I am not sure at what point I will feel comfortable sharing my story about my addiction path with alcohol. I am honest, direct, and open about my struggles with eating disorders, and yet I cannot find the internal support of self to be this open with regards to alcohol. I believe it has to do with a lot of residual guilt and shame of some of the decisions I have made in my life. Being unable to change the past has never been a concern or issue for me in my recovery from an eating disorder. But when it comes to the path of addiction, I have issues with terminology, facts, and recollection. I am not easy to admit, nor believe I need to admit to being an alcoholic. I despise the label, the inferences, the stigma, and the assumptions made when this label is used on me. Why is this? I am two years sober; I admit I had issues, and that I needed to stop drinking in order to recover from my eating disorder, as well as being able to once again learn to live a life of meaning. Even during my 30 Day Vacation I went for weeks to AA meetings before saying I was an alcoholic – and it NEVER sat well with me. Maybe this is because I didn’t think of myself as someone who would be considered an alcoholic. Maybe I was in denial. Maybe I was lying to myself. Maybe it was a whole gamut of choices. I to this day do not know why the label thoroughly makes me uneasy.
I believe my issues with the label made me feel dissociated from myself. I had an eating disorder, I used alcohol as a way to cope with the eating disorder, with life, and with my struggles, but I couldn’t easily separate myself. I wasn’t a person with only an eating disorder; or only a drinking problem; or only a life problem. I was me. I couldn’t get the people closest to me to understand I wasn’t only one of these issues – I was one big mess that had a lot of negative coping skills in life I couldn’t get out of. Alcohol was the first symptom the people in my life “saw.” It wasn’t something easy to hide. As much as I thought I was clever in it – it was hard to hide from blackouts, waking up not knowing what had happened and not knowing what conversations I had had. You can’t hide from things like that. But as much as I wanted desperately to be “seen” I apparently didn’t want to be held accountable for what people could see. I did not like the focus on the drinking. I wanted to scream to everyone I had this eating disorder, that alcohol was a way to cope with it, so I often felt misunderstood, crazy, and absolutely not normal.
My guy recently asked me “does sharing your story change who you are as an advocate, your effectiveness, or what you do?” My answer immediately was “NO.” He then said “then why not share it.” A simple response, and yet I felt very supported to start the journey of sharing a bit of my story. I am not ready to share all details. But I thought the best way to start it was by creating a list of all the positives that have come from me choosing to stop drinking.
– No longer have to wonder what I have said to people; I am accountable for all my words, actions, reactions, etc.
– No more hangovers, withdrawals, panic/anxiety symptoms from coming down off alcohol
– Able to self talk my way out of cutting/eating disorder behaviors as a way of self harm
– Getting real sleep
– Being able to apologize and know what I am apologizing for
– Being present in all my relationships
– Ability to feel a wide range of emotions without resorting to self harm
– I have felt extreme joy, sadness, pleasure, pain, exhaustion, angst, hurt, happiness, etc.
– I am able to function in society, pay my bills, handle responsibilities, without help from others, or crippling from the anxiety
– I have learned what love truly is
– I have learned to accept who I am
– I believe in my future
– I am alive
This is the most important part of what “recovery” has given me. I cannot honestly, unequivocally, say I would be alive today if I had continued on the path I was. I cannot say I would be alive if I had continued drinking OR if I had continued my eating disordered behaviors. Here in lies the complication, I cannot neatly separate the two from eachother. I only knew I had to stop drinking in order to recovery from the eating disorder. I knew I had to because with every attempt at drinking led to worsening of my eating disorder behaviors. And with every slip into eating disordered behaviors, I drank more. They became two issues that fed each other. Fed eachother and grew stronger while I grew weaker and moved closer to death being the outcome in my life.
This isnt my first attempt at sobriety, but it is the longest lasting. I often wonder if I can normal drink now that I am in strong eating disorder recovery. I wonder, but I do not test the thesis I have regarding moderation in drinking (this will have to be another blog post). I do not test it because if the past is to ever repeat itself I could not stand it. I know I would become lost and would lose more people than I already have to my behaviors, choices, etc.
I have been asked how I stopped drinking. I wish I had some incredible insight, some pearl of wisdom to shed on the topic. But my truth is that I chose to live. I chose to fight. I made a decision between continuing down a bad dark path and the alternative. I knew what I was doing was not working, I was not happy, I was not accountable, I was no longer me. I made a choice to find me. I am fortunate to not have cravings. To quit is easy. Once you are through withdrawals you feel physically better. And the simple answer to not drinking – is exactly that – not drinking. I made a promise to those I loved and to myself. That I would stop being a victim of my choices and choose differently. There are no easy answers. No quick fixes. I had to cut cold turkey the coping skill I had grown to love – drinking. And I loved it, more than I loved anyone or anything. By my choices, alcohol was more important than anything, even if I knew this wasn’t the truth – my choices screamed otherwise. I knew I couldnt battle the eating disorder if I wasn’t present. Checking out of reality and life was easy. Not pretty, not pleasant, downright scary at times – but it was EASY (for me).
