Right. This is where it gets a bit emo, so I’m just going to type it all in some kind of stream of consciousness BLAH style and go back later to tidy up the typos. I have to get this one started as I’m starting to dream about Husband #2 and ‘L’ for reasons you’ll discover…all in good time!
So I moved back to Ipswich, back in with my parents, and I may as well have turned 15 again. I hadn’t dealt with my feelings about my parents and growing up, I was still pretty fricking immature really, and I reverted to behaving like a stroppy teenager. This situation was exacerbated by the fact that my parents didn’t like my boyfriend. They thought it was too soon after Husband #1. We’d been ‘separated’ five months but OK, to be fair it looked bad as I was seeing him less than a week after moving out of the marital home. Never mind that a few days later I was legally single again as the divorce came through in August 1996. So, I was fed up, temping in a badly paid job, living with my parents and had a boyfriend who lived in the next county. Sounds depressingly familiar. I spent a lot of time in my bedroom, eating like it was 1989.
With my parents’ disapproval spurring me on like a rebellious teenager, I spent hours in phone boxes talking to him, writing letters and seeing him as often as I could. The more they tried to keep us apart the more I dug my heels in. It was good to start with anyway; we had a good time together and he actually seemed to have me up on some kind of ‘older woman’ pedestal. His family were OK so I went to stay with his parents a lot, and with cooperative friends who took pity on us like we were some kind of 1990s Cathy and Heathcliffe.
The weight stacked on, and after a particularly gluttonous Christmas and a New Year spent in Loughborough drinking with an old schoolfriend, I was well into my size 16s again. I was planning to move in with an ex-workmate in January 1997 so I just figured I’d join Weight Watchers in the new year, as they had a free membership offer on.
Just before Christmas, I’d started work for Ipswich Trading Standards. This job, which I’d thought would be just like the job I’d loved so much in Cambridge, was meant to be the start of settling down again. I’d have a permanent job, I could get a house (this was the 90s, remember, it was easy back then) and I wouldn’t be at the mercy of parental dictats or a badly paid job.
Ha bloody ha. So I moved in with the workmate from my temping job, who expressly made a point of selling me the idea by saying H #2 could stay whenever he wanted. So he did. And she made it very clear that she didn’t actually want him there after all. Or me, to be fair. She’d asked me to move in because she wanted help paying her mortgage but in all honesty she hated sharing the house with me and I was looking for a house of my own within two months.
I joined Weightwatchers in January 1997 but soon found every excuse possible not to go to meetings. I was back to well over 12 stone again by then. Not exactly ‘Big Body Squad’ material but still bigger than I’d been for a couple of years. I put it down to enjoying alcohol and going out to eat a bit too much but in all honesty, there was some pigging out going on if I ever got the house to myself. I didn’t very often, which saved me from going too mad. I lost sod all though, of course, and gave Weightwatchers up as a bad idea very soon. All that point counting had just added to calories, Syns and Fat Units in my daily battle against myself. I didn’t like what I saw in the mirror but wasn’t sufficiently bothered enough to diet very often. After all, my 20 year old boyfriend liked me as I was.
So…how come I got really fat? Well it started in 1997. My line manager was a woman I’ll call ‘V’, a frustrated and really quite bitter ex-dancer and model who was getting close to 60 and was exceptionally jealous of any woman cleverer than her. Which to be fair was most of the women in the office who had got there through merit and qualification rather than knowing someone. She was incredibly thin, and looked at chubby ol’ me with disdain. To start with, she didn’t pick on me, because she was already bullying another girl, but when her victim left after being signed off for months with depression, there were two girls left to choose from, and I made the schoolgirl error of not siding with V against the other girl. The other girl realised she was better off on the boss’ side and before I knew it, I was the Chosen One.
I don’t know why V felt the need to try and undermine me at every turn, but she did. She had an obnoxious habit of calling me into the office at every given opportunity for some minor transgression or another and making me feel permanently on edge. She’d tell me I’d done something wrong when I patently hadn’t and everyone else knew I hadn’t. She’d change the letters I’d written before they were sent out, just because she had to make a point, and usually made some really bad spelling or grammar error that I’d change back and hope she wouldn’t notice. Not only that, but she commented on my weight, remarking on what I ate and asking whether I was “still on a diet.” During one humiliating episode, V and the other girl ganged up on me in front of everyone else and started interrogating me about my diet, which culminated in one of them actually asking me, “So, Sarah, how much DO you actually weigh now?” – I remember the other girl, who’d been chubby herself, saying, “You must weigh more than me now?” I was mortified.
It was hell. By now I’d bought my first house, a gorgeous Victorian terraced house with three bedrooms, and had a lodger. She was the sister of a really good friend and we got along well. The truth was that even with a £32,000 mortgage I was struggling a bit. When I walked out of my first marriage I took hardly anything, used the money I got from him buying me out as a deposit on my house and had to start from scratch. On a salary of about £13K. I was being bombarded with cheap credit offers and I had a house with three bedrooms, two reception rooms and no furniture. To compound everything I was getting into debt and I’d also find myself buying ‘little things’ to cheer myself up. A book here, a nail polish there…
…and food. My lodger, who was lovely, was also away a lot. I was completely free most nights to stuff my face with anything I wanted, and so I did. In between buying diet books and rejoining Weightwatchers and Slimming World, which had relaxed its rules and now let you have fruit all day too for ‘free’, I also signed up for an online ‘Weight Loss Consultant’ course. Yes, really. And I passed it with flying colours as my arse got bigger. I’d feast on fish finger sandwiches and potato waffle sandwiches late at night, biscuits, Chinese from the place down the road, you name it.
Husband #2 moved in with me in 1998. We had a HUGE argument about my money situation which he accused me of lying to him about. My argument was that I had no need to tell him about it, until he decided to move in with me. It didn’t put him off enough to move back OUT, of course. Well why would he, he had a ready made home to move into that someone else had bought and kitted out, and he could go from one Mummy to another…
Over the course of 1997-98 I developed the worst habit possible; I would start every day telling myself I was going to diet, but by the time I got to Sainsburys on my way to work, I would be in such a foul mood that I’d forget all about it and find myself in the supermarket buying crisps, biscuits, cakes, pork pies, all junk food. It was disgusting. I’d hide them all in my drawer at work and eat my way through them during the day. Sometimes I’d go out and get more at lunchtime, too. Then, I’d be so disgusted with myself because I’d done it again that I’d force myself to take the stash home and finish it before H#2 got home from work. I’d make myself feel sick, telling myself that if I made myself feel crap (again) I wouldn’t do it tomorrow, and that I deserved it for having no self control. I was punishing myself on a daily basis. I’d often pick up a magazine on my way home, telling myself the images of slim, beautiful women would inspire me. Did they b*ll*cks!!??
I hated myself by now. I was over 13 stone at the start of 1998, and back at Weightwatchers. I even tried kickboxing with a friend, but when we got to the bit where I had to actually hit someone, I wussed out. I had to hold on to the bathroom walls as I lowered myself onto the loo for about three days after my first session, I didn’t think anything could hurt so much!
I joined the local authority gym and went for a while…I actually didn’t mind it, and when I had been getting on with the other girl in the office, before she turned into a bitch, we went swimming together. I will always remember the time I was in the middle of doing ab crunches with my arse in the air, and as I looked through my legs at the person walking past, caught sight of one of my biggest school crushes. Bugger! He said hi, and grinned at me. There wasn’t a lot I could do other than grin back.
It was around the summer of 1998 that I realised I had an *actual* problem. And turned myself into a professional victim…