A MEMOIR and a place to talk eating disorders, dieting and the messy bits in-between.

How to Know You’re Not an Addict. Or: Eating Disorders Versus Alcoholism and Addiction: The Ultimate Recovery Battle.

(This is not a battle about who has it the worst, but let’s talk it out. Advanced apologies for all non-beginners on this very should-be basic eating disorder recovery issue.)

If you are addicted to alcohol, you have to abstain. Not one sip can cross your lips, they say. Alcohol is unnecessary and unhealthy anyways and for someone with the character makeup of addiction (addiction, like any other mental illness, is one big part genes and another part personality and the unfolding of one’s life circumstance), you just have to abstain, that is the only way.

But someone with anorexia has to pick it up throughout the day, every single day.

So while, with time, an alcoholic may get some benefit of habit and a small rewiring of their brain to understand that alcohol is a daily no, someone with anorexia has to struggle daily to find a balance with their drug of choice. Because they have to pick up, but they can’t pick up too much and go to the other extreme (very common for people with anorexia to veer into binge eating, bulimia or over-eating). They have to face their addiction day in and day out — not just the emotions and unsaid parts that compose their disorder in the first place, but the actual substance.

Wait — you may be thinking, an alcoholic drinks alcohol and an anorexic abstains from food — so the reverse, an alcoholic abstaining and an anorexic eating and drinking… that’s good, no?

The thing is, it’s not so simple. Because while alcohol may be the high for an alcoholic, there are many sources of high for an anorexic. One may come from starving, but another, and bigger high, comes from allowing oneself to eat in neat and measured calculations.

If you think of anorexia as an addiction to alcohol (aka, food) that the anorexic is trying to recover from, if you think that an anorexic sees their addiction as so strong that they have to divide and calculate and over-mediate, in order to heal themselves and self-soothe, then, congratulations, you’re understanding of anorexia has passed the layman’s realm.

Anorexia is a fear and addiction to food (— and the meaning of food) that freaks the anorexic out so much that they begin mass, self-inflected substance control — the addiction is to the substance of food, but the good and therapeutic feelings (the drunk) comes from the tiny, measured calculations of dolling out their food for the day.

When an alcoholic begins to recover, they have to stop drinking. When an anorexic starts to recover, they have to learn to do the same thing they have been doing all along — deciding and then following through with what they are going to eat — only this time, they have to do it in a healthy manner. Even though, you know, we could seriously question if any of the normally walking, talking and avoiding of life’s bigger threats and miseries-people know how to do the whole healthy eating thing right, either.

So the rules are more clear-cut for an alcoholic. They abstain. It’s excruciating and impossible at times, sure, but it’s also a pretty simple rule to follow. Don’t pick it up.

For the anorexic, we have to pick it up in a “balanced” way even though the act of picking it up was our mode of self-inflection and we have to do it all just so healthily, even though we (as in all people) have such a little understanding of what that even means.

Three Americana-sized meals a day with snacks in between is a lot of food for anyone, so says our obesity epidemic. For the anorexic trying to recover, three meals a day with snacks in-between… it’s a very tight rope. Hold tight.

— Jordan Lee Knape. 

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