book reviews, mental health, narcissists, psychology

A review of Fullness: A Memoir, by Azure Moyna…

This morning, I did something I haven’t been able to do in a long time. I read an entire book in one sitting. Amazon.com tells me I downloaded Azure Moyna’s 2020 book, Fullness: A Memoir, in April of this year. But I only just got around to reading it. I started reading it a few days ago, but fell asleep before I got through the first chapter. That’s not because of the writing, but more because, lately, I tend to fall asleep when I try to read.

I woke up at about 3:30am this morning, partly because I needed to use the bathroom, and partly because I’ve been upset about a few things. I tried to go back to sleep, but couldn’t. So I started reading Moyna’s story about her issues with compulsive overeating disorder. I soon realized it was one I could relate to on many levels. I kept reading and, six and a half hours later, I was finished with the book. I found it very compelling and well-written.

Who is Azure Moyna?

Azure Moyna grew up in the 1990s in the Bay Area of California. She has a younger brother named Jake, and until she was twelve years old, Azure’s parents were unhappily married. In descriptive, engaging prose, Azure describes the hell of being raised by her parents. Azure’s mother is described as manipulative and neglectful, the victim of domestic violence perpetrated by Azure’s father. Azure’s father is described as super intelligent, the recipient of dual doctorates in engineering. He was also the worst kind of bastard– an alcoholic, malignant narcissist who treated his ex wife and children with utter contempt. As a child, Azure and Jake were sent to “watch TV” while Azure’s father beat the shit out of her mother. Meanwhile, Azure’s father would say the most vulgar, demeaning, insulting things to his family members, especially Azure, who struggled with her weight from an early age.

Making matters worse was the fact that Azure’s mom and brother were able to eat whatever they wanted and stay thin naturally. But Azure took after her father, a man who had once been fat, but somehow lost the extra weight. Azure was never able to get thin enough, in spite of dieting and exercising. She had an addiction to food, and would eat to soothe herself after witnessing the horrific abuse her father perpetrated toward her brother and mother, or experiencing it herself. She was constantly shamed, belittled, and humiliated by her father, who would buttress his abuse with threats against her life. Once, when she was a child, police officers came to Azure’s school to ask her about her homelife, as Jake had told a mandated reporter that he was being abused. When the cops asked Azure about her experiences at home, she lied to them. They knew she was lying, but she wouldn’t crack and tell on her father. The risks were too great.

Because of her weight– and probably because she lived in California– Azure experienced a number of truly mortifying incidents due to being “fat”. As someone who has also struggled with my weight, I could relate to her pain, although mercifully, I was never treated nearly as badly as she was. What made things especially bad was that she would get horrifying comments from total strangers or people she was paying for services. She never mentions what her highest weight was, although she does mention a few sizes. Again, I’m sure that because she was living in California, where people seem to be especially concerned about their body images, it was probably much worse than it might have been somewhere else.

In spite of being fat, Azure managed to marry a nice man named Sean. Sean is cute, of Filipino heritage, and Azure says people couldn’t believe she was married to him, because he was good looking. I relate to that commentary, as a couple of my relatives told me that they were surprised by how cute Bill is. Pro tip– that is a really shitty thing to say to someone. Although he’s straightened out by the time Azure connects with him, Sean has a history of abusing drugs and was once in a car accident that almost took his life. He had been driving under the influence. Apparently, that brush with death prompted Sean to ditch drugs, although he does continue to drink alcohol.

The book’s format

Azure Moyna titles each chapter of Fullness with a food that has caused her significant angst in one way or another. The chapters are short and engaging, with a story involving the chapters food title. The stories are set at different times in Azure’s life, childhood, adolescence, or early adulthood, with some vignettes flashing back to earlier times. For example, in a chapter titled “Mr. Goodbar”, Azure relates the heartbreaking story of visiting her grandmother’s house and not being allowed to enjoy the treats freely offered to her brother. Grandma, who is petite, tells Azure that she doesn’t take after her side of the family, and she should stop complaining and enjoy a piece of grapefruit while Jake eats donuts.

