What comes to mind when you think of addiction? Alcohol? Food? Cocaine? According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine:
Addition is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations. This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors.
What this says to me is that you can become addicted to almost anything and even though drug addiction may be the first thing that pops into your head when you hear the term it definitely isn’t the only thing someone can become addicted to. Most human beings find something to become addicted to in their life because they have a hole to fill, need a distraction or a coping mechanism. So why is drug abuse the most well-known form of addiction? In my opinion, it’s the visible side effects that drug abuse can have on the user, the lack of social acceptance of using harder drugs and the monetary consequences that drug use can have. Drug abuse IS terrible, but I’m writing today to recognize the other forms of addictions that aren’t always making headlines.
I first heard about bulimia in an episode of 7th Heaven when I was an adolescent and believe me I understand the irony of that. It wasn’t until later in my teens when I actually became bulimic. Since around third grade I had always had a terrible relationship with food and my weight would fluctuate up and down and up and down. I’d notice at birthday parties when pizza was served that I’d be the only one taking two slices and I’d wonder to myself what was wrong with me that I didn’t have the same appetite as them? Going into 6th grade I wanted to lose a bunch of weight so I could start Junior High as a new person so I’d run everyday and eat rice cakes for lunch. By the end of the summer all my friends and their parents were telling me how good I looked. I began to relate self-worth with the number on my scale.
Even though my relationship with food hadn’t been the best in High School is when I really began to lose control. I went on an antidepressant after my father’s death and couldn’t fill the uncontrollable hunger I felt. Before I knew it I was topping the scale at 200 lbs and I didn’t recognize myself! It took years to fix the mental damage that had been done that got me to that place and even longer to lose the weight. I got rid of a good portion of the weight through running, but at some point I stalled out and of course I blamed myself. I don’t remember the first time I made myself throw up. I would have a bad day and I would binge and purge. Binge and purge. It was an endless cycle because you would binge to fill this void inside of you or an uncontrollable fear. Then you would make yourself throw it all up out of guilt and then would come the shame because you couldn’t control yourself. Around and around we go.
I was never as bad as the girls you see telling their stories in magazines or on daytime TV shows so I thought I had everything under control. I wasn’t truly a Bulimic if I only threw up once or twice a month right? WRONG! Sure, the Bulimia was a problem, but it was also the symptom of something much larger….my anxiety. My anxiety reaches its black tentacles out in many different ways and one of the only ways I ever knew how to combat it was control. So I tried to control my weight, my food intake, my life, my thoughts. Thoughts are like sand grains in an hourglass and trying to control them is the most fruitless endeavor that I can think of, but nonetheless I tried.
Along with the Bulimia I developed a severe addiction to exercise. Just like an addiction to food, it can be really rough because you can’t avoid something that you need in order to live a healthy life. Please don’t think I’m downplaying drug addiction in any way, that comes with it’s own host of issues, but with drugs you can avoid them. You don’t typically need them to live. I had to eat in order to live and I had to exercise in order to be a healthy person. How do you get over an addiction when the thing you are addicted to is in your life every second of the day? The answer for me, at least, is you don’t.
I have to be vigilant all the time and ask myself am I eating because I’m really hungry or because I’m bored or tired or any number of reasons that I don’t need to eat for? Becoming complacent makes it super easy for me to fall back into old habits. Fighting back that urge to purge after accidentally eating too much or adding an hour to my exercise routine the next day to burn off a cookie is so easy to do, but when I think of the person that I want to be it doesn’t involve any of that. I don’t want to be someone who adds to the world of Instagram with photos of my abs that were obtained through methods that hurt me and my health. At my skinniest and fittest I was most admired, but I was not a woman to look up to.
I remember in college, after I had injured my hip, and been forced to just bike and take things easy, that my acting coach and mentor told me I looked healthy. He told me that the crazy, wild look in my eye had gone. Without the compulsion and need to run everyday I was able to actually enjoy my life instead of thinking about when my next run would be or how I’d eaten too much for breakfast. That didn’t last long because after my hip surgery I found weightlifting and went hardcore down that avenue. It wasn’t because I wanted to be a superb crossfit athlete or the fastest runner. It was about me trying to control my weight and in turn controlling my life. This was a lesson I had to learn not once, but two times and I don’t plan on having to learn it again.
After my laparoscopy my pelvic/stomach pain was actually worse. I would spend so many days curled up in bed with Norco and Advil in my system barely touching the pain and I wondered what would become of me. I was convinced I was going to become one of those people who live off of disability and wouldn’t ever be able to walk in the sun again painlessly let alone run. I can’t credit myself with getting out of that dark hole of despair. For that I credit my support system: My amazing mom, friends and boyfriend. Without them I would not have had the strength to keep pushing to try the next drug or the next therapy. I would not be able to continue my career or being able to run now. I was able to keep breathing, but they helped me come back to life and for that I owe them everything. I owe them to be the best I can be and I owe that to myself to. They are the reason I keep fighting.
So, for the second time, I’ve learned my lesson. I almost lost my life to chronic pain and my regrets weren’t having not exercised enough or not having gone on that long run. They were not having traveled more because I was too scared to be away in a hotel that may not have a gym, not spending more time with my friends and family and not enjoying the moment more. No, I’m not going to stop exercising. Exercise is good for you and I really do love it, but I’m not going to avoid a vacation because I might not be able to lift weights for a week and I’m going to skip some workouts so that I can go to the movies with my friends. Lord knows I’m not going to worry about getting two workouts in a day because I frankly don’t give a damn if I have abs.
For those of you who are going through what I’m going through or any other addiction please remember that there is a way through it. The urges may not leave you, but you are strong and you are stronger than your addiction. You got this!
“Sometimes you can only find heaven by slowly backing away from hell.” -Carrie Fisher