This is water

“There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”

David Foster Wallace, 2005

This little anecdote by David Foster Wallace means a hell of a lot to me. And in prefacing this post, I would like to add that it’s probably the most difficult one I’ll make. And I’ve wrestled with talking plainly about it, but I lost. And here I am. Saying it out loud.

I’ve lived a life that’s been filled with challenges and successes like many. I’ve battled my fair share of metaphorical demons over the years. The majority of which came from my own being. And many of them are attached firmly to my battle with weight.

I first started eating alone as a teenager. The kitchen table was not necessarily a place where we all connected at home. There were dinners in front of TV’s blaring the evening news. When I first got a television in my own room I began to take supper there. Much to my Mother’s chagrin.

I’ve always loved fast food. Going to IJ Samson Jr. High, I ate fries and gravy almost every day at the local snack bar on the corner. I developed a taste for greasy, unhealthy meals. Then as I grew older, and got my license I was able to go through drive-throughs on my own accord. And that’s when my addiction to fast food really took hold.

I remember as a teenager driving to McDonalds, and then either eating it in the car, or sneaking it into my room in the basement. And, I’d do really odd things. Like hide the remnants of what I had eaten either under my bed, or in dresser drawers, or if I was in the car eating (which happened) I’d stuff it under the seats.

As if that would go unnoticed. Why would I hide things if I knew they would be found? I’ll come back to that in a minute.

This pattern of behaviour began to manifest itself in me at an early age. And then blossomed as I grew older. Then in 2006, I lost my brother to a heart attack. He was 22 years old. It happened as he slept in my parents’ home. And it rattled me. At first I was determined to conquer my weight. Get healthy. Survive. It was an initiative completely predicated on fear. And it worked for three weeks. Until the shock wore off and the depression crept in. And then the wheels started to slowly fall off. And the years of my youth spent eating in basements and cars roared through my adulthood more ferocious than ever.

I would pretend to eat with those around me. Nibble a bit on this or that. But, when they disappeared I would immediately go and fill myself with fast food. Not just once a week. Not just once a day. Sometimes several times a day.

As my sadness increased the amount of food I began to eat also increased. There was a connection between the stress of living and the amount I was eating. I was still hiding wrappers and remnants, even when I eventually wound up on my own. There is something very sad about a man hiding food in a house he shares with himself, and himself alone.

The cycle was truly maddening. Not to mention embarrassing. I was lost.

It never occurred to me, throughout all of this that I had a food addiction. I never really ever accepted it. In my mind, it was a nutrition issue or a bad habit. However, as it turns out, I was the fish swimming in water – completely unaware of my surroundings.

Then, one day I said “enough.”

I met a woman who said to me “Dave, what would you rather do? Eat a hamburger, or live?”

She looked at the challenges I faced, like the challenges everyone faces. There was nothing particularly special about it. It was just a pattern that needed to change, and she – very patiently (and believe me, I require a LOT of patience) – stood by me.

And that’s when the change truly began. I started to think about why I hid the remnants and the garbage. And realized that I wasn’t hiding it from others, but rather, myself.

I made a plan. A plan that is continually evolving. I’m not living 100% healthy right now. By comparison I am, that’s for sure. But I’m moving in that direction. I’ve eliminated fast food, with the exception of the odd trip to subway for a veggie sub on whole wheat without cheese. Not quite the same as a BLT, but it’ll do in a pinch. I eat based on a point system, which seems to work for me. I like games and technology – this incorporates the best of both worlds.

The main thing is that I’m breaking the pattern. A pattern cemented by two decades of attacking myself with food. Two decades of hiding. I’ve stopped attacking myself. And I’ve started loving me instead. Cause, y’know… I’m pretty wicked or whatever. Heh.

I feel as though I’ve found my way to the mouth of a very dark cave, and I can finally stand and proudly face the sun. And as I do, with the light washing over my face – I repeat these words…. “This is water. This is water.”

5 thoughts on “This is water

  1. Oh,wow,you did it again,just when I thought,he is going places,you took the breath out of me,you are an inspiration,for others who struggle every day.God Bless,

  2. This post is so touching, so raw. We all have layers of self doubt, self talk and strategies to deal that no one else is evr privy too so we assume everyone else is just fine.

    I heard you on the radio this morning and wanted to read the blog. Your comment about wanting to walk outside in the winter was interesting to me. The choices we make are subject to what our environement offers. When exercise or active transport (walking, biking, using the stairs etc,) is difficult we tend not to do it. When we are bombarded with carefully engineered food and advertsing for sugar and fat bombs that we are wired to love it is pretty hard not to eat fast food. And your comment above about no commensal eating going on in your home is another force at work. It’s not all about choices you make as an individual in isolation is it.

    How much have we been groomed to be users of things that make others money? Gas and cars, fast food, gym memberships, retail therapy when we feel badly about ourselves?

    Who is responsible for the way public spaces are designed? Do they care about the costs of Chronic Disease? This link is for a talk given by Dr. Karen Lee thriough the Harris Centre at MUN ttp:// You can also search “Fit City Conference”

    Listen to the documentary “Stuffed” on CBC’s Ideas in the afternoon to hear about how the food inductry has been shaped.

    1. Hey there. I’ve not checked out the ideas episode yet. Thanks so much for such a thoughtful reply. I’ll take the time tomorrow to listen to it for sure. Again, thank you.

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