Imagine a childhood of schoolyard taunts and classroom tirades, where you feel miserable because others mock you for looking miserable; where you are an outcast, physically and academically; where your classmates torment you for being fat, and your teachers traumatize you for being dumb, when in fact you are none of those things.
Imagine the terror of dyslexia (before this condition had a name or a diagnosis), as you try – and sometimes cry – to make your way through a seemingly foreign language, while a member of your own household belittles your appearance and your peers laugh at you because of your weight.
Imagine, too, the unwanted attention of fame by association, which makes you a target of envy and ridicule. (I issue that statement not out of pity, nor as an attempt to garner sympathy, as if I have a woe-is-me attitude while millions suffer from the tragedy of famine and malnutrition, and the plague of poverty and privation. I take responsibility for my recovery, but I can no more change the circumstances of my birth – in addition to my battle with bulimia – than I can suspend the law of gravity. Instead, I seek to assist those in physical or emotional pain, since they run such a high risk of depression and suicide.)
According to the National Eating Disorders Association, 10 million men will have at least one clinically significant eating disorder, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder or an eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS). [EDNOS has its own entry in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).]
Men with eating disorders further face the comorbidity of depression, excessive exercise, substance disorders and anxiety.
These reports highlight the severity of this problem, but they do not capture the psychological toll of this challenge.
This sense of isolation, from my separation from my classmates to the stigma of having a learning disability, this void – with its simple yet inaccurate labels, which convert children into commodities; which showcase the "good" and sequester the "defective," imprisoning me in an empty classroom – would lead me to anesthetize this discomfort with food.
Bullied by my peers, and violated in the worst way a parent can fear, life in Beverly Hills would either be a death sentence, or my means of escape and salvation.
I would also discover that addiction has no zip code: It is as deadly among the rich as it is among the poor; it is as extant among the beach houses, in Malibu, as it is among the homeless, in downtown Los Angeles; it is as prevalent among the least stringent public schools as it is among the most stern military schools; it discriminates against no one because it can – and does – strike anyone, regardless of race, sex or income.
Indeed, not even military school could temper my addiction. Not when, in a vain attempt to steal a bag of potato chips from a vending machine, with my arm halfway up the drawer of said machine, with my fingers almost touching the metal coil pressed against that red-on-yellow bag of Lay's Classic Potato Chips, a school Major would catch me – and paddle me, with sadistic glee.
And, while my grades would improve and I would develop some much-needed discipline, I would nonetheless end where I began: The humiliated "fat kid," sweating – and wheezing – in a defeated effort to do ten push-ups, punishment for having approached a female sergeant – in the middle of campus – whom I tried (but failed) to kiss.
No wonder I have issues with food, notwithstanding my then-inability to articulate the severity of this problem.
And, though I cannot erase my past use of drugs and alcohol, I refuse to be a prisoner of the past – or a captive of the future.
I live in – and cherish the beauty of – the present.
The good news is that you are not alone.
If I can help but one person with an eating disorder and/or drug addiction, it would be the greatest honor I could achieve. It would be the best gift I could receive, because only if you have been in the deepest valley can you ever know how magnificent it is to be on the highest mountain.
For I have found the keys to a kingdom of love and happiness.