Turns out, I’m an alcoholic. Hoorayfuckshit. It took me 31 years to figure this out because I may not be good at drinking, but I am GREAT at denial.
I don’t have too many horror stories. Maybe that’s why it took so long. Blacked out a few times. Thought about drinking every day. I had a dream last night I relapsed and woke up shaking. So that was pretty sweet. But no families were ruined, or lives lost. For example, I’m not writing this because a court ordered me to, but as life has it, I can never have a drink again.
I caught it before I made the news.
How do you know if you are an alcoholic and not just a social drinker? Well, if someone asks you, “Why do you drink?” and you respond with, “So I’m not sad” — oh no. You have a problem.
I'm a comedian. Literally the day after admitting this, when I should have been with loved ones solemnly reflecting, I had gigs in Kentucky, New Orleans, and Austin, Texas. Bastions of sobriety!
I had no idea how much booze played a role in my life until I quit. I saw it everywhere I went. In Kentucky, I was offered drinks before my show, after my show, in a mall (??), and a Whole Foods! Whole Foods?! You are supposed to be health freaks, you liars! Was it free-range wine? Go fuck yourself.
When I told the woman at the Kentucky mall I didn’t drink she said, “You’re not an alcoholic if you make the wine yourself,” and then started laughing. Um, I think that’s thedefinition of an alcoholic. If I ever find myself in my apartment, stomping grapes in a dark room full of barrels, please call a nearby rehab. Or … if I find myself drinking homemade wine...in a mall.
In New Orleans, it was even crazier. When I told a woman at my hotel I didn’t want a beer, she offered to show me her boobs. First of all, where the hell were you when I was seventeen? Second of all, crazy. I was in town the day before something called the Red Dress Run, which I think sums up NOLA perfectly. Everyone gets up bright and early to run in red dresses for charity. BUT, they do it drunk. In the morning.
“We are going to run for charity!”
But I survived. I was proud. I did it. The problem was, something still didn’t feel right.
Four days after I came home, four days after I admitted to having a drinking problem, four days after I knew I was still hiding something, I also had to admit the big one.
I have an eating disorder.
Line up, ladies and gents! An alcoholic WITH an eating disorder? Are we on The Bachelor?
I have an eating disorder.
That was weird to say.
I have an eating disorder.
But there it is.
I have an eating disorder.
Alcoholic with an eating disorder because I have a flair for the dramatic, and a standup comedian with a drinking problem seemed too cliché.
What I do with alcohol I also do with food, but much worse. I never thought twice about it, though. A lot of times, people don’t take eating disorders seriously because we all need to eat food to survive. We don’t all need cigarettes, so we understand that as an addiction. When I saw a man the other day drop his cigarette in the street, then pick it up without skipping a beat to keep smoking I thought, “Yup. That’s a smoker. YOLO, I guess.” That’s an addiction. But if I told someone I thought about doing that every time I go to leave a restaurant and see people's leftovers on their plates, I’m just kind of weird and probably joking.
So unless you aren’t eating your food, or you have the most well-known form of bulimia — the binge-n-purge — you feel fucking dumb saying you have an eating disorder. ‘Cause it’s food. It’s like saying you are addicted to air, or water. You feel all alone. You feel like you just need better willpower. You feel hungry.
You mean you eat to celebrate? You eat too much? You like food like the rest of the entire fucking planet? Well, yes. All of those things. But a lot of you reading this can stop. A lot of you aren’t shaking when ordering take out, not knowing whether to add cake to the order, then saying “no cake”, then saying “wait, two pieces of cake”, and terrifying the poor person on the other end of the phone. You don’t have a bite of a bagel and think, “fuck it, I better get 4 more” before your second bite. You don’t plan all of your meals weeks in advance, talking about them every day until the food goes into your dumb mouth. You don’t hate yourself for it. You don’t read menus at midnight. You don’t feel like an asshole for writing this.
I just thought it was funny that I ate a lot. That’s what dudes do, right? We drink, we eat, and we treat women like shit. DUDES!
I would tell people that if they ever did a Behind the Music-type special on me, it would be the lamest one ever. Instead of a heroin or a crack addiction, it would just be me on the road after a gig, naked in a bathtub, surrounded by stuffed crust pizza boxes sobbing into my phone, “YOU DON’T KNOW ME!”
Even after I admitted this I thought to myself that there was no fucking way it was true. I was just looking for attention or trying to lose weight. So I told my family, expecting shock and horror and instead got a whole lot of, “Ohhhhh. Yeah, that totally makes sense.” Fuck. Then I got sad. Then I wanted to eat EVERYTHING.
My sister, being the organized one of the kids, even sent me two online quizzes to take. One was for AA, and one for Overeaters Anonymous. I thought: “Here it is. Time to get called on my bullshit. Overeaters Anonymous? Really, Steph?”
TURNS OUT, I was in the 90th percentile for both. I haven’t been in the 90th percentile for fucking anything. Ever. I dropped out of high school with an average grade of 22. And I didn’t go to some hippy school with a weird grading system. THAT WAS A 22 OUT OF 100. But an eating disorders with a drinking problem? Passed with flying colors. No willpower and crippling addiction? A. Fucking. Plus.
I didn’t know what to think. Alcoholism I kind of saw coming since I was younger, but an eating disorder as a guy is almost unheard of — publicly, anyway. With alcoholism, there is something sort of tough-guy about it. It means I have stories. That I’ve lived, right? As a man with an eating disorder people just think, “Oh, so you’re gay?”
First of all: I’m effeminate.
Second of all: “You think I look gay? Thank you!”
Sorry. I’m back.
You feel alone. You feel hungry. You feel like your problems aren’t real, so you don’t fix them. Then, you feel full. Like, so fucking full. Then you hate yourself. Then you hate yourself for hating yourself. Then you eat. Then you feel sick. Like, so fucking sick. Then you start planning your next healthy meal to make up for the sickness. Then you think, well I already fucked up today, how about one last huge meal? Actually, it’s Friday. One more huge weekend! Like, so fucking huge. Then Monday happens. Ready to get back on track, but now you have a headache from sugar withdrawal. It’s like Trainspotting, but with carbs. You feel dumb again. Like, so fucking dumb.
This is your life.
I’m writing this for everyone who struggles with addiction, but I really want men with eating disorders (diagnosed and undiagnosed) to read this. And I really want young men to read this.
I want you to know it’s going to be okay. You aren’t dumb. You have a problem. And there is nothing tough about suffering in silence.
These faux macho idiot guys that would make fun of you for admitting you have a problem? These are the guys who are too chicken shit to face their own bullshit— that see self-care as weakness. And you can bask in knowing that it will all their bullshit will erupt when they hit 40.
We all have addictions. We all have obsessions. We all have things that get in the way of us living our lives. But the point of life is to fix these things. To be great. To improve every day. I learned that these addictions were weighing me down to the point where I felt buried alive. Fuck that. Fuck letting outside bullshit control you. You’re stronger than that. You think a fucking bottle, or a fucking dessert is going to ruin you? You’re gonna give in to those giant corporations that profit on you hating yourself? Fuck no.
You may slip up. We all slip up, but once you admit you have a problem, you have a new agenda: to get healthy. To be better. You will find other loves. You will find healthy food that makes you stronger. You will stop when you’re full. You will see your old self in the shadow of the drunk guy puking his guts out. You will walk away. You are a goddamn superhero. You will help others. You will never be sick again. You will stop hating yourself, and you will be proud.
Jamie Kilstein is a comedian, co-host of daily political podcast Citizen Radio, and has burned too many bridges. He tweets at @JamieKilstein.
Image by Jim Cooke.