“Rock bottom” is a phrase usually applied to alcoholism and describes the point at which one recognizes they have no choice but to get sober or die. Say, for instance, you started your night the usual way with five or six shots of Cuervo and then instead of going to your normal honkytonk bar, you border hopped to Juarez. Most of the experience is a blur followed by a blackout. You remember drinking aguardiente with a fellow who had a straw hat and a golden star lodged in his tooth. And then there was some dare that involved touching a scorpion that supposedly had the venom removed from his stinger (your Spanish isn’t great, but that’s the gist you got).

Pieces of the film that is your memory are missing, but there’s a fragment with a scene of you drinking beer foam spilled into an ashtray, as lustily as if it were champagne in a beautiful woman’s shoe. Next, you wake up in a motel bathroom in a tub ringed with a coat of green mold no pumice can touch, and your lower back is throbbing. You reflexively try to feel your side to locate the source of the pain, but your hand won’t cooperate, as it’s cuffed to the hot water tap. Still, if you strain, you can almost discern the outline of a butterfly bandage and staple stitches left in a kidney shape upon your lower back.

Rock bottom.

I never drank, but I used to eat to excess. To give you an idea of how much I ate, when I got out of the Army, I weighed roughly 165 pounds. After two surgeries and mountains of orange chicken and milkshakes topped in whipped cream, I weighed 267 lbs.

What was my ultimate fat man moment, you ask? I had some bad days. One time, I got popcorn shrimp at a Long John Silver’s drive-thru, and, while eating and driving, dropped a dollop of tartar sauce between driver and passenger seat and then used my cupholder as an impromptu dip holder.

There’s another not so fond memory that forces its way to the fore of my mind now. This was a few days after I broke up with my girlfriend and found myself alone celebrating my regained bachelorhood (translation: masturbating a lot and crying). This day in question, after consuming twelve hot wings and searching vainly for napkins, I wiped my hot sauce-slicked hands (and lips) on a pair of my ex’s cotton panties wrangled from the dirty laundry hamper. Was that my lowest moment?

Sadly, no.

I can’t remember the exact date (or my exact weight), but my low point had to have been during graduate school, that time spent squandering my G.I. Bill money on a college degree I rarely use. Like every student, I took some electives, and like many with soft majors, I searched for the most entertaining/least demanding courses.

I ended up in one on human sexuality taught by a feminist professor who I respected and with whom I got along quite well, even though she’d want me chemically castrated if she knew my politics or private thoughts.

I can’t remember the exact name of the course she taught, or even what she hoped to accomplish with the course. I just know that we watched a lot of porn and other sexually transgressive material in her class. To give you an idea of the tenor of things, we saw a film in which a woman was raped, another in which a woman had her vagina sewn shut (!), and worst of all, some movie by the director Larry Clark.

My own presentation was on the subject of “Female Gaze as a Counter-Scopophilia to the Phallologocentric Gaze.” I got to include an image of a woman pegging a man (Google it) in my PowerPoint presentation, which is a boast not everyone with a postsecondary education can make.

One night, this professor had a party at her house for the grad students, most of whom were female or the sort of sloop-shouldered, mild-mannered males who get degrees in women’s studies. I may have been the only language major. I was definitely the only veteran of our patriarchal neocolonialist ventures overseas. And I say that only half-ironically, as I would rather hang out with the most strident blue-haired lesbian feminist that a career Army officer.

For the party, we were each asked to bring an item. One Indian student, a medical doctor going back to college, agreed to bring naan. Someone else brought beer. I agreed to get cake and shortbread Linzer cookies dusted with powdered sugar.

I decided I should get an erotic cake because the course was on human sexuality. I can’t remember exactly where or how I hit on this inspired idea, but I nursed it for a few days before going through with it. I even researched the subject a bit, its history and all of the colorful options. Some of the designs were quite creative: the comical carrot cake cocks platted in chocolate and intricate floral patterns done in bright pink to better resemble vulvas.

Because I live in a fairly conservative city, I ended up having to go to a sort of semi-clandestine operation run from the basement of some larger mainstream bakery. The design was a basic one of a female body. It was bowed and curved like a guitar, with something like black licorice icing for the pubic hair and little red cherry-like confectionary rosebuds for nipples. The flesh-colored glaze on top gave the sponge cake body a weirdly bronzed look, as if the headless woman had been sun-tanning.

The night of the party, I went to my professor’s house with the cake, cookies, and my little terrier Tiffy in tow.

