Since then, however, I’ve read a number of articles about how people with eating disorders are increasingly using alcohol in destructive ways, articles that usually employ the cutesy term “drunkorexia” to describe the behavior. These articles mostly focused on how people with eating disorders would save their calories for alcohol, thereby getting drunk twice as fast. By this point, I unfortunately had some personal experience with the issue, and no longer believed it odd that an anorexic would allot herself one glass of wine every evening. The foundation of the problem was created like this: During my later years in college, in periods of health, I had been able to engage in what was then normal social activities like keg parties and bar hopping. I therefore associated drinking with the carefree sensation of being able to fraternize as a “normal” twentysomething, which I had always opined when I was lonely and ill. When I began to relapse after college, I kept drinking as if doing so would prevent others from knowing something was wrong. (Spoiler alert, again: It didn’t work.) My tolerance dropped along with my weight, which dropped in tandem because I often had wicked hangovers during which I couldn’t keep my food down — an added bonus for someone who had no interest in digestion. Fuzzy from a glass of wine, I’d experience a burst of energy that my nutritional reserves couldn’t afford me on their own. Occasionally, I’d drink until I got an enormous case of the "screw-its" and attacked a jar of peanut butter left carelessly in my kitchen. Oh well, I’d say by means of self-comfort, that’s a good thing, right? Because you should be eating more.
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All this to say that I had in many ways come to see alcohol as something associated with social normalcy and eating — which I was constantly told I ought to be doing more of — and had learned to appreciate the calming salve of booze on my usually fretful mind. But, as I began to recover from my anorexia in earnest, I didn’t find my need for sedation lessen; in fact, it grew exponentially. In many ways, the anorexic life is quite simple, and a healthy life — one that can include complex relationships, employment, and emotions galore — requires way more managing, or drowning, of anxieties. Drinking was remarkably effective at that. I found myself approaching alcohol the way I still, admittedly, approach food: voraciously. I imbibe quickly, the same way I shovel food into my mouth, the complete opposite of the methodical, crawling way with which I used to consume. There is an interesting biological factor here, at least when it comes to the nutritional part: As Dr. Shan Guisinger writes in a 2012 paper, the hypothalamus, which registers appetite and satiety, continues to send out elevated hunger levels long after a person has resumed normal eating. This is an attempt on the brain’s behalf to protect against a state of famine, in retrospect or in advance. The emotional equivalent of this, I believe, can be translated to many aspects of ingestion. It was as if I believed that at any second, the ability to eat or drink — or relax — might be snatched away from me. Better take advantage now, I would think, because you might never have this chance again.
This is not to say that I deny the enormous impact Bill Wilson and the 12-step program has had on the lives of so many addicts and their loved ones. I am not in a position to tell anyone that the way they choose to alleviate their struggles is misguided. But, neither, I believe, is the spirit of Bill Wilson or other 12-step adherents, or, indeed, moderation proselytizers. Part of the idea of living a moderate life, far beyond having balanced habits, is being able to accept all shades of virtue, from black to white to anywhere in between, and respecting the unique challenges that every individual faces, and the unique solutions they find.
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