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Overcoming Eating Disorders and Other Dangerous Addictions

“The human spirit is stronger than anything that can happen to it.” ~C. C. Scott

It starts accidentally.

Addicts don’t plan to become addicted to a substance or behavior. It’s an invisible progression, a newly discovered way to feel peace, trust, and control.

You don’t remember the day you became addicted—the day your addiction became your identity.

You do, however, remember the relief of the first time your addiction helped you cope.

Many bulimics remember in vivid detail the day their eating disorders started. Up until that moment, they suffered with chaotic home environments, low self-esteem, the inability to accept themselves, pressure, and feelings of powerlessness, confusion, and distrust.

And then one day they throw up, without any intention of becoming eating disordered, or losing weight. They just did it.

The instant after the purge is complete, a sense of peace and wholeness overcomes you. You feel powerful and in control. It results in a perverse, but intense high and satisfaction.

You decide maybe you’ll do it again. What’s one more time? It was so easy the first time anyway.

And that’s how your addiction begins to infiltrate your mind, body, and spirit.

Low self-esteem, suffering, and the inability to cope effectively are at the heart of all addictions.

People with eating disorders also struggle with their identity—with establishing who they are and how that relates to what they want and the world outside.

The addiction is an effective way to cope with life when you don’t understand your emotions; you have only a limited capacity for self-respect, and you don’t have healthy relationships with people.

I was fourteen years old when I threw up on purpose for the first time. It was so easy. Too easy.

It continued to be easy for a while. I lost thirty pounds in two months. I finally felt like I was popular, and I could eat anything I wanted and not get fat. I felt powerful. Stopping was out of the question.

It was something predictable and comforting. It was dependable. It was my friend.

But the high didn’t last long. My comforting friend turned into an obsessed and disturbed lover, where violence is synonymous with love, and hatred is the motive behind every gesture.

Before long, the addiction takes over and it gets harder. You’re forced to devise complex plans to binge and throw up without anyone noticing.

Because now, instead of three times a week, you’re doing it four times a day.

Now, people are starting to notice your scarred knuckles and shaking hands. You start gaining weight and you don’t understand how that can happen when you’re not even letting yourself digest. You hate yourself for not being able to get even this right.

Instead of the self-esteem and self-acceptance you were promised, you get self-hatred and abuse.

You’re living with constant dizziness, your heart’s beating in odd rhythms, your throat burns with acid and scratches from your nails. You’re so weak.

You get tired of fighting and give into it. Without realizing, you make it your purpose in life, your only reason to stay alive.

When you believe that you’re worthless, you begin to subconsciously think that life isn’t worth living.

Your sense of worth hinges on your ability to be a successful eating-disordered person, which becomes more important than yourself, your health, or your life.

Consider how much a person has to hate their body to rationally convince themselves that starving is a reasonable way to lose weight.

Most people have a self-protection mechanism wired into their brains to prevent themselves from really doing harm. I never had that. I had to learn it.

When you have no sense that your own health is actually important, that your body is—at the very least—a biological organism that requires care and feeding and respect, your goal of losing weight will turn into a no-holds-barred attack on your flesh before long.

By the time I was sixteen, I was vomiting six times a day and taking stimulants to decrease my appetite. I continued to vomit at least once a day until I was twenty years old.

I have no idea how I survived that long, but I did, and I’m grateful every day.

When you go without eating or sleeping for a long time, you start thinking you don’t need it.

You forget what it’s like to feel well like because you feel horrible all the time. You don’t remember a time when life was any other way.

You forget what standing straight, steady, and strong feels like.

You don’t remember how your stomach felt without the acid, stimulants, caffeine, and laxatives.

I still don’t remember what being completely healthy feels like. And I’m twenty-six years old.

Never take your health for granted. You don’t realize just how important it is until you don’t have it anymore. Even if you’re a relatively healthy person, if you haven’t been to the other side, you don’t know how blessed you are every day.

Always remember that your body is a sacred temple. Treat it with as much respect as you would any other physical temple. Anything else is cruel.

People forget that bulimia is an act of cruelty.

It’s not just something you do. It’s not just a psychological disorder and sickness. It’s an act of brutality that bespeaks a profound level of anger toward, and fear of, yourself.

Then a time comes where your anger and fear take possession of your body and you become your own personal agent of death. You punish yourself because you think you deserve it, while struggling to survive long enough to take another beating.

