Food addiction is scoffed at. It’s one of the only things you can’t decide to never have again if you realize you’re addicted to it. Alcoholics get rehabbed and never drink again if they’re lucky. Drug addicts get rehabbed and never do drugs again if they’re lucky. You literally can’t live without food. So for me, every time I wake up in the morning I make conscious decisions to eat in a way that supports me. I don’t disallow any type of food except processed fast food and gluten (both of which hurt my stomach).
Addiction, and the judgment it breeds, has on my mind since last weekend when I found out about the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman. The news of his death crushed me; we’ve lost a bunch of actors and singers to drugs over the years, but this was the first time I felt genuinely rocked to my core about a loss of this kind. And due to the various comments and judgements being laid out about the manner in which he died, I felt like I had to make a statement.
Addiction is not a choice. It’s never a choice, and it never will be a choice. It might look selfish on the outside, but it isn’t. Some are chemically predisposed to addiction because of genetics. Others decide to do something once and that’s the end of that. Others try something and then, because of that predisposition or personality type, will instantly become addicted.
I know I have the capacity to be intensely addicted to things; that’s why when I was in college I never smoked pot and never took heavy drugs even though the opportunity was presented to me to do both of those things. I think I knew on a cellular level that if I started I would probably get attached to it.
I’ve talked about my disordered eating on the blog in generalized terms, but I thought I’d go further into the mindset I was in during that time after seeing what’s going on with comments being made about Hoffman’s death. I’m not equating food addiction with heroin use, of course. But I am equating pain with pain, and the things we keep buried, and the way addiction can grab hold of even the ones we think are the strongest. Cory Monteith had been clean for a while before his death last summer; the addiction makes you think you can handle it again, and before you can grab your mind back, it’s too late. It has you. I can relate to that, for sure, even if I’ve never wanted to use heroin. (I saw Trainspotting when I was 17 and it made me never want to do any sort of drug, ever.)
I’m not going to give you any sordid details on what I specifically did in my disordered days because A) I’ve already beaten that topic to death in various posts and B) I don’t want to give anyone ‘tips’ for their own addictions. If you are curious as to what I went through in more specified terms, google “EDNOS” (Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified) and look at the lists that pop up. You name it, I probably tried it.
My addictions were compulsive behaviors related to food. I did them even when I knew it was wrong. Addiction cannot be reasoned with or shut off. In the very act of my compulsions, I would feel as if buckets of guilt were being poured over my head. That didn’t stop me from doing it. I would hear a voice in the logic center of my brain saying, quite calmly, What you are doing is wrong. This is bad for you. You shouldn’t be treating yourself like this. Stop. But then that part of my brain that was entirely overrun with the disease that is addiction would slowly come into room like a burglar and cut the power lines.
EDNOS are still highly misunderstood and de-legitimized, and because of that I felt like my compulsions were normal. The reason I engaged in these disorders is simple, yet pretty life-shattering – I thought I had to be perfect at everything, to be absolutely everything for everybody, and because of that, the cracks got bigger and bigger until I couldn’t hold it together anymore. When I left New York I felt like I had failed everyone in my life – despite the fact that I had received numerous phone calls, emails, and text messages from friends and family telling me how proud they were. All of this was created in my head by those lovely Vampires of Despair.
The minute I got off my own back, I started realizing that I didn’t want to engage in those behaviors. I wanted to be a better person for everyone in my life. I got better by treating my yoga as therapy, allowing myself moments in the day to take huge, deep breaths, giving myself permission to talk about my issues to friends and family. Now, if I have a problem or I’m feeling panicky, I actually talk through it. I’m much more emotional and vulnerable than I’ve ever been and I think that’s because I give myself permission to be those things. When I don’t allow myself to be vulnerable, the addiction pops up like “HAY GIRL HAY, LET’S DO THIS.”
Because my addictions were a comfort ritual designed to ease anxiety, my anxiety can become an issue. That’s where a lot of addicts of this kind trip up. Without the addiction, they have to live, and for some of us, the idea of facing the world is a lot to handle. Accepting the fact that I am fallible, that I am vulnerable, and that I am broken, actually helps me to accept myself as a pretty great person with a lot of gifts to offer. I can’t be everything to everybody, but what I am is pretty special.
Addiction is never a choice. And sometimes, tragically, the addiction wins.
Do yourself a favor and watch a Philip Seymour Hoffman movie sometime soon. He was the finest actor of his generation, and the cinematic world is darker without him in it.
PS. On a similar note, I was incredibly stressed out and triggered by what happened on The Biggest Loser finale; I pacing my room at 1AM, scrolling through all of the messages from people just as freaked as I. But Rachel is the same age I was when I was at the height of my disorder. Hopefully her low weight was a result of body-building type dehydration tactic (which is NOT okay, but competition is competition), not an eating disorder, and hopefully she reaches a place of mental and physical balance. I am a huge fan of Jillian Michaels and what she stands for, and I hope The Biggest Loser eventually reexamines its requirements and standards for healthy living and changing your life. Additionally, I think anyone can be healthy and happy at any weight as long as that weight is one that works for you and sustains you. Thinness isn’t a standard of health.