I found my professor’s place, a redbrick house at the top of a steep hill that, like the woman, had a unique charm. Evergreen ivy scaled the sides of the house, and there were lawn ornaments in the yard, gnomes and strange steel marbles, stone bird baths with satyrs pitched on their edges. Just before getting out of the car and grabbing my desserts, a small voice inside of me spoke in a silent but still emphatic fashion. Stop, the voice said. Don’t bring that cake inside that house. Take the cookies and keep walking.

But, I said, perhaps a bit naively, maybe even a little self-righteously, why should I worry about offending these people? I spent a year in Iraq to get my G.I. Bill (on top of getting student loans that will haunt me for the rest of my life) to get a useless degree just to keep the corrupt beast that is American higher education afloat. And in return, I’m watching a woman get her vagina sewn shut! Why the hell should I worry about offending the frail sensibilities of these people?!

The question pretty much answered itself while I stood there. Yes, the class was a self-indulgent waste of time, more than a touch decadent, and even a little degenerate. And any of the female students (or the male Indian doctor) could have gotten away with bringing the cake to the party, and would have probably even been thanked for it and complimented on their imaginative irreverence.

But I was a white male, and like a young boxer in the gym who’s learned his moves and hankers to fight, these girls who’d been taught I was the source of all their problems were ready to put their training to use. I didn’t want to give anyone the chance to be offended, or to get micro-aggressed against. And if I brought the cake, they would have their excuse.

Discretion was the better part of valor that night. I left the cake in the car and brought the cookies to the party. The affair was mostly uneventful. At one point, Tiffy scared my professor’s Siamese cat until it fled to a safe perch on top of the refrigerator, where it watched my terrier eat its dry food from the dish. I can’t remember the exact conversation that followed as we observed my dog eat and my professor’s cat look helplessly on. But I do at least remember that the Indian doctor waxed philosophical about the Foucauldian power dynamics of a dog feasting on a cat’s food while the cat could do nothing but watch.

Later that night after the party, I found myself driving home and thinking about that cake in the backseat.

It was only flour, sugar, icing. But it weighed down the back of the car as heavily as a body in the trunk while driving through a police checkpoint.

I’ll just have a piece tonight, I said to myself, and slowly work my way through the cake over the next two or three days.

But as soon as I thought about the cake, one moist slice, the rich scent of sugary sprinkles, I knew that I was about to enter the abyss. Tiffy seemed to sense that some sort of gustatory decadence was afoot, for she moved in circles in the car, as she always did when really excited, either preparatory to finding a ball or peeing. (Incidentally, she did actually pee on my professor’s rug, but the prof was a very good sport and if she’s reading this, I apologize once again.)

We went in the house, me quivering like an addict about to satisfy a screaming urge, Tiffy like a chihuahua with dementia praecox.

I carried the cake inside, reached in the fridge for a gallon of milk, grabbed a fork from the drawer, and marched upstairs with all the accoutrements of a bona fide glutton in tow.

I think I put on The Simpsons, though I can’t quite remember.

I like to have the TV going while I eat. It’s a mind-numbing narcotic that keeps me from thinking too much about what I’m doing. Usually I turn on the boob tube to stun my synapses and conscience, much as a mosquito releases an analgesic preparatory to sucking blood. And watching TV distracts me from counting calories or pondering exactly what emotions I’m numbing with my shameful gorging.

I ate that cake alone, with a little help from Tiffy. I pigged out, demolishing the sweet icing, savoring the velvety soft flour, crunching vanilla extract-laced sprinkles between my molars to a fine sugary sand I savored like a last meal. I soared like a manic depressive at his apex, buzzing off my sugar high and then fortifying myself with milk that quenched some kind of primal, needy infantile hole in the center of my being. No mewling baby ever sucked milk as greedily from his mother’s nipple as I did from that plastic font around which I wrapped my lips. Shame and regret would soon follow. But I knew, much like Baudelaire, that if the ecstasy of the moment were intense enough, it would be worth it to suffer the eternal torments of Hell, or at least a kind of post-coital torpor and acid reflux.

At one point, I lost a piece of a cherry nipple from the tine of my fork. Tiffy quickly scooped up it from the floor after scenting it out like a pig on the hunt for truffles. I watched my dog devour the ersatz nipple while I licked the black licorice pubic hair from between my teeth and reached once more for my half-drained gallon of chilled milk. I stifled the first burp but couldn’t contain the second.

And that, my friends, was this fat man’s rock bottom.

I’m happy to report I’m down to about 185 pounds now. The cake still calls, but I no longer heed.

And I apologize to anyone who’s read this far for relating perhaps the second most traumatic story in the history of fatness, after the sad saga of Jared from Subway.