I was reading an article about “drunkorexia”
recently. In the comments, one person brought up something that wasn’t mentioned in the article. It went something like this:
Sometimes, in eating disorder recovery, we find ourselves drinking to excess to cope with the anxiety that we so often feel.
In response to that comment, I wanted to write about this phenomenon because this is
a real thing — because this was
When I was newly in recovery from my eating disorder, I used alcohol as a coping mechanism for several reasons, that I detail below:
- To be able to eat food I wasn't comfortable with
- In situations that I wasn't comfortable with that involved food, like going out to eat
- Due to an intense fear that I wouldn't be able to fall asleep due to anorexia-induced insomnia (something that stuck with me for a couple of years)
If you do the math, I was drinking every night because every night would consist of at least one of the challenges mentioned above.
Reason 1 - I abused alcohol to be able to eat food I wasn’t comfortable with.
First of all, I abused alcohol and Xanax while I was in the last four years of my struggle with anorexia to combat insomnia — so the practice of drinking alcohol as a crutch wasn’t completely foreign to me when I entered recovery.
Alcohol abuse continued well into my recovery as I started using alcohol to help me with the anxiety I felt around eating. I found myself replacing one evil with another evil in the first few years of recovery. I was turning to the bottle to calm my nerves around food on a nightly basis. Food isn’t scary when you are blacked out from substances. And at the beginning of my recovery, I was uncomfortable eating all foods.
On a side note, it's unfair that in substance abuse recovery, you can give up the substance you are addicted to (drugs, alcohol, etc.) But in eating disorder recovery, you can't give up food — you have to face it multiple times a day — even though that's what got you into this predicament, to begin with!
Reason 2 - I abused alcohol to be able to go out to eat.
When I was deep in the grasp of my eating disorder, I would never go out to eat. When I did eat, it was very ritualized and private. I had ways to make the food last longer, or I'd binge and purge. I then developed so much shame around other people seeing me eat because of these oddities and the minimal amount I was consuming.
Understandably, going out to eat in a social situation was a hard one when I was in my first few years of recovery. I became afraid that I was eating impolitely because of my lack of table manners. It got to the point where my mom used to say to me, “You can’t eat wrong. I don’t care how you are eating, as long as you are eating.”
Dining out, I had nerves around eating in general. Add a crowd of people to the table whom I was also supposed to interact with, and I was extra anxious. I feared the food in front of me and I feared people’s judgment.
Alcohol served as a crutch to mask that anxiety. I’d be able to go out and manage to eat a healthy amount — the only catch was that I’d have to drink an unhealthy amount to eat that way and get through the meal.
Reason 3 - I abused substances to make sure I wouldn’t be up all night.
When I struggled with eating disorders, I had a terrible case of insomnia. If I didn’t take my Xanax-wine cocktail and couldn’t sleep, I would work out all night on the elliptical because my eating disorder told me to.
When I was recovering, I still had a fear of not being able to sleep. Sitting there with my thoughts about all the food I consumed and how I couldn’t compensate now that I was in recovery, was absolutely torturous. I became dependent on Xanax and alcohol to make sure to avoid those looming eating disorder thoughts.
So, drunkorexia isn’t just a problem for people with eating disorders, it can be a problem in the first few years of recovery to deal with the anxiety and discomfort surrounding the food you have to eat.
But here’s the truth: we don’t have to drink to eat comfortably!
I didn’t realize how much I was abusing alcohol as a crutch until I became pregnant two years into my recovery. Being pregnant made me realize that I didn’t need these methods in my new, recovered life. I went off of Xanax a couple of months before I started trying to get pregnant. I also cut out the alcohol completely once I found out I was pregnant.
These days I only have a drink once in a while because, after some reflection, I didn’t like what I was using it for. Plus, I have been nonstop pregnant or pumping so I don't think I've had more than a handful of drinks in the past three years. It also helps me to be cognizant while taking care of little ones. I don't want to miss a moment with my babies or miss out on other life experiences because of an illness.
I will never choose to be numb in any way again, so alcohol, pills, bingeing, purging and starving are all out of my life.
You, too, can get here!
If you are drinking with a purpose, that means it’s time to put down the booze. If you recognize yourself in the behavior I was doing, I hope you choose recovery. Life without my eating disorder and life without alcohol is way better. Choosing recovery helped me discover intuitive eating and, now, I enjoy the food in front of me.
Dani Sherman-Lazar is an eating disorder advocate, Vice President of a transportation company, and a mother to two daughters. Follow her on her blog Living a Full Life After ED and on Facebook. Her book Living FULL: Winning My Battle with Eating Disorder is available on Amazon.
Read more from Dani: To My Neighbor with an Eating Disorder, You Don't Have to Suffer