I’m spreading Butro onto a corn cracker in rushed, trembling panic. It’s a finely poised balancing act. I have to achieve a relatively even coverage as quickly as humanly possible, but not so quickly that I break the fragile, compressed disc. If that happens, it will break my stride, preventing me from getting the cracker into my mouth before swallowing the one that’s already there. Somewhere in between dance and convulsion, I must keep my rhythm without losing speed. There are six crackers left.
Spread. Lift. Swallow. Five. Spread. Lift. Swallow. Four. Spread. Lift. Swallow. Three. Crumbs fly from my mouth like sawdust from a bandsaw. The sound coming from my face is something like a gurgling drain and the snapping of twigs. Something like heavy breathing mixed with drowning.
It’s 1.45am. I am five hours into a relapse. I am outside of my body. Which is handy, because if i was inside of it, I would be screaming. Soon, there will be no food left. Then, after a thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth sweep of the cupboards, maybe I will be able to go to sleep. I know what I will have to face tomorrow. What I have brought upon myself… again. But, that’s a lifetime away. Right now, all that exists is fear, panic, and the divine combination of crunch and hydrogenated pseudo-butter. I just have to remember to get some air in between swallows.
Somebody please help me. Somebody, please stop me. But that’s not how this works. We will have to ride this out. Again.
Last night, I lost control. I’ve been riding the crest of 5 weeks’ strict diet, great training and some excellent results in the gym. I’m not far off my ideal weight and, despite not being in the best condition of my life, I’m a good 60kg (130lb) better off than my worst. I am a recovering obese person. I live in a state of grace that takes daily commitment, iron-clad routine and a hellbent drive that comes from the memory of a decades-long fate worse than death. I am in pretty good physical shape on the outside. But inside, I will always wear the suffocating bulk that grew to 160kg as it imprisoned me for the first 28-odd years of my life. I am grateful to be on top of things. More or less. Most of the time. I am grateful for every staircase I climb without losing my breath. Every garment I buy from ordinary-people shops. Every child I do not terrify when I’m in public. I do not feel sorry for myself, and I certainly don’t expect anyone to feel sorry for me. But there is always the fear. And there is always, always, the voice that taunts, tempts and negotiates the next “deal”.
It started out like it always does. It becomes tricky to avoid restaurants, dinner parties, trips that require eating on the road, or any other situation for which food-preparation is difficult. It’s awkward; taking tupperwares of steamed broccoli and chicken breasts to weddings. It’s difficult to arrive at a friend’s dinner party and have to explain your dinner – and your story – to every interested party wondering what the hell’s going on with this weird guy and his rude resistance to the hosts’ warm hospitality. It’s difficult to feel like a burden. Like you’re making things awkward.
“Fuck it. I haven’t seen these wonderful friends for ages. They cook great stuff. It’s a celebration worthy of enjoyment. It’s a great excuse! I’ll just eat around the bad bits and control myself. It’ll be fine…”
It’s never fine. Now I know that I’m going to be cutting corners. Now I know that it’s not going to be perfect. And since it’s not going to be perfect, I might as well properly enjoy it. What harm is there in biltong? Why not have a popcorn chip? Hell, it’s lamb ribs and prawns… if you’re gonna do it, do it properly! Live a little! And then, the wheels come off.
Five hours later, and I’m in a trance. Hunger has no more a role here than does the exchange rate, the weather in Mexico or the winner of the next Grand Prix. This is a synaptic break. This is a mental disorder. An epileptic fit. This is an out-of-body experience where you watch your own murder from the killer’s perspective.
Obesity is not the size-58 waist that requires custom-made pants. It’s not the belly that wraps the entire body, front and back, like a million, greasy snakes slithering all over you. Those are just the symptoms of giving in to the ever-present itch, day after day, for years. Those are just the results of pushing yourself further underground day after day after day until hope is as far out of sight as the stars on an overcast morning. The trouble is, each time this happens, it becomes harder to stop it from happening again. Before you know it, two days becomes 22 days. Two kilograms become 22kg. Then, your clothes don’t fit you. Then your friends start to worry. Then you become terrified of the sun. Then, you are done for.
The thing is, you can’t not eat. This drug is one that you have to take every day. But just a little. Only a little. Like a coke-head that has to have one line a day, forever… but only the one. Never more than one. And the fridge is always packed full of stash.
Last night I relapsed. It broke my heart. My head is a conflicted mess of blame and self-pity. I did this to myself. I know better. I broke a promise. I did it on purpose. But then, it was also done to me. I was, in that moment, helpless. Tied down and violated. Victim and perpetrator, with the full packages of emotions promised to both. And yet, helplessness is a fate I refuse to accept. I will not accept.
Today, I feel sorry for myself. I am angry with myself. I’m also angry at myself for feeling sorry for myself. There is a voice that tells me, over and over like a skipping CD, that I might as well go binge again, since my shiny toy is already broken.
I think I managed to pull myself right this morning, ride out the first wave of guilt, tell my beautiful lady how I felt, despite knowing that she does not (despite her selfless, judgement-free best effort) have the capacity to understand something that is without logic. I managed to get into the gym where I converted a lot of the despair into rage and physical output. I gained back the first of many yards I shall need to reclaim psychologically. While I raged, I wrote this blog over and over in my head. It was a lot better than this version.
The physical damage done after one night is probably negligible. In a week, I’ll be just fine. But when one day of this becomes two, it quickly becomes five. The effect is easily compounded. Hope is easily snuffed. And every day, we obese people have to stare that in the face. Sometimes, it’s hard to carry the weight.
I am not usually one for licking my wounds. I am not one for feeling sorry for myself. I usually dust myself off, get up and keep trucking. I am grateful every day that I found the fight in me to face obesity. But, these feelings happen. They needed to come out, and I figured pouring them out here might help some people like me. And maybe, give others some insight into people like us. I do not want, nor expect, any sympathy. I am fine. As fine as I can be. I hope this helps other obese people to feel less alone. And regular people to get a glimpse into something that’s very easy to judge.
To read more about my struggle with weight, how I lost 67kg, click here. For my award-winning Men’s Health feature on what life is like in a new body, click here.
Here’s a beautiful song that sums things this feeling up pretty well for me…