Eating Disorder and Alcoholism

buddysnowI recollect getting my first little buzz from alcohol at the age of 10 when my father gave me a beer at a Fourth of July picnic.  I note that many folks in recovery remember their last drink.  I also remember my first drink.  After a few years of sobriety I recognized my addiction to tobacco was quite similar to my addiction to alcohol.  Through a 12-step program, an online (IRC chat) community and Nicorette gum, I successfully dealt with the physical manifestations of my nicotine addiction.

A few years ago I recognized my compulsive overeating as  another true addiction for which I needed to work a recovery program.  Seven years ago I successfully dieted my way down to a suitable weight through Weightwatchers.  Since then, I have yo-yo’d back and forth, gaining 20 pounds, losing 10, gaining 20 and so forth.  Right now I am about 25 pounds overweight.  I get plenty of exercise and bike a lot.  A few years ago I became friends with some folks who were in recovery from either bulimia or anorexia.  Coupled with my alcoholism recovery, the friendships provided me tremendous insights into my eating disorder.

Upon reflection, I realize that I had a full-blown food addiction long before my first beer at 10 years of age.  I recollect well when I was 5 years old, I would pull a chair over to the kitchen counter and climb up to the sugar canister to eat scoops of sugar.  On the kitchen shelf I ate spoonfuls of grease from the can my mother poured in the residue from frying bacon and other meat.  I often ate till I was in pain.  In elementary school, I had a pretty successful career at shoplifting and stealing money from my mother’s purse.  Without exception, the only thing I ever shoplifted or bought with stolen money during those years was food – more specifically, candy and pastries.

By the time I hit high school, I switched over to alcohol, speed, and tobacco as my drugs of choice and earned enough money that I did not need to steal to support my addictions.

Here is where the revelation on my eating disorder came to the fore.  About three years ago my wife was standing in the kitchen having a conversation with our daughter on the phone.  The daughter lives about 200 miles away.  Although I could not hear the entire conversation, by my wife’s responses, I understood that our daughter had just been physically assaulted by a relative.  I was completely incensed, wanted to take action, but I was 200 miles away.  There was a package of cookies on the kitchen counter.  In the course of the 10-minute phone conversation, I ate the entire package of cookies.  Were I not in recovery from alcohol addiction, I would have drunk a bottle of something in that 10-minute period.  Were I not in recovery from nicotine addition, I would have chain-smoked cigarettes.  Instead, my response was to eat.  When I reflect over the past few years, my overeating generally results from my not dealing with life on life’s terms, the same reason I anesthetized myself with alcohol in the past.

Personally, I find my eating disorder even more “cunning, baffling, and powerful” than addiction to alcohol or other drugs.  I can technically be “sober” by just not putting those substances in my body.  However, I must eat, but I must do so in a non-addictive way.

I am grateful to my time in recovery from other addictions to understand that I use food in the same way and that recovery has less to do with the physical substance and more with living life on life’s terms.  The simple knowing is half the battle.  The next question is – So what am I going to do about it?  To me, being able to ask that question is an exciting aspect of recovery.  It is not a matter of getting holy.  Rather, I am grateful for the opportunity to make choices.

4 thoughts on “Eating Disorder and Alcoholism

  1. Oh boy, the tag line of my blog is “There Are No Coincidences.” I read ByeByeBeer faithfully, I am introduced to you this morning, and this is the post I read. Oh boy.

    I am anxious to read more. I am in recovery from alcoholism/addiction, but as I get more clarity I am coming to realize that food was (is!), in fact, my drug of choice.

    So I look forward to reading more of your wisdom, as someone with so much sober time, to see how your proceed.

    Thanks so much for sharing this!

    • Thanks so much for your comment. I completely agree that the “drug of choice” can be situational and perhaps shift with circumstances and time, but it is the behaviors that are consistent. It is the behaviors that are truly cunning, baffling, and powerful. Perhaps the most exciting thing I have found over my time in recovery is the clarity to at least be able to ask the right questions and get to the core issues and move beyond the “well if you had x, y, or z experience you would drink too.”

      Best, Robert

  2. Hello there,

    I came across your blog a little while ago through your guest post with BBB. I really loved reading that post and subsequently many of the other posts on your blog. The philosophy of looking at life as a series of interwoven processes and not a catalogue of events really resonated with me and for articulating it so meaningfully I say thank you 🙂

    I saw something on TV the other day which made me think about some of the things you were writing about. It was an audience/panel show talking about alcohol abuse and they had an elite sports person who said that he made the decision during his teens to never drink. This was interesting because he is of a socioeconomic and ethnic background in which alcoholism is a major problem. A geneticist was one of the panel and he said that his research was showing that it was possible that this man had the gene to make him an alcoholic but that because he never drank the over-riding compulsion which characterises this gene was channeled away from being an alcoholic and into being an elite sportsman. He then went on to say that people who have his gene and drink alcohol are alcoholics. People who have this gene and don’t drink are not but that the compulsive drive comes out somewhere. In positive situations it is in drive and focus and commitment, negatively it could be addiction to other drugs, food obsessions or gambling.

    I thought of the fact that many of us have multiple addictions, or we give up drink to find we are compulsive over eaters. It made me realise too that now that drink is no longer a part of my life I can throw away that long held belief that I am a no hoper, never-finishing loser and channel that compulsive gene into something I really want to achieve.

    Just another part of the process 🙂

    Thanks again,

    • Kirst,

      Very interesting comment. I had not thought of it regarding channeling compulsive drive into something. I do find that workaholism is a trait I take on very easily as well. I enjoy very much trying to seek balance – and that is certainly one of the processes that I have worked hard on over the years. I was riding yesterday with a friend who was talking about some addiction issues that a close friend was dealing with and how they could not stay sober. I realized too in speaking with her that until I saw a reason to live in recovery, there was no reason to stay sober either. Whereas today I know that with the first drink, my family, friends, career will go out the door, that was not something I appreciated until after a few years of recovery and putting my life back together. In very early recovery, I was more fear driven – blackouts, DUI, death. Today, recovery is not fear of what could happen, but the very real understanding that life as I know it today is gone with the first drink – and I happen to thoroughly enjoy life today!

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