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The Girl Who Never Learned Her Lesson

As a child, I was virtually raised by my grandmother. My parents worked, my Dad was a functioning alcoholic, my two elder sisters were 9 and 12 years my senior and, despite sharing a bedroom, didn’t really want to be bothered with a little kid kicking around their heels. Gran and I were ‘besties’ and she made everything just so for me – my school uniform was warming on the radiator when I got up in the morning, she knew exactly what I wanted to eat at each meal time and I had routine in my life. I never had to make any kind of decision for myself. This all came crashing to a halt when she had a massive stroke and in time had to go and live in a nursing home.

No one stepped in and replaced Gran. I had to fend for myself after school and I do believe this is when my eating for comfort began. My Dad was medically retired around the same time due to having chronic heart disease but he was still drinking at this time and I always felt that my parents’ marriage and my Mum adapting to the loss of her mother from her life meant they really did not have time to keep any routine going. I fought against routine from that age, eating at irregular times, not doing my homework, fighting against what was expected of me. I knew having a routine helped my life to function easily but I preferred being a silent rebel as no one noticed my behaviour.

I still managed to do well at school until my Mum and Dad separated one drink-fuelled night and then any control that had been exerted in the home was gone. By this time I had a part-time job after school in a newsagent and spent my wages every week on takeaways, chocolate, crisps and instant noodles. The split was an excellent excuse for me to stop concentrating at school, take days and days off, wallow in self pity and push the rebellion a bit further. Then my school work suffered.

The only thing I exerted any control and routine over was the ritualistic way I ate. Specific chocolate bars HAD to go with specific crisps and fizzy drinks. My weight increased a little at this point but in my head I was the fat kid with glasses and bad hair and had little to no self worth, and took no pride in my appearance, but I never learned my lesson. I was the embodiment of the song ‘At Seventeen’ – I was, in my head, ugly and unlovable. Any boy that showed interest was in my mind a bit pathetic and desperate.

Wearing my sisters’ hand-me-downs, I let them style my hair and didn’t visit a hairdresser regularly, I had no personal care routine, nor did I care. I obsessed about boys (specific ones) and sent them love letters, Valentines cards, mooned over them and most of the time my obsession of the moment didn’t even know who I was, but I never learned my lesson. All this did was hurt me and torment me and push me further into social exclusion. But I didn’t stop and it made me become what I most hated being, a socially inept freak in my own eyes.

I knew that my irregular, unhealthy diet made me have bad skin, fat thighs and a belly but again I wasn’t willing to change my behaviour. I would try fad diets, wear face masks of tooth paste that burned my skin, tie my legs into weird positions with my school tie so I would stay in set positions while I slept, so my thighs would be toned. None of it ever worked, but I never learned my lessons.

When I reached aged 18 I was with the man I later married and the eating started in earnest. I would eat all the leftovers on Christmas Day at my mother-in-law’s, wandering in and out of the kitchen while everyone was partying , and I heard people talking about how greedy I was and how fat I was. Barbed comments would be made to my face but I would shrug them off, only for it to happen again the next time. But I never learned my lesson.

When I fell pregnant at 20, my eating and social isolation went into overdrive. My husband worked away and I was put on sick leave early on from my job. So I would sit up reading and eating all night and sleep all day. Gorging on miniature chocolate bars, full fat milk, chocolate raisins and takeaways, I retreated into myself and drove myself crazy without even leaving my flat. I gained seven stone and gave birth to a 5lb baby. But I never learned my lesson.

As my girl grew, we would venture outside to my weekly weight loss club. This was when I started on a cycle of laxative and diuretic abuse, along with bingeing and starving myself on specific days in order to manipulate my weight loss. Post-natal depression was treated with numbing medication and more food, to make me feel better. It never did, but I never learned my lesson.

I dieted my way through returning to work, losing a baby, having another girl, moving house three times in four years, being made redundant twice in ten months, through several mini-breakdowns and losing close family members. I dieted my way to twenty stones, always using the food to get me through the tough times, and alcohol and other substances when the food wasn’t cutting it. But I never learned my lesson.

I tried everything: weight loss clubs, appetite suppressants, slimming pills , meal replacements, very low calorie diets, excessive exercising and finally a gastric band. I knew exactly how the science worked on losing and gaining weight. I knew using the food didn’t help long term. But I didn’t learn my lesson.

Finally in 2011 my band had broken and the four stones I had lost in the previous year were coming back on at speed. My eldest sister was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer and I had completely isolated myself from my family, starting fights, deleting them from my online presence, bad-mouthing them to all and sundry and throwing myself headlong into another breakdown. I tormented myself with not being part of the family, how they had been a unit of four before I came along – awful self-pitying drivel. It was hurting everyone close to me and around me. Still I didn’t learn my lesson.

Then a friend, my eating buddy, asked if I wanted to go to an OA meeting. I checked with my Dad who had found another fellowship when I was 16 and had been active and sober since; by this point, I was 36 and just under 18 stones. He told me to go. I cried through my whole first meeting and my Dad took me to several more that week. He taught me his ‘zen of recovery’: once you step into recovery, there is no stepping out. If one day I think that sugar is ok for me to have, think if it would be ok for him to have a whisky. And finally, don’t sit listening to advice saying, “I know,” because the last 36 years have proved I don’t know anything – so shut up and listen. I followed these suggestions and I learned my lesson.

I have been abstinent from my first meeting and that was 928 days ago. I did as was suggested. The weight is coming off very slowly and that’s ok. In November of last year, my band was removed. It has done irreparable damage to my stomach and I will need further operations. I have faith that my Higher Power will make sure the right thing for me will happen. As long as I don’t enter into self will again and do as suggested, I know that one day at a time I can stay on the path of recovery. Just till 12 o’clock tonight I can stay away from my trigger foods, places and people. Thanks to this programme, I have a full relationship with most of my family. Since the band removal, I have entered a whole new phase of recovery. My anti-depressants have been reduced, I’m on the waiting list for talking therapy to deal with my past, I attend a fellowship meeting daily and always learn something new at every meeting. I pray daily, I read daily, I reach out and share how I am feeling, and I am finally learning my lesson.

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