Lived Experience

My Journey to Recovery

  I recognise that whatever a person struggles with, many ‘symptoms’ are simply well-intentioned and very smart survival strategies. When we go through adverse experiences, we take on extreme beliefs, feelings, behaviours and body reactions for very valid reasons and now we are seeking to transform them to live a life of more joy and inner peace.  

My practice comes from a deep understanding of many such ‘symptoms’ and I can attest to the fact that recovery is possible.  I personally found it very helpful to hear other people’s personal journeys. It has given me identification and reduced my sense of aloneness, has reduced my own shame, and increased my self-compassion.

That’s why I’m passionate about sharing aspects of my journey below. Trigger warning: image of a food binge below.

This work found me when I hit bottom with my lifelong struggle with food addiction, binge eating and bulimia in 2008. I became extensively involved with peer support groups, personal therapy and a lot of self-exploration and study.

Over the years I have developed a special expertise in food addiction, because that was the primary addiction that drove me into recovery. From there, my horizons, in personal recovery or with clients, have expanded to other substance and process addictions, including work addiction, relationship addiction, codependency, money addiction, social media addiction, and how those compulsive behaviours interact.

Eventually this led me to complex trauma and the interplay between abuse, emotional neglect, and attachment injury, and the intergenerational nature of these experiences.

My food addiction has been with me as long as I can remember. I’ve always wanted MORE FOOD. I was overeating on a daily basis as a child. I was obsessed with the cupboard of goodies in the house and when we got treats for Christmas or Easter I would eat my own share and then devour that of my siblings. None of that was a problem in my own mind.

But at age 11 somebody in my family said I should watch what I eat so that I wouldn’t get fat. This was reinforced by society and culture, be it through magazines, TV, or peers at school. So at age 11 I began yoyo-dieting, bingeing and starving myself.  

In my teens and twenties my weight yoyo’d up and down depending on my emotional state. I hated my body and always wore clothes that disguised my bum. My wardrobe was filled with clothes in different sizes so that I could be sure to find something that would fit.

After going through a big change in my thirties my binge eating got even more out of control. I found myself going on food safaris and eating sugary, fatty and salty junk food all day long.

Here’s what I wrote in my diary on one of those average binge days. It shows so clearly the interplay between my food addiction and the exhausting efforts to keep the weight under control in whatever way possible.

The constant war between the parts of me that wanted to eat and the parts of me that didn’t want to get fat...

..."For breakfast I had two apples; that’s my usual breakfast after my morning exercise routine of a 7km run followed by 30 minutes cardio and weights at the gym.

Never knowing when the next binge comes on, I always make sure to start the day with plenty of exercise and as little food as possible to avoid gaining too much weight. Before lunch I ate a carrot because I felt really hungry. I hadn’t planned the carrot but I had to have it because I was craving ‘something extra’.

For lunch, as usual, I had a plate of steamed vegetables. Even though that filled me up I had already made the decision to get more food. I left the office telling myself I was just buying herbal tea. But I knew all along that my secret intention was to pass a bakery.

Once again, I was lying to myself. I got to the bakery and that’s where it started. I bought two pastries. Initially I felt a deep sense of comfort but it only lasted for a couple of minutes. Then I started worrying about what excuse I was going to make up to explain why I had ventured out in the rain."

"Earlier my colleague had asked me to come out with her and I had told her I was staying in the office. The truth is I wanted to go alone so that I could binge undisturbed.

At the supermarket I bought a pack of chocolate biscuits. I ate the entire pack on the way to another bakery where I bought an almond croissant.

While stuffing it down I was acutely aware that I could bump into someone from work and was taking extra care to turn into small side streets so no one would see me. I brushed off the crumbs and went back to a work meeting.

In the afternoon I snuck to the shop downstairs several times to get more food. I consumed 4 whole blocks of chocolate in the bathroom downstairs. It would have been too embarrassing to get caught eating chocolate in the building, because everyone at work knows about my cholesterol problem. In public I’m known for being a really healthy eater."

"My binge eating is my secret. I’ve not told anyone about it.  On the way home from work, I had two slices of quiche, a chocolate brownie, an apple tart and a packet of Sushi. If someone had watched me, it would have looked ugly: I was walking down the streets, gulping down one thing after the other.  Eating the last quiche I noticed that I wasn’t even tasting the food. It wasn’t satisfying at all but I kept eating.

I passed an overweight lady who seemed to be doing the same thing. She was walking down a quiet side street with a greasy bag in her hand, mouth full. I thought about stopping to ask if she was also a binge eater.  Instead I walked past holding my quiche delicately pretending that this was the only thing I was eating tonight.

The thought went through my mind that, if she really was a compulsive eater like me, she must have felt sad because I seemed to be a normal eater and she wasn’t. Little did she know. Maybe she was thinking what I normally think when I see others eating pastries: Why can they get away with it and I can’t? How do they control it?"

"It made think how many of us are out there, pretending that we eat ‘like normal people’ only to go bingeing, starving and purging ourselves behind closed doors?  How many of us are desperately trying to control our food addictions and live up to the cultural ideals of being thin, fit, happy, healthy, perfect?  How many of us have wars in our heads about what to eat, what not to eat, when and how to stop eating, how to lose weight, how to keep it off every minute of the day?  Or maybe it really is just me…?

