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anorexia

Thank Goodness I was Sober in Law School

My friend Brian Cuban recently wrote a post about his experience of being in law school while being deep in his alcohol addiction and eating disorder. It’s hard to fathom what that must have been like – going to class after waking up with a hangover, getting smashed when he was supposed to be studying, and puking his guts out as he staggered home. Law school is hard enough without struggling with addiction. I’m so grateful I got sober before I went to law school.

I carry two chips in my wallet - my most recent birthday chip and my 24 hour "desire" chip. They remind me how far I've come but also that I have to take it one day at  time.

I carry two chips in my wallet – my most recent birthday chip and my 24 hour “desire” chip. They remind me how far I’ve come but also that I have to take it one day at time.

Actually, it’s because I got sober that I was able to go to law school. I never would have had the courage to apply when I was deep in my addiction. Before I got sober, my self-esteem was fragile at best and I was too afraid of failure to try anything that put my desire to maintain the illusion of perfection at risk.

I had plenty of classmates who drank to blow off steam (and who sometimes drank over lunch and came back for afternoon class tipsy or drunk) and/or used prescription stimulants to help them study. I remember one of my classmates brought of bottle of booze and little plastic shot glasses so he and his friends could drink right after they got out of our Con Law final. (That was a bitch of a final. I understand why he did that. That was the only class where I had doubts about passing.) Being sober, I didn’t have the luxury of numbing my feelings with alcohol and drugs or using anything stronger than coffee to study.

Don’t think for a second that I am/was as pure as driven snow. For full disclosure, I struggled with my eating disorder throughout law school. At the height of my disorder, I binged and purged about once a week, but this was mostly an infrequent occurrence during my law school years.

Throughout my law school career, I was fortunate to have strong connections within the recovery community. I was lucky to have a classmate who was also in recovery from addiction. We would talk during our study breaks to vent about the stress of law school and life in general, and be there to support each other. We experienced the discomfort of law school without the option to mollify our stress with recreational substances. It was pretty brutal at times, but it was comforting to know I wasn’t going through it alone.

As a member of a 12-step program, I have a sponsor, and it was fortuitous that he was getting his degree (different field) from Arizona State University while I was in law school. Both being students in difficult programs, he understood my level of stress because he faced it himself, although he seemed to handle it much more gracefully. There were many times I met with him between classes, to touch base about how I was feeling and to make sure I was perceiving and responding to situations appropriately. Just having him nearby was reassuring.

One of the things I’ve learned in recovery is how important it is to stay connected to others. I’m grateful I had strong connections to others in recovery on my campus. They kept me grounded and gave me a place to vent when I needed it.

I also want to give a massive hat tip to my undergrad alma mater Oregon State University. They established a collegiate recovery community with sober housing for students in recovery from addiction. I didn’t even know I had a problem when I was an undergrad, but I’m glad this is available for people who need/want it.

Nobody Knows I Have an Eating Disorder

Warning: This post may be triggering to some people. Please seek help and support if you need it.

Photo by SLR Jester from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Photo by SLR Jester from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

From the outside, many people would say I’m young, successful, adventurous, and happy. I’m a daring entrepreneur and an outspoken writer. They have no idea that I struggle with an eating disorder.

As a size 4, I’m small but not emaciated. I don’t have the stereotypical eating disorder “look.” Most people don’t know that you don’t have to be severely underweight to have a serious illness that attacks your mind as much as your body.

They don’t understand how hard it is for me to eat. Most of my meals and snacks are carefully planned to keep my calorie count low. They don’t know how often I make a mental list of everything I’ve eaten that day to make sure I haven’t had too much. If I could give up food completely and just wear a calorie patch every day, I would.

They don’t know how I critically examine myself in the mirror, yearning to see more of the bones of my rib cage, shoulder blades, and collarbones. I don’t want to be horribly underweight, just “a little bit thinner.” They don’t know how important it is for me to be able to touch my fingers around my wrists. That tells me I’m still small enough. They don’t know how guilty and disgusting I feel when I’m having a “fat day.”

They don’t know how soothing it feels to devour a carton of ice cream or a big slice of cake, only to have that feeling overtaken by tremendous anxiety and shame – so much that I stick my fingers down my throat until I throw up again and again. There is no moderation in my world.

Burdened by Shame by John Hain from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Burdened by Shame by John Hain from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I once described my disorder as having a Get Out Of Jail Free card. I can eat whatever I want without worrying about getting fat. (Never mind the toll it could be taking on my internal organs.) It’s like being able to drink and being able to make yourself instantly sober again.

Every day is a struggle for me. My mind is filled with anxiety when it comes to deciding what to eat, when to eat, and when to stop. I constantly deal with the fear that if I start eating I won’t be able to stop, and if I over indulge myself that I’m going to get really fat. And in my mind being fat means I’m undisciplined and possibly out of control, which is ironic because having an eating disorder means I’m out of control when it comes to managing my emotions. So I use food to manage, medicate, and escape my feelings instead.

Having an eating disorder is painful – both physically and emotionally. It is truly an illness; it’s not a diet; it’s not something I do to get attention. On the contrary, it keeps me depressed and isolated from the people I love because my shattered self-esteem tells me no one cares. And intellectually I know that’s not true. But this disease doesn’t care about intellect. I can’t think my way out of it.

Having an eating disorder is a bitch.
And most people have no clue that I have one.