Battle Scars

By Allison Holland 12/18/14

How fear of gaining weight kept me from getting clean.


I smoked crack and shot heroin for years.

I did it because I was addicted to the way that they made me feel—physically and mentally. But, the drugs also shut off the voices inside my head that told me to starve myself. There was no need to worry about how many calories worth of Swedish Fish I had just eaten when I was seriously concerned about whether I had added too much heroin and not enough coke to the speedball I was getting ready to bang. That is the true insanity of addiction—that I was willing to play Russian Roulette with my life in order to stay thin.

I have one single stretch mark on my stomach that remains as a battle scar from initial weight gain when I entered into recovery.

Long before I had picked up an illicit drug habit, I was heavily monitoring and restricting my food intake. At seven-years-old, I mimicked my mother’s eating habits and put myself on a “diet.” I started to place foods into categories, anything with a high carbohydrate content was “bad,” and anything protein rich was “good.” Anything in between these two absolutes was also categorized as “bad” for fear of being tricked by the nutritional food pyramid into eating anything that would lead to me gaining weight. Eventually, all food became “bad.” Food became something that I believed existed purely as a ruse sent to Earth, by God himself, to make me fat and unlovable.

My relationship with food, and the lack thereof, could be likened to an abusive relationship. I knew it was selfish for me to continue depriving my body of the one thing that would keep me alive, but I continued to go back to the comfort of the emptiness in the pit of my stomach from not eating for days at a time. I would starve myself to the brink of hospitalization, only then to binge, for days at a time, out of pure instinctual desperation to continue surviving. As soon as I put food into my body, a switch would flip inside my brain. The food I was eating had been labeled and categorized as “bad,” and if I was eating the “bad” food—that meant I, too, was “bad.” In an effort to shut off the insults my eating disorder would hurl at me anytime I would ingest food, I tried to overcompensate by eating more. I would eat massive quantities of food until I could fit no more into my stomach, or I hated myself to the point of suicidal ideation. Thus began the purge: a forced vomiting session where my eating disorder would force me into staying in the lavatory for hours at a time until all the food in my stomach was gone. I remember numerous times being wrapped around the base of the toilet crying out to God that I would never again put my body through the pain of a bingeing and purging session. Unfortunately, these foxhole prayers were never enough. I would revisit the porcelain shrine countless more times during my disordered eating years.

The first time I drank alcohol, I would be lying if I said that I felt a complete relief from the disordered voices in my head. I loved alcohol, and getting drunk was something that I did so frequently that I readily admitted to being an alcoholic far before entering recovery. While drinking didn’t mute the voices that instructed me to not eat the nachos at the bar, it did quiet them. Alcohol also made me care significantly less about how I looked, but nothing in comparison to heroin and crack cocaine. The first time that I did heroin, I remember feeling as if a warm blanket had been laid on top of me. There were no disordered eating thoughts. I didn’t hate myself if I ate candy while I was on heroin, and I certainly didn’t contemplate liposuction with my Hoover vacuum cleaner while nodding out. I became addicted not only to how heroin made me feel in a euphoric sense, but the facade of how heroin made me feel okay with myself for the first time in my life. I remained dependent upon heroin and crack due to the disease of addiction, and the obsession I developed with how gaunt my body became when I abused these substances. I had numerous opportunities over my active addiction years to seek professional help for my drug addiction, but the fear of gaining weight always won in the decision-making process in my mind.

When I was arrested and sent to jail for the crimes that I had committed during my drug and alcohol addiction, the arresting officer had to get a special pair of handcuffs for me, because my wrists were so small. I was in a solitary confinement cell because I was so dope-sick that I could barely stand, but I was so proud of how the jumpsuit I was wearing was literally falling off of my bones. The first time that my attorney came to visit me, an officer had to physically pick me up and place me in a wheelchair to be transported to the visitation booth. The pathetic physical state that I had put myself into by abusing drugs and alcohol was completely overshadowed by the pure joy that I felt when the officer stated in shock and horror how he could feel my whole rib cage.

Once having detoxed from the drugs in jail, and having no substances to numb my untreated disordered eating, my eating disorder reared its ugly head in full-force. During scheduled meal times I would turn away my trays, and look in disgust as others around me begged for second helpings of the correctional facility’s gourmet gruel. I wouldn’t eat at all, or would only eat the fruit that was provided at breakfast time. That is, until the same cyclical chaos of restriction and bingeing would come full circle. For days at a time I would consume as few calories as humanly possible in jail, until my body would ache. At that point, I would become ravenous and eat everything in my wake. Unable to get privacy in county jail and being unwilling to openly purge and risk being sent to a medical observation unit, purging the consumed food became next to impossible. My brain didn’t know how to manage all of the excess calories being taken in, but not disposed of immediately afterwards. My worst nightmare started coming true—I steadily gained weight.