Your eating disorder is now your identity. When you say “I,” you mean “we.” You make decisions together, you think together, and you live together.

Even thinking about separating from your other half sends you into a panic. How can you survive without it now?

It’s terrifying.

It’s intolerable.

It’s possible.  

I know because I’ve been there and back more times than I can bring myself to admit.

I may not be the picture of health, but I’m alive.

Not alive like I was when I was throwing up every day. Alive in a way I never thought possible.

Alive in a way that makes me want to cry with happiness.

I can go out to eat on a date in a white dress without worrying if vomit will splash onto it during my purge or if my boyfriend will smell it.

I can eat on a picnic, hike, walk, or relax in a boat without the overwhelming anxiety and fear that come with not knowing how I’m going to purge.

I finally know what being fed feels like, which sounds like the simplest thing in the world to people without eating disorders but is miraculous to me.

I don’t have to worry about my esophagus rupturing, my stomach lining deteriorating, my heart stopping, becoming infertile, or my teeth rotting.

I don’t have to worry about the approach of my early death.

When I was sixteen, I was told that if I kept going like I was, I would be admitted, or I would die.

A decade later, I’m still alive—and no longer as a reanimated corpse, but as an actual human being.

I realize now that, as a walking corpse, in some ways I had it easy. It was a crutch—a way of avoiding life and all its little problems because I was facing death and that was clearly more important.

At some point, you have to believe that you’re strong enough to be a human being that takes life head on. Because being sick and staying addicted is easy. It’s familiar and safe, whereas life is unfamiliar and takes a lot of effort.

If you’re dealing with your own addiction, I know that nothing I can say will change your mind until you’re ready to hear it. Just believe me when I say you do have a choice, and you’re capable of making it.

You can stay attached to your addiction and eventually die from it; or you can walk away from it, get some help, and truly live.

The next time you reach to your addiction for comfort, try to tell someone what you’re about to do. You don’t have to ask for help, advice, or a shoulder to cry on. Simply state your intention to throw up, starve, drink, or get high.

At first doing so will feel impossible. You’ll struggle to find protection from yourself. But keep trying.

Don’t try to think any further than just telling someone. You won’t be able to see beyond this one seemingly insurmountable task.

When you finally work up the strength to say it, you’ll have completed half the battle. Because saying it out loud makes it real, and it’s also a cry for help.

When you finally say it out loud, you’ll have made the choice to truly live.

As someone who’s been there, I can promise at least this: Although living is terrifying, I’d rather spend half a lifetime without my eating disorder than one hundred lifetimes with it.

So please choose to live. You’re worth it.

Photo by Juliana Coutinho

Avatar of Liz Seda

About Liz Seda

Liz Seda runs a blog about how to use your unique individual potential to identify and create a life you love. Connect with her on Twitter.

Announcement: Wish you could change your past? Learn to let go and create a life you love with the Tiny Buddha course!
  • http://www.mazzastick.com/ Justin

    So true Liz. I think you hit the nail on the head when you stated that low self-esteem and identity are at the root causes of addictive behaviors.

  • TB at BlueCollarWorkman.com

    Whoa. I never really knew about this kind of thing. Thanks for sharing.

  • http://alifeonyourterms.com/ Liz Seda

    I’m happy to share whatever experience I can. Thanks for reading.

  • http://alifeonyourterms.com/ Liz Seda

    Thanks for taking the time to leave your thoughts Justing. I found it important to address not only my addiction, but also other addictions, because they’re connected. More connected than most people think.

  • Lars

    Thanks, Liz, for sharing. Been there: booze. Still recovering, after (today) 555 days without. But I feel a bit more awesome every day!

  • R.C.

    Extremely powerful and scarily relatable. I like your writing style/voice. Thank you for sharing.

  • kellyng

    You moved me to tears. My soul needed to hear your message.

  • kellyng

    Thank you for this.

  • z_disqus

    Your words resonate deeply with me and with the truth. I have had bulimia for about 26 years now. I finally was ready and able to truly begin the process of letting it go just within the past 6 years. Currently, I consider myself in recovery, though I will occasionally resort to it again in times of great stress or pain. Times when my “old friend’s” method of control, gives me the instantly gratifying, yet illusionary, sense of control.

    I no longer beat myself up for those times, rather choosing love, some grace and understanding. Instead of a b/p session that would go on for hours and days in the past, it will only be the one time and I will often even stop myself without getting rid of it all. Huge progress! I finally truly believe and see myself as me and not someone with an eating disorder. It will always be a part of me sure, but it no longer defines me. For so many years I didn’t think I could or would ever feel this way or reach a point of mental and physical health. I did it and am doing it though! :)

    I am so glad you found your way and are sharing your experience with the rest of us and those who have yet to begin their own journey of inner healing.
    Love and peace to you and to everyone. Especially those who are still learning how to love themselves and believe there is a reason to do so.

  • lv2terp

    This was a beautiful post, thank you for sharing your vulnerability Liz!!! That is courageous, admirable, and will help so many people!!! :) Hugs to you, congratulations for coming through that experience healthier, happier, grateful, and with many yrs ahead of you! :)

  • ***

    I can’t believe this. This is….. everything. It’s everything “it” is. It is every detail and feeling, and just hit me like a brick wall.

    I can’t thank you enough for putting it in words- I had to keep reading. I never hoped or thought possible that someone else could put these feelings and thoughts into words and explain them to a “t.” When you are living with it, the truths come in tiny spurts and are easier to brush away, ignore, or silence. Here they are all laid out in order AND entirety and I suppose I really needed to hear it this way. I can’t ignore it now. I have some digging to do. Thank you.

  • love24

    thank you for sharing. I have not had an eating disorder, but related strongly to many of the things you described. Thank you SO much for sharing and making me feel less alone and less like I’m strange. I felt like I was the only one feeling these things, and you also gave me hope for getting out of it. Wonderful article. Thank you.

  • Alice

    This is the most thoughtful, real and insightful piece I have ever read about bulimia – every sentence speaks volumes. Thank you Liz. I suffered from bulimia for 10 years and here I am, age 34, reading your article while eating a normal, healthy dinner, which I cooked, and will continue to cook for as long as I live! 2 years ago, I would never have thought this possible! As you so wisely say, ‘you do have a choice’ and boy, am I grateful for that choice!! Living is undoubtedly terrifying but as each day of my recovery goes by, it becomes a little less scary…and more and more amazing!
    Keep spreading the word :)

  • http://alifeonyourterms.com/ Liz Seda

    Hey Lars! I think we’re all still kind of recovering, you know? I know what you mean about it getting more awesome every day. Things start to clear up and it gets easier. Although I can’t be sure that you ever forget…I guess I’ll just have to wait and see.
    Thanks for taking the time to drop a line. I appreciate it.

  • http://alifeonyourterms.com/ Liz Seda

    Thanks R.C. I try to write as if I’m talking as you, to you. Like a voice inside of your head. I know it sounds weird, but that’s how I do it!

  • http://alifeonyourterms.com/ Liz Seda

    You’re so very welcome. Touching an individual on that level is the ultimate victory for anyone sharing a message. Your comment is truly a gift.

  • http://alifeonyourterms.com/ Liz Seda

    Wow 26 years! That’s quite a journey and I’m moved that you’ve found the strength, even after all that time, to act. I think there’s also a comradarie between people who have been addicted to something and especially (ex) eating disordered people. It’s a feeling you can never ever explain. I did my best, but it will never come close to how happy I feel right now that you would stop a b/p session!

  • http://alifeonyourterms.com/ Liz Seda

    I was rather nervous about getting entirely naked, but I’m glad I did. Someone has to eventually. Thanks for commenting and thanks for your congratulations! I really am proud of how far I’ve come :).

  • http://alifeonyourterms.com/ Liz Seda

    I can’t thank you enough for trying to put into words how my words made you feel, which is just as difficult I think and JUST as appreciated. You’re welcome and good luck. Digging is painful and hard, but please don’t stop.

  • http://alifeonyourterms.com/ Liz Seda

    I think that’s why Lori had the great idea of asking me to write about addictions in general instead of pigeon holing it into just eating disorders. Because there are so many states that are relevant. You’re welcome and thank you so much back.

  • http://alifeonyourterms.com/ Liz Seda

    Thank you Alice!
    You know, the act of eating a good meal and feeling nourished and just healthy is one of my favorite things. It’s weird, but I like the thought of giving my body what it needs after all of those years of mistreatment.

  • renee

    To say ‘been there, done that’ sounds completely trite, I know. I don’t mean for it to sound such. I have been an addict most of my adult life. I am 58 years-old. while I am not in active addiction, I believe I have to be a step ahead of myself so I don’t fall into the depths of my addictions. More than one, I had. Drugs, food for sure. I was anorexic/bulimic for 12 years. That was over 22 years ago. I know because my son is 22 years old. When I found out I was pregnant I figured ‘the gig’ was up and I had an innocent bystander growing inside me. I didn’t feel I had the right to f*ck up the life of my unborn child, thank goodness.
    I am a little over one year without using my drug of choice. I am on another medical support to keep me from getting sick.
    My life is better now that it has been in a long time, and it is still far from perfect or anything close.

    All you said, I have felt, wrote, talked about, was talked to about, felt guilty about, etc..you get the picture.

    I appreciated your bold honesty, outrageous courage and much needed conviction in writing this piece. Thank you, renee

  • Lars

    I don’t want to forget. I was driving a car way too fast for me. On the surface, I was living several “dreams,” but I was highly unaware of my self, my authentic me. Crashed my car, got dented big time. Lost some, gained a lot (I only now begin to see and appreciate). I was afraid I was a “bad” person because of my drinking; I now realize it is, also, part of me: the little black dot in my white Yang. In the near future, I intend to help people, just like you do, by sharing my story, by training to become an Expert by Experience.

  • PazDeAmor328

    Fabulously written. I can completely relate. I suffered from 14-20 as well. Worst years of my life; I’m happy you’ve found the sun in life again too. My love and strength to anyone who is suffering. If I can do it, you can too.. Hour by hour, day by day, month by month, year by year.

  • sue

    Thank you for sharing this – I’m very glad that you are doing much better. I’ve suffered from bulimia for years as well – I’ve finally recovered, with occasional lapses, and am doing much better. This is a beautiful quote by Audrey Hepburn that I like to read when I do get self-conscious about my weight and start to loathe my body.

    “The beauty of a woman is not in the clothes she wears, the figure that
    she carries, or the way she combs her hair. The beauty of a woman is
    seen in her eyes, because that is the doorway to her heart, the place
    where love resides. True beauty in a woman is reflected in her soul.
    It’s the caring that she lovingly gives, the passion that she shows
    & the beauty of a woman only grows with passing years.” – Audrey Hepburn

  • Irving Podolsky

    Hello All,

    Today I reread Liz’s response to my letter to her. After taking in this article, I asked Liz if she would kindly explain the reasons WHY she felt the way she did. She told me her story and I am still floored by her twenty-six years of wisdom and maturity.

    I do not have an eating disorder, but I am a recovering worrier. My addiction manifested as embracing fear-of-uncertainty and the illusion of not being good enough. I suspect that applies to 99% of us.

    Liz understands this universal condition: not feeling good enough. Harmful compensation for lack of self-respect manifests in a thousand ways, destroying loving relationships, careers and physical health. Bulimia is only one way of breaking down. Gaining weight is another. Alcoholism and abusive behavior attacks us everywhere.

    Ms. Seda has much to say about the REASONS behind the hurdles, and I hope she doesn’t scold me for coaxing you to ask for her for expanded advice. Go to her website. Get her email address and ask for her opinions. I think they would help you. She helped me to understand more about my eighteen year-old niece, and even about myself. I’m 64 years old.

    Thank you Liz, for walking the walk on that hot bed of coals. You are now prepared to bring a soft cooling breeze to inflamed apprehension.

    Irv

  • http://www.thebounceblog.com/ Bobbi Emel

    Liz, thanks so much for sharing your very raw, powerful story. You are really going to help a LOT of people.

  • Ryl

    Oh god, this was amazing. I don’t have such a disorder, but my binge eating is driving me nuts. You’re right, just reading an article doesn’t remove the addiction, but it’s a start. Thank you so much.

  • disqus_KrVu2ct75U

    Hi Liz,

    Thanks for sharing. I know how it feels like too after making that choice to kick all addictions. I was a bullimic and had an addiction to self-cutting and paracetamol. It wasn’t until one day that I decided that ‘Enough Is enough’. On the surface, I was the perfect daughter from a perfect family. Somehow, I was dying a little inside each day. There were a lot of mental bullying by other relatives. Quitting cold turkey was difficult but I knew I had to do it for myself.

    I do have a tendency for a relapse every once in a while despite kicking the addiction for almost 8 years – I’m 26. But I keep telling myself that I will be fine without falling for any addictions all over again. Sometimes, it’s difficult because it just seems like the easy way out without having to deal with any problems. But sometimes, it just feels like I have to fight it through after all the hard fight to reclaim my body, mind and soul.

    I was lucky to not have any visible scars left from all the cutting until a deep one that left a huge scar on my upper arm. That was my reminder – The Last One. :)

    Thank you again for sharing this. It really meant a lot.

  • Jasmin Tepale

    im in the process of self recovery from bulemia and anorexia
    By self i mean without professional help. I know many people strongly suggest to go to professionals but as that quote above states the human will is very strong and my will to recover is strong. However every once in a while like right now i feel weak and tempted but this was a good snap back to reality. Reading this was the reminder i needed to keep going. For that i can not thank you enough. You are a wonderful person for posting this. Wish you all the best. Thank you

  • Allison Cicalese

    I did the same. Well I guess I have seen a lot of therapists. Yoga and meditation work wonders for EDs. Especially kundalini yoga if you can find one near you!!!! congrats!

  • Allison Cicalese

    Binge Eating is an Ed and I can totally relate…

  • Julia

    I needed this. I can’t thank you enough. -Julia

  • Anonymous

    Liz, but what if you don’t want to overcome? I have an eating disorder. I love the control it’s given me over my body size. A small part of me is worried, but… the payoff is wonderful. Are we hopeless if a stronger part of us does not want to let the disorder go?

  • Jasmin.Tepale

    thank you for the suggestion i’ll definetly look into it. I appreciate the response.

  • Maddie

    I can relate to this all too well. I’m 16 right now and bulimic. I had stopped for about 2 months but have relapsed and throw up about 2 times a day. The constant struggles of hiding it and guilt haunts me. I want to get more help but my addiction keeps me for fear of not being able to fall back on the comfort of throwing up. It really is a struggle.

  • wendi

    There are so many different types and levels of addiction. Everyone is fighting an addiction of their own in one way or another. It may be anything from alcoholism to always needing to feel guilty. Thank you for your article and for reminding me to always try to be kind with my words and actions when interacting with others.
    Thank you again!!!

  • Dancegirl

    You blog was very helpful in helping me with my Health project. Thanks! It was interesting.

  • Dancegirl

    You blog was very helpful in helping me with my Health project. Thanks! It was interesting. REALLY POWERFUL! I can’t even begin to describe it

  • A

    all i can say is that i needed to hear this so, so much. thank you

  • Jenna

    Thank you so much for this, your post came to me on perfect time. The past two weeks have been the beginning of my journey towards recovery. Being able to finally admit that the problem – bulimia – is real, exists and has been existing for a long time has been a huge thing for me. I’m ready to look for help and not waste anymore years of my young life.

  • Josh

    Thank you so much for this beautiful post. I’ve suffered with bulimia for over 8 of my 24 years, having dealt with more anorexic tendencies for 4-5 years before that. I’ve been in over 10 inpatient treatment facilities, have tried numerous medications and therapies, and yet still have been unable to maintain any kind of recovery. For me, it’s hours upon hours per day, often not stopping to sleep. It has taken everything from me.
    My life is completely and utterly empty. Though I’ve tried to “fill” it up with inspiration and support, nothing has been enough to keep me from giving into the unreal craving/compulsion to binge. In my case, it’s not so much the purging that gets me “high.” The purging is simply a byproduct of the bingeing. When I follow a regimented food plan that I’m comfortable with, I do not purge. It’s the high or “calm” or “numbing” of bingeing that keeps me coming back day after day, even when I’ve promised myself to abstain.
    I’ve improved on so many levels through my many years of therapy–I don’t have nearly as much self hatred, I am a better communicator, I am less self-conscious. However, these things have not translated into recovery from bulimia. Although I attempt to use mantras and remind myself to treat myself as I deserve to be treated, that motherf@&%er won’t leave me alone. I would do anything to live a normal life, but it doesn’t seem possible, leading me to be extremely passively suicidal.

  • Christine Bravo

    I can’t thank you enough for sharing this moving story of yours. I believe people must begin to realize that anorexia isn’t really about food and weight at least not at its core. Eating disorders are much more complicated than that. Some things like no amount of dieting or weight loss can cure.