What comes to your mind when you view this picture? Do you think of a good pub or restaurant with friends? Do you imagine biting into that salad and sipping that wine, blending the flavours together into a perfect marriage that flows across your palate? Does your mouth water and make you want to go and create this dish?
I imagine it does all those things for many people, but for me it doesn’t.
Over the years I have been accused of alcoholism. However, it isn’t alcohol that is the problem for me. It is, in fact, food.
I suffer from EDNOS – Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified. One of the disorders that cannot be seperated from Anorexia or Bulimia and does not have a medical name of its own.
I wish to explain the links between ED and alcohol; why they almost always tie in and become a problem together. Not only do I wish to educate on this subject, but I want people to understand that those of us with ED do not wish to be the way we are. We would love a normal appetite, and to be able to enjoy a simple glass of wine with friends.
I am also, maybe most importantly, writing this for me. Perhaps, if I can write everything down so that I can understand the monster I’m fighting, I shall be better able to fight it.
There is a lot more to any ED than simply not eating. Fear, guilt and anxiety are all taking up residence in the brain. Fear of being sick, guilt because you already weigh plenty (which, as we all know, is usually not the case) and anxiety at the very idea of eating.
This is why a lot of people mask their ED with alcohol, and why a lot of people mistake a person’s ED for alcoholism.
When I get up in the morning I do not reach for a wine bottle for breakfast; I just want toast and tea. However, I only have the tea because my brain is already explaining all the reasons to me that I mustn’t have the toast. I’ll bloat up; I’ll be sick; I’ll put on at least three pounds. None of which is true – I know that – but by then I’m anxious enough that eating toast would indeed make me sick. I feel the emptiness in my stomach… and feel proud of myself for not giving in. If I’m overwhelmed by the emptiness (and subsequent pain) I drink water.
By mid afternoon my body is yelling at me to feed it sugar and energy. I could have another cup of tea and a sandwich, just as I always used to do, but the very idea fills me with horror. So I reach for the wine to soothe the sugar craving and kill the guilt and anxiety caused by the knowledge that I even considered eating. I don’t want the wine and I don’t crave it; I just want something in my stomach to make those hunger pangs go away.
I continue to sip wine throughout the afternoon and evening after that, to stop my body shouting at me for food – I have to drown out the pain in my empty belly and the noise inside my brain. No, I don’t hear voices; it’s a mental feeling as opposed to some kind of aural hallucination.
I don’t go out with Dom or with groups any more if I know that food will be involved. I will be the first to ask for wine and the last to order a meal; once that meal is ordered I become anxious at the idea of eating it, so I drink more and have to force the food when my meal arrives.
I will leave it as late as possible to eat a few small mouthfuls of something before declaring myself tired and going to bed. I drink slowly and steadily and so I’m not ever drunk, but I’m still always aware that I should have been eating instead and that my brain is forcing me to destroy my body, breaking it down and weakening it just a little more each day.
So I go to bed feeling guilty about drinking, and I wake up feeling guilty for wanting food. By the time I actually am begging Dom for a bowl of soup I can feel my stomach trying to eat itself out and the pain is utterly excruciating.
And yet I love food. I love food with an amazing passion. I watch cookery shows by the dozen; I love the bright bejewelled colours in a green salad, and my mouth waters as the juices flow from a carved venison. I want to taste those foods, enjoy the feel of them in my mouth. I love to watch the creation of new and fascinating recipes that I’ve never seen before.
I want to be able to sit down with Dom to a beautiful dinner – be it at home or in a pub – and enjoy a glass of wine on the side. I would like for that to be it until a nightcap before bed. I do not like the fact that I have to quell the anxiety with wine before I dare to put even half a slice of pizza in my mouth.
I long for a normal, healthy eating pattern and appetite. I long for the day that I will be there – because I will be there eventually. I have enough love and emotional support surrounding me to do it, but it’s almost as though I’m on a speeding merry-go-round. I want so desperately to get off, but it won’t stop spinning. Eventually I think I will be able to throw myself off it, as long as there are people there to catch me. And there will be.
Next time you see an otherwise healthy-looking person drinking alone and/or heavily, please don’t write them off as alcoholics. They may well be going through unimaginable pain and horror, and the problem is not the drink in their hand.