Unfinished Business

Am I done yet?

“Are you done yet?” a substance abuse treatment professional or recovery mentor might say to an addict seeking help after the latest stay in hell. As I continue to struggle with the addictive eating behavior that has so frightened and shamed me recently, I ask this question of myself. A week ago, I thought I was emerging…and was proven wrong a day or two later.

How do I know if I’m done? How do I give myself permission to be done?

Acting out on an addiction is like a ritual; it has stages and a story that’s hard to interrupt. There’s a point beyond which, in the absence of extraordinary grace or intervention, some kind of completion is required. Whether it’s running out of drugs, getting too sick to do anything at all, getting caught…some external force ends up being the thing that ends that bout.

It’s been several years since drugs were a part of my life, but I remember that impetus to finish. Midway through using up my latest supply, I might reach a place of misery strong enough to awaken a desire to stop–yet it always seemed necessary to finish off what I had. And I’d do so as fast as possible, heedless of consequences, knowing that only this would release me. It seems arbitrary, I know, since there are always more drugs out there. But ritual is often illogical.

Rituals, when intense enough, can also induce an altered state of consciousness. If you’ve ever had a loved one in the throes of addiction and seen them actively seeking a fix, you’ve seen this–the person you know and love is overlaid with something primitive and driving.

Years ago, I sat in my therapist’s office talking about how difficult it was to show my anger. He was trying to help me begin to show it to him in that safe place, and my progress was slow. Drawing back from my latest attempt, I huffed in frustration and met his eyes. “You really want to see me angry?” I asked him. My voice took on a low, alien resonance as I went on. “I wish you could catch me at that moment one day. Appear before me when I’m deep in the trance, when I’m beyond the point of no return, when I’m actually holding the pills in my hand, when I’ve done everything I need to do to be alone and able to do this, and I’m about to take them…show up right then and try to take them away from me. Then you’ll see something new.” “I wish I could,” he said with regret.

Lately, I’ve been aware of the rituals around compulsive eating for me. I’ve experienced the trance and the drive, and I’ve experienced the need to finish–a need that carries me well beyond the point of discomfort and regret. In order for me to have permission to stop eating compulsively once I’ve started, it seems to be necessary to make myself so thoroughly sick, shamed and impaired that I never want to taste or even see food again.

When is it enough? How sick do I need to get? How much damage do I need to do to my health? What degree of misery will melt the sticky resin around my brain and allow me to start applying recovery principles to this part of my addiction for more than a few hours at a time?

I’ve said all along that I’d have to struggle with these issues after my medical program was finished, but I didn’t want to be this right. And when I’m in that place, my creativity is seriously muted. Writing this is very hard; it doesn’t flow and the voice telling me to shut up gets fewer rejoinders. I’m doing it anyway because it’s been too long and I don’t want to fall into silence.

I wish I could treat myself very differently. I wish another incarnation of myself would show up and help me be done hurting myself a little faster. I wish she’d coax me into a hot shower, wrap me in a comfortable robe and entertain me while we wait for the sick filled-with-cement feeling to go through its life cycle. I wish she’d help me make a plan–one plan, not the thousand that jumble around in my head–for tomorrow, and I wish she’d hold my hand through the headaches and anxiety that will come if I make it that far.

Today I write with honesty, but not with the hope I would like to bring. I want to improve from this slump not just for me but for all who suffer; to bring word of unlikely change and unlikely grace. Those types of stories are my favorite message, and they will come again.

3 responses to “Unfinished Business

  1. I wish I could coax you into a hot shower, wrap you in a comfortable robe, and entertain you right now. Since I have the flu, though, I’m hanging out in my own robe and sleeping.

  2. Thank you for sharing- I get the “need to finish” feeling and the struggles with anger. Keep trucking.

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