Telling my story for the first time

Hi, My name is Jennifer & I’m a compulsive overeater…. Today I’m going to tell you part of my story.  It is a long and winding story with many twists and turns.

I was born in Toronto on the last day of August 1961.  The forth daughter… Right away before I was hardly out of the gate I was a disappointment, because of course they wanted a boy.

When I was around five years old my Dad lost his job and they moved my three older sisters and me to live in our cottage located on the family farm just outside of Port Stanley, Ontario.  We had no running water and it was cramped quarters to say the least. We lived there for just under one year and I have some very wonderful memories of this time in my life.  I got to spend time with my grandparents. I felt loved when I was with them and I was with them a lot.

It was at this time that my parents decided to open their own business.  My Dad had contacts in Toronto – he’d been a produce buyer for a major chain store. They rented half a store at  311 Talbot St. in St. Thomas the other half was a bakery. They ran a small and moderately successful fruit market.  We also ran a fruit stand in the summer out in front of my Grandparent’s farm.  I use to sell Kool-Aid to the customers and that gave me pocket change to buy myself treats. My family’s fortunes changed when my Mom & Dad opened a fruit market called Harpers on Sunset Dr. in St. Thomas. They also had their last child (a boy) my baby brother Robert.

For as far back as I can remember food has been a really big part of my life.  Growing up in a family where the business was all about food made that a given.  We had an abundance of it and IT was always available. I don’t remember anyone ever explaining about how much to eat or what was nutritious or not.  I do remember my Mom and Dad dieting on a regular basis.  My Mom was a little overweight but my Dad has always been overweight and definitely was and still is obese.  I realize as an adult looking back that both my parents had issues around food and alcohol.  Come to think of it – my siblings and myself we all have issues.  My sister Julie tells a story about taking goodies out of the Spicer Bakery boxes and eating them.  One sweet out of each box wouldn’t be noticed.  I never thought to do that – I did eat entire boxes of sweets, entire pies and of course bags of cookies.

My earliest memories of “weird” food behaviors were about sneaking food.  Mainly sweets, chocolate bars, chips, cakes, pop, chocolate milk, cookies – all the junk food I could possibly want at my fingertips.  I instinctively knew not to eat too much in “public” but when I was alone it was a free for all.  I was a very athletic kid and weight wasn’t an issue until I hit puberty and then I began to gain weight.  I had a beautiful figure and I was very self-conscious because I received a lot of attention because I was pretty. I went on my very first diet when I was 14 or 15 years old – Counterweight for those of you who might remember.  My Mom hid her junk food around the house.  I learned where her hiding places were and would often find myself snitching goodies from her.  I would never take them all – I don’t know if she noticed them missing?  Then again what would she say?

My problems including my issues with binging, over eating and compulsive dieting are rooted in these formative years.  I had very poor self-esteem because I was teased a lot about my poor performance in school and other things.  I was in the slow readers group and I struggled with concentration so was often left out.  I was in my own little world and this suited me just fine.  I had imaginary friends who were very real to me… I loved playing with dolls and preferred to play alone.  I realize now that I most certainly had a learning disability, I was probably ADHD at best and quite possibly have Aspergers Syndrome.  I haven’t been tested but my 16-year-old daughter was diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome this past fall and it does tend to run in families.  I’m not sure what that means to her or to me but I know that the struggles I’ve encountered throughout my life are probably at least in part connected to this.  I have always felt stupid.  I was the slow learner and because of this my opinions, my ideas, my talents were overlooked.  I was the invisible child… that is……

Until I grew up…….
– I was a beauty.  I had people tell me this, I always felt uncomfortable in my own skin.  I went from being invisible to highly visible and I was never comfortable with this.  I heard my father say on more than one occasion – it’s a good thing she’s pretty.  Because I believed what I was told I stopped trying at school – why bother.  I decided to go to Toronto when I was 17 years old and become a model.  I was accepted into International Top Models an agency that was going to groom me to become a model.  My self-image suffered crushing blow after crushing blow – being told to lose more and more weight. I was 5’ 6 1/2” and 125 lbs…. At this point I became very ill. I was on a starvation type diet- the juice of ½ lemon mixed with ½ cup orange juice, 1 tbsp molasses, and a sprinkle of cayenne pepper three times a day. I’d been dealing with an illness that has been linked to excessive dieting and binge eating. I was 18 years old and had chronic gallbladder disease. What a crazy world….

I ended up having emergency surgery to remove my gallbladder. I was in Florida at the time and came very close to dying.  The surgeon said he had never seen such a badly scarred gallbladder and he’d seen a lot of 70 to 80 year old organs. When I returned home I gave up on modeling and moved home to St. Thomas to marry my high school sweetheart. I’d sowed my wild oats in TO and learned the hard way that having any guy I wanted didn’t fill the void – it scared me this wild side of myself and the best way to stop was to get married.  Yes I know not the right reason to get married but looking back – I was reckless and am lucky worse things didn’t happen to me.