I have been to exactly 1 AA meeting in this period of sobriety. That has been right for me. I know MANY others have gone to AA and it has saved many people lives. When I got out of my month long retreat I found a family I never imagined in AA. I went to 2 meetings a day for nearly the 6 months I was sober in my first attempt at longer sobriety. This current period I did not go to AA for many reasons – I was moving across the country, living in a new place, finding a new job, starting classes again, etc. I do not count my sobriety days. The only reason I knew November 12th was 2 years is because I put a counter on my old myspace page to refer to from time to time. I do not focus on the not drinking. I did not do the steps – in my choice this time around, I decided I had to stop so I did. I simply do not live as though I was or am an alcoholic that needs to constantly be vigil. Is this going to be the right way for me to approach this in the future? Will I need meetings if I get cravings in the future? I do not know – but I know they are there.
I dont have any answers and write this to share only my story. I do not fit into any box, diagnosis, or manual. That is ok by me. Just because boxes exists, doesnt mean I have to feel validated, or defined by them. I consider myself as one that broke the mold, just as many others stories and struggles do. We simply do not fit in pretty package. We will always find issues and problems in diagnosis’ – especially those who struggle with a range of issues out of the the DSM. I am not only a person with an eating disorder, with a substance abuse history, with a cutting past, with a panic disorder/GAD ongoing issue. I am me. Just as I have accepted and come to terms with the fact I am genetically predisposed to migraines and have to find new ways of approaching my physical issues – I will so approach my mental health. I refuse to approach it with judgment, I will handle with care and find a way that works for me.
I am extremely grateful for what my sobriety and recovery have given me. I cannot say what path my life would have taken, if I had only recovered from one of my issues. I had to fight both at the same time. I had to fight the idea that people thought alcohol was the “main” problem because it is what they could easily see. I had to try to educate people about what eating disorders are. I think that is why I decided to be an advocate. I want people to understand we arent defined by our struggles. We can thrive and learn to live a new and different way than we have been living. We can choose to change our behaviors. We can choose to fight. I often discount my sobriety – and say oh its not a big deal – but if you knew my past, you would not be able to accept this statement.
Having an addiction, or many addictions, does not mean we are crazy or weak or abnormal. I know I have felt at many times “different” because when I go to AA meeting I could only talk about alcohol and when I go to ED meetings I felt I could only talk about ED. I felt split apart so I had to find my own path through recovery. I often wondered why I didnt only have ONE issue so I could connect with people. But the more I went to meetings, of ALL kinds, the more I talked to people and shared my story, the more I found hope, the more I realized our stories were not so different. Our substances may be different – but in the end the feelings are what brings us together.
I still am working through the irrational shame I have with my stories of my past with alcohol. That is ok – I feel with this post I have opened a door to a different world. One where I can process all I have been through and learn forgiveness for myself. I am a work in progress.
I am two years sober and grateful. I cannot say I will never drink again, but I can say I know for right now, I do not intend to because of the above list – I prefer what I have gained in recovery to what I lost in the past. I guess I think to say “I will never drink again” is too much pressure as well. I do not black and white thinking. I also have to take each day as it comes. So for today, I know I will be ok.
I hope to find patience with myself as I share this part of my story, because if I do not talk about it, I am again splitting myself, and at this point in my life I prefer to be whole, to accept my entire self – mind, body and spirit. So I look forward to taking this journey into my past with all of you. I have a lot of stories, thoughts, responses, to substance abuse and eating disorders. I have many theories, and ideas, and I question everything. I question the concept of AA and the “once an alcoholic always an alcoholic.” I wonder about moderation and drinking. I wonder because I am in recovery from an eating disorder and abused alcohol. I used to tell people, quitting the booze was easy, you just don’t take the first drink. I had to explain to many close to me it was a different challenge with eating disorders because you cannot avoid food. So if I can learn moderation in food, I question whether people can learn moderation with alcohol. I question because I find it fascinating, and I read studies, and books on the subject because these are struggles I have faced. But at this point I am not curious enough to “test” any of my ideas on myself. But alas – that is another story – for another time……..
For today I am humble and grateful for those people who stood by me through my struggles, mainly my family. I lost a lot of people I extremely care for due to my choices. But what I have gained from sobriety and recovery is better, and so worth the fight. I live today because I chose to take my recovery in my own hands and fight. And I continue to fight for myself and my hope is to help others do the same in the future.