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Cody Gauthier’s Eating Disorder Story of Recovery

Cody Gauthier ImageMy name is Cody Gauthier, and the story of my recovery from a significant Eating Disorder, NOS (chew/spit) began long before thoughts pervaded, the behaviors dictated, and hope for a normal life was lost.

My story began in early childhood, five or six years old, and maybe the only time I trusted my body to send hunger signals to my brain in an adaptive way, rather than distorted.

In these early years, I couldn’t be bothered with nutrition labels, calories in versus calories out, and macronutrients. As a son of a working family, the responsibility of care was passed to my eternally loving French Canadian Memere.

This meant candy bowls at every end table, cabinets fully stocked with chips, crackers, and really any other fat and carb laden item in the dollar tree sweets section. Heaviness is in my genes, or at least, the development of that figure is inevitable, and so to was that inevitability for me.

I remember after the summer of 6th grade, at the young age of 12 years old, I stepped on the scale before showering one morning and weighed 198.2 pounds. At the time, I thought nothing of it, perhaps silently celebrating and conspiring with the notion that under 200 pounds was a moral victory.

The years that followed were filled with anguish, direct blows to my self-esteem, and another 10 pounds of emotionally compiled bullying from peers at a school where everybody knew who the targets were.

As anyone with an eating disorder knows, our relationship with food should have its own Facebook status symbol. That is because “it’s complicated” does not do it justice.

I would eat for emotional comfort, detachment, numbing, pleasure, reward, compensation, and punishment. Never for survival. Another fundamental truth of eating disorders is that they transform and are chameleons of its host’s psychological development.

As time moved forward, I lost weight through high school, and as my insecurities shifted, so to did the disordered behavior. No longer was I fat with a defense of self-deprecation. In my weight loss, I had traded that defense away for a much more formidable one, and that was intense self-judgment and body dysmorphia.

At one point in senior year of high school, I was 140 pounds, was the second fastest endurance runner on my soccer team, and had accidentally adopted a keto diet before it became famous. Still, my eating disorder brain was not satisfied.

I would look at facebook photos of my shaved haircut and large dimples as an overt sign of fatness. My once broad torso had slimmed down to a 31 waist size. Yet still, I wore sweatpants and baggy sweatshirts to cover the fat only I thought I had. However, where my story takes a dramatic turn is when I got to college.

The external comparisons of muscle strength and aesthetic points shifted my addiction to exercise. This is where I spent countless hours risking injury at the squat bar while keeping steady with my dangerously low calorie intake. This obsession permeated into my social life and academics; as I would often turn down the request for eating with friends to eat alone.

I never understood that eating in isolation was my way of protecting the disorder. I was the master of excuses and adapted those same excuses for excessive amounts of exercise at the cost of going out with friends.

On the nights that I did go out, I was a train wreck. It was as if my unconscious plotted its revenge through inebriation. With each drink, the cravings deepened until the devils of my past sent me spiraling into a binge.

These devils represented every cake, cookie, chip, and pizza I had denied myself all week, thus perpetuating the cycle of compensatory behavior and shame. I mentally started from square one over 1,000 times.

Not once did I question the conductor of the train that consistently sent me flying off the tracks. Come to find out, I never understood that I was on the wrong set of tracks the whole time.

The final evolution of my eating disorder proved the most destructive. I remember the day like it was yesterday. I had just finished an intense lifting session and had gone to the dining commons to steal a sandwich wrap to put in my Tupperware container with the steamed vegetables and a peanut butter cookie that I kept in there.

The trick was that I would always save the cookies and then binge on them when I was drunk. It had become a conscious bet that I made with myself each week that I ultimately lost, except this time, I ate the cookie.

What happened after sets the stage for the next 3 years. After experiencing a tidal wave of shame, I spit the cookie out. What was left was the rush of dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine, and the intense craving for more but without the consequences of swallowing.