The family then goes to Sizzler, where Azure’s cousins and uncle make fun of a morbidly obese woman they see carrying a full plate of food. They warn Azure that she will suffer the same fate if she doesn’t lose weight. After the humiliating dinner, which Azure wasn’t able to eat, they visit a dollar store. Azure impulsively steals a Mr. Goodbar, stuffing it into her pants and sneaking it out of the store. She eats the candy in the bathroom, hiding the wrapper in the trash. She thought she’d gotten away with it, but then her mother demands to see her clothes, where she discovers the telltale melted chocolate stains. Soon, Azure is marched back to the store to confess her crime and pay the cashier, who then lectures her about stealing in front of other customers.

Other chapters are similar, with stories that left me furious for Azure, and the many adults in her life who failed her when she was a child. She doesn’t shy away from using the language she probably heard, especially from her father, who was truly a vicious, vile, contemptible man who was good at charming people. Behind closed doors, he terrorized his daughter and abused her in so many ways. Food was the one substance that comforted her, as everyone around her treated her like she was defective and totally undesirable.

Recovery

One day, Azure learns about compulsive overeating disorder and sees herself in the symptoms. She seeks out a therapist and finds one online, a licensed counselor named Sylvie who specializes in eating disorders. Sylvie actually seems pretty competent to me, and I was surprised to read about how successful their work was, at least at first. Sylvie pushes Azure to stand up for herself and recommends antidepressants and Overeaters Anonymous (OA) meetings. Azure doesn’t agree with either of those treatment modalities.

I was a little surprised by Azure’s attitude regarding antidepressants. When I was in my 20s, I took antidepressants for several years, and once I found the right one, it was life changing for me. But according to Fullness, Azure tried one dose of Prozac and quit. I can speak from personal experience that Prozac isn’t a wonder drug for everyone. In my case, Wellbutrin was the right medicine. I’m surprised she wasn’t encouraged to try other antidepressants. I was also a little dismayed to read that she got a prescription from a family doctor instead of a psychiatrist. I think a psychiatrist would have been a lot more helpful in this instance.

As for OA, I can understand why the 12 step modality wasn’t necessarily helpful for Azure. I used to attend ACOA (Adult Children of Alcoholics) meetings, and they were only a little bit helpful for me. I also had the unfortunate experience of meeting an abusive creep in those meetings. I’ve written about that situation in this blog, so I won’t describe it again here. Suffice to say, that situation kind of turned me off of 12 step meetings.

The therapist also recommended an inpatient program, which Azure didn’t think she could do because of her job. I can understand that, as well, as the program that therapist suggested was three months in duration. However, because Azure wasn’t willing to take any of Sylvie’s recommendations, she basically got “fired” as a client. I’m sure that was very disappointing for Azure.

Overall

I found Fullness very compelling reading. Azure Moyna writes well, and her story is very relatable to a lot of Americans– especially the parts about what it’s like to be overweight in a culture that reveres thinness and encourages people to see being thin as the only measure of a person’s worth or beauty. Azure is clearly younger than I am, so she hasn’t reached that stage of life at which people stop judging her “hotness”. What seemed to really help Azure was becoming a mother and losing her father. She had spent her whole life trying to satisfy a man who would never be satisfied. It’s a shame that apparently no one told her to simply go no contact with him, because he had absolutely nothing positive to offer her. Like all narcissists, he used her and targeted her for abuse, gaining fuel by targeting his ugliness at her.

I think this book would have been stronger if Azure had written more about how she managed to overcome her problems. Most of the book is about the horrific abuse and humiliating situations she found herself in due to her dysfunctional family and her problems with food. I think a couple, or even a few, more chapters would have been useful in explaining how she got better. She is now working as a “coach” herself, but she doesn’t really offer any insight as to how she got to that place.

I just checked Amazon’s reviews. At this writing, there is a single one star review, supposedly written by her brother, who claims his real name is Ryan. He says she has maliciously maligned their family, and unfairly painted their father in a bad light. His writing is pretty poor, but if there’s any truth to what he wrote, there is obviously more to the story. I also raised my eyebrows when Azure describes herself as “HUGE” because she needs a size 16. That is not a small size, but it’s certainly not huge. But again, she lives in California, where maybe a lot of people do see size 16 as huge. I would invite Azure to go spend some time in Missouri or Mississippi, though… because the cultures there are very different.

