Numbing Out: What If I Said You Weren’t Addicted to Food?
By Z Zoccolante
What if numbing out pain with food is an unhealthy solution, not an addiction? What if I told you that you weren’t addicted to food? What if I told you that you didn’t have a problem with food at all? What if I told you that the problem was the discomfort beneath your skin, that urge to squirm and itch and run. The discomfort under your skin is what you’ve been trying to numb out. The food is just the solution you’ve come up with.
As I sat in the substance addiction education class, the counselor said going down the line of chairs,
What if I told you that you didn’t have a problem with meth, with alcohol, with heroin? What if I said you weren’t addicted to these things?
What does it bring up hearing this, he wanted to know?
My immediate thought response was, “Of course we’re addicted.”
And then I remembered something that my eating disorder therapist told me a long time ago when I was at the beginning of my recovery. She said:
You’re not addicted to food. You’re addicted to the process of numbing out.
Numbing Out Versus Food Addiction
I remember thinking, “Wait, what? I’m not addicted to food?”
But then I thought about it and I wasn’t. If I didn’t have the yummy binge foods I wanted then I’d find myself putting together weird concoctions of foods just to be able to eat something enough to throw it back up. I was actually addicted to the process of numbing out.
The counselor told the room, filled with chairs of people that the world labels “addicts,” that if meth, alcohol, cocaine, weed, pills or whatever their drug of choice no longer existed in the world, they’d simply find something else. They’d find something else, just like I had in my eating disorder putting together foods that didn’t even taste good when I really wanted an entire tub of ice cream or such.
Their drug of choice was just the solution to the discomfort in their skin, just as food and eating it and throwing it up or not eating, it was my solution to the discomfort in my skin. Food was just my solution.
This blew my mind. What if we gave up thinking of ourselves as flawed? What if we thought of ourselves as people who are just trying to find a solution to ease the tension in ourselves that we feel we can’t handle. This mindset change might change the way that we recover.
Safe Ways to Deal With Feelings Instead of Numbing Out with Food
So if the entire reason we engage in an eating disorder is to stop feeling things we don’t want to feel, the solution would be to stop starving, eating, or throwing up our feelings and instead find safe ways to feel and express.
Here are five safe ways to feel and express your feelings on the road to recovery. This is how to deal with your feelings instead of numbing out with food.
1. Support Groups
A huge part of recovery is to replace the compulsive behaviors and patterns with connections with others. Connections have been proven to be an antidote for addiction. There are many support groups, similar to the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) model, that have been created for those in eating disorder recovery. Eating Disorders Anonymous (EDA) is a national, volunteer-lead non-profit that seeks to support individuals struggling and seeking recovery from an eating disorder (anorexia and/or bulimia).
Buy a journal and a pen or pencil and write about your feelings, your day, your recovery, the great stuff and the junk stuff. You may begin to see patterns that can help you towards recovery. You will also be able to express freely and openly any darn thing you want because it’s your journal.
3. Enlist Support People
Create a list of safe support people that are willing to be there for you if you’re feeling down or having a hard day or to celebrate with you when you’ve had something exciting. Ask them if they’d be willing to be a safe person for you to talk to on occasion. The important part of this is that you feel safe to be able to share with them honestly what is happening in your life and how you’re feeling about it.
Cry or scream in your car or underwater in the bathtub. Listen to music, dance, and sing. Move your body and your voice at the same time. This is a free form of somatic therapy which helps us to get the stuck emotions moving, and processed out of our bodies (Relieve Symptoms of PTSD: Allow Your Body To Shake).
5. Find a Therapist
Get a licensed therapist who specializes in eating disorders. This is my favorite recommendation all the time. It’s important to have someone trained in seeing what we can’t see and is willing to present it to us. We can’t fix our eating disorder with the same thinking that got us in it in the first place. This is where a therapist is vital.
You can recover one step at a time. You can begin to feel your life again, and at one point, it won’t be scary anymore. You can feel without having to numb out.
*This article first appeared on HealthyPlace.com