From that moment on, I slowly began what is called in the Psychiatric community as Eating Disorder, NOS (chew/spit type). At that time, I thought I had cracked the code. I was a Psychology major in college and could find no fine print that pathologized me at the time. So, I went with it.

Each day was spent stockpiling my food and methodically finding reasons to walk, drive, and hide to eat and spit my food whenever I craved anything. I was ecstatic at first, and to be quite honest, relieved.

I thought I had solved all of my problems, and for 2 years, I don’t remember feeling all that much shame. Of course, disordered thoughts still lingered, and my self-esteem was at an all-time low.

I was never satisfied with my body. None of the extreme diets I tried worked, and I was creating a significant strain on the relationships with my friends and family. Luckily, I still had my cheat code in the shape of a Ziploc bag or an empty styrofoam cup.

The day that my prefrontal cortex took hold and shifted me into contemplation about this destructive pattern was a few days after a breakup that, at the time, shocked me. I had been blindsided. Little did I know that much of the concerns my partner had were in direct correlation to the ways that I hid my disorder and clung to my deepest insecurities.

I made myself unavailable in service of my secrets, and although that realization didn’t come all at once, the first wave knocked me off my feet. So, what do we do once we’ve been knocked off our distorted equilibrium?

In my case, I plunged deeper into denial, isolating whenever I could to seek comfort in food. The only sacred moments I had were in service to the clients I treated in my two-year graduate internships. Never once did the most hideous of my behaviors leak into my work, although the thoughts pervaded heavily.

I remember clearly experiencing what the therapeutic community calls “countertransference,” which means my feelings were getting in the way of my work and posed harm to the client and myself. This often happened with clients struggling with addictive behaviors, eating disorders, and fundamental issues that had to do with a loss of control.

Not only could I empathize, but I was also tempted to try and recover alongside them. I yearned for the same insight I was giving my clients, and ultimately, it took an attentive and bold mentor to analyze my insecurities and give me the feedback that forever stung my core.

This mentor recommended I seek treatment from a prominent psychoanalyst to process the etiology of my need for control. Of course, this mentor had no idea where or how “control” invaded my every thought and behavior, but he had a hunch. Naturally, I cocooned in denial and ultimately transformed again; this time, 3,000 miles away.

I had, at this point, finished my master’s degree and was ready to start my new life in California, where success came quickly. One aspect of this story that I am grateful for is that this disorder never killed my ambition.

Although it may have dampened my skill, I always had confidence in my ability to build a deep connection with clients and provide compassionate care. I still am not sure if it was the confluence of homesickness, deeply rooted insecurity, an exacerbation of chewing and spitting that could not be ignored.

Maybe it was the fact that I had come face to face with the fact that no amount of success would fill the hole I had carved out for this disorder. I may never know, but in February of 2019, I entered therapy for the first time.

For those of you who have read this far, I leave out a lot about my personality, but I am an extrovert, a giver, and generally speaking, a kind and humble soul. With that said, I am stubborn!

So, the process of entering therapy and respecting the poor soul who sat in the chair to which I am so accustomed to sitting in was a nightmare. I began this experience cautiously pessimistic and left the first session pleasantly optimistic.

Who knew talking about yourself for an hour would be cathartic??!! Anyway, the next month was illuminating, and each week was building off the other, as I came face to face with the demons of my past.

This story could have only been told through the insight I gained in the therapy space, and for that, I am grateful. The tricky part about insight, however, is that initially, it causes significant pain. This is why I often tell my clients that symptoms will get worse before they get better.

Each week was a slog, every decision a chore, and each failure an exclamation point to what my brain had already deemed a white flag of a disorder I could not conquer. Each week I would ultimately binge and spit.

I reframed each binge and spit session as “my last time ever,” that is until a few days later when it would happen all over again. I had created so many fake escape routes that I never had once looked inward for refuge.

