Addiction Is a Shapeshifting Motherfucker

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Addiction Is a Shapeshifting Motherfucker

By Harmony Hobbs 05/10/18

“I can’t go to every 12-step meeting in town. I don’t have time for Overeater’s Anonymous AND Narcotics Anonymous AND Alcoholics Anonymous. I have too many issues.”

Image: 
Woman with a lot of sweets on table, lifting hand to say enough.
It also turns out that I also really, really like to eat.

I placed my hands on the edge of the beat up leather armchair and leaned over until my face was close to his.

“I was thinking today – maybe I could just go into our bathroom, crack the window, and smoke a cigarette every time I get the urge to mindlessly eat. I’d lose weight fast if I did that.”

I waited for a response, but there wasn’t one.

“I don’t even like to smoke. You know that. It’s more like … I just need something to do. You know?” My voice was almost a whisper; the kids don’t need to hear their mother discussing the gnawing feeling that crops up constantly because addiction is a relentless, tenacious bitch.

He understands the gnawing. My husband was smoking a pack a day when we met and continued all the way up to our third child’s birth. Nicotine is a tough habit to kick – I know because I’ve watched my dad try and fail for my entire life – and that’s why I can’t bring cigarettes into our house, just like he can’t bring in drugs or alcohol. Neither of us wants to see the other one fail.

After the initial detox process in early recovery was over and my appetite returned, I defaulted back to my first love: food. When I was 11 years old, my grandfather was in a terrible accident that rocked our family to the core. He spent almost a year in various hospitals and rehab centers before finally coming home, blind, disfigured, and unable to eat properly.

My mother stepped in to run the family business while my grandparents got their bearings. All I can remember from that year is tense scenes from hospital waiting rooms where my aunts and uncles made cutting remarks towards each other under their breath and my mother tried to smooth it all over, dutifully executing her role as peacekeeper. My dad excused himself to smoke and often took me with him so my extended family could hurl insults at each other without having to watch their language.

That was the year I discovered that food made me feel better. I ate plates full of homemade fudge and chocolate candy that my grandmother baked, because food made her feel better, too. I spent my entire teenage existence locked in a cycle of eating my uncomfortable feelings, and then hating myself for the way that I looked, for not being mentally strong enough to stop shoving food into my mouth. This all changed when I discovered my drug of choice: Phentermine.

Phentermine removed my desire to eat. It gave me boundless energy, it made me thin, and it was magical. Everyone commented on how great I looked, and I was killing it at work. I felt happy (because I was high), my tolerance for alcohol was better (NOT A POSITIVE THING), I had enough energy to ace my college classes, work full-time, exercise, and have a social life. All I had to do to get Phentermine was show up at a shady weight loss clinic—rotating which ones I visited, of course—and step on the scale. I was careful never to lose too much weight – if my weight dipped too low, or I didn’t have money, I couldn’t get the pills.

I spent a lot of time counting and re-counting those blue and white specked prescriptives while looking at the calendar, worrying about how I’d pay for more. I bummed Adderall from a friend if I found myself in a tight spot. On our wedding day, I was bleeding from my rectum, and as I counted pills in the palm of my hand in the bathroom of the hair salon where my bridal party was getting dolled up, I chose to ignore it.

Everyone still talks about how beautiful I looked that day.

As time marched on, I went on and off the pills but I never stopped drinking. After I became a mother, Phentermine helped me keep a spotless house and lose the baby weight. “You look amazing!” everyone said, clueless that I was hiding a raging drug addiction that gave me enough energy to keep up with a demanding career in insurance, and be an amazing wife and mother. I was fixated on attaining what I perceived as perfection, but I never quite reached it.

I call myself an alcoholic, and I am. But, if I’m being honest, I’m also an addict. I’m a speed freak who loves to drink, and it also turns out that I also really, really like to eat. For me, recovery isn't just about pills and drinking. It's about every fucking thing, and it's exhausting.

“What am I supposed to do?!” I said to my friends during our weekly coffee date, leaning back in my chair and tilting my face up to the sky. “I can’t go to every 12-step meeting in town. I don’t have time for Overeater’s Anonymous AND Narcotics Anonymous AND Alcoholics Anonymous. I have too many issues.”

“Everyone has issues,” my friend said. “You’re just aware of what yours are.”

After getting sober from Phentermine and then alcohol, I spent a year discovering that I’m what my therapist likes to call a “disordered eater.” Struck with a desire to drink while stuck at home with fighting children, I baked and consumed an entire batch of cookies. On another day, I mowed through an entire package of Lemon Oreos. I ate the kid’s Halloween candy. I ate their Christmas candy, their Valentine’s candy, and their chocolate Easter bunnies. I swore to myself I wouldn’t, but just like glasses of wine, I could not stop once I got started. Instead of pouring myself a drink at homework time, I was eating.

When I ripped a hole in my second pair of jeans, I decided I’d had enough. Upon weighing myself, I felt disgusted and desperate; my very first thought was that I needed diet pills. After playing that tape through, I switched to Plan B: nicotine. Secrets feed addiction, which is why I found myself confessing to my husband that I thought smoking in the shower was the best course of action. His reaction (“that’s stupid”) led me to Plan C: bulimia.

After bingeing on pizza the next day, I rammed my fingers all the way down my throat. Nothing happened — I don’t have a gag reflex. The very thing that makes me great at blowjobs is what left me stuck that day with a belly full of pepperoni pizza and a boatload of shame. I hit bottom again.

The thing about addiction is that left unchecked, it becomes a moving target, shape-shifting into a different demon. I’ve managed not to drink or take uppers for almost 18 months, but in that time I’ve gone on and off of approximately 8 diets in an effort to manage my weight. Until I removed the substances from my life, I didn’t know how jacked up my eating was. If I can ever figure out that piece of the puzzle, I wonder what other discoveries lie beneath.

Time will tell.

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