Addiction has many forms - Meet Dr. Matt!
Written by Matt Turner
Self-Judgement perpetuates many forms of suffering, including addiction. For many people, addiction is fueled by emotional turmoil, trauma and/or suffering in some form. In this pain, there is always self-judgment. It is the mechanism in which we use to cling to our pain. For many people, this is an unconscious pattern that occurs. Those of who have felt this pain for much of our lives know it as a friend because it is familiar. Many of us confuse familiar with safe. But the truth is that familiar is not necessarily safe.
The addiction that I have struggled with most of my life has been with food, specifically binge eating. As a skinny kid growing up in the south, I often heard, “You’re too skinny. You need to eat more. I can see your bones.” In my mind, I heard those words as, something is wrong with me and the way my body looks. I heard this from family, friends, peers and strangers. In fact, I still hear these things today as an adult. No matter how much I ate, I couldn’t hide my skinny little body. I believed if I gained weight, I would be attractive enough. No matter how much I ate, I was never immune from the opinions and judgements of others. The voices in my head telling me that I was not enough, lingered still.
A lot of my life growing up, I didn’t know that I was binge eating. I had never heard of it. I was not conscious of the belief I carried that I am not enough. I thought that eating disorders could only be anorexia or bulimia. In my mid 20s, I learned about binge eating and realized this was how I’d been living my life. Once I started eating, it was difficult to stop. I ate well past when I was full. I would feel a desire to stop eating. Instead of stopping, I would disassociate, leaving my body, and then lose awareness of what I was doing. I was being driven by a compulsion that felt like being pushed by a rocket. No matter how much I pushed back, nothing happened. Only when I ate to the point of being uncomfortable and hurting would I stop.
I have always had anxiety and shame around food. I judge myself for how I am eating and what I am eating. There have been times when I hide what I am eating from those that I Love for fear of them judging me. I eat so people will not judge me for being skinny and not enough and then I hide what I am eating so people will not judge me when I am eating unhealthily. I have used this vicious cycle for most of my life, continuously validating all of the reasons that I believe people will not Love me.
I decided to be vegetarian and vegan over a 10 year period. For me, this only perpetuated my binge eating and shame even more. If I did not eat what is prescribed as healthy and “right,” I would judge myself and create more anxiety and shame. It was during this time that I discovered my struggle with binge eating because this journey made me look at my relationship with food in a way that I had never done before.
In 2015, I moved to Asheville, NC where I lived for a year for some self-healing time in my life. Living in a place where I knew only one person did wonders for my healing. I could not distract myself with people or my familiar things anymore. I had only me, my cat and nature. I had only time to be with myself and observe my behaviors. I was able to reflect on the way they were impacting me and my life. This move came just a few short years, after I realized my struggle with binge eating. It was an opportune time to begin my healing journey with my addiction, food.
I decided to experiment with my patterns around food and observe my behaviors as if I were a scientist. When I would binge, the first thing I noticed was the compulsion. I then noticed myself disassociating, struggling not to leave my body. I tried to find the will within myself to stop the binge in that moment. Stopping seemed out of reach and so I would judge myself harshly. I would say things to myself, like:
“I should not still be struggling with this.”
“I have already done so much healing from childhood trauma so this should not still be affecting me.”
“I have to stop or I will never be able to find a man who Loves me.”
“I am weak because I cannot say no to the compulsion.”
“Who am I to call myself a healer when I cannot even heal this struggle.”
These are just a few of the things I would say. I was aware of how much pressure I placed on myself with these judgements. This pressure would build until I felt overwhelmed with anxiety. This made me want to eat more and escape those feelings. The binging was always a way to escape my body and not feel the pain. It was a repetitive and seemingly never-ending cycle of pain and suffering.
The real kicker is how easy it was for me to hide all of this. Because I have always been skinny with a high metabolism, I never gained weight. I had this identity with friends as the one who could eat a lot and never gain weight. I liked the attention it gave me. It felt positive and it felt good. It also became an excuse to keep myself trapped in this cycle. Yes, I was the one keeping myself in this cycle. Blaming my pain on everyone telling me that I was too skinny and needed to eat more was a way of giving away my power.
The thing about addiction is that it requires us to connect to our inner power in order to transform through the suffering. As long as I blamed others, I would never be free of my addiction. And that goes for all of us, regardless of the drug of choice. I had to choose to no longer live in the story of my trauma and how everyone else caused it. I had to make the choice to stand in the knowing that I am the one still choosing to perpetuate this cycle by believing it as true. It is not until I can accept the reality that I am the one keeping these beliefs alive that I can be free from them.
So, back to living in Asheville. One day, I was eating lunch in my studio apartment, looking out at the trees as I usually did. I noticed after a few minutes of eating that I was binging. I could feel myself driven by the anxious compulsion. I immediately observed my thoughts going into self-judgement and tearing myself apart. I kept telling myself, “I have to stop this binge, it is bad, why am I still struggling with this.” It was almost as if a voice deep within me was yelling from a cage, “STOP, STOP, STOP.” No matter how loud that voice yelled, I could not stop.
And then I heard the voice of Spirit say, “It is okay, just let yourself binge.” This pissed me off. My connection with Spirit has always been the thing to lead me to truth and healing. And how could binging be okay? How dare it tell me that it is okay to binge.
So, I responded, “No it is not okay. It’s bad and wrong.” Again, Spirit said, “It is okay, just let yourself binge.” By this time, I was raging within myself and arguing with Spirit, feeling confused. And then I heard Spirit say, “It is okay. Just allow yourself to binge and practice Loving yourself while you binge.” These words gave me chills throughout my entire body. I realized immediately that this is what being Love meant. It means to Love myself unconditionally.
It all clicked and made so much of my life make sense in that one moment and that one phrase, “Just practice Loving yourself as you binge.” I realized as I reflected on those words that when I had compassion for myself in the moment of my binge rather than judging it, I was tossing water on the fire and extinguishing it. When I judged, I added more fire to fire, pain to pain which only perpetuated it. It has been almost 5 years and I have far fewer urges to binge. Most of those moments that do arise never make it into action because I choose to have compassion for myself for even thinking about it or desiring it. I have an occasional moment where I slip into a binge as rare as they are and I choose to have compassion for myself rather than judge myself. When I do this, I am always able to stop without much effort.
One day, I chose to use my addiction as a way to learn how to Love myself more deeply rather than punishing myself for not feeling worthy enough in the world. Only then, did I become free.
This choice is something that each of us has the power to make, no matter the pain, trauma or suffering you have endured that fuels and feeds your addiction. You are worthy. You are powerful. You are Loved.
For those of you with addicts as friends, family members, Lovers, or co-workers, remember that person is not addicted because they are bad. They are addicted because they are in pain. Love is the most powerful medicine of all. We are all capable of giving it and receiving it.
Not until we choose Self-Love and compassion can we all become free from our addictions.
Thank you for the feature and beautiful story Matt!! Feedback welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org<3