• Wed, May 18 2011

Hunger Games: I Drank So I Wouldn’t Eat

I think, if I really was honest with myself, I started seriously drinking to stop myself from eating.

There’s the bottom line, embarrassing truth that I can’t bring myself to share at the countless AA meetings I’ve attended for the past few months, ever since my therapist told me she’d refuse to see me unless I got sober.

Hi, my name is Annabelle and I’m an alcoholic … and now that I’m no longer drinking, my activities include baking batches of chocolate chip cookies, only to eat every single one of them as soon as they come out of the oven.

It’s embarrassing. As low and embarrassing as my worst drunk moments were—and there were a lot of them—with enough dropped details and storytelling skill, it’s possible to spin them into anecdotes that still sound vaguely sexy: “I got so hammered that I woke up in a hotel room next to this guy I only remember flirting with.” “I can’t believe the bartender just let us drink for free.” “Did you see the way I was dirty dancing with that dude?”

There is nothing remotely hot or intriguing about the way I overeat. While even before I got sober, I had very few qualms about telling tales about over imbibing, I don’t think there’s anyone, including my therapist, who I could imagine telling about ordering an entire pizza and eating it while sitting on the edge of the bathtub, hoping that if I’m eating in the bathroom, I’ll be more likely to gather the energy to purge. There’s no cautionary morality tale in microwaving leftover Chinese food at 2am and eating it in the kitchen, the lights off. I always think if I don’t see myself doing it, then maybe it didn’t really happen.

Even now, early in my recovery, I’ve heard that all addicts have the disease of more. It doesn’t matter if it’s food, or alcohol, or drugs, or sex—they want it, and the amount they have will never, ever be enough. And unfortunately, for me, it seems to be the truth.

“Just address the drinking problem and everything else will sort itself out,” my therapist told me during one of our first sessions. I’d come to her because, at age 26, I still had disordered eating habits, including occasional purging, that had gotten better since college but had never fully resolved themselves. It was only once she began questioning my drinking habits that I realized that, almost without my realizing it, one addictive behavior had replaced another,

In college, I rarely went out. Even though I was actively bulimic, I was on the heavy side of average, and I felt self-conscious when I was socializing. It wasn’t just that I felt bad about my weight, it was that I was so concerned with everything: with calories, with how to flirt, with whether I was pretty enough or attractive enough or enough enough. Ordering pizza and staying in solo seemed safer on so many levels.

But then, the summer after graduation, I started dating a guy who told me, the first time we slept together, that he “generally liked girls who were skinnier.” He was most likely an alcoholic and definitely a cocaine aficionado and those attributes, coupled with his offhand comment, was probably the beginning of when I started really seeing alcohol as an escape. When I drank, I forgot about the fact I was hungry, and I loved how not eating would make me feel even more inebriated, would allow me to escape my mind and my body. And then I got hired for a job where attendance at frequent open-bar events was pretty much part of my job description, and suddenly, weekends out drinking had replaced weekends alone, binging and purging—and I thought it was a major improvement, a sign that finally, my life was going in the right direction.

Before, I’d been slightly terrified that drinking a lot would lead to weight gain. But even though I was drinking more and more, I was losing weight. Maybe because even though I was drinking a lot, it was still fewer calories than what I’d been eating. Maybe it was because of the all-too-common end-of-evening puking (I secretly loved it when I’d throw up because of too much booze) or the fact that frequent hangovers didn’t make me hungry, or the fact that I indulged in my boyfriend’s coke supply more than a few times, but I finally whittled myself down to a size six—the size I’d always wanted to be.

So that’s where I was when I began going to therapy. I’d long since broken up with the boyfriend, but hadn’t come close to breaking my happy hour habit—and didn’t think I needed to. Sure, I was going out four or five nights a week, but in my mind, those nights were what had saved me from my disordered eating. As soon as the wine started flowing or the shots were served, it was as if my stomach was switched off. I couldn’t focus on food, and I lost my drive to make myself puke. All I cared about was the next drink, of feeling the blissful, floaty feeling when my brain became numb. For a few moments—maybe even hours—I felt happy.

And then, of course, would come a blackout and a hangover and endless explanations to parse through, but I didn’t care, because in my mind, binge drinking was way better than binge eating. Of course, alcohol also ruined relationships, cut away at the career I’d worked so hard at, made me spend most of my twenties in a haze—but all I really homed in on was how it distracted me from my decade-old eating disorder.

So now I’m not drinking. But I’m still eating and watching my scale slowly edge up and feeling the waistband of my jeans cut into my stomach. I want to be healthy. I want to be happy. I want to stay sober.

But still, more than anything, I want to be skinny.

Ed Note: This article came to us from a reader. If you’d like to share your story about weight for Hunger Games week, drop us a line at Jennifer [at] thegloss.com or Ashley [at] thegloss.com

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  • Donna

    I have similar disordered-eating as you. I sneak eat. I wish they would hurry up and recognize food as an addiction. Has the therapy helped at all?

  • matbo

    The problem is, that very few people view eating as an addiction – especially if your not morbidly obese. I can’t explain to my boyfriend the withdrawel symptoms that occur without my cookies/gummi bears/sugar. Eating is necessary for survival, alcohol is not.

  • curlysarah29

    While my sister didn’t have an eating disorder, she IS a recovering alcoholic. She went to detox, AA meetings and has been sober for just over a year (I am more proud of her for this, than of anything I’ve ever accomplished myself). I’ve heard from her, as well as other recovering alcoholics, that the need for those sugars is there in a BIG way after you stop drinking. I think it’s normal. I told my sister the same thing – she needs to find something to do, a way to vent/let go, an outlet for when she’s really having cravings. Maybe start biking, take a dance class, try yoga, run, knit… something that fills time, allows your brain to refocus/shift, and where you can’t eat while you’re doing it. I know it’s not the solution, but it seems to help her.

  • B

    I was the same way. I went from being nearly anorexic, to eating compulsively, to drinking compulsively, to eating compulsively again. The last set of eating uncontrollably added an additional 100 pounds to my body.

    At least I’m in a good place now. For the first time in my life I’ve got a handle on food and it’s in it’s proper place.