For me, and probably a large percentage of the population, the first thing that comes to mind when we use the word “addiction” is an element of substance abuse, be that alcohol or drugs. In my relative naivety, the act of abstaining or sobriety simply related to the banning of these substances. I never gave much thought to what it meant, what it really meant.
My own battles are with Anorexia, an eating disorder which took so much but in a time of distorted cognitions gave me so much more.
My recovery hasn’t been linear, its been incredibly difficult in fact, but what it has given me is the opportunity to learn a great deal about myself and recognise the patterns of behaviour which are no doubt synonymous to an addiction
However ones addiction manifests itself, in essence the foundations, the rationales behind them are relatively consistent.
The over -eater, addicted to the thrill of a binge, the compulsive exerciser lured by the euphoric high at an extra mile or the restrictive eater empowered by their ability to control their food intake.
I have come to understand my illness so much more when thinking in terms of addiction and it has empowered me to be able to take responsibility for my illness. The mental dialogue I constantly had with myself was powerful and deafening, it felt deep rooted and manifested itself in behaviours that I was addicted to but only because I knew that by in endorsing in these behaviours the screaming voice would be silenced.
Complete and total abstinence from these behaviours was hell. I cannot give enough gravity to the pain that it caused me, the confusion that I felt at the manipulation I was experiencing. My illness was telling me that to cope, to make everything better I needed to go back to the comfort of restriction, to return to exercise so that I could get that precious control back.
The reality is that complete and total abstinence was in fact the only way that I was going to recover. I don’t mean simply manage, or cope but recover. To turn that existence back into a life and then to watch it flourish.
I found the whole process incredibly exposing. I had been stumbling my way through a rather foggy recovery, maintaining that I NEEDED to exercise, I needed to count the calories and weigh the food items to be able to monitor my intake.
But who was I kidding- in reality no one but myself. From the outside looking in, everyone could see what I was doing, everyone could see that I wasn’t truly free, that anorexia had still got a clever and manipulative hold on me.
I thought I was in control of my recovery. I thought I was the boss, but it turned out that my illness was very much the chief and was causing nothing but a prolonged and agonising battle.
Sobriety was like pulling my trousers down and being exposed to every thought. Everything that Anorexia wanted to throw at me I heard and felt. My guard was totally down, I’d lost my coping mechanisms and felt naked in a storm- it was terrifying.
Now, I am thrilled to be able to offer my own experience as the basis for peer support and to raise awareness. Frequently, I can spot it in the emails and messages I receive:
“i just want to do some form of exercise, perhaps some yoga to build my strength”
“ I don’t want to drink milk as I’ve read it could cause…”
The reality is, that as with all addictions, we are addicted to a behaviour that gives us a greater sense of feeling. Whether that be control, the numbing of a pain, or a degree of self punishment.
Everyone is different but to really get to the core of those emotions we have to pull our trousers down and expose ourselves to these underlying emotions.