I got in a fight last week. Okay, maybe fight isn't the right word, but I definitely got in a bit of an argument. Long story short, we were discussing addiction in one of my classes and a girl sitting behind me rose her hand and said,
"It really frustrates me when people struggling with addictions lie. They tell their therapist and/or loved ones they are doing great, only to find out they are secretly using again. Why would they ever resort back to those behaviors when it ruined their life in the past?It's stupid. Just stop using. It's simple."
Before the poor girl even finished her statement I obnoxiously raised my hand ready to fire back. Thanks to my irritation, I didn't give the girl a very nice response. I basically told her she didn't have a clue and social workers need to be more understanding of these things... Oops.
After processing this for about a week and a thoughtful chat with my mom, I now realize the general population probably has similar thoughts surrounding addiction. To my surprise, my mom actually had similar thoughts as the girl and said I am in a unique position because I have been there first hand. So I thought for this post it would be helpful for me to explain why the girl in my class made me want to fight her.
Let's break it down piece by piece.
"It really frustrates me when people struggling with addictions lie."
Those of us who are addicts or have battled eating disorders are the best liars in the world. We will do whatever it takes to keep our disorders and behaviors safe. If lying means we can maintain our false sense of control, then we will absolutely keep the truth a secret. No matter how irrational it may seem, there are times when lying feels like the only option.
"They tell their therapist and/or loved ones they are doing great, only to find out they are secretly using again."
I think it's pretty safe to say all of us with eating disorders and/or addictions have lied to our therapists in the past. There is a massive amount of shame involved in having symptoms and I am always afraid to disappoint those who are working so hard to keep me healthy. The amount of pain I have caused my loved ones in the past is already too much to bear. I can't imagine putting them through that again. So yeah, in the short term lying to them does seem like the best thing to do.
"Why would they resort back to behaviors that ruined their life in the past?"
Honestly, I cannot come up with a solid answer for that question. All I know for sure is during times of intense anxiety or pain, fighting off those urges to use or have symptoms is a million times harder than giving in. For several years I used restricting calories and alcohol to numb out; they became my go-to coping mechanisms, my comfort, my (sick) best friend. Also during those times of intense anxiety, I am not myself. I lose the ability to think rationally. All I care about is numbing out, even if that means resorting back to behaviors that once ruined my life.
"It's stupid. Just stop using. It's simple."
The girl in my class obviously has been lucky enough to never experience a mental health disorder first hand. It is not stupid or simple. In fact, it is incredibly complex and draining. It breaks my heart to think there is such a large misconception surrounding addiction and eating disorders. If the recovery process was simple then I wouldn't have this blog or be dedicating years of my life to the process.
I may not have handled the situation very well in class, but I was honestly shocked at the words coming out of her mouth. There have been a few instances similar to this where I am caught off guard and a little triggered while discussing mental health in class. Learning to keep my personal beliefs and experiences separate from the course material might be tricky at times, but at least now I know getting in fights isn't nearly as effective as explaining myself.
Not everyone understands. Although that is difficult for me to grasp, it is important for me to learn to be patient with the girl in my class, just like all of you have been patient with me.