A member of the TRC Community has bravely written about their recovery journey.
On the surface I looked like I had it all, I was one in a million. I was an only child, spoilt rotten. Privileged, I was able to travel, I was a competitive ice skater. I loved painting and reading. My life looked very promising and for most ideal. What led me to having a drug addiction, anorexia, bulimia by the time I was 15? That’s what I am going to give you a little taster of today.
As a child, we view our parents as these sort of superhumans. That they can do no wrong, they know everything. Two things a child needs are safety and comfort, and believing that their parents are superhuman provides those two things. It makes the outside world safe so that the child can be free spirited and careless.
It’s a strange moment as you grow up when you realise that your parents are actually people. People with complex issues and feelings just as much as you.
My parents separated and later divorced when I was 8 years old. A very normal thing to happen in one’s life. They hid the nature of their rocky relationship and told me that my father was leaving for work. They thought they were protecting me.
My parents were superhuman in my eyes. The reality was they were two people in mourning of the passing of something that once brought them so much joy and hope, but now was the source of more pain than they had ever felt before.
Little 8 year old me was puzzled. Why would my dad leave? Why is my mother right next to me but could not feel more distant? There must be something wrong with me. I couldn’t see them for what they were and I was hidden away from knowing the true nature of the situation I was in, what type of world I was living in. It felt safer and more comfortable thinking that everything was okay and that everyone else was fine and that I was the problem.
This was the source of my negative core beliefs, which then proceeded to shape my entire system of values. It informed my perspective on others, and also my sense of self all around the central idea that I was the problem. I blamed myself for everything that happened around me. I felt responsible for everyone. This fed my negative beliefs and validated them. My beliefs that I was inadequate, that I was worthless, that I was a failure, that I was un-lovable.
I felt abandoned. Alone. Completely out of control. It seemed that whenever someone came into my life they were always destined to leave, and when they did it caused so much pain.
I thought of myself of as a victim, and as a result I needed to find a way to protect myself. I had to find a way to cope with the pain and gain a sense of control. And this I did, but in a way that was at the expense of my physical health, mental health, my clarity, relationships, in fact my entire life. Nevertheless, it all seemed so worthwhile because these coping mechanisms would offer me the sense of safety, comfort and relief that I had so longed for my entire life. They filled the void created earlier in my childhood.
I started to blame my body. It is engrained in our common psyche through the many diet cults, pop culture, the media, nearly everything we are exposed to that if we lose weight we will feel better about ourselves. That if we lose weight we will be more attractive. That if we lose weight we will be more appealing. That if we lose weight we will be accepted, praised, idealised. Through these messages in my environment, at only nine years old I started to believe that if I was skinny I would be loved.
Weirdly, I was one of the only two children in my year at school to have divorced parents. I was a lot bigger than my friends, I saw my stick thin friends who had parents who were available, and in many cases they had siblings. They had the family life that I wanted and they were happy. Correlating the fact that they were skinny and with these other things makes no rational sense. But all negative core beliefs are irrational. No one is born as an inherently un-loveable, unworthy person, right? But even in my teens, I couldn’t see it that straight. When I was in the pits of my anorexia and bulimia, my eating disorder made me believe that if I became as stick thin as my friends when they were children then I would be loved, taken care of and nurtured like they were. And the eating disorder did force the people around me to have to take extra care of me. Because I was dying.
I am going to go into a bit more detail for you of how an eating disorder works. It’s a way of coping with your emotions by making yourself believe that food and your weight is what makes you unhappy, un-loveable, stressed. Therefore, when you’re not eating you think your avoiding those feelings, you feel nothing. You’re numb, you’re at peace. In short, you cause stress around food so that if you avoid the food it provides you with a sense of relief and control. That sense of relief and control is what I had been yearning for my entire life – it finally made me feel like I was safe and protected from being hurt. So, eating disorders are really nothing to do with your weight. It’s just that you tell yourself that you’re in pain because of your weight and food so that it is easier to manage your feelings.
The catalyst of my ultimate demise was a traumatic event that happened to me when I was 16, July 2018. I was sexually assaulted. I froze. I was petrified. I stopped resisting and felt trapped in my body. All I wanted in that moment was to escape myself. To escape my body.
I felt so out of control as this man violated me. I wanted to take back control of my body. So I did so by controlling my weight. By making myself so disgustingly thin that no one would want to look at me, I wanted to be untouchable. But I also wanted to be so thin that people had to take care of me because I did not know how to ask for help.
From that point on, my sole purpose in life was to escape reality.
I did what I do best and I blamed myself. I was drowning in my own shame, so I didn’t tell anybody. What does addiction thrive on? Guilt and shame.
There is already so much shame and guilt driving addiction in oneself. So common misconceived narrative around addiction such as, “she’s making the choice to do the drugs, it’s a moral issue” or “she’s starving herself for attention” make it even more difficult to reach out for help. If you expected a response of such judgement and ignorance, would you find the will to ask for help?
A little taster of what my life looked like at this point in time:
Throw up, oh my god my friend just caught me coming back from the loo with my hair up, my breath smells she knows, lies lies lies, push away friend, feel guilty, need to get drugs because I can’t cope with the guilt, don’t have money for the drugs, steal money from my mum for the drugs, lie to my mum about where I’m going because I need to pick up from my dealer, dealer is angry because I owe him money, I get threatened, I’m petrified lie lie lie, get caught by my mum for stealing money, lie to her, I feel guilty, start fasting, time the fast and restrict to not feel guilty, need to go home because no one can see me break my fast and eat, lie to my friends again, need to use my calorie tracker to track and measure my food, now I feel guilty about eating the food, I need drugs to escape the guilt.
I will stop myself here.
