Picture this. 4 am, barefoot, cold kitchen tiles under my feet. Buttering toast. Four slices of toast. Hmmm. Five. A loaf of bread. It’s what Jesus would have wanted.
Vodka. Cigarettes. Chips. I am an addict.
4am, taxi into town, tell the taxi man to wait, go into Charlies, back into the taxi, home. Work. More cigarettes. Dark rum.
I am an addict.
The back of the 121 bus. On the way to school. Drink a full bottle of Lucozade to tackle the hangover. Vomit. Vomit rolls up and down the bus. Keep the uniform clean. Rest your head on the seat. No one can see me here. My 17th Birthday.
Pizza, 3-in-1, cold egg fried rice. Kentucky Fried Chicken. Texas Fried Chicken on the Crumlin Road. Lucozade. Coffee. Coca-Cola. I am an addict.
When I was 12 I moved into Thomas Street. I used to live in Rialto with my Mam and now I was moving in with my Dad. It was traumatic. Soon after that people started to talk to me about Puppy Fat. I wanted to join Weight Watchers but I wasn’t allowed to because they didn’t want me to get an eating disorder. I had my uniform bought for secondary school. I tried it on a week before I was due to start. It didn’t fit.
I first had a curry when I was about 9. It was a treat. Every Friday or Saturday evening my mother would call a take-away. This was a reward for a hard week in school. Prawn Crackers. Chips. Curry. A two-litre bottle of Coca- Cola.
I didn’t plan to move in with my Dad. It was a shock. It didn’t fit in with his lifestyle. He worked late. I didn’t know how to cook. We ate a Chinese take-away every single night for years.
If my life was turned into a Wordle, that word cloud that gives prominence to words that appear most often, then the word ‘addiction’ would be ten feet tall. The big book of Alcoholics Anonymous replaced the Bible in our house. It was our religion growing up. I thought and talked about addiction all the time.
For THEATREclub’s HEROIN I spent two years in Rialto Community Drug Team. I sat with people and they told me their stories. I heard about the sexual abuse they suffered from fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, teachers, uncles, cousins. I heard about injecting into an artery in your groin. I heard about the pain of methadone leaving the body, about knowingly using a syringe you know contains the aids virus because you are so desperate to get heroin into you. I listened to accounts of prostitution, rape, burglary, overdose, coma, tablets and starting again.
For the last five years, I have spent a lot of time with people with an addiction - in Fatima, in Dolphin’s Barn, in Ballymun & Moyross. I feel more human when I am working with addicts than any other time. It’s the power of representation, of having a shared experience with another human being, of sharing something shameful, crippling, soul destroying. It’s the power of inspiring each other to keep battling through in search of dignity, meaning and place, despite the stigma, the social housing, and the isolation. Despite the abuse. The belief remains that there is a connection to the universe, there is meaning to it all. Being around addicts reinforces my commitment to the worthiness of creating. The most important thing I learned was that addiction is about feelings.
A year ago, my boyfriend googled ‘food addiction’. He found these questions on the Overeaters Anonymous website and he asked me them one by one.
Do you eat when you're not hungry? Yes.
Do you go on eating binges for no apparent reason? Yes. I eat till I feel sick.
Do you have feelings of guilt and remorse after overeating? Yes.
Do you give too much time and thought to food? I think about food a lot. If I get hungry I become irrational and emotional and angry.
Do you look forward with pleasure and anticipation to the time when you can eat alone? I don’t think about it, but I am delighted when the opportunity presents itself.
Do you plan these secret binges ahead of time? I have done. I have left a party early to get a McDonalds on my own. I only drink so I can eat. Sometimes when my boyfriend says he is going out for the night my first thought is “That means I could order a curry.”
Do you eat sensibly before others and make up for it alone? Yes.
Is your weight affecting the way you live your life? I am morbidly obese.
Have you tried to diet for a week (or longer), only to fall short of your goal? I have been dieting for ten years. I couldn’t understand why the diets wouldn’t work.
Do you resent others telling you to "use a little willpower" to stop overeating? More than words could articulate.
Despite evidence to the contrary, have you continued to assert that you can diet "on your own" whenever you wish? Sometimes. Only when people are trying to help me.
Do you crave to eat at a definite time, day or night, other than mealtime? Late at night I get so hungry it makes me cry.
Do you eat to escape from worries or trouble? That’s the only reason I eat. I will go all day without eating until something happens that upsets me. I hate eating. I love eating shite. I am full-on addicted to eating horrible food.
I had answered yes to all the questions. If you answer three; they say you have a problem. Fuck.
My friend Lauren had confronted me about my relationship with food when I was eating a McDonalds in her car a few months before that. I mean, she kind of ruined the McDonalds for me, but I am infinitely grateful. She called me out on something that everyone was afraid to talk to me about. No one wants to point out that someone is fat. She asked me “Why can’t you stop?” I told her that nothing was motivating me to lose weight. I didn’t care. She told me that if I wanted to have kids I would need to get thinner. That at my current weight I wouldn’t be able to deliver a baby to term. That changed something.
I was 5” 5’ and I weighed nearly 17 stone. I am still 5” 5’ and I weigh 15 stone.
I have spent my whole life embroiled in a drama with food. I have had screaming matches over food, I have stolen money to buy food, I have dreamt about it, had nightmares about it. As I became a manically ambitious theatre director my food problems got worse. I was now too busy to eat properly or think about what was happening to me as I threw out my size 12 jeans and bought 14s, then 16s. And then I found myself crying in the queue in Penneys with a pair of size 20s in my hand. Work was another addiction, another compulsion. What did we say addiction was? Feelings.
As I answered my boyfriend’s questions that night I started to realise that I was an addict. There is no more earth-shattering feeling than for the daughter of two addicts to realise that she is an addict too. It basically feels like “Oh for fuck’s sake, are you for real?” But then I think I knew that already on some level. I wasn’t going to get away with it. Everyone else I know is one.
I began my recovery in that moment. After years of failed dieting I am finally losing weight. Slowly. And there have been ups and downs. Last summer on Inis Oirr, I gave up the lethal combination of coffee, Lucozade and Coca Cola that I had lived on for so long. I spent an hour in the sand on the beach unable to move as the caffeine left my body.
I go to Slimming World every week. I have been in therapy since I was twelve years-old and now I go to a cognitive behavioural therapist and a shamanic healer. I am considering going to Overeaters Anonymous. Not sure about that though. Think about how you feel about going to Mass. The upshot is that it’s all okay now. It’s getting better now. But it will never go away.
It’s a strange thing to be addicted to food. But I think it can be useful to make a point about all addiction. I can’t ever ‘give up’ eating food. I can’t just ‘stop eating’. It’s not as simple as only eating healthy food either. I can play out my addiction with fruit as well as I can with crisps and chocolate. I have to look at why I am eating what I am eating. It’s my intent. My relationship to it. That’s why some people can have a few pints no problem, and other people piss themselves! That’s why sometimes you piss yourself.
The thing about addiction is that addiction is actually not the problem. Addiction is the solution to the problem. And food worked really well for me for me for a long time and I am grateful.
And that’s the thing isn’t it? About the war on drugs. It’s missing the point. The drugs are not the thing. The thing is how we feel. The problem is your feelings. The problem is our feelings. The problem was and is (less and less these days) my feelings. We’ve basically fucked that up. We haven’t cottoned onto that yet and we have fucked up a lot of stuff in the meantime. The collateral damage is people. Lost. Stuck. Greying on methadone. Drowning in their own vomit. Suffocating under the weight of themselves.