The final act of this crushing period in time was laced with opportunity, successes, intense failures, and a secret so significant that I had exhausted all avenues in keeping it concealed. What I’ve come to notice is that the time that this eating disorder has taken away from my productivity has no bounds.

I can’t quantify it, yet, my heart grieves all the hours of connections lost, ambitions, stifled, and joy stolen. Yet, the most illuminating insight I’ve now come to internalize is the fleeting nature of my “recovery voice.”

Some days, the voice of the reprieved is awakened, my self-compassion restored, my heart full. These days are filled with what Addiction professionals would call healthy sublimation; a substitute of vices that cleanse the soul rather than decay it.

A level of calm and instinctual assurance that gently guides me through my day, offering kind-hearted wisdom in the form of a walk by my favorite pond, or the decadence of a gelato by the pier. In the throws of this confounding disorder, these days acted as a peace offering, only to be stolen back by the unrelenting grip of shame, fear, and a profound loss of control.

My eating disordered brain did what it was trained to do; it recorrected. But to where to correct? In that question lies the gravest of insights. I never had a destination. It’s as if I started the car with recovery being my destination, yet, I forgot to turn on the GPS.

I never asked anyone for directions. I didn’t understand the traffic patterns, and couldn’t remember the name of the street where recovery lived. That insight alone punctured a large hole into what my eating disorder brain told me was the trial and error process of my life.

With no navigation, I was helpless to ED’s commands. Through what I can now finally admit was an equal dose of courage and humbling myself to my need for guidance, I begrudgingly let my therapist into the passenger seat and asked for directions.

Now, like any working relationship, especially between a stubborn young therapist in need and a wiser healer, I wasn’t easy. Often times, I’d be pointed in the right direction only to stop the car and turn around.

Other times, I’d leave therapy excited to turn the navigation system on and punch in the address of my recovery, only to instead punch in the digits to the nearest McDonald’s. The final months of my active eating disorder was a battle of diametrically opposing core beliefs.

In stories or memoirs of those who struggle with addiction, which often times I compare to my eating disorder, there is a fundamental turning point that sets the wheels of recovery in motion. For me, this turning point came in the form of vulnerability in telling my story.

Even as I got better, I was still concealing a dark secret, and as long as it remained hidden, it still had plenty of power. I was overwhelmed with even the notion of telling my closest loved ones. I was deathly afraid of the cataclysmic shift in perception if they were to find out that the image they had of me would be shattered.

I had built up so much social capital in the eyes of my colleagues, friends, and loved ones that I was genuinely terrified of what lies behind the mask of the successful outward persona that I worked so hard to create.

My first confession came to my Mom, who as I expected, had seen the writing on the wall and was immensely supportive, although she didn’t understand the etiology of my struggles. As I look back, it never mattered whether or not people truly understood what I had gone through, as long as they met me where I was in feeling alongside me as I told my story.

I truly underestimated the power of empathy from the people we love the most, and it’s become a staple of my recovery to trust in the power of empathic connection as a way to bridge any experiential gap.

With each confession, I restored power to an inner voice that had been silenced long ago. This voice encapsulated authenticity, openness, honesty with self and others, and self-compassion.

The status quo of my recovery is no longer subjugated by external forces, day to day anxiety, and commanding swings of emotion. Instead, my version of recovery is moment-to-moment. I was once asked by my therapist why I conjure up so many decisions in my day-to-day life.

These decisions doomed me because they centered around food, restriction, compensation, and guilt. I estimated more than 100 decisions a day went into the maintenance of my disordered habits, thus, dismantling any semblance of equilibrium.

Slowly, I’ve surrendered control to my body and let it finally serve its natural function. Admittedly, some days are exceedingly difficult. Our brains are malleable, but destructive patterns and triggers don’t quickly die.

With that said, my story of recovery is moment-to-moment, no longer all or nothing. I’ve truly learned to appreciate my body and its signals that we often take for granted.