I have so many reasons to be fat – to eat – to binge – to medicate myself and I’ve spent most of my adult life doing it.  I’ve worked hard to prove I’m not stupid.  I’ve gone to University, owned my own business, worked incredibly hard at everything, I give it my all and it hasn’t mattered what the cost to me. I’ve experienced many hard ships, financial and otherwise. We all have and it really sucks.  I’ve been abused and assaulted and carried the shame, the self-blame, the denial with me. In many ways it defines who I am. I wish it didn’t I wish it never happened to me but what I have come to understand in dealing with this trauma to my soul.  I survived and I can let go of the pain and shame and live me life out of its shadow.

There has always been a part of me that believed I wasn’t dumb, that I have potential.  This is my inner guide and I’ve always had that voice in me – telling me that I’m worth it.

There are many parts of me. I’m complicated and my way of dealing with these complications have been at times self-destructive.  My relationships with parents, family, including my own children, my friends and lovers have all been coloured by my own poor self-image. In some cases the relationships themselves have contributed to my lack of self worth. My first husband was not an evil person he was like me – one of the walking wounded.  He used passive aggression and assaulted me verbally with cruel comments that cut me to the quick. I loved him; I worshipped him because he was smart and very cool and hip. I reached the lowest point in my life when I was 22 years old and pregnant with my first child and separated from my husband.  I really did want to die.  I’m sure I was no picnic to be living with.  I was five months pregnant and moved home and lived with my Mom.  I went back to high school took grade 13 English and passed – another miracle in my life.  I was accepted at Western as a mature student to start in September of 1983.  My first child Emerson was born June 22nd, 1983 and he really did save my life. All my doubts about being a mother melted away the moment he was placed in my arms.  Believe me when I say I had doubts. But I had to take care of this beautiful blue-eyed blond child….

My weight at this point was the highest it had ever been. I gained 75 lbs during my pregnancy and only lost about 20 of them after Em’s birth.  Being a university student and a single Mom plus working part time was not a good experiment.  I ate my way through the stress.  Living alone with just a baby allowed me to eat as much as I wanted. I actually don’t remember binging – I was numb.  I was depressed; I was flunking a couple of my courses.  Failing… failing again…

There is a lot I’m skipping over here.  I am a dreamer and I have many stories still in me that remain to be told.  I lived my life and did the best I could.  I cared for a very needy mother I was alienated from my father after my parent’s divorced.  Dealing with these complicated relationships at this point would take a l-o-n-g time. Suffice it to say many of my actions in life have been to earn my father’s affection and love.  My Mom

The wonderful part of my life is the loving relationships I have. Meeting and marrying my second husband was divinely inspired.  He came into my life and said things to me I’d never though anyone could or would.  He loved me for me – he says I’m one of the smartest people he knows. He said he’d be there for me forever and always.  So far he has kept his word.  I’m here today able to tell you these things because of him.  He saved me so I could work on saving myself.

We’ve had our ups and downs. I returned to university and have over the years taken courses when I felt I could manage the time.  I’m 3 ½ credits away from my degree. I’m sure Western will have me on the books as being the person who has taken the longest time to complete a degree. I’ve proven that I’m smart…. I’ve proven I can work hard and make a good wage, I’ve proven I can be a good daughter, sister, wife, mother, friend… I love and live deeply.  So why do I keep eating?

My beautiful daughter Kathryn (Kate) was born October 14th, 1993.  She was a joy from the moment we had her.  She was the most beautiful baby – dark brown eyes and auburn (pink) curly hair.  She was sweet, smart and starting singing and talking at just 6 months. Kate was special from the moment I first heard her little cry.  She has her challenges that have caused her great pain.   Paul and I have tried to protect her and care for her.  Kate suffers from an eating disorder as well. I was able to recognize the behavior because of my own. I blame myself and all I can do now is lead by example.  I pray she won’t have to suffer the way I have – a mother’s wish.  I know it is her own journey and she will walk her own path.

The day I came through the door of OA, I had no hope.  Only desperation…. I didn’t understand I had a disease, I didn’t know there were other people suffering and would understand.  I kept coming back – not even sure why.  I could talk here about the crazy things I’d do.  I thought about food constantly – I’d finish breakfast and be thinking about lunch and then dinner.  It never stopped. You…. You all understood.  I felt like I belonged for the first time in my life.

OA saved me from the madness that was overtaking my life.  I’ve found a measure of peace from this horrible disease.  It keeps me on my toes – its roots are deep and I will never be able to extract them completely.  Sort of like the weeds in my garden.  But I can plant beautiful flowers all around those deadly roots. I will care for my garden of flowers; watering and feeding them with love, understanding and acceptance and I know they will grow. I have my family, my friends and you….. the people in this room, my inner guide, my higher power, the 12 steps … and I can now say I believe.

It may sound hokey but I do really believe we are all connected and if we believe together and in ourselves we can accomplish anything.


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