My Addiction Wasn't a Choice
I was the kid who would eat 2nds, 3rds, and then finish off whatever was left on the table (or anyone else's plate). I wasn't overweight. I was an athlete, enjoyed food, and didn't like food to be wasted, either. Then one day, everything changed, and I didn't know why. I started eliminating certain foods. My family started to notice my weight loss, and I began feeling every ache and pain in my body from a lack of nutrition. I didn't know what was happening, and I didn't know why.
There wasn't an instance where I was called fat and immediately wanted to be thinner. There wasn't a day I looked at a magazine and strived to look at the woman on the front cover. I just slowly dwindled to skin and bones - literally. My muscle was eating itself. I was tired, weak, and moody, and everything about my presence became unpleasant. Family and friends started commenting, first to each other and then to me. Deep down, I knew something was not right. I felt horrible, could barely function, and no longer wanted to eat all the foods I had enjoyed. Not because I didn't want to. But this trembling fear rose up in me when I would go to eat any food that might make me gain an ounce. I don't know where it came from, and that was the most frustrating part.
Let me dispel a myth that people consciously choose addictions. FALSE. In my case, this couldn't have been more false. To this day, I look back and ask, "why did that happen?" The only answer I came up with is that I was going through a lot of change and felt I had no control. So what did I do? I controlled the two things I thought I could at the time. What I put in my body, and how much I exercised. Combined, what I thought were a healthy lifestyle habit and mental outlet became a life-or-death situation for me.
When I began treatment, they discussed "The Cycle of Addiction," which began my life after addiction.
As you see at the top of the chart, human characteristics are listed that typically (but not always) describe a person who may enter this vicious cycle. My eyes opened wide when my Doctor started listing them out because each one she listed was me to the tee. She went clockwise and explained when we are following these rules (not eating certain foods, exercising for hours, etc.), we feel in control, so our anxiety decreases and our mood increases because we believe we are doing something good.
At this point, 97% of people jump off the bandwagon because it's too much for them. The starvation at this point began for me, but for most people, it was too strict and too much work, so they went back to their normal (and much less controlling lifestyle). For the 3% that move to the next phase of the cycle, there is an actual "cognitive click," or maybe better understood as a chemical shift in the brain to where those rules and rituals now become law that you idolize. It was no longer an option to eat whatever or skip a day of exercise. I had to weigh myself every day, or the curiosity of whether or not I gained a pound ate at me. Having a cheat meal was not an option. Any of those would have caused so much anxiety and fear that it didn't feel worth it.
On a smaller scale, for those who the cops have pulled over, think about the anxiety and fear you feel when you see those red and blue lights in your rearview mirror. Your first thought was probably, "oh crap" (maybe another choice word), and then you wonder which law you broke caused the cop to pull you over. Now you will have to deal with the repercussions. Every time I tried to break one of my unwelcomed rules, it was like that.
As I was in treatment trying to restructure my thought process and do cognitive behavioral therapy, I was faced with a significant amount of anxiety and a massive change in my mood (not for the better), but this is what it was going to take if I was going to break out of the cycle. During this time, someone addicted is so self-consumed and only focused on their situation (literally in survival mode) that they can't see anything on the outside. Addiction leads to an unintentional selfish place. None of us want to shut out our family and friends. It just happens because the addiction becomes all-consuming. That's all we can think about. We eat, sleep, and breathe addiction until we can break the cycle.
One of the most complex parts was knowing that my thoughts and actions were completely irrational, yet I couldn't change them. I could, but it came with A LOT of effort and anxiety. It was easier to dwell on negative, irrational, harmful thoughts than to turn them into positive ones. My brain felt like a pinball bouncing off every wall and blockade in the machine. It was exhausting.
I knew that the amount of hair I was losing, my inability to sit on the toilet and get up without almost falling over, being winded after one flight of steps, and being cold no matter how warm the room was, were all irrational thoughts. The problem at the time was that my brain was wired differently. This all became "abnormally normal." Deep down in my heart, I knew something was seriously wrong, but I couldn't convince my brain to change the thoughts, feelings, and emotions about eating "unsafe" foods.
I knew adding two almonds to my breakfast wouldn't put the weight on my body that I needed, but I told my college advisor that's what I was going to do to help me gain weight. Yet most of the time, I ate a little bit extra and ended up working out more to burn those ten extra calories. Make sense? No, I know it doesn't. But in my world, it did.
I think we've all been there. Where we know something isn't right, but we just let it go. Or think it's going to fix itself. No one wants to admit there is a problem, especially if they aren't ready to get help. That would mean we have to change something. And it's not in our nature to love change. That's just not who we are.
So why didn't I eat a donut, hamburger, slice of pizza, or bread? Because that would mean, I would have to face my fears and anxiety, but at the time, it was too uncomfortable. Instead, I would have rather die some days than face those feelings when I felt so alone. That seemed easier. Irrational, yes. But it was also my reality, 100%.
I hope this helps give you the insight to love your loved ones a little more intensely, even when you want to take their head and knock some sense into it. Trust me. There is a part of us that knows something is not okay. But there's also a louder voice telling us to keep doing what we're doing. It's comfortable. It's safe. You'll be much happier with this addiction. You'll never be alone. It's all a lie.
Attacking and accusing the person that they're in the wrong will not help the situation. Because guess what? We already know deep inside if nothing changes, nothing changes. There are two pains people in addiction have to choose from - the pain of the present or that exact pain times ten in the future. I decided on pain of the present. I chose the course of resistance, which is why I am here today. Keep loving. Your loved one can overcome it as I did.