The Struggle with Invisible Addictions

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The term addiction used to instantly make me think of an episode of Intervention. I aligned the term strictly with chemical dependencies, and having a family history of alcoholism solidified this limited perspective.

In hindsight, I also avoided expanding my perceived scope of addiction because it might mean I was an addict. That was unacceptable. That couldn’t be me. I was smart, I was educated, I was outgoing, I was…. full of sh*t. This is not to say those self-assessments were false. They were not. However, they were worn like an armor when deep down I didn’t truly believe them. They felt like my invisibility cloak (you’re welcome for the Harry Potter reference, but if I’m being real with you I should admit I only watched the movies.)

I have faced several addictions along my path to healing including external validation, spending, sugar, and an endorphin high caused by the binge purge cycle. *I'll save love addiction for another time. These issues may seem outside of the traditional definition of addiction. They are easy to hide from our family and friends because we don’t come stumbling into a Christmas dinner drunk or have track marks lining our arms. They may be invisible to the naked eye, but let me assure you these are addictions nonetheless.

I opened credit cards to pay off other credit cards, used said credit cards to spend a small fortune on sugar laced food for the vicious cycle of bulimia, and ultimately punished my body to the point that visits to the ER were necessary… all while obsessing over my external appearance both in a psychical and social sense.

My addictions were interwoven, a deceptively beautiful tapestry made up of unhealthy coping mechanisms for the stress and uncertainty plaguing my mind.

Here’s a breakdown of my most destructive addictions. If you can relate to them on any level, please know recovery is possible. If I can sit here today and share these struggles without shame, you can absolutely meet me here in a place of peace. You’ll be welcomed with open arms.

Sugar

The more cut and dry, black and white, chemical dependency issue that I faced was my addiction to sugar. I was HOOKED, and it was feeding (pun intended) other issues that I battled in vain for years.  While trying to conquer the compulsion to binge, the cravings for bread and sweets far outweighed any others.  I had to physically remove these items from my home or render them inedible to prevent myself from having an episode. I remember spraying a stack of Thin Mints with Lysol so that they were not in the least bit appetizing or safe to consume before tossing them in the garbage…. Because YES, the compulsion to grab food out of the garbage was legitimate concern. This was a full blown addiction, and it is a nightmare for anyone in eating disorder recovery.

Endorphins – Binge/Purge Cycle

This addiction truly humbled me. I used to judge drug addicts. I assumed closed mindedly that they were weak pleasure seekers without regard for the damage they were causing. We all carry some biases from our childhood exposure, both in our personal lives and from what we are taught. This was the case for me, and it took my own battle with addiction to open my mind (and my heart).

The truth is that eating disorders and drug addiction are influenced by the same neurotransmitters. My battle with bulimia was a battle to overcome a destructive coping mechanism. This was exacerbated by an addiction to the rush of endorphins I received when I engaged in this compulsion. There were times when recovery felt impossible after multiple failed attempts. There were even times when I began to feel unworthy of healing due to the guilt of inflicting this pain upon myself.

Spending

Welcome to financial hell. It looks like a magazine, everything is designer, the Instagram likes are a plenty, and everything is about to crumble like a stale biscotti that you just overpaid for at Starbucks.

This is where I lived for years and where I am currently ascending from.

Retail therapy, a term often tossed around as a joke, can quickly escalate into an addiction. I used to justify my spending problem by explaining that I only bought discount items. I ended up with twice as much stuff that was half the quality. While gathering clothes for a Goodwill donation a few years ago I realized that I owned 4 royal blue silk blouses… 4! I was mindlessly buying clothes without the vaguest idea of what I already owned. I didn’t NEED any of it. It was just a compulsion that made me feel good for 5 minutes before the shame set in over spending money I didn’t have.

The problem extended past clothes and shoes. I went out to eat for almost every meal, took vacations far outside my budget, and I made minimum payments on credit cards and my student loans. When I would sit and think about the problem I would feel extremely anxious and often set off a binge/purge cycle or take one of those credit cards and drive over to Target (or the closest retail center) to mindlessly buy $100 worth of stuff I didn’t need.

It’s a little embarrassing to admit all of this, but taking accountability was crucial in order to be able to forgive myself and move forward.

Turning the Pa(i)ge

The universe/God/whichever term or concept you feel comfortable with often gives us the same lesson over and over until we recognize, absorb, and apply it. I stumbled so many times in facing these addictions on their own. I felt like I spent every morning back at square one until I finally paused to determine what lesson I was being taught.

What does this mean? What was failing to sink in? Why did I keep subscribing to self-destructive behavior?

I look forward to sharing more about how I faced each of these issues, but the start of my healing began when I was finally able to face them ALL by recognizing what they truly were: a compulsive attempt to avoid, edit, deny, and escape reality. They all provided a fleeting moment of silent peace for my loud mind.

This was the lesson.

The first and most important step is recognizing that you have a problem. It’s easy to pretend everything is fine (the most loaded word in the English language). It’s painful but you become such an expert that it feels natural. What’s truly difficult is facing the darkness, feeling the emotions you’ve buried for years, and working through the issues that you must address if you want to thrive and be happy. It takes courage. It takes strength. It takes learning to not give a f*ck what everyone thinks and putting your mental, physical, and emotional health first…. where your health always belongs.

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