I celebrate the small successes, whether that be a productive day free of rumination, or forgive for the days when my urge to binge is inescapable. What’s kept me vigilant is my keen understanding of the work that goes into maintaining these new insights, habits, and building off each day.

Through this process, I’ve relinquished much of what I thought I needed to survive in my disorder. I’ve chosen walks over sprints, stretches over powerlifting, and compassion over control.

I’d like to end by being honest about a few things. I’ve read many recovery articles, each one giving me new insights and pointing me into the direction of what I thought at the time was my last binge.

I’ve also read articles that have sent me spiraling as if my heart collapsed and my mind retreated from the daunting task of recovery. There is no one size fits all with recovery. I wish there were.

It would save us plenty of heartaches if our darkest secrets fit together perfectly like a puzzle, rather than an unsolved Rubix cube. The only wisdom I bring is one of vulnerability and a belief that healing starts when we decide that an unexamined life is a life that is not worth living.

I fought this alone for years, and while I don’t live with regret, I mourn for the younger versions of myself that felt as though he had nobody or nowhere to turn. That is simply and unequivocally not true, and I wish for all of you that you find that out quicker than I did.

You deserve it. It is with that backdrop that I’ve begun public speaking and spreading the message that is outlined in this article. With each group I speak to, I am filled with gratitude and reminded of how powerful storytelling can be if done in the service of others.

What I did not expect was how much insight, knowledge, and wisdom I would gain from connecting with others, and for that, I will always be eternally thankful.

Thank you,

Cody


About the Author:

Cody Gauthier ImageCody Gauthier

Therapist, Writer, Professor of Psychology and Addictions, and Men’s Mental Health Speaker Cody Gauthier has dedicated his time to advocating for those who struggle to advocate for themselves. As a speaker, Cody draws from both professional practice and unique personal experience to bring light to topics in the Men’s Mental Health Community that are often minimized and silenced.

Cody is passionate about finding creative ways to tap into the audience’s ability to empathize through analogy and empower through story-telling. Cody is available for: Interviews, Podcasts, keynotes, guest speaking, small events, and tailored presentations.

Learning Objectives Include: Mental health awareness, advocacy, hidden symptomology, empathic engagement, positive coping, and recovery.

MAJOR SPEAKING ENGAGEMENTS

  • SPEAKER AND PRESENTER OF “COMPASSIONATE IT” EVENT AT MARYMOUNT CALIFORNIA UNIVERSITY CENTERING AROUND COMPASSIONATE CARE IN RECOVERY
  • SPEAKER AT ST. JOES HOSPITAL PRESENTING ON MEN’S MENTAL HEALTH AND STIGMA
  • SPEAKER AT EAST LA COLLEGE PRESENTING ON MENTAL HEALTH/ADDICTION IN MALE POPULATION AND RECOVERY THROUGH CONNECTION

Presentation #1: Being Caught in the Spin Cycle

Through this hour-long storytelling and presentation, attendees will learn about the antecedents to the most prominent Men’s Mental Health issue, the way we filter judgment and harbor self-criticism and comparison, why “real men” get a bad rap, and leave with a sense of understanding and compassion for self and others. Cody shares his recovery from co-occurring mental illness and eating disorder to demonstrate that you can be both high functioning in all aspects of your life, while also feeling trapped in the spin cycle of destructive and self-defeating behaviors.

His insight through practice and personal turmoil has helped drive this story of recovery. His story applies to all middle, high school, and college-aged students and his message reverberates across age groups, gender, and cultural background. In his story, Cody details the trials of being a college student and a professional in the field while experiencing mental health challenges discovering recovery. This powerful presentation is followed by a Q&A.

Cody also works as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker at South Bay Child and Family Therapy in Hermosa Beach, CA where he specialized in Adolescent and Young Adult Mental Health Services. Contact Cody at [email protected]


The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Reviewed & Approved on June 14, 2019, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC
Published June 14, 2019, on EatingDisorderHope.com

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