me if I go too far off the beam.)
Even all of that – as truly awful as it was – wasn’t as bad as what it did to my soul. Quantum weight obliterated it. I don't suppose someone so heavy can be described as a "shell," but whatever was on the outside was impenetrable armor for, well, less and less. What was left of me emotionally was distorted beyond all recognition. It was like a flashlight with an old battery; I could get a little light out of it every now and then, but each time I tried, the light grew dimmer. I really don't know how much longer that light would have come on at all. And I was fully aware that this was happening -- that it was only a matter of time before I drank or killed myself or had a heart attack; and so every morning brought more hopelessness and more destructive eating. I became increasingly isolated as the shame became more unrelenting. That was one reason (read: excuse) I didn’t want to go to meetings anymore.
Quantum weight took a toll on my daughter, too. We both realized that I might well have a stroke or heart attack before she finished growing up. But even for her, I couldn’t seem to stop.
So that’s what life was like at 245. Incomprehensible demoralization. In a word, hellish.
And that life is still out there waiting for me. Statistically speaking, that’s what my future holds – and then some. The question is, how do I beat the odds?