The Most Dangerous Drug

Long before I discovered the effects of prescription pills and drinking, I was smitten by something far more dangerous, insidious and seductive. I knew from an early age my relationship with sugar was different from that of other kids. I can clearly remember being at a friend’s house when his mother brought candy bars for all the children.

The other kids ate their treats with little ceremony, and they certainly didn’t appear to be agonizing over it either. Unlike them, I was attempting to eat my candy bar as slowly as possible because I had overheard my mother telling my sister that eating slowly would keep her from getting hungry again too soon. I would eventually come to realize that my eating had nothing to do with being hungry or nourishment; it was all about feeding my endless addiction.

Just like some people come from an alcoholic home, I came from a fat one. Being fat is different from being overweight. Being fat is to have an affliction; it's metaphysically defining. Conversely, a person can be overweight without being fat. The overweight person may just need to be educated about proper nutrition and exercise. Fat people know everything there is to know about diet and exercise; their problem is mental.

At seven years old my sister was diagnosed with Type I diabetes, mostly banning sugar from our home, making it even more elusive to me. Our refrigerator and cabinets were filled with foods labeled sugar free, fat free, and diet, yet we were the fattest people on the block. I secretly prayed to be thin like everybody else.

My sister was known to occasionally label her food in our refrigerator at home, and I still become defensive at the very suggestion of sharing. At restaurants, when my wife says she'll have some of yours instead of ordering her own meal, I respond with a playful, like hell you will, except I'm not joking. I was a heavy kid and was teased a lot, which partially explains my body-image issues. In high school and college I grew and thinned out, and my tumultuous relationship with food seemed to be within reasonable control. There were on and off periods of biking and running, and I had little trouble meeting girls. In a couple of years following college, I was thin and gave little thought to being fat. This was definitely a time in my life where I could take it or leave it.

In 1997 I met my wife in Washington, D.C. in a bomb scare not far from the White House. This was before either of us had mobile phones so we agreed to meet at a popular restaurant uptown later that night. Our relationship took off quickly, and because of a job opportunity in New York, I commuted to Washington every weekend to see her. When being apart proved to be too much for me, we got engaged and moved back to Washington.

I was thin at our wedding and would even go as far saying I was in good shape. I took working out more seriously and tried hard to maintain an Atkin's diet. On our honeymoon, however, my wife accused me of gorging myself at dinner in order to avoid intimacy. While I admit to overeating, I doubt it was to avoid being with her.  Not long after our first anniversary, I started taking Ritalin again, to control my ADD and began a habit of drinking wine at night. As my addiction to amphetamines grew, so did my episodes of depression and anxiety. This began the existence of constantly being up or down. After September 11, 2001, all of my addictions took a turn for the worst. In a year's time, I would be going through a months’ worth of Adderall every four days and drinking hard liquor on a daily basis. I constantly chewed nicotine gum, spent thousands of dollars gambling, and acting out compulsively. Needless to say, my relationship with food was also spiraling out of control.

I consumed massive amounts of calories every day. As my life continued to get worse, it became typical for me to have two donuts, a bagel with a fried egg, cheese and sausage, followed by a large coffee and two small bottles of Diet Coke for breakfast. Lunch typically consisted of a bacon cheeseburger and fries or several slices of pizza. My recollection of dinners at home is vague, but it wasn't unusual for me to eat most of a box of donuts late at night with a handful of pills to avoid feelings of sinking depression. Again driven by feelings of depression, many afternoons included high sugar smoothies and an 800 calorie glazed pastry from Starbucks.

By Thanksgiving of 2004, following a stretch of intolerable behavior, my wife had had enough of me and was taking my then two-year-old daughter and leaving. In a crisis, I agreed to inpatient treatment for my addiction to Adderall. By this time, I was the heaviest I had ever been and was mandated to see the treatment center’s nutritionist. The nutritionist weighed me in at 268 pounds.  She asked me to write down everything I ate regardless of what it was. For the next seven days, I kept an honest log of my food and was even mindful of what I put in my body. In treatment there is limited access to food in between meals and sweets were served only on occasion.

The following week I returned to the nutritionist where she weighed me in at three pounds heavier than at our previous meeting. We sat down at a small round conference table where she broke the news to me of my increased weight. Hearing this, I leaned forward so my forehead could hit the table top as I contemplated crying. I truly knew the meaning of complete demoralization.

A month later I was discharged from treatment wearing the only pair of pants that would fit me. Sober from drugs and alcohol, my eating slowed, but I continued to "use" food to contend with my emotions.

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At five months sober I went through a terrible "angry" stage of recovery that is common for newly sober alcoholics and addicts. This is when you're no longer doing drugs, but still crazy. I would be in the car screaming at the passenger, except there was no one else in the car.  

I don't remember what triggered this incident or what happened prior to this episode: I came home to an empty house, completely enraged, intending to take a shower. Disgusted with what I had become, sick at the site of myself, I literally tore off my clothes sending buttons flying across the room.  I shredded my pants with bare hands and got into the shower screaming at no one but myself. I can recall screaming that I couldn't take it anymore, and repeatedly punching myself in the face. I have no recollection of what followed this episode.

In the fall, later that year, I was working at a commercial real estate company downtown, arriving at 9:00 on the dot and leaving not a minute later than 4:59 pm. I had been going every day to a noon AA meeting at a nearby church.

In the mornings I parked at an uptown Metro station and rode the train to work. Uptown is the highest point in Washington, D.C.; it's where networks and radio stations broadcast from to reach the furthest viewers and listeners.  The place I was working was much lower near the Potomac River, and the two points were separated by approximately six miles.

Not drinking and not using, and on a twenty-dollar a day allowance, I have left me with a lot of free time. Leaving work one afternoon, instead of walking straight to the metro, I decided to walk a few blocks and take in the beautiful afternoon. That day I got lost in the walk and the feeling of being content. Without intending, I walked the entire six miles uphill arriving at my parked car almost two hours later. That night I felt at peace.

Walking became my daily routine and it helped me to feel better about myself and even grateful at times. I shared my new found routine and my food addiction at the noon AA meeting. After the meeting, a woman told me about loosing over a hundred pounds and about her long term abstinence aided by programs like Overeaters Anonymous (OA) and Food Addicts in Recovery (FA). I started attending the Saturday morning OA meetings and started understanding sugar and some foods as addictive substances instead of harmless indulgences.

Sugar cravings didn't subside easily and I had to fight to maintain my abstinence. One time, I remember feeling depressed. I went into Dunkin Donuts and bought two huge pastries and a large black coffee and drove around for a while with my daughter in her car seat behind me. I sipped black coffee contemplating eating the donuts and nearly in tears. I called my friend from the noon meeting and spilled my guts on her voicemail. Doing this made me feel better and obliterated the sugar cravings. I pulled in behind a shopping center and threw the bag of donuts out through the sunroof into a dumpster.

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South Florida Intervention offers exclusive solutions for families struggling with the devastating effects of addiction. Marc Kantor is a professional interventionist and the founder of South Florida Intervention, based in Boca Raton, FL. If someone you know is struggling with addiction, we can help. For additional information please e-mail us at marc@southfloridaintervention.com.