I do think this is a very interesting book. It’s basically well-written, and some of the stories are jaw dropping. Quite a few of them pissed me off and reminded me of similar experiences I’ve had. I think a lot of readers will like this book. However, as I’m sitting here thinking about it, I think she should have written a few more chapters and included more about how she got better… and how that serves her today. It seems like a lopsided, incomplete book, even though I found it hard to put down.

On the positive side, I think it’s great that Azure Moyna has written about compulsive overeating disorder. It IS a real eating disorder that affects many people. It doesn’t get enough press. And I do think there will be a lot of people who will feel recognized by reading this book. But I also think this book could be better. On a scale of one to five stars, I think I would award four– because it was so hard to put down, and because it’s a memoir on an eating disorder that needs more coverage. I will warn that this book could be pretty triggering for some readers, especially those who can’t handle vile language and descriptions of abuse.

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8 thoughts on “A review of Fullness: A Memoir, by Azure Moyna…

  1. The obsession with weight loss and the need to be “thin” is certainly a societal problem. I would argue it’s not as bad as it was in the past- I can recall kids getting picked on and abused about their weight much more in my youth, sometimes even by their own parents! I think the internet and the body positivity movement has helped. But it is still an issue and bullying young people over their weight is still a problem; one I would love to see come to an end.

    • I agree. And I can attest that people – like my older half-sister – can drive others crazy with their fad diets and calories-counting when they’re obsessed with losing weight.

      In my half-sister’s case, it was bad because she is thinner than she needs to be. Of course, I don’t know what she looks like in 2022; I have not seen her since July of 2016, and I have not had news about her since 2020, which is when her paternal first cousin (the only one on her side of the family who stayed connected with me periodically) died unexpectedly before Halloween.

      The three times (once in Colombia, twice in Miami) when my half-sister lived with us as an adult, she was always on some crazy diet. The cottage cheese diet. The grapefruit diet. The eat two small meals during the day, followed by a big dinner diet. Ugh. She was obsessed on that topic.

      • Well, I would be interested in knowing your thoughts on the book review. This lady suffered from compulsive overeating disorder, which is a problem that doesn’t get nearly enough press.

      • As always, I thought your review was thorough, informative, and well-written. Compulsive overeating disorders clearly get less attention than anorexia nervosa and bulimia; those disorders are so prominent that there were even quite a few TV movies made about them.

        Hopefully, folks who see this review will want to read the book, especially if they have a friend or relative who might have the same compulsion to overeat – one that can’t be simply dismissed as “stress eating” or “he/she is just a gourmand!” It might even save someone’s life.

      • Well, they don’t make movies about this because people don’t like to see fat people on TV. Plus, made for TV movies are passé.

      • Oh, the traditional made-for-TV movie (which is a genre that started in the early 1960s) is, indeed, an extinct species on network TV. Streamers commission movies now, and I think a few cable networks (Lifetime, perhaps? I don’t know…I rarely watch cable fare!) still produce a few these days. But the 1970s-1980s made-for-TV movies like “The Day After.” “There’s Something About Amelia,” and “Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story” are artifacts from the Land of Ago.

        And I agree: Hollywood knows that its audience does not like seeing fat people (especially women) on any screen. Sure, there are a few exceptions to that rule, but they’re usually in comedic roles and the butt of often crude and cruel humor.

      • Actually, the Superstar movie was an indie project some guy made in 1987 about Karen Carpenter’s life using Barbie dolls. Richard Carpenter got so pissed about it that he sued, and for a long time, you couldn’t find it anywhere. I have seen it a few times on YouTube. In fact, here’s a link to that one, if you’re intrigued.

        You’re thinking of The Karen Carpenter Story, which was made in 1988 and premiered on January 1, 1989. I remember, because I was a high school junior on Christmas break, and dying to see it. I’ve always loved The Carpenters, plus I had that obsession with eating disorders back then. Richard Carpenter apparently regrets making that movie and, for a long time, that was quashed, too. That one, I know, can be found on YouTube. He probably realizes now that it’s not a bad thing to have it out there, so people remember his sister and their work together.

        I still watch those old movies on YouTube, even though I have Apple TV, lots of downloaded movies and DVDs, and Netflix. For some reason, I find them comforting.

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