“I had finally found a sense of control in a life that baffled me”
I have multiple addictions and various diagnosed challenges. In the South, we call that a “hot mess”. Now I wouldn’t go that far, but I have had my share of trials and tribulations these past 40 years. I have written multiple articles concerning my alcoholism and I think that’s because it’s easier to navigate. It had a clear beginning and a clear ending. I am not cured, I will live as an alcoholic for the rest of my life but I surrendered and I work hard to remain sober.
My eating disorder on the other hand- it is a bit more muddled and it’s like navigating through a maze to determine why it began, why it remained, and how it impacts my life today.
I would say my core addiction is my eating disorder, as it was my first addiction. It began with anorexia- the typical by the book symptoms (almost like I read the how to book before I began). I slowly started restricting my food at 16. Each day the calorie count would get lower and my ability to hide my disease became stronger. I loved the euphoria that came from starving, my bones protruding, and my weight lowering by the day. Early on I discovered that if I exercised, along with restricting, the weight would fall off faster. I began running countless miles and sprinting up my high school stairs at the football stadium until my legs would shake uncontrollably. In fact, if they didn’t, I would run an extra mile or 10 more sets of stairs until they did.
I felt strong and empowered for the first time in my life. I was praised for my weight loss and my incredible endurance on the soccer field. I had finally found some sense of control in a life that baffled me. Life at home no longer worried me, it was ok to not be the smartest kid in class, and it didn’t matter anymore how many friends I had. I was good at this and I lived for that false sense of control. Life could be chaotic, but how many calories, in and out, I could control. Of course, like any addiction, you can only hide it for so long.
After several months, it was difficult to disguise my skeletal figure and I was too emaciated to exercise anymore. My body was a pile of bones, bruises from malnutrition and falling covered my skin, my hair was half of what it once was, and I could no longer walk without support- I would black out and there was just no cushion left on the bottom of my feet. Toward the end, I will never forget my mom cradling me in her arms, like an infant, with tears streaming down her face. The fear in her eyes, I can still see them so clearly. As a mom now- I can’t imagine how scared she must have been watching her oldest daughter waste away to nothing.
My parents sent me to a psychiatrist, an eating disorder therapist and a dietician. I was diagnosed with depression and an anxiety disorder and was put on medicine. The medicine helped tremendously along with the therapy and I gained the weight back slowly. On the outside I appeared cured, but the disease never truly left me.
Over the years, I used various forms of my eating disorder when life became difficult. It was my go to when family issues became too much, when I was stressed about school, or any other life changes that were out of my control. When I moved to Atlanta after college, when I was planning my wedding, when I moved to new cities for my husband’s jobs,… Anytime life seemed chaotic, the eating disorder would emerge like an old friend to comfort me in my time of need. I couldn’t handle life and my eating disorder was my way of dealing and coping.
My eating disorders were all about control. I spent countless years meticulously counting calories and the miles I ran- it was exhausting. I think alcohol emerged in my life as a way to take a break from always being in control and the constant need for perfection. It provided the freedom from the rigidity that came with my eating disorder. With each drink, my body became less tense and the counting ceased to occupy my mind. Of course that’s the way it began, but as an addict, it became its own problem.
After my husband passed away, my eating disorder and alcoholism took on a life of their own. They both numbed the pain and the chaos that my life had become. When they weren’t enough anymore, I added bulimia to the mix. The combination of these dangerous disorders all ignited hurling me to rock bottom. By the end, I was a full fledged alcoholic, bulimic, and anorexic. Living life on life’s terms was something I just couldn’t fathom.
After being in a psychiatric ward for a week, I went to an eating disorder rehab to confront my core addiction. Until I got help for that, I couldn’t even look at my alcoholism. I spent months examining why it began, how it evolved and how to manage it. It was painful to look at the patterns and to see the effect it has had on my life and my body over the years. How it held me back and ran interference in my life.
After completing rehab for both my eating disorder and my alcoholism, I returned to my life. How do I manage them both? With a lot of hard work and the knowledge that they are a part of me and always will be. Since being home, I must say that the eating disorder has been far more difficult to manage than the alcoholism. I think that’s because you have to eat to live and because it is my core addiction.
Living with an eating disorder, but not being active in it, requires a lot of hard work. I go to therapy and group therapy once a week and I get weighed once a week for accountability. When I got home, I immediately cancelled my gym membership knowing that the place that was once my second home was not a place I could ever enter again. I also came to the realization that running was just something that I would never be able to participate in again.
Instead, I chose to pursue yoga- which I recommend for all addicts in recovery. I joined a yoga studio and my membership only allows me to go 4 times a week and each class is only an hour. This is vital for my recovery- it sets limitations so I am unable to get compulsive. I have fallen in love with yoga these past 8 months. I live for its meditative quality and it helps me see my body in a whole new way. I am in awe at the way my back contorts and how my arms can support my entire being. After all the damage I inflicted upon it, I am amazed at its strength and capacity to change. I guess it’s my way of caring for it after enduring years and years of abuse.
As far as eating- well that’s something I have to stay vigilant about daily. My life still has its ups and downs and when I am stressed or worried about something that is out of my control, my first inclination is to skip a meal. I am not always perfect during the day, but I make sure I get all my calories in and I don’t punish myself for my mistakes. From experience, I know that it is a slippery slope- it starts with skipping a meal, then to purging, and then to the bottle. I play the tape forward in my mind and the end is something I fear. It’s the healthy fear that keeps me going, as I never want to go back to the darkness that occupied my mind and life for so long. I live in gratitude for the freedom I have worked so hard to obtain.
Today, almost a year later, I am still a “hot mess”. I am still the mom that is running for the school bus stop- at times with one shoe on, I still use super glue and duck tape to fix all things, and I may or may not have run into my garbage can backing down the driveway just the other day. Fortunately, the “hot mess” no longer inhabits my soul. I live an honest life that is full of beauty and a sense of peace I could never begin to describe. I have walked through fire and have lived to tell about it. I am and always will be an addict and I am not ashamed- today, I am proud of who I am.