I stayed in county jail for six months awaiting the resolution of my case, and during that period of time—I had gained what I believed to be a substantial amount of weight. I was booked into the Virginia correctional facility at approximately 95 pounds, and I left at about 125. I would lay in my bunk at night rubbing my disappearing hip bones and expanding wrists, and sob. I mourned the loss of my bones, and was horrified when the correctional officers would point out how I was gaining weight.

I contemplated suicide numerous times while incarcerated, but never made an attempt. I would have rather died than be overweight. I simply vowed to myself that I would simply return to the life of using and drinking, no matter what the consequences were. I knew that the addiction lifestyle would ultimately result in me returning to jail, but the overwhelming obsession to be thin, and the need to stop the voices in my head that were constantly calling me fat was omnipotent. I needed to be thin, I needed to be out of my head, and I didn’t care at what cost these things came. I was aware that to continue to abuse heroin and crack was a death sentence, and I was okay with that, so long as I was thin when I died.

After some amount of time and an inordinate amount of pain suffered—the decision was made to surrender. I no longer wanted to die rather than be fat; I would rather have died than to continue living in the hell that I was existing in. I put down the needle and pipe for the last time, and cried. I cried because I knew that I had failed in what I was ultimately trying to do. I was unable to lose any weight from using drugs anymore, because I physically had no strength to use for much more than a few weeks at a time. I had destroyed my life chasing a high and a weight that was impossible for me to ever obtain again. I cried because I knew that I was going to gain weight in recovery; and I cried because for the first time, I didn’t care.

I did gain weight in recovery—a lot of it. I was horrified at myself, and I did a lot more crying. I remember the first time that I realized I had gained so much weight that I was developing stretch marks on parts of my body that had never had them before. I looked at myself naked in the mirror and lightly touched where my skin had become thin and purple. It was as if my body was trying to tell me that it was still fighting for me. If my body was willing to stretch itself to the limit in order for me to recover, I was willing to push through.

Self-esteem and a positive body image doesn’t come overnight. Especially when disordered eating and self-image are ingrained so deeply into one’s psyche that every move seems to be connected to a negative disordered thought. My eating disorder still talks to me, but I now have the courage to talk back. I understand now that my worth is not dependent upon my waistline, though my brain still likes to tell me it is from time-to-time. I equate my eating disorder to a neighborhood bully. Sometimes the eating disorder bully is hard to avoid, and tells me mean things. Yet, I have the choice today to allow those falsehoods to get the better of me, or to live in reality. For this disordered eating drug addict, to slip back into anorexia or bulimia is to die. I accept today that if I were to use drugs one more time, I would die, and if I were to starve myself of nourishment, I would use heroin and crack. My drug addiction and eating disorder were so closely intertwined, that a slip in one area could very easily segue into a relapse in the other. 

One afternoon, my boyfriend and I were lying in bed. Both of us were shirtless, and he was running his fingers over my mid-section. I have one single stretch mark on my stomach that remains as a battle scar from initial weight gain when I entered into recovery. He touched it softly and asked innocently, “What’s that from?”

So badly, I wanted to tell him that it was the remnants of appendicitis, or a scar from where my gallbladder was removed. I told him the truth, however: “It’s a stretch mark from my weight fluctuating so much.” I felt my face burn red with embarrassment as the words left my mouth. He continued to touch my scar, tracing it with his fingers. He smiled and said nothing—but raised his arm above his head, to show me something.  

On his inner arms, my boyfriend had marks that feather around his biceps. I loved them. They looked like tiny intricate etchings on a marble statue. I knew that they were stretch marks—but somehow I had viewed them differently than my own. I viewed his in a positive and beautiful light, whereas my own through an ugly and negative lens. Whether they were results of either him hitting puberty, or rapid muscle definition from his workout routine—I didn’t care. Anything that was a part of him, I adored. I ran my fingers across his inner arms and told my boyfriend in all earnestness, “But, I love these. I love your arms. Every part of them.” He simply said, “Exactly.” With his hand covering up my stretch mark on my stomach.

My body fights for me every day. I believe that, today. The words “stretch marks” have taken on a whole new meaning to me. They are my battle scars that show how far I have come. They deserve as much dignity, respect, and admiration as anyone else’s battle scars—regardless of what my eating disorder wants me to believe.  

Allison Holland is a native Virginian who currently resides in Florida. She blogs and helps share her story with other recovering addicts and those who suffer from eating disorders.

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