I ate the brownie thinking I should throw it away but I finished it anyway. Then I ripped the Sushi open in the plastic bag and poured the soy sauce over the pieces while walking briskly.

I’m not sure why I was in such a hurry. It felt like I was doing everything really quickly so that it would be over before I had time to stop it. It was like I was on autopilot. I felt like such an addict. The thought came to my mind that I could have squeezed the Sushi pieces into a syringe and then injected them".

"It brought up the image I often get when I see the food vending machines in train stations. They’re filled with biscuits, lollies, chips and cakes. For me they could just as well be filled with bags of cocaine and heroin. Food has always been the number one, legal, easily attainable, and culturally accepted drug for me.  

Having arrived at home I devoured three apples just because they were there. I don’t normally keep food in the house as I know I’ll obsess about it until I finally give in and eat it.  

Now I’m exhausted. I’m so full that I feel sick – it’s crazy how I can eat that much!!! But actually, I could eat much more than that!! I can’t believe I did it again.  I had sworn that I was never going to do it again.  

Right now I wish I could throw up and get rid of it. I even tried throwing up but I just can’t do it. I know that’s probably a good thing, but at this point I’m just worried about my weight. I just want it to go away. I don’t want to deal with the consequences. I’ll have put on around 1.5 kg. "  "By now I have a feel for how much weight I gain based on the scale of my binges. I’ll never eat sugar and white flour again. I need a reboot, a detox, a green juice fast, something to lose all the weight.

I’ll have to starve myself tomorrow again. Except that I’ve already confirmed a work lunch. I had chosen a Sushi place because I normally allow myself to eat Sushi. But after this binge today, I can’t allow myself to eat anything. How can I get out of that lunch?

I’m also worried that I won’t be able to sleep tonight. I can’t sleep after a binge because of the heart palpitations and the stomach pains. And if I don’t sleep, I’ll be tired tomorrow and that might set off another binge. As long as I can get out of the lunch and limit myself to a few cucumbers tomorrow I’ll be able to lose the weight within a few days.

I have to get back on track. What will people think when they see me gain all the weight?"...

What happened next? After a few days of dieting I binged again. This cycle continued until I got so distraught, anxious, and depressed that I sought therapy and joined a 12-step addiction recovery group.

As I found recovery, my binge eating and starving episodes gradually diminished. I spent five years in recovery trying to find a way of eating that worked for me and it took several incidents of putting myself into serious danger with my eating before I could truly get abstinent.

Ultimately, I surrendered because the fear of continuing to eat and go insane grew bigger than the fear of putting the food down. Today I’m free from food obsession and I no longer eat addictively. I truly love and respect my body and am attuned to its needs, much to my own surprise!  

My lived experience of food addiction is that it’s not always the same as an eating disorder. In my lived experience, food addiction came first. I may even have been born with it, or it shaped my brain very early on. Addiction to me is like a developmental brain adaptation. The brain seeks sources of comfort, security and love where those resources might have not been optimally available in very early life.

My disordered eating, the bingeing, starving and over-exercising, started much later, around age 11, as a result of other people’s and society’s judgment about my body weight and shape.

My addiction needed me to overeat to make sure my nervous system could be soothed. The eating disorders only had one function: to control the unwanted weight gain caused by the addiction to protect from potential judgment and rejection by others.

I have gained huge amounts of self-awareness on my journey. I have discovered other addictions that have led me much deeper into the origins and purposes of those addictions.

I have been to many 12-step programs and have explored many, many tribes, books, workshops, therapy modalities. I have been able to heal many of the traumas, attachment injuries and misattunement underlying my addiction.

I am also passionate about the intergenerational nature of trauma, and how cultural and historical burdens such as wars, racism, and social exclusion contribute to perpetuating unhelpful patterns in families and societies.

Being a Kriegsenkel, a ‘grandchild of the war’ from Germany, I have grappled with my own version of intergenerational trauma. It took me years in recovery to even realise that I had experienced any form of trauma because trauma can be lots of ‘little things’ and omissions just as much as big traumas.

Recovery from complex trauma is a lifelong journey. It’s daunting yet also immensely rewarding. I continue doing my own inner work because I believe that this is a lifestyle that brings huge amounts of fulfillment and makes me feel better than well.

My sense is that often, when we go through our own crises, we come out the other end much stronger and wiser. We transform.

I’d love to hear about your journey and help you on your journey, whatever it may be. 

Speaking Engagements

As a seasoned public speaker on topics around food addiction, eating disorders, including my lived experience, as well as complex trauma, I can be booked for your event, seminar or conference.

I provide educational talks on food addiction, and speak to topics around policy and practice around mental health as well as trauma-informed best practice in the workplace from the perspective of clinician and lived experience either as part of a panel or solo engagement.

I’m a peer ambassador for SANE Australia and am on the Blue Knot Foundation’s Lived and Living Experience Committee.  

Acknowledgement of Country
I recognise the history, culture, diversity and value of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, and acknowledge their Elders past and present.

I acknowledge that sovereignty has never been ceded, and support reconciliation, justice and the recognition of the ongoing living culture of all First Nations people by providing welcoming and culturally informed services. 

Embracing inclusivity and diversity,  I also support a culture of inclusion, respect, choice, voice and diversity and am committed to supporting all people to be mentally well and engaged in their communities.