“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.”