Is this making your head hurt? It definitely does mine. You know why? Because it was chaos. But you know what the chaos served? A distraction from real life. It numbed my pain. The only thing that took up space in my mind was obsessive thoughts around food and the need to get high. There was no room in my brain to feel anything. I had no capacity for connection, empathy, compassion for others, compassion for myself. Love. I felt nothing. But I was so petrified of being vulnerable and therefore being susceptible to being hurt, that I thought being numb was the only way I could deal with life and all the hardships that come with it.
I have spoken a lot about what an addiction serves in one’s life, but I haven’t gone into any detail of the price you have to pay for it. The type of person you become. Addiction is in complete self-interest, and what you have to do to appease it takes priority above all else. That means your family, friends, hobbies. Everything. Your sense of self, your relationships, your interests are all a threat to your addiction because all of those things require connection. Which is exactly what I did not want to do, I wanted to disconnect. I pushed away everyone that cared about me and only surrounded myself with people that I knew would validate what I was doing to myself. I was a liar, I was emotionally unavailable, I was manipulative and I was selfish. That is not who I am at my core. But at the time, I didn’t care.
My eating disorder and drug problem took away everything that made me myself, so all I had left was my addiction itself. It made me believe that I would be nothing without it, because it made my sole purpose to be thin and to get high. My values had also been warped. They had to go in line with my addiction too. I valued being skinny over being honest. I valued getting high over my friendships. I completely lost touch with who I was and what I believed in before this all started.
A brief timeline of how my addiction took over my life. Warped body image and self-deprecating thoughts at 8, bulimia at 11, self-harm at 12, started to take drugs at 14 and anorexia by 15. The months between July 2018 to January of 2019 would lead up to the peak of my addiction. Where I would find myself being told that I was weeks away from having a heart attack, a white blood cell count so low that I basically did not have an immune system, and the BMI of a starving child in a third world country.
October was the first time we went to the doctor. I already hadn’t had my period in months and was very underweight. The doctor told me that if I put on 3 kilos then I wouldn’t have to go to treatment, that was all they cared about. The number on the scale. I was already measuring my self-worth by the number of calories that I ate and how many kilos I weighed. That was what was actually killing me. But so did my doctors?! My doctors measured how valuable I was to receive help by the numbers on the scales too. An eating disorder is not the numbers on a scale, it’s a mental illness. The doctors seemed as though they had no idea how to treat me – it seems extraordinary to me now that I had to get to such a low point in January to get the help that I needed. For me to be seen.
I was really lucky to have the finances, the friends and family to help me. Most people aren’t this lucky.
Sometimes healing hurts more than the wound itself. I went into recovery in a delusional state and in complete denial of the addiction that had a hold on me. What I couldn’t see was that my addiction was the culprit of my demise. That was because in my eyes my addiction was my best friend. My only friend. My addiction was the only thing that made me feel okay and this clinic I had been sent to was taking it away, but in fact I couldn’t see what the addiction had taken away from me, because I wasn’t her. I hadn’t been present in my body for a long time.
Recovery was the most testing and difficult experience of my life. Years of supressed emotions came to the surface as my self-destructive coping mechanisms were taken away from me. I had to relearn how to manage my emotions in a way I had never done before. In a healthy way. I also had to learn how to fight the urges to go back to what I knew, to what was comfortable. But through confronting my issues, I became self-aware. I no longer had to be in a deluded state to have safety and comfort.
Through a lot of therapy I became equipped with tools to build the emotional resilience to deal with life. My physical health, mental clarity, and sense of self no longer had to be at an expense. Recovery has given me the ability to build an entire new life for myself. I am no longer alone, I have reconnected with everyone that I pushed away. At the time I was so surprised that they forgave me. They are actually all sitting in this room with us today. I gained the ability to love again, to be curious, creative! My judgement was no longer blurred by the priorities of my addiction and I found what I believed in again. My values.
6 months into my recovery, something happened that was my biggest test in this whole process. I encountered a feeling that I had never felt before in my life. It was the strongest urge I’ve had to relapse. But it was in that moment that I fully registered that counting my calories won’t control bad things from happening in the world. Taking drugs is not going to make the pain go away. I was able to finally accept that life is uncertain, and that it sucks sometimes and that I have to let myself feel that. That feelings are ok. Even pain. This might seem obvious to most, but for me it was a big lightbulb moment. The only thing that could help me in that moment was gratitude. For so long, I wasn’t grateful for anything in my life. I saw myself as the victim. Everything around me was always dark. From that point onwards, I wanted to make every moment that I am on this earth count because for so long I took my life for granted. I was lucky. I was given a chance at a new life that most people don’t get. I do not want to waste another second being active in an addiction that was based on deceit and lies when I could be using my time on this earth to love, be at service to others and make a difference.
I no longer see myself as a victim. I have taken responsibility for my actions and I can see where I was the perpetrator. But above all I now know that none of this was my fault. My downfall was a manifestation of my unprocessed traumas and negative belief system and I was just trying to find a way to cope as a means of survival. I didn’t know any other way how. But I do now. And I am self aware enough to know that I always have a choice no matter how big the craving is to slip back into old ways or how impulsive I’m feeling.
Anyone hearing me now who can relate to these issues must know that you have a choice too. You have a choice to take action, be accountable and change your life. The other option is stay in your ways, stay in denial and repeat the vicious cycle that has no good end. The end goal isn’t perfection and won’t give you happiness. That’s the lie that it tells you. The end goal of addiction is death. Death physically, death of identity, the death of the soul.
It’s a rocky road to start out on and constantly presents new challenges, but recovery is the act of rebirth into a world of abundance, truth and light. My emotions no longer dictate my actions, and I am now eternally grateful for the chance to be the protagonist in my own life story.