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Intertwining Food and Substance Abuse Issues

What many non-addicts often struggle to realize is that addiction is not about the substance itself. Someone’s “obsession” or “lack of control” is seen as the problem, when in actuality, it’s the need to escape or dilute repressed pain. It’s about trying to find a way to operate in the world when you feel so stuck and disconnected, you just don’t know how else to get through the day. These feelings of disconnect, fear, anger, and depression do not just magically disappear when someone stops using substances. They are still there in all their glory, which is precisely the reason it’s so easy for people to start using food in the place of alcohol.

If we are honest with ourselves, we can see how this is far from ideal. However, for most people, ideal isn’t the priority – staying sober is. For them, what matters is not using their drug of choice at all costs. If that means putting on 20 pounds, so be it. If that means becoming obsessed with working out, fine. People are doing the best they can to stay sober, and in that process, other things start to pop up. Finally, there are those who come to realize that food addiction has actually been the core issue all along. They discover that substance use was their way of trying to handle the negative body image and food issues that they couldn’t seem to escape – no matter how hard they tried. For these souls, the beginning stages of recovery are especially tough. They are trying to deal with two addictions simultaneously, all while not trying to add a third.

If this is you, you are not alone.

Food and Substance Abuse Issues

It is extremely common to have food and substance abuse issues coincide, which is precisely why the beginning of this article touched on the deep motivators of addiction. If it’s a longing for more love and less pain, then why wouldn’t someone have multiple avenues of trying to meet that need? I think of these individuals as extra resourceful. Come hell or high water, they are extra determined to meet their unmet needs! Eventually however, they come to realize that neither method will actually work, and they have to find a new way…a healthy and loving way.

The moment of deciding to face this challenge is a powerful one. It is the moment when someone can honestly and humbly admit that the way they are living is no longer working. And as we all know, this is what opens the door to new beginnings. The good news is that the same things that can help someone stay sober from alcohol can also help them with their food issues. Therapy, recovery coaching, 12-step meetings, and support groups are just a few of the resources out there. The biggest difference in how to treat the two, however, lies in the fact that a person cannot omit food. They cannot just stop eating, so they have to find a way to form a relationship with something that can easily set them off.

If you are an alcoholic, imagine trying to drink normally. This is what a person with food must do. They must learn how to be with food in a way that works for him or her. It’s no easy feat, to say the least. But it most certainly can be done.

Creating Your Own Feedback Mechanism

If you are someone who is struggling with food, I invite you to think of it as a feedback mechanism. It shows you when you are off. If you are someone who uses food to cope with life, you can rest assured that you will want to overeat, under eat, obsessively work out, or something similar, when you are not doing well emotionally. Many people think they are doing fine, and then they find themselves face-first in a tub of ice cream. It goes without saying that something is bothering them.

There are various viewpoints on how much of an issue it is to use food to cope after putting a substance down. Being someone who doesn’t believe that there is a blanket “right” or a blanket “wrong” about anything in the world, I think this matter is best left decided by the individual facing the issue. You must be rigorously honest with yourself. How much is it impacting you mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually? This is your benchmark for where to place your energy.

And in the case of those whose primary addiction was food in the first place, it goes without saying that this is waiting for you to lovingly begin to heal yourself. Healing from food addiction looks different than alcohol addiction. It is often a lifelong process, as food will always be there. It ebbs and flows more, as a person cannot abstain from it. Difficult times often influence how they behave with food. There is no benchmark or right place to be. There is no one way to do it. It is a highly individualized and unique process that allows for deep, radical transformation where you learn much about yourself, your beliefs, and how much strength lies within.



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