I’d never have imagined that the pages of the Daily Mail would turn out to be a source of healing or a medium through which to challenge some of my most ingrained, self-defeating behaviours. But it seems, to my surprise, that they have.
My overeating story is published today in the Mail’s Femail Magazine section and online: Confessions of a binge eater: She travelled the world with premiers and presidents, but Katherine Baldwin hid a shaming secret… . And the Baby Goggles feature, about the perils of dating to the rhythm of the biological clock, went in just after Christmas.
Writing these two stories, particularly today’s piece, and seeing them edited and published next to my photo has taken me on a journey I’d never have expected.
As I worked on the overeating story, I looked back at photos of me as a slim schoolgirl who in her pre-teen and early teenage years restricted her food intake to try to stay thin. And then I saw photos of me in my later teens and early 20s when I was bigger and painfully self-conscious. The switch flipped from under-eating to overeating around 16 – unfortunately some of these details were cut from the story due to space. I went on an exchange holiday to Spain and was desperately lonely and felt so out of place and different to the other girls. I binged for three weeks on white bread layered with chocolate spread (I’d never come across chocolate spread before!). On that short holiday, I learned to stuff down my feelings with food. I came home noticeably larger and was mortified, especially when people commented – and they did. And that’s when the weight battle began.
Writing the story brought up a lot of sadness, around what I can sometimes see as ‘the wasted years’ – the years I was overweight and disliked the way I looked, the years I self-harmed with food and other behaviours without really knowing what I was doing. As I wrote, I also spoke to some family members about those years for the first time and that brought up sadness too, for everyone involved, but also, I hope, some healing.
I wonder why so many of us keep things secret from our loved ones and why so many families struggle to speak the truth to each other. And I wonder why we hide what we think are our deepest failings when really we are all the same – we all struggle with the same issues, we just have different coping mechanisms. Working through our past and finding healing definitely isn’t about blaming the parents – our behaviours and addictions span the generations. Our parents had their own challenging childhoods and adapted accordingly. We all have, I believe, an emotional and spiritual hole that we try to fill with whatever we choose – food, drink, relationships, work etc – until we find some internal or God-given peace. For some of us, it takes longer to find that peace and we have to go to extremes before we do so. I’m not saying I’ve ‘arrived’ but I do have times of peace now as well as periods of self-acceptance. I believe that’s on offer to everyone.
Of course, what was missing from the story – partly also due to space – was the fact those years I was overeating and living a life of extremes were also filled with amazing friendships and relationships, exhilarating work, foreign adventures, laughter and fun. I was rereading an old diary recently about my solo travels around Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, the United States and Mexico in my early 20s. Yes, I was rather reckless – driven at times by low self-esteem and a thirst for adrenalin – but there were a lot of amazing experiences in those pages too. I was brave and daring. I made friends at the drop of a hat, saw a lot of the world and lived for eight years in Latin America, immersed in that incredible, colourful, music- and life-filled culture. So there are two sides to every story and there isn’t always space to tell both.
Of course, being 40 and single and wondering whether I’ll have a family (this is where the Baby Goggles story comes in), it’s easy to label the years of bingeing and body obsession as ‘wasted’. If I hadn’t had my eating problems and the low self-worth, control and perfectionism that lay at their root, perhaps I’d have managed to settle down sooner. But although I can slip into that thinking, I know it’s not helpful. What is helpful is to celebrate the journey, with all its ups and downs, and to feel grateful for my recovery and everything I have in my life today.
And I can see, now I’ve shed the necessary tears and gained some healing, that those years weren’t wasted. There’s a purpose to everything and if I can combine my love and talent for writing with sharing a message that will help other women and men come out of hiding, seek help and perhaps begin their recovery at a younger age than I did, then that’s incredibly worthwhile.
As it says in the Bible – and I don’t think you necessarily need a faith to appreciate the sentiment in these verses – “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans, 8 v 28) and “I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten” (Joel, 2, v 25).
Writing these two stories and getting them published has also challenged some of my most deep-seated and self-defeating behaviours: my perfectionism, my control, my fear of what other people think and my negative thinking around my work, my achievements and my body. Imagine someone who’s had body issues for as long as she can remember ending up in a national newspaper photographed in a sleeveless dress. And imagine crafting every single word of the story to perfection (my idea of it, that is) and then having that story cut almost in half due to space, even if it was done judiciously.
But I’m still here, breathing deeply, congratulating myself on my courage, accepting I’m not in charge and understanding that I don’t need everyone to like me or approve of me in order to feel good about myself.
Self-esteem – it’s an inside job.