We all have different paths (and are entitled to them) but we share the same goal – freedom from self-inflicted pain, a loving relationship with self, and to find inner peace. As long as we have willingness, we will find our way.
I have a friend in recovery who HATES it when I break things down in terms of the “disease” of addiction. Although she has been clean for four years and attends 12 Step meetings, she has never been able to open her mind up to the possibility that addiction is a disease. For me, the disease concept is the one thing that’s made it possible to unravel my twisted thinking and impulsive wiring toward self-destructive behaviors and has allowed me to develop new skills to break the cycles.
In her defense, I have always had the same sort of recoil from talk about higher powers, although conceptually I see how beneficial they are to the process of finding meaning and safety. In either case, a certain amount of fantasy and creative imagining has to be invested – though there is neurological evidence of the brain disease of addiction. My friend has made it clean four years without a disease concept or a God. She has made it on willingness to follow direction from people who have more experience dealing with life clean and sober. That has been enough for her.
At two years clean she developed an eating disorder. We were just getting to know one another while I was in her city when she confided to me a violent episode that had happened in her youth. From the moment I returned to New York and our friendship turned to instant messages and emails, it became apparent that her anxiety was going through the roof. She was crying all the time and her legs were cramping uncontrollably. She was sleeping two or three hours a night and forgetting to eat. Whatever suggestions I gave, she’d forget as soon as we said good-bye. At first it was impossible for me to understand why she wasn’t taking any sort of self-care actions when she was so clearly in physical and emotional pain. It only made sense when she told me that I was the first person she’d ever told the story about the abuse.
It made perfect sense to me what was going on when I broke it down in “disease” terms. Something terrible had happened to her. She was a victim yet carried the blame and shame. The disease loves blame, shame, and secrets. For fifteen years this had been her secret. While her love for her young daughters was the impetus for getting clean and attending meetings to stay clean, she’d chosen a sponsor who used her as a babysitter and was uninterested in moving her forward in step work. In fact, as her weight fell away and she decided to go to therapy at my insistence, her sponsor shamed her over it, saying that she looked great and it was all in her head – as if she’d concocted the anxiety to get attention. It was a replay of the relationship she’d had with her adoptive mother. Every step of the way toward seeking help, her disease struck harder. The trauma she’d experienced at 15 continued to hold her down. This wasn’t surprising considering most addicts have trauma in their background. Whether we used because of the trauma or if it was a catalyst to fuel the disease is like asking the chicken and the egg question. The facts on paper: 30 year old woman with an addict birth mother, drug and alcohol use, sexual trauma at 15 and an increase of drug abuse – rehab at 28. Shedding light on her secret was followed by extreme anxiety that preceded anorexia.
In recovery terms, there were actions that could have helped but she was incapable of taking them. To her credit – and I believe this should be typed in bold for anyone reading this paralyzed by feelings and behaviors yet unable to take action – she continued to attend meetings throughout the next eighteen months of physical and emotional hell and new women came into her life with substantial clean time and they led her to a new sponsor. This carried her until she was ready to get help. She hated going to meetings, hated hearing about the disease and about God but she went anyway. I believe WILLINGNESS is the launch of an arrow, its tip cutting through space changing all of the molecules in its path. It causes change to happen.
The most interesting thing to me in witnessing anorexia in action is that early in the process, there were very strong parallels to how the disease of addiction works and the tools we use in recovery may have altered its course. At a certain point the anorexia took on its own twist and it needed very different tools to heal it. Ultimately the process will involve intensive trauma work.
I began writing this blog entry because I wanted to discuss the disease concept and how grasping a thorough working definition will help you to address any issues, past or present, in order to have sustainable long term recovery. It has been a very long and difficult path for my friend but through trial and error she is discovering for herself that the disease concept gives our creative mind a chance to understand how it operates on us individually so that we can change its course before it either leads us in a direction of relapse or toward death by other means.
In upcoming blogs, I’ll be writing more about my theory of the disease of addiction and a way to gain an understanding of how it seems to trick us into behaviors away from health, wellness, and inner peace and how recovery tools really can combat it.
This friend wrote a blog that I posted earlier this year for Eating Disorder Awareness Month. I am very happy to announce that she is currently seeking help at an inpatient treatment facility. I believe she will flourish and become a positive power of example to many others she will encounter on her journey. I have her